Cape Fear Foodie: “Hops and Harvest” and “Taste of Wrightsville Beach”
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Heading into the holidays, I typically start to really trim back on what I eat and drink. That’s because I want to enjoy all the fruits (highly-caloric side dishes) that Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts have to offer. So instead of imbibing on a robust barleywine, I’ll stick with a light lager...or replace a delicious plate of beef stroganoff with a salad.
However, two foodie events presented themselves to me last week and it was something I couldn’t pass up (even if I have to buy new pants come Jan. 1).
First was the Blockade Runner’s “Hops and Harvest Beer Dinner.” Executive Chef Jessica Cabo and her team at East Oceanfront Dining came up with a beautiful five-course meal that was paired with a selection of beers from Hi-Wire Brewing. The event is set outside, next to the resort’s beautiful sea garden, with live music from the Smokey Dunes playing throughout the evening.
Hearing the waves crash in the distance only adds to the comfortable setting, then the food and drink take it over the top. This event is always a treat and one everyone should try to attend come fall, especially when you are served dishes like “Octopus Tostada”, “Shrimp Empanada”, and “Hot and Cold Salad.” The menu had a decidedly Latin flair, but it wasn’t until the third course that I was truly impressed.
A plate consisting of locally-caught red snapper, on a crispy rice cake, swimming in a pool of cucumber honeydew aguachile, and a citrus pepper jam was exceptional. Unlike a ceviche’s typical acidic flavor, this aguachile was sweet and refreshing. The plating was immaculate and really speaks to the quality of the kitchen staff. The dish was paired with a “Rasberry Fizz,” a light sour, that paired well with the sweet and savory aspects of the meal.
The main course was “Cherry Coca-Cola Braised Short Ribs,” resting on a bed of mashed goat cheese plantains, garlic green beans, and yucca chips. The meat fell off the bone, each bite a delicious, caramel flavor. The goat cheese punched through the plantains and gave an excellent creaminess (I may steal this idea for future mashed potatoes). The accompanying Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged Barleywine helped bring out the short rib’s flavor even more. It was a star-studded dish.
The dessert course featured chocolate-filled churros with a chocolate stout beer slushie. A delicious treat to cap off a wonderful evening of food, drink, and music along the ocean. Who could ask for more?
The second event was the “Taste of Wrightsville Beach.” It’s one of those marquee food and drinks gatherings in Southeastern North Carolina and for good reason. More than 20 restaurants, and various breweries and wineries, were on hand to provide samples of their creations. It was my first time here, so I treated it like I would a beer festival... I essentially raided every restaurant stand I came across as quickly as possible. That meant a three-hour event was essentially over in 45 minutes for me (food sweats and the feeling I had gained 10 lbs. in under an hour), but I had some delicious treats along the way.
While East Oceanfront Dining won the best overall dish with its “Cocoa and Red Wine Braised Beef, with black bean puree and plantain chips,” I chose Port Land Grill’s “Balsamic-Espresso Glazed Beef Short Rib over Mashed Potatoes, with Pickled Shallots, Pomegranate, Beef Tallow Breadcrumbs, and Micro Greens” as the best plate (it also won the People’s Choice for best dish).
But make no mistake, nearly every restaurant hit the mark. From the Fish House’s “Southern Style Fish Stew,” to Poe’s Tavern’s “Pimento Cheeseburger Sliders,” and Bluewater Grill’s “Redneck Oyster Rockefeller” with pimento cheese, bacon crumble, and collard greens.
I also proudly admit to having two servings of Brasserie du Soleil’s “Duck Liver Pate” with red wine...it was that good.
I only regret not getting more pictures of what I ate, but carrying several plates and a cup of wine all at one time is not easy! If you have the chance to attend next year, I highly recommend you do so, and there are rumors that yours truly may even be a judge. Hopefully, by then I will learn to pace myself before the holidays.
Do you recommend a restaurant? Or know of a best-kept secret that you want the rest of Cape Fear to know about? Shoot me an email at email@example.com and I would love to feature your selection. Cheers!
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