Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Eat better, support local: Port City Taste kicks off Monday

The Little Dipper is offering a three course for $39, for the full fondue experience. Upgrades are available for vegan cheese options and premier dippers. (Courtesy The Little Dipper)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — The most delicious two weeks of winter return Monday. 

Port City Taste — a program launched by Port City Daily and its media partners Penguin 98.3 and The Dude 93.7 — takes place for 14 days each year to showcase local restaurants offering prix-fixe menu deals, as well as specials. More than 20 participants have put forth items for brunch, lunch and dinner, with prices starting as low as $8 and up to $45.

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A longtime participant, Cast Iron Kitchen — open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday — is focusing on brunch.

“Our brunch stands out because we use only the freshest sourced ingredients,” chef and owner Josh Petty said, pointing to farms like Master Blend Family and Brookwood. CIK also uses Adulah grits.

Petty has put forth a menu of CIK classics, such as a Southern fried grits and shrimp bowl. Homemade biscuits are topped a variety of ways — with pepper jelly, country ham and cheddar or a fried pork chop and egg scramble. 

However, CIK doesn’t stick to strictly Southern cuisine; a short rib Benedict gets a Korean twist with the addition of kimchi corn salsa.

Brunch runs $35 for three courses and offers diners a final chance at tasting seasonal favorites before a new menu comes in late spring or early summer, Petty confirmed.

Newbies have joined the lineup for the first time during restaurant week as well. Bridgewater Wines + Dines in Porters Neck is owned and operated by Doug and Susan Tietje Zucker. It combines the husband and wife’s love for the industries.

Doug worked at wine mecca Stew Leonard’s while Susan taught in the culinary arts at CUNY Queens College in New York before moving South. 

“We recognized a niche that was missing in the Wilmington area: a place to eat, drink and shop,” Susan said. “Doug is the CEO of the wines and I am the CEO of the dines.”

The Porters Neck operation is offering a three-course dinner for $35. Head chef Daniel Grogan, who runs Bridgewater’s day-to-day operations, has created the menu. One of its stand-outs is a citrus-crusted grouper with mandarin orange and basil risotto. 

“The combined flavor profiles create a heavenly dish,” Susan said. 

A Bridgewater favorite, the slow-roasted prime rib also makes an appearance, served over complementary smoked gouda mash.

The Zuckers moved to Wilmington and launched the first Bridgewater Wines + Dines in Leland in November 2018, primarily as a shop focused on charcuterie and a small wine bar with seven seats. Porters Neck, a full restaurant and wine retail, opened in 2021. 

Demand has since grown in Leland; however, the Zuckers aren’t offering the restaurant week special in Brunswick County due to the operation’s smaller footprint and kitchen space. Though next year that could change. 

They’re currently building a larger location in front of Waterford, slated to open in early 2024. It will be 4,500 square feet with a dining room, private event room, outdoor seating overlooking a pond and wine retail.

“We love that Wilmington is such a diverse food, wine and culture scene, there is something for everyone,” Susan said. “And Leland is in for a real treat with Leland 2.0.” 

Another new participant to Port City Taste will bring an Italian flair to restaurant weeks. Rosalie’s Trattoria on Market Street is owned by Alfred and Rosalie Cervini.

The restaurant’s menu was created from Rosalie’s family recipes. She learned early on from her mother and grandmother the key to good food was using quality ingredients.

“That is the inspiration behind Rosalie’s Trattoria,” Rosalie said. “For us, being around the table with family and friends — and of course good food — is the center of everything.”

One of the items showcased for Port City Taste is the gnocchi pesto, a special the restaurant will feature from time to time. Rosalie said the secret to keeping the dish “mild and smooth” comes with a certain ingredient.

“Chef adds a touch of cream to cut the harshness that pesto can sometimes have,” she said. “It has a silky finish and is tossed with plump gnocchi — what more can you ask for?”

Also on the Port City Taste menu — three courses for $32.50 — is a new dish to be added permanently after restaurant week ends: chicken cacciatore. A rustic Italian entree, it’s full of bites of chicken, olives, and pancetta, tossed in a tomato-based sauce over fettuccine. 

