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CREOLE INSPIRATIONS: Soul food hits and misses on Front Street

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Though 141 North has some hits and misses with its Southern soul food, there’s still time to up their game as a downtown eatery.

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If anyone has a hankering for hearty New Orleans-style soul food, Front Street’s newer jazz lounge is a surefire hit to satisfy those taste buds. But a hip bar with swanky cocktails and modern cuisine it is not.

Formerly Sunny Sushi, the creole-inspired café inarguably harbors one of the best locations downtown. Smack dab in the middle of Front Street, 141 is swarmed with foot traffic at all hours, day and night. Yet, during our visit only a few other customers were in the restaurant.

Unfortunately, 141 doesn’t plan to open for lunch until March, so my review will only speak to its dinnertime fare (however, it does serve Sunday brunch).

As usual, I did some research before heading mouth-first into a review. Despite having heard nothing about 141, I was pleased to find the majority of online experiences people shared were positive. Yet, our immediate greeting was something to the contrary. We walked in and had to seat ourselves at the bartender-less bar; thereafter, we weren’t approached for nearly 10 minutes. A waiter walked behind us and asked if we needed menus. We also requested a wine list and he nodded.

Ten minutes of silence later, the bartender was back and asked about drinks. After being told there was no wine list, she said she could just tell us what reds she had. She disconcertedly flipped around some half empty bottles in the corner and shouted out there was some kind of cab, a pinot and a red blend.

Hard pass.

I had seen the word “cocktail” in more than one review, so I was looking forward to their lineup. What I saw, instead was a poorly stocked liquor collection where—front and center—were sticky-sweet, neon-hued mixers and an army-like lineup of Aristocrat soldiers.

Again, hard pass.

My dinner date opted for a simple Tito’s and soda and was pleased after the first sip. My drink was forgotten, despite its only two customers in the entire restaurant. As for the Tito’s, well, how hard is it to pour bubbly water over vodka? Certainly not harder than making a drink on ice, right? Well, I ordered a Bulleit on the rocks and watched the bartender stir a can of ginger beer into my bourbon. It took several times of repeating the phrase “on the rocks” before she realized “Bulleit on the rocks” did not mean I had ordered a Kentucky Mule.

At this juncture, it seemed 141 North Front wasn’t necessarily going for the nightlife scene for IPA-guzzling millennials (yes, I’m counting myself), cocktail nerds or winos. Still, its clientale certainly did rave about live jazz entertainment on the weekends.

In fact, 141 North identified themselves as being “purveyors of jazz music and excellent Southern cuisine.” My dinner companion pointed out the food’s blatant New Orleans vibe and soon after I spotted crawfish and jambalaya rice. As I continued scanning the dishes, my eyes stopped on chicken Parmesan and a fried-chicken quesadilla. Something seemed off—it wasn’t quite focused on the soul food I expected to see on American Southern menus. As well, the prices were high, with practically every appetizer being $14 and every entrée topping out close to $30.

Previous diners had raved about crispy, sweet tea-brined chicken and luxurious crab dip. With N’awlins on my mind, my friend and I ordered crawfish bites to start (the roasted red pepper and jalapeño remoulade caught my eye), along with shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles for our finale. Several minutes later, the bartender returned from the kitchen to inform us they were out of crawfish. So we opted for the crab dip. We agreed to eat it with our drinks and take the entrees home.

Fifteen minutes later, out came our boxed entrees and news that our crab dip was slowly behind. We decided to take it to go as well.

Flavor-wise, the shrimp and grits were a knockout. Loaded full of butter and cream—as it should be—the decadent dish had a hint of heat and the grits were sinfully creamy. The shrimp were expertly cooked, but the price point versus the actual shrimp count (the most expensive ingredient in the dish) still left me wondering where all of my dollars had gone. The pineapple and jalapeño cornbread alongside it was equally full of flavor and super moist. It was a comfort-food home run, for sure.

I’m sad to say I was less impressed with the remaining dishes. It seems hard to screw up crab, cream cheese and spices, but for $12 (and being an item on nearly every menu in Wilmington), the meager portion size and average flavor disappointed. The crab was pungent and the uneven scallions and diced tomatoes on top felt like a throw-away garnish.

I had high hopes for the chicken and waffles, but it fell equally short. The waffle was bland, the Jack Daniels syrup was decent but overly boozy (a phrase I rarely use), and the chicken strips were flavorless and could have passed as frozen.

I truly don’t enjoy doling out negative critiques, but 141 North feels out of place. Downtown could certainly use a rad jazz club, but with the food scene here constantly growing and developing, chefs and owners need to make sure menus and service are at the top of their game.

141 North Restaurant & Lounge
141 N. Front St. • (910) 765-1077
Wed.-Thurs. 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat.,  5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Closed Mon.

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