Sunday, November 27, 2022

Port City Small Bites: 4 food festivals on deck for the weekend

The crew from Blockade Runner — chef Jessica Cabo, sous chef Shawn Fenix and hotel owner Mary Baggett Martin — accepted the awards in 2021 for 2nd place Best In Show and People’s Choice, and 1st place for Best Savory Dish for the miso-braised ribs with parsnip puree, heirloom squash, lotus chips and microgreens. (Courtesy Taste of Wrightsville Beach)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Lots of movement happens around the Port City when it comes to restaurants, food trucks, bars and bottle shops, not to mention organizational and nonprofit foodie events and festivals.

This weekend four festivals are returning to the Cape Fear region, most of which are seeing a relaunch after the pandemic halted them altogether. All are raising funds to put back into the community.

READ MORE: Catch up on other food news

Taste of Wrightsville Beach

A celebration of community flavor takes place across the drawbridge at Wrightsville Beach this Saturday, Nov. 5.

For nine years Taste of Wrightsville Beach has welcomed island-centric eateries and drinkeries to participate in its competitive culinary event that has evolved into a fall tradition and fundraising effort for Wilmington’s Meals on Wheels.

“The first year it was supposed to be in the Roberts Grocery parking lot, but superstorm Sandy came through, so we moved it last minute to the Blockade Runner. They saved the event,” co-chair Lisa Weeks recalled.

Now, it’s held in the parking lot of Bluewater Grill. Approximately 35 participants — all members of the Wrightsville Beach chamber — have signed on for 2022. One is South Beach Grill. 

Owner John Andrews helped found the first event with Weeks in 2012.

“I began it as an effort to support our local beach merchants during the long, slow off-season,” he said.

The restaurant participates each year, and for the 2022 event, South Beach’s chefs, Michael Overman, Jack Hayes and Ben Davis, are doing their version of shrimp and grits.

“We decided to present this dish to highlight our love for Southern classics, as well as showcase some of the wonderful ingredients that the land, and water of southeastern North Carolina has to offer,” Overman said.  

The dish is prepared with Palmetto Farms’ pimento cheese grits with crispy North Carolina pork belly, South Atlantic shrimp, smoked tomato broth, fennel, local chili and lime. 

“The mild spice of the chilis complements the creaminess of the grits,” Overman said, “while the essence of smoke mixed with the crispy pork belly and tomato offers our tasters a mouth watering combination of savory flavors.

Other food participants include Brasserie du Soleil, 22 North, Artisano Pizza and Gelato, GelaRto, Beach Bagels, Bluewater Grill, Bridge Tender, Fish House, Grand Cru, The Green House, King Neptune’s, Mellow Mushroom, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Soundside Seafood and Raw Bar, Port Land Grill, Poe’s Tavern, Topsail Steamer, Tower 7, Oceanic, Solstice Oceanfront Kitchen and Cocktails, East Oceanfront Dining, Surf Berry, and Ceviches.

Drinkeries include Adams Beverage, Waterman’s Brewing, Blue Shark Vodka, Carolina Brewery, New Anthem, Lighthouse Beer and Wine, Noni Bacca Winery, Prestige Beverage Group, Wilmington Brewing Company, Windham Distribution Company, and Wicked Weed.

Weeks said normally around 650 people gather to cast the People’s Choice award, as well as Best Beer and Best Wine categories. Yet, celebrity judges including travel and food writer Jason Frye and four local chefs — Christi Ferretti, Lori Eaton, Matthew Weiss and Max Trujullo — will crown Best In Show, Best Savory and Best Sweet dishes.

To date, Taste of Wrightsville Beach has raised more than $50,000 for Wilmington’s Meals on Wheels. The nonprofit ensures homebound residents, ages 60 and up, receive nutritious food and social connections via its volunteers. The organization helps feed 8,000 or more seniors every year.

Weeks said, annually, 11 members from Meals on Wheels and 18 women from the Cape Fear Women’s Club help organize the Taste fundraiser.

Tickets are $75 in advance or $100 at the door (as available); tickets for participants under 21 are $25.

St. Stan’s Polish Festival

It’s back!

After two years of only doing its drive-thru holiday event — which will also return in December — St. Stanislaus’ annual fall festival makes its official return, sating cravings galore for authentic pierogi, stuffed cabbage and kielbasa.

Judging by numbers from year’s past, Saturday will welcome 8,000 visitors throughout the day to the church grounds along Castle Hayne Road. The Harbour Towne Fest Band will play traditional and pop-polka sounds under the tent, where folks gather to dance throughout the day.

Homemade food prepared by parishioners will be for sale. Potato pancakes, sausage rolls, topped with homemade sauerkraut, and pastries, like chrusciki cookies and nut rolls, will be priced $8 and up.