For ravioli and eggplant parm lovers, Rosalie’s has a combination dish of rich breaded eggplant and melted mozzarella. It’s served under a bed of sauted ravioli, with mushrooms, onions and marinara.

“We decided to run it as a special and haven’t been able to stop making it ever since,” Rosalie said.

It, too, will be added to the static menu after Mar. 5. Rosalie’s menu will only be offered Tuesdays through Fridays during Port City Taste.

In downtown Wilmington, a popular fondue eatery is again joining the ranks of restaurant weeks. The Little Dipper has been part of the event almost annually since 2009, when it first launched by the now-defunct encore magazine.

The Dipper is offering three courses for $39 — cheese followed by an entree of meat, tofu, pasta or veggie offerings and a sweet finish. The price is at least a 10% discount, according to the restaurant’s new owners.

Jason and Rachel McGhinnis took over the establishment in May and have been adding options to the menu. Charcuterie is one, after a successful Valentine’s Day test-run. 

“With restaurant week we’re going to expand on the idea and bring in some items that will pair awesomely with fondue,” Jason said.

READ MORE: The Little Dipper sells, new owners talk updated look, additional menu items

They’ve also filled out more vegan and vegetarian menu options. Vegan cheese can be subbed for $3 more within any cheese course offered during restaurant week.

“We have started using more local suppliers and businesses for our ingredients, such as locally baked bread and locally roasted coffee for our cocktails,” Jason added.

The Dipper has a specialized cocktail menu for restaurant week, with both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages available.

“Currently, we are showing off our new dessert cocktails, as well as some February  selections that will be gone once restaurant week comes to an end,” he said. “We also have a list of wines that pair perfectly with each course that varies depending on what cheese and entree items are selected.”

The McGhinnises are continuing to fine-tune their local mark, with the goal to procure more produce grown locally and even vegan chocolate created by local makers.

Going local is the heartbeat of Port City Taste: supporting restaurants created and operated by those who live in the greater Wilmington area helps foster a thriving economy. It comes in various forms, from where they procure items and sales tax paid back into New Hanover County to the employees hired. The restaurant industry makes up 10% of the workforce nationwide.

In essence, the more support diners show for local spots, the more money circulates directly within the region. 

The nonprofit Business Alliance for Local Living Economies breaks it down like this: For every $100 spent at a local business or restaurant, $68 stays in the community, as compared to $43 retained by a national chain’s footprint. 

Port City Taste restaurant weeks take place Feb. 20 through Mar. 5. Participants don’t need coupons, special passwords, or tickets. Just head to one of the listed businesses, ask for the special Port City Taste menu, and indulge.

2023 PARTICIPANTS

Click the restaurant name below to access the menu.

Wrightsville Beach

Bluewater Grill | 3-course lunch or dinner: $30
Oceanic | 2-course lunch: $20 -or- 3-course dinner: $32
Poe’s Tavern | Specials: $16-$19
South Beach Grill | 2-course lunch: $18 -or- 3-course dinner: $39

Midtown Wilmington

Henry’s | 3-course dinner: $28
Hops Supply Company | 3-course lunch: $25 -or- 3-course dinner: $35
Rosalie’s Trattoria | 3 courses: $32.50

Downtown Wilmington

aView Rooftop Bistro at Aloft | 3-course meal: $35
Elijahs | 2-course lunch: $18 -or- 3-course dinner: $24
The George on the Riverwalk | 3-course dinner: $35
Little Dipper Fondue | 3-course dinner: $39
The Pilot House | 3-course lunch: $20 -or- 3-course dinner: $45
Steam Restaurant & Bar | 3-course dinner: $35
YoSake | 4-course dinner: $40

North Wilmington

Blue Surf Arboretum West | 3-course meal: $35
Brasserie du Soleil | 3-course dinner: $45
Bridgewater Wines + Dines | 3-course dinner: $35
Cast Iron Kitchen | 3-course brunch: $35
Coquina Fishbar | 2-course: $15 -or- 3-course dinner: $36
The Green House Restaurant | 3-course meal: $39
Italian Bistro | Specials: $8-$25
Osteria Cicchetti | 3-course dinner: $35

Carolina Beach

Stoked | 2-course lunch: $17.50 -or- $33.50


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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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