Cape Fear Foodie: Dram Yard
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Now more than a year after I started writing Cape Fear Foodie, many friends or acquaintances ask me all the time about certain restaurants, have I ate at them, have I heard of them, or what is the best? I love talking (and writing) about food, but it’s nearly impossible to give each person a definitive answer, especially when it comes to that subjective “what’s the best?” question.
People also want to know how I chose where to eat. I typically follow up on recommendations, or if I’ve heard from a lot of sources that a particular place is worth my time (and money). That alone helps weed out a lot of options, and I can honestly say out of all of the articles I have posted (nearly 50 now), each restaurant was a pleasure to eat at.
Then there are spots that I go to because they have been on a personal shortlist since I moved to Wilmington three years ago. One of those is Dram Yard.
Located inside the old Eureka Pressing Company and Dye Works building on the corner of 2nd and Dock Street, Dram Yard draws from its history... particularly the building’s famous encounter with a runaway circus elephant.
In 1922, the elephant, Topsy, escaped her circus handlers and went on a destructive jaunt through downtown Wilmington, including a damaging visit to the dye works. Paying homage to that history, Dram Yard features an elephant logo, along with an old fashioned interior accented with eclectic light fixtures and exposed brick walls that blend the past with the present.
Dram Yard also features a gazebo bar, where you can enjoy a craft cocktail and chat in the beautiful garden seating area of the ARRIVE boutique hotel. It’s a beautiful spot if whether you’re eating or not, and an excellent option if you’re waiting to be seated.
Once you’re inside and looking over the menu, it’s important to note the majority of what the kitchen has to offer are small plates. But make no mistake, they pack big flavor.
My table decided a collection of small plates was the way to go (you can even have the kitchen plan your dinner selections for you from beginning to end for $75 a person).
We started with a beautiful and fresh burrata salad (is there anything more satisfying than cutting into a plump ball of burrata cheese?).
A bowl of chicken and dumplings was next, with tender chicken, dumplings of ricotta gnudi (similar to gnocchi), an assortment of mushrooms, all nestled in a mouthwatering bowl of broth. It was different from those big, fluffy dumplings like grandma used to make, but the inventive take on the dish was no less satisfying.
The best of the small plate menagerie was the beef tartare. It’s a dish that isn’t for everyone, but I would encourage those curious enough to dip their culinary toe in the water. A mound of freshly ground beef, melded together with a blend of beef fat mayo, capers and herbs, and topped with a dollop of caviar (instead of the typical egg yolk), all resting on toasted brioche with a side of arugula and Meyer lemon vinaigrette. The dish had a luscious mouthfeel, with a rich flavor from the beef, creaminess of the herbed beef fat mayo, and seawater saltiness of the caviar. Even the side salad worked well with the tartare, as the arugula added some peppery punch to go along with the acidic dressing. It’s one of those rare “remember when” eats that you have in life.
For something more substantial, we sampled the Dram Burger (an excellent cheeseburger), the “Uni Carbonara,” a twist on the classic Italian dish, with the slightly salty bottarga (mullet roe) playing off the heat from Calabrian chili oil.
Two dishes that I absolutely had to point out were the “Scallop Aguachile” and the “Corvina.” Starting with the aguachile (similar to ceviche, without a lengthy marinade), slices of raw scallops sit in a basin of spicy, salty, and citrussy liquid, then topped with fresh cucumber, fennel, apple and cilantro. Every bite exudes freshness, and that spicy “chili water” is so unique, I found myself tasting spoonful after spoonful just to nail down the flavor profile.
As for the “Corvina,” it’s a plate that can absolutely serve as an entrée. They say “you eat with your eyes first,” and this course is a testament to that old adage. A beautiful filet of corvina rests on a base of a lentils and mirepoix, then accented with lump blue crab, leeks, and apple. The dish is finished with a unique dashi beurre blanc sauce and given an extra dose of aesthetic whimsy. The key aspect to the meal was how incredibly balanced it was. Not one flavor dominated or overshadowed another, and instead allowed all the ingredients to shine on the palate.
After a lengthy dining session, it’s clear why Dram Yard often gets rave reviews from those lucky enough to find a seat or nab a reservation. For anyone looking for a food-forward dinner experience that focuses on creativity and multiple flavor levels, this is a great choice. To be fair, there are plenty of places around the area that impress, but not many are on the same level as Dram Yard and its eclectic menu.
IF YOU GO:
Dram Yard is located at 101 S 2nd St, Wilmington, NC 28401
I would suggest getting a reservation, especially for a weekend dinner as the restaurant is not very large. However, if you have to wait, remember you can enjoy gazebo bar outside. Dram Yard also just launched a brunch menu for Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Do you recommend a restaurant? Or know of a best kept secret that you want the rest of the Cape Fear to know about? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would love to feature your selection. Cheers!
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