“The church ladies cook all the stuffed cabbage — 300 each year,” co-chair Debbie Cool told Port City Daily two years ago.

Specialty crafted Polish beer, St. Stan’s Baltic Porter, is made for the festival by Front Street Brewery. Domestic brews and non-alcoholic beverages will be for sale as well.

A $40,000 endeavor, the festival’s planning committee begins hashing out details for the annual event each summer and placing orders from its Pennsylvanian distributor for authentic potato dumplings and Polish sausage.

The festival is celebrating 22 years in 2022 and takes place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 4849 Castle Hayne Road. Admission and parking are free, but everything sold at the event — including handmade arts and crafts — is individually priced. There is a raffle for cash prizes and a children’s area with games and bounce houses.

Proceeds benefit the upkeep of the church and help subsidize its food pantry, Helping Hands.

The North Carolina Spot Festival in Hampstead celebrates the spot fish, which are in abundance this time of year in coastal Carolina waters. (Courtesy North Carolina Spot Festival)

North Carolina Spot Festival

It’s been a Hampstead tradition since 1963, celebrating the abundance of spot fish prevalent in the southeastern waters this time of year. The North Carolina Spot Festival will take place Saturday and Sunday at 14221 Hwy 17.

Festival board member Shannon Rinko told Port City Daily around 5,000 pounds of spot — small members of the drum family — are served at the event. The fish have been provided by Atlantic Seafood since 2008 after then-sponsor JH Lea and Sons retired — a fishery that served the Hampstead area for 90 years.

“The festival is a way to celebrate Hampstead’s famous fish industries,” Rinko said.

Spot plates are sold for $10, served with hushpuppies, French fries and coleslaw.

For nonseafood eaters, around a dozen vendors have joined this year to serve cheeseburgers, barbecue, funnel cakes and other offerings. The festival secures its own beer to sell annually, this year featuring three flavors, Hay Zay, Tinsel and Sunrise, provided by Salty Turtle in Surf City. Domestics are also sold, as are three varieties of wine.

“All of the proceeds go back into the community,” Rinko said, to fund Topsail schools and Pender EMS and Fire. She has served on the board since 2018 and said the last year they hosted the event, it raised $20,000 for the entities.

The festival is run entirely by beneficiary volunteers.

Upward of 50,000 people attend over two days to enjoy food, arts and crafts vendors, kids’ bounce houses, as well as the North Carolina Spot Festival Pageant and live music. The 2022 lineup includes the Christian Brinkley Band, Southern Touch and Chillin’ Dixie on Saturday, and Cayden MaCray and Fryd on the Boat on Sunday. Topsail schools’ music classes are also slated to perform.

Gates open 9 a.m. both days and close Saturday at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. Admission is $5. 

Various flavors of Latin America are served at Festival Latino, which will have 14 vendors serving food over two days this weekend in Ogden Park. (Courtesy photo)

Festival Latino

To celebrate the flavors of Latin America, Festival Latino will return to Ogden Park on Saturday and Sunday.

According to festival organizer Lucy Vasquez, 14 food vendors have signed on to provide the community a taste of international flavors from Mexico, El Salvador, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Columbia and Dominican Republic. Though free to attend, tacos, empanadas, pupusas, arroz con Habichuelas, tostones and baladas will be for sale.

“It’s the best food ever,” Vasquez said, adding plates average $10.

Vendors are primarily independent “mom-and-pops.”

“We have one restaurant that got its start at Festival Latino in years past and now has two restaurants here in the city: Sabor Hispano will be representing the country of Honduras,” Vasquez said. 

Having begun in 1998, Festival Latino — an event hosted by Amigos Internacionals — serves as a bridge between the Latino community and the greater southeastern North Carolina area. 

“It began because I was working with the Latino community and saw that they were unaware of the various service providers in town, and all the while the service providers were saying that no one from the Latino community was accessing their services,” Vasquez explained. “I saw the huge disconnect because of the language barriers that existed at that time.”

The event welcomes 20,000 attendees celebrating cultures and traditions beyond food. There are dances and free lessons scheduled throughout the weekend, including bachata, salsa, cumbia and merengue. A competition takes place daily at 2 p.m.

“There is also an open mic if anyone would like to wow us with their talent,” Vasquez said, adding Latin music will also be played across the grounds.

Arts and crafts, as well as organization and business vendors are set up, and a kids’ area will have piñatas every hour, clowns, balloons, giant inflatable rides, and games with prizes, including the Great Mexican Hat Race.

It takes place at 615 Ogden Park Road from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Proceeds from the event benefit Amigos Internacionals outreach, advocacy, interpretation, translations and crisis situations.


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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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