Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Port City Small Bites: Tacos El Jefe opens, Mardi Gras eats and more

Tacos El Jefe quesabirria is a signature item, with slow-cooked, shredded beef, cheese, cilantro and onion, tucked into a homemade tortilla dunked in the beef’s juiced before fried. (Courtesy photo)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Lots of movement happens around the Port City when it comes to new openings and closings of restaurants, food trucks, bars and bottle shops, as well as the launch of organizational and nonprofit foodie events and festivals. While Port City Daily already covers the majority of such news, smaller shifts and changes sometimes fly under the radar.

READ MORE: Catch up on other food news of the week

“Small Bites” offers another way to let readers know what’s happening on the local food scene — what to expect when it comes to expansions of existing establishments or menu changes, temporary closures and renovations, added hours or grand openings, pop-up events and other newsworthy tidbits.

Tacos El Jefe food truck rolls out

A new food truck opened this week in Burgaw. Tacos El Jefe will park permanently Thursday through Saturday at ​​Hwy 117 Bypass, and occasionally the business will roll into nearby Wilmington, Castle Hayne and beach towns to bring its brand of Latin American flavors to breweries, music venues and other events. In fact, owner Jonathan Martinez Gomez — who operates the food trailer with his aunt and brother, Elias — said they will make their debut at Broomtail Arcade on Saturday from 5 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

The menu features burritos, quesadillas and tacos, including their own take on the quesabirria; the item seems to be trending on Mexican menus in Wilmington currently. Gomez said his aunt slow-cooks and brasies the beef for four hours, shreds it and tucks it into a homemade tortilla that gets dipped in the grease of the beef before it’s fried on a flat-top griddle. Grilled mozzarella cheese goes in with the beef, topped with cilantro and onions, and served with a side of the beef’s consomme for dunking.

“It’s like a burst of flavor but not too strong or overwhelming,” Gomez said.

The Tacos El Jefe menu will change weekly. Three specialty tacos will be offered, rotating between steak, chicken, pork and shrimp.

“Next Friday we’ll have fried shrimp that are beer-battered,” he said, topped with a sauce similar to a spicy Thousand Island. The following week will be marinated pork with a pineapple salad, consisting of cilantro and red onions.

Gomez said there will also be tortas and a supersized burrito, plus he wants to launch a secret menu with items that are “a little elevated, featuring flavors with different seasonings, different cheeses, maybe introduce empanadas,” he said. “We’re still working out the details.” 

The price points range from $2.50 to $10, though supersized offerings will probably come in a tad higher. A part-time UNCW student studying accounting, Gomex will be booking the truck at events Monday through Wednesday and weekend nights, as well as doing private caterings. 

The young college student discovered a love for cooking during Covid-19 shutdowns, toying with family recipes. “Every item on the truck is homemade,” Gomez said, from the tortillas to the hot sauces — both traditional and verde — to the guacamole to the spice profiles on all the meats. He’s hoping to eventually introduce sweet items, such as flan or a choco-flan — half custard and half chocolate cake.

He and his family began cooking for others and saving money to launch the truck over the last two years. The end goal, he said, is to open their own brick-and-mortar. 

“I have many businesses I want to open,” he said. “Restaurants are definitely one.”

Diners can keep up with weekly menus and locations of the food trailer by checking into Tacos El Jefe Facebook page.

Port City Java at 2099 Market St. has opened after being closed five weeks for renovations. (Courtesy photo)

Renovated Port City Java reopens on Market Street

The open sign was flipped on Feb. 14 at Port City Java’s 2099 Market St. location after five weeks of undergoing renovations. 

According to spokesperson Amber Fowler, customers will likely notice the new paint and the shop’s counter layout. Gone are the red walls, now painted sage green and accented by white subway tiles. Visitors also place orders at the opposite end of the line, where they used to wait to pick up their coffee.

“It’s a more modern, relaxing and inviting atmosphere,” Fowler said. 

The coffee shop demolished and replaced its cabinetry.

“We made a lot of changes behind the line, in the kitchen, so things would run more efficiently and increase speed of service,” Fowler added. 

Wilmington’s 27-year-old coffee shop has been sprucing up its cafés across the area over the last year, according to Fowler. It’s also preparing to open a new shop at the Crossroads on Independence Boulevard, where another K-38 Baja Grill location and the area’s largest Harris Teeter is being constructed. 

“We’re aiming for the summer,” Fowler said, pointing to August or September. “That keeps being affected by supply-chain issues.”

Fowler said the café is always revising its menu, adding in nitro coffee within the last year and most recently offering Impossible Sausage to appeal to vegetarian and vegan palates. Come Apr. 1, it will add matcha lattes, made with Smith Tea — created with “single origin Japanese matcha green tea leaves,” Fowler said.

Café hours at the Market Street location are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and weekends, 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

Panacea now offers their hard and regular kombucha in cans. (Courtesy Creature Theory)

Panacea launches canning line

Wilmington’s local kombucha maker debuted its canned sippers this week. Panacea is selling hard kombucha — with alcohol — and regular kombucha in newly designed cans, with labels created by Creature Theory. 

Six packs are sold from the restaurant and brewery, located in Anderson Square, 4107 Oleander Dr. Buyers can choose from three flavors of hard kombucha — lavender hops, pineapple hops, and raspberry lemonade — or two regular styles, triple berry ginger and blueberry lavender. 

