Cape Fear Foodie: Hops and Harvest
WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - It seems fall has well and truly settled in across the Cape Fear, well if 70s and low 80s is considered fall. But it is noticeably cooler, the days are shorter and there’s not a chill to the wind but a nip to the air. Late October may not seem like the perfect time to head to the beach, what with the pumpkin patch, corn mazes and haunted houses to entertain you but I can tell you a trip the Blockade Runner Beach Resort on Wrightsville Beach is just as perfect now as it is in mid-July.
I had never been to Blockade Runner, but was invited to experience the “Hops and Harvest Beer Dinner,” part of the resort’s ongoing “Flavors of Fall” promotion hosted by their East Oceanfront Dining restaurant.
The menu was created with the imagination of Executive Chef Jessica Cabo and her trusty team in the kitchen, and the beer and food pairing event featured brews from around North Carolina which were carefully curated by Mike Duffy at Hey! Beer Bottle Shop in Wilmington.
Of course, that only played a part in the overall experience of the evening with the manicured seaside gardens providing a lovely atmosphere to experience exceptional food and craft beer. It’s a throwback to old school Wrightsville Beach, and few other locations on the coast can provide a relaxing setting like this just mere feet from the surf.
As for the dishes, take a look at the five-course meal. The first plate was Beer Poached Lobster, freshly picked lobster, nestled on top of caviar of lime, tomato, & tarragon with grapefruit foam and a brioche crisp. It reminded me of an elegantly deconstructed lobster roll and the selection of Hopfly’s (Rocky Mount, N.C.) Lunchtime Helles-style Lager helped wash down the food while not distracting from the delicate shellfish.
Next was the Welcome Back Summer salad, a fried goat cheese ball on top of a bed of greens, with a mixture of freeze dried berries, pickled blackberries, pistachio, basil and a sour beer vinaigrette. Hopfly’s Strawberry Tangerine Vanilla Blender sour beer paired nicely with the salad, as the fruity sour notes of the beer off-set the rich, creaminess of the fried goat cheese.
You could consider those dishes the warm-up act for what was to come, and the headliners of the evening did not disappoint.
The NC Fish in Trouble featured fresh North Carolina Halibut, perfectly cooked, on top of a crisp patty of sticky rice, yu choi, lemongrass ginger and a green tea broth. Chef Cabo mentioned it was her first try at making this broth, though she has extended experience in reimagiing dishes with an Asian flare (and on evidence here, she should make this regularly). The plate was light and airy, but with a master blend of flavors and textures, the soft fish, the crunchy rice cake, the chewiness of the vegetables and the savory aspects of the broth. Like a bite of ginger with sushi, Divine Barrel’s (Charlotte, N.C.) Trouble Every Day West Coast Triple-IPA worked as a palate cleanser for each bite. A throwback hop bomb that has given way to the favored New England-style IPAs of the day, the beer was just as refreshing as the meal.
The final savory dish of the evening was Braised Kalbi Short Rib, and played well with the harvest theme of the event. The short rib was accompanied by a white pumpkin miso puree, kabocha squash and lotus chips. This was an incredibly balanced treat, with the big, brawny caramelized flavors from the short rib paired nicely against the backdrop of the white pumpkin puree, and the squash and lotus chips packing a welcome crunch to the tenderness of the beef. This was the star of the show, and unlike a hop-heavy IPA, the beer needed to let the food do the talking. That’s exactly what Haw River Farmhouse’s (Graham, N.C.) Calico Fields Pilsner delivered.
I’m admittedly not much of a dessert person, I’ve just never been a big “sweets” kind of guy (that being said, I love candy). But there was no chance I was going to pass up on the gelato float bar that featured housemade churros, salted caramel, cookie crumble and Hopfly’s Coconut Trouble Coffee Milk Stout. The beer acted similar to a cola when poured over the gelato, forming a nice float base to house the cinnamon churro, caramel drizzle, cookie pieces and a dash of whipped cream. To make it even sweeter, a full Hunter’s Moon provided plenty of natural light to enjoy the dessert, a chat with other attendees and a stroll through the gardens with the soft sounds of crashing waves in the distance.
Put it all together, and the evening at the Blockade Runner was simply perfect. Chef Cabo and her crew whipped together a thoughtful and mouthwatering menu, and Mike Duffy matched their genius step-for-step with his beer selections. I’m sure this will be the first of many similar events to come, and you’ll undoubtedly want to make a reservation when the next pairing comes around.
1) The Blockade Runner’s East Oceanfront Dining Restaurant constantly has special menus (currently Oktoberfest) on hand along with breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. Keep an eye on the resort’s events page, with a special Halloween/Day of the Dead package and menu on tap for Halloween weekend. The food here is some of the most imaginative around and well worth a date night, evening with friends, or a solo trip to the seaside gardens and treat-yourself meal.
If you go:
The Blockade Runner Beach Resort and East Oceanfront Dining Restaurant is located at:
275 Waynick Blvd, Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480
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