Waterline Brewing Company was packed on Saturday for Bestival 2019, celebrating encore’s Best Of and the community at large! See interviews and videos featuring winners in Goods and Services category below!
Check out more photos from Chris Brehmer Photography and Tom Dorgan on encore’s Facebook page!
Click here for complete list of winners and runners-up.
BEST HOT DOG: THE TROLLY STOP
Trolly Stop has been synonymous with hot dog in Wilmington since it opened in 1976 by BC Hedgepath. Its first locale was built at the original stop of the trolly that took folks from Wilmington to Wrightsville Beach (hello, City of ILM and WB Alderman, can we bring it back, please?). Multiple locations now exist from midtown Wilmington to Southport to even Chapel Hill, all franchised by various owners.
No matter which Trolly Stop location folks pop into, each features more than 1,000 combinations between their five types of hot dogs, two hamburgers and a baker’s dozen of fresh toppings. Diners won’t find neon pink wieners at Trolly Stop, either. Hot dog options include the traditional Southern Trolly Dog made of beef and pork; the all-beef “Northern Dog”; a fat-free turkey dog, made with smoked turkey breast; and a vegetarian option made with soy protein. Plus, they have an all-pork smoked sausage.
All can be topped in countless ways, including Trolly’s creations: the North Carolina (deli mustard, chili and slaw); The Nuclear (deli mustard, melted cheese and jalapenos), The Wrightsville Beach (deli mustard, secret sauce, onions and diced tomatoes), or the Surfer Dog (mayo, bacon bits, cheese). The latest addition to the pack, the Mexican Dog (Carolina pork sausage dog, two strips of bacon, salsa, cheese, onions, and jalapenos) is a massive treat on hunger.
As if their piled-high dogs aren’t enough, a side of their homemade slaw, chili or baked beans is hard to pass, too. Varying locations also serve batter-dipped fries, cheesesteaks, burgers, and ice cream.
Plus, