Look, I’m a beer-and-wings kind of chick. When it comes to my eating environment of choice, I typically lean toward a location where most of the patrons are wearing beat-up Chucks and there’s at least three types of fried things with cheese on the menu.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate an elegant restaurant that specializes in buttery beef tartare instead of bacon cheeseburgers and pinots over pale ales. If I was in the mood for an upgrade and could only choose one Wilmington wine bar, I would gladly swap out my Converse for chenin blanc at Second Glass.
That being said, South Front District’s newest vino haven is a memorably sophisticated, immaculate urban eatery—but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep your Wilmington about you. Seriously, I went in leggings. Second Glass’ chic vibe has brought a breath of fresh air to our town’s dining scene.
When it comes to cultured, attentive design, owner Celeste Glass (formerly of Fortunate Glass) is an expert. Her ability to ornately shape a space, select a wide-ranging and thoughtful array of wines, and employ an extraordinary staff is unmatched. I’ve been cheering her on from the sidelines for many years, knowing she brought, and would continue to bring, elaborate and eclectic establishments to our town.
Though Fortunate Glass’ kitchen was, to put it nicely, quaint, Chef Ryan O’Janpa’s flavors were never limited. Now, in a fully functioning space at Second Glass, O’Janpa is truly able to stretch his culinary skills and put out even more focused cuisine (cheers to that, dude). The menu is made up of many small plates, as well as a few larger entrees and desserts.
Glass built Second Glass from the ground up, and the building’s industrial architecture mimics the neighboring cargo-container setup. Right by the entranceway: cozy outdoor furniture filled with folks clinking glasses.
Speaking of glasses, let’s get into the booze. For beer nerds (raises hand), SG has an excellent and deliberate draft selection that spans several styles without being repetitive. Remember this is a polished restaurant, not a pub with cheese fries, so expect higher price tags (about $8 per pint) and bottles and cans around $6. Also remember you’re paying for flawless service, fantastic food, and an upscale setting, so plan on pitching a few more pennies.
Whether a newbie who just learned how to pronounce “sauvingnon blanc” or a seasoned drinker who can rattle off French Sancerres without batting an eye, SG’s staff is there to make it easier for everyone. They are experts who can lead diners toward something great with knowledge of a few palate preferences, so take advantage of it.
I consider myself fairly well-versed in wine, but I wasn’t there to think. I was there to eat and drink. I sat solo at the bar and asked my server to guide me toward something crisp, minerally, and not sweet to kick off my dinner. She suggested a chardonnay, and though they’re not usually my first choice, one sip and I was sold. Knowing the artisan charcuterie board would be quite a spread, I opted for the pimento cheese instead. To my surprise, the pimento cheese was inexplicably airy and light. Was it whipped? Was it made with half cheddar, half clouds? I didn’t care. Hints of stone fruit from the wine balanced out the richness of the dip.
Upon reading “water crackers,” I envisioned bland, stale boxed rounds. Oh, no. Second Glass’ were ethereal housemade crisps studded with coarse salt. The fluffy cheese loaded onto the thin, toasty crackers was a treat, but the pickled veggies were the home run. There were thin French string beans, golden and red beets, crimson onion strands, and what I will only refer to as “crack pickles.” These green circles were sweet on the tongue with a mild acidic bite that wasn’t a face-smack of vinegar.
Next up was the beef tartare: a lovely presentation featuring more colorful pickled veggies and a high-quality mountain of finely chopped meat, decorated with a golden egg yolk. Each tender scoop of the tartare piled onto thin, toasted crostini slices tasted like butter spiked with sharp onions. The tart, acidic veggies cut through the unctuous texture of the fatty meat so well I had to order extra crostini (not shy).
To get my greens in for the day, I ordered the lettuces with buttermilk, crumbs and cheddar. Basically, take a classic house salad with ranch, croutons and cheese and give it an “Encino Man”-style makeover. On the plate from the bottom up: a verdant, garlicky smear of creamy vinaigrette, tender mixed greens, glistening bread cubes and curly strands of sharp white cheddar. It was a decadent and satisfying dish disguised as a salad. Yes, please: always hide my salads.
I had my heart set on the mussels with coconut, white wine and cilantro, and they lived up to every expectation I manifested in my mind. The dark shells were stacked upon each other in a drinkable broth infused with Asian flavors. I showered them with a generous amount of lime juice (there were four citrus wedges for the taking, after all) and each bite was a plump, exotic, delicate explosion.
The rustic loaf served alongside was crackly on the outside, and spongy on the inside. It melted into the broth and soaked up every last drop. My server paired this with a crisp, bone-dry Muscadet, which brought out the oceany flavors of the mussels. More, please.
It was time for something heartier. Enter: noodles. I was intrigued by the words “handkerchief pasta,” but didn’t ask any questions. I like surprises. The menu described the sauce as pork ragu, which I knew would be rich and tomato-based. I expressed my inclinations toward big, bold, smack-you-in-the-mouth cabs, but also mentioned I wanted to try a new grape. My server immediately went to Copertino—an Italian varietal made with Negroamaro grapes. It was robust and tannic without being overpowering, and silky without being too smooth. The wine’s complexity was a masterful match for the deeply flavored ragu.
Inside the beautiful bowl: super-thin, delicate rectangular sheets of pasta folded on top of each other tangled with a slightly sweet, semi-savory meaty sauce, topped with woody pistachio dust and sharp cheese. The shredded pork was succulent and likely braised in an infusion of wine and herbs. I made it all gone.
Ms. Glass has once again raised the bar, and I raise my glass to her.