You don’t wander into a joint dubbed “Beer Bellies” and expect white tablecloths, overpriced charcuterie and stuffy service.
Beer Bellies doesn’t claim to be anything other than what it is, and I’ll give them some credit for that. Formerly located at the old Shuckin’ Shack downtown on Market near Front, the New Orleans-inspired dive is known for their boozy Sunday brunch, golden-fried seafood and proper beignets. The interior is practically untouched from the previous restaurant, but the coastal bar vibe works well in the space.
I visited Beer Bellies when they opened their doors last year and though I wasn’t completely blown away, I also wasn’t terribly disappointed. While skimming some of their recent reviews online, I discovered they had grown quite a following. People seem to dig the food, so I thought I’d give it another go. Plus, I like cold beer and fried things on random weekdays.
I popped in on a fairly quiet Monday evening, and my husband and I practically had the bar to ourselves. The waitress raved about the Southern-fried wings and suggested ordering them naked with Buffalo and sweet chili sauce married together on the side. I typically trail wings back and forth between ranch and bleu cheese, so the recommendation of combining two sauces got my attention. I also liked how our server was diligent enough to converse, rather than just provide bare minimum chit-chat and go text in the corner.
Each wing was covered in a thick, crunchy coating but remained really juicy on the inside. The sauce was spicy, tart and sweet. Next time I’ll opt for them tossed in the clever combo, for sure. No big frills with this dish—just peppery, breaded bites that went nicely with a cold beer or four.
The burgers seemed to get the most praise out of the bunch, so we decided to go halfsies on the Double Barrel (sans BBQ sauce). The loaded handheld was stacked with sweet Applewood bacon, creamy slaw, tomato, pickles, onion, and aioli. There were enough saucy condiments so the house sweet BBQ sauce seemed a little redundant. The tart pickles and creamy slaw balanced the meaty patty, a touch overdone for medium-rare in my opinion. The burger was a solid portion of satisfaction, but had the Angus beef been taken off the flattop about a minute sooner, it may have blown my socks off. Well-seasoned crinkle fries are hard to beat. Well-played, BB.
In an attempt to try something outside of the “bar food” category, the grilled catfish was next on deck. It is a seafood restaurant, after all. Nearly all the catfish in Wilmington is local, so while it was cooked well and the flavor was fresh, simple and clean, there wasn’t much happening to make the plate overly interesting. The biggest fail was cold mashed potatoes (not lukewarm). They were buttery and salty, so there wasn’t anything wrong on that end, but cold potatoes are a little bit of a turn-off.
For my other side, I opted for a Caesar—always my go-to. The lettuce was chilled and crunchy, but the overall salad was average. At this point, I realized Beer Bellies seems to put all of their effort into certain dishes and little into others. It is definitely not the first local eatery I’ve found to take advantage of their prime location by slacking off on parts of the menu. That being said, I had family in town who stumbled into BB for brunch several weeks back when everywhere else was slammed, and they enjoyed every single bite.
Speaking of bites, anyone looking for a standout dish, welp, go no further than their beignets. Fried to order, the pillowy, golden-brown nuggets are showered in powdered sugar. The kitchen keeps it simple and they are melt-in-your-mouth good.
With such stellar online ratings, BB clearly has a handle on their crowd. They’re putting out unfussy familiar food to the masses and that seems to please customers. I just think a little extra thoughtfulness here and there would up the ante. Either way, beignets and cold brews FTW!