Panacea will offer the selections wholesale, specifically the hard kombucha to go into bottle shops, restaurants, grocery stores, or anywhere else with an ABC license.

Wilson Center ups the ante on its drink selection

The Wilson Center has refreshed its concessions and in effect is lessening its environmental footprint, according to hospitality coordinator Erin Sullivan-Wertz. No longer is the center offering disposable plastic cups or soda bottles. Instead, it introduced souvenir cups, branded with the theater’s name and topped with a lid. Not only is it more sustainable, it’s also better for the upkeep of the theater.

“I got so nervous when I first started, seeing people with those small 9-ounce cups open, walking around with red wine,” Sullivan-Wertz said. “This way we can offer a fun takeaway while also trying to preserve the beauty of the building.”

Wilson Center’s new souvenir cups are offered at concessions instead of plastic, to help lighten the environmental footprint, and come with discounted refills. (Courtesy photo)

Fountain sodas have been installed and the drinks are now priced $5, but all refills are discounted by $1. Audiences can bring back their cups for every show and get the refill price; the discount applies to wine as well.

Sullivan-Wertz said they still offer their house varieties — cabernet sauvignon and pinot grigio — but she has introduced a top tier selection since joining them team. A New Zealand sauvignon blanc has been added, along with a California chardonnay and pinot noir. She also added a moscato for ticket holders who prefer sweet flavors. One canned wine, the Dark Horse rosé, is sold as well.

“A little something for everybody,” Sullivan-Wertz said. “Also, we’re doing single and double pours of wine.”

The beer selection — still served in cans — is heavily focused on local crafted brews. Wilson Center offers selections from Wrightsville Beach Brewery and Edward Teach. Sullivan brought in Teach’s seasonal Black Spot Lager, a limited release, and added Mad Mole Brewing selections, including the Boston Mole Party IPA and a Belgian blonde, Marilyn MonMole.

VIP ticket holders — members of the Wilson Center or those in opera-box seats — also can enjoy a selection of ready-to-drink cocktails. Since the center is owned by Cape Fear Community College, it can’t have a liquor license due to being a state college, yet Sullivan has brought in spritz cocktails, made by SPREZZA. The vermouth drink is made of mineral water, orange and orange bitters, and is poured over ice. They’re also offering Liqs wine-based cocktails.

“We brought in the mojito so it’s white wine with mint and other natural juices. It tastes just like a mojito,” she said

Mardi Gras specials

Making plans for jambalaya, King Cake and Hurricanes this week? Plenty of local restaurants are preparing to celebrate Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday.  

Wild Wing Café (1331 Military Cutoff Rd.) will have multiple specials on Tuesday, including $8 hurricanes and King Cake.

Pine Valley Market (3520 S College Rd.) is offering gumbo, jambalaya (with or without shrimp), crawfish poutine, and muffalettas. Beignets also will be made to order and there will be King Cake. Prices range from $10-$14. 

Nineteen (513 Country Club Dr.) at Olde Point Country Club in Hampstead will offer Mardi Gras-inspired specials all weekend ahead of Fat Tuesday. On the menu are Cajun crab poppers, Louisiana-style ribeye and blackened red drum over Mardi Gras rice. Prices range from $8.95 to $29.

Bourbon Street in downtown Wilmington at 35 N. Front St. will have a party Tuesday night with live music, as well as specials on jambalaya, gumbo, etouffee, beignets, King Cake shots — plus, beads galore.

PinPoint located at 114 Market St. will celebrate Monday, Feb. 28, with half-priced wine and half-price raw oysters, plus dishes from the Big Easy and New Orleans-inspired cocktails. Reservations are accepted by calling (910) 762-2972. 

Rebellion will celebrate Fat Tuesday all day at 15 S. Front St. The bar and restaurant will have New Orleans jazz playing, and will serve gumbo and a muffuletta burger special. There will Abita brews, barrel-aged Sazerac and a Pimms Cup specials, too.

Junction 421 is offering a four-course N’awlins-inspired dinner. The experience begins at 6:30 p.m. Course one includes muffuletta flatbread aside a Prameio chardonnay, followed by gumbo served with a Columbian red blend. Shrimp and andouille red beans and rice will be enjoyed with a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau, finished with a slice of King Cake and NOLA hard coffee. It’s $55 and reservations can be made by calling 910-392-3490.

Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux (3710 Oleander Dr.) — the Louisiana-based sports bar, touting traditional creole and Cajun flavors — celebrates Fat Tuesday every Tuesday. The sports bar offers $5 beignets, cups of gumbo, 16-ounce Death Valleys (vodka, rum, triple sec, razzmatazz, orange juice and pineapple juice) and Mad Marys (Blood Marys topped with all the pickled veggies, hot sauce and bacon). Also kids eat free on Tuesday.

BBQ salmon tacos, pork belly, brie and blackberry jam burger and Cuban burger are on the Poe’s Tavern menu, as part of Port City Taste. Restaurant weeks continue through Mar. 6. (Courtesy photo)

Port City Taste

Fourteen days of supporting all-local dining continues with Port City Taste. 

A Port City Daily-sponsored program, restaurant weeks feature over 20 prix-fixe menus and specials, with price points ranging from $12-$45. The flavors move across a wide variety of cuisines — low-country seafood to Italian, Cajun to French, not to mention vegan and vegetarian options.

Click here to learn more and see all participating restaurants and menus. The event lasts through Mar. 6.

Eat local, live better.

Have tips or comments? Email info@portcitydaily.com

Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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