8262 Market St.
Casual-fine dining experiences beckon foodies throughout Wilmington. As I live in the downtown area, I often default to one of the many wonderful restaurants within walking distance of my house. It’s perfect because I can grab coffee, dinner, ice cream and fudge all without setting foot in a car. The downside to downtown life is that I often miss all the other great places around Wilmington, like Kornerstone Bistro, a Mediterranean-style eatery in the Porter’s Neck area.
Kornerstone offers what I appreciate and look for in a restaurant: fresh local produce, organic meats and seafood—and homemade everything. And to think I didn’t even know the place existed until I tagged along on another lunch bunch culinary adventure a few weeks ago.
Full disclosure: Mediterranean is one of my favorite varieties of food. Needless to say, I was on board full-throttle before the lunch-bunch train even left the station.
Walking into the restaurant, I immediately noticed the décor. The wood and granite-top tables seemed to shine in the natural light beaming from the large windows aligning the walls. As I mused over the ambience, fresh baked pizza wafted from the wood-fired oven alongside the smell of fire-roasted garlic. It was intoxicating to all of my senses.
Immediately, we were relieved we wouldn’t have to choose between the many wonderful options listed on Kornerstone’s extensive menu. Chef Adam Baker took care of us by preparing courses reflecting the eclectic restaurant.
First, our kind waiter and hostess brought fresh bread with spinach pesto. I love spinach, and I have never seen it presented in pesto form at a local restaurant. It won specialty points in my book. Our appetizers continued with bruschetta, which was light and refreshing as the finely diced tomatoes tasted crisp and cool mixed with herbs and lots of garlic, all atop toasted, homemade grain bread.
Keeping up with the local and seasonal offerings, our salads arrived with a base of arugula, topped of with a grilled peach, goat cheese, pine nuts and lightly drizzled with lemon vinaigrette. Luck be on our side that day, as Chef Baker was testing the dish to be a part of his North Carolina Best Dish entry. (He’s serving the salad throughout the month of July.) A perfectly portioned course, like the appetizers before it, I ate the entire salad. It was filled with sweet flavors amped up by the peppery greens and citrusy dressing. Best of all, I did not feel overwhelmed by it when considering the thought of more food coming.
And there was more food coming…
As I’ve said before, nothing beats a crispy thin crust when it comes to pizza. Anyone can create a personalized brick-oven masterpiece at Kornerstone; however, as it were, we had a trifecta of Neapolitan-style pies delivered to our table without having the stress of trying to decide how to top them. Weighing in first was the Toscano, with pepperoni and Italian sausage, which definitely had spice and bold flavors from the meat, but without the puddle of residual oil one might expect. My personal favorite, as well as Shea’s and Bethany’s, the Santorini, came with tangy feta cheese, olives, red onion, pepperoncini and artichoke hearts. Piled high with basil pesto, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and mouth-watering mozzarella, the Genoa pleased the crowd from its heartiness.
One of Kornerstone’s prized dishes—as noted not only from its staff, but also from our coworker, Jennifer, who claimed a friend’s frequent dining habit to Kornerstone just for this one dish—shrimp fra diavolo sat before us, overflowing in a pink sauce. It was creamy and spicy, punctuated by al dente penne pasta, bedded with perfectly plump local shrimp. Spicy dishes are hard ones to sell in my opinion for two reasons: Some chefs don’t go the distance and it’s like any other pasta dish, while others maliciously try to burn the taste buds off the palate. Such was not the case here. The spicy “Brother Devil” tomato cream sauce had a tasty fire without licking the sun’s surface.
Rounding out our entrées was admittedly everyone’s favorite moment of lunch: the fish of the day. Chef Baker delivered a perfectly seared piece of grouper, served over spaghetti squash, pearl onions and potatoes. Spaghetti squash is one of my favorite pasta substitutes, and it was done extremely well here, devoid of heavy sauce, which allowed all of its subtle flavors to shine. The seasoned ingredients tasted fresh, simple and perfect. It may just be the best prepared grouper I’ve had in town.
Before finishing, our brilliant chef came out to greet us, explaining a bit of his culinary philosophy and then sending out a unique dark chocolate bread pudding topped with ice cream and strawberry. Using white bread, Chef Baker crafts a chocolate custard for the bread to soak in until time to bake. Warm and almost fudge cake-like, we did not consider an ounce of guilt or shame as we all shoveled forkful after forkful of the sweet confection into our mouths. Baker told us he has a white chocolate version, which he prefers, served with blueberries or berry compote. We responded: “Next time.”
And, without a doubt, there will be a next time. In fact, many of them.