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A CHOP ABOVE A GREASY SPOON: Famed local deli hops into the diner-style restaurant game

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You’ve heard the name. You know the hype. You’ve eaten the Plymouth sandwich. But the Chops Deli we all know and love is raising their “steaks”—and they’re coming with a side of field peas.

EGG-CELLENT OMELET: Chops Diner in Wrightsboro does breakfast and lunch, diner style. Photo by  Tom Dorgan

EGG-CELLENT OMELET: Chops Diner in Wrightsboro does breakfast and lunch, diner style. Photo by Tom Dorgan

Just a quick skip from downtown (Wrightsboro, to be exact) on Castle Hayne Road, diners can now find the newest addition to the triple-threat lineup from the Chops family. Chops Diner is a one-stop shop for a wildly satisfying breakfast or lunch. And it won’t break the bank.

Case in point: I gathered a hungry group of four Sunday brunchers, sampled a half-dozen items on the menu, and barely racked up a $50 tab. The service was friendly and speedy—almost a touch too fast. If you say you’ll give us a few minutes with the menu, we won’t be ready to order in 30 seconds. Or 30 more seconds after that. Still, Chops’ price tag was sensible, portions were colossal and food was spot on with what folks crave at a quaint Southern café on a weekend morning.

Once again, this is a “diner.” If anyone’s on a quest for fancy frittatas and menus full of words they don’t understand, they’re barking up the wrong table. Chops is a laidback, seat-yourself nostalgic joint. Daily specials are an $8 meat-and-three and the house wine is sweet tea. It’s glorious.

I started off my meal with a cup of joe, but couldn’t handle more than a few sips. I’m a French roast kind of gal (which makes me not the best judge of standard coffee), but a lot of breakfast restaurants in the area still brew a mean house blend. All I’m saying: Be aware that there are no lavender cold brews or cinnamon cappuccinos in sight. Although I wasn’t thrilled with my drink, a friend ordered an Arnold Palmer and was delighted.

With so many things to sample, we started off by splitting the biscuits and gravy. Chops’ version featured two enormous, golden-brown biscuits, drenched in red-eye sausage gravy. Every bite was as savory and buttery as it sounds. It’s rare to find a non-white cream sauce with this classic, so I appreciated the twist of combining hearty crumbled sausage bits with a coffee-infused gravy. It made for an extra bit of flavor. For my main meal, I couldn’t resist an omelet (especially after seeing on Yelp that Chops offers these with eight eggs). I went with mushrooms and American cheese. The outside of the omelet was rolled, smooth and rounded (as opposed to country-style, which is super fluffy and lightly browned). I devoured almost every bite, with the highlight being the cheese—as I believe white American is one of the most underrated in the game. (Get that orange shit out of here!)

Alongside, I opted for hash browns and bacon. The potatoes were shredded and griddled, as they should be, and the bacon was crisp but thin. Both were a touch on the oily side, but diners aren’t called “greasy spoons” just for the hell of it. The fruit—freshly cut—made me feel less guilty about unbuttoning my shorts.

When the shrimp and grits appeared, we all stared at it like the waitress set down a shiny pot of gold. The menu claimed it would consist of shrimp, sautéed with bacon, onions, tomatoes, and cream over grits. I’d like to take this opportunity to challenge Chops on their usage of the word “over,” as the creamy grit sauce took up 90 percent of the bowl. The multitude of gooey goodness was, in my pregnant friend’s opinion, spectacular. I would say it’s all about personal palate when it comes to this one. If anyone’s looking for something heavy on the protein and light on the starches, they might want to go in another direction. Folks in the mood for something decadent should grab a spoon. The grits and sauce were flavorful, rich and luxurious, but the dish itself was slightly overwhelming.

For some veggies (and to add Southern swag), I suggest a side of collards. I didn’t grow up on these greens so they don’t do much for me, but I’m told they are some of the finest in town. A shake of vinegar definitely helps cut the salty pork flavor.

Chops keeps their doors open until 2 p.m., so I couldn’t leave without trying a few items off the lunch lineup. They did become famous for their sandwiches, after all. First up was the cheesesteak with thinly sliced ribeye, cheese, peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Although it was more of a yummy steak sandwich than a traditional cheesesteak, it was fabulous. The fluffy, cornmeal-coated hoagie was an expert vehicle, and the juicy steak and creamy white cheese (I’m guessing white American again—yay!) melted together in every mouthwatering bite.

Also on deck was the chicken salad on toasted wheat bread, which lightened up our entire feast. The chunky chicken was tossed with a light amount of mayonnaise, herbs, and crunchy celery morsels. It had more sweet notes than savory, but the righteous crinkle fries hit the salty spot. Head’s up: Diners can order them with melted cheese—so why not?

The owners behind Chops have a reputation for nailing simple, homemade (typically between bread) fare—and thanks to the addition of this diner, they’ve welcomed us into a whole other side of their kitchen. Keep it coming, y’all. We’ll be back for more.

Chops Diner
2539 Castle Hayne Rd.
Monday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-2 p.m.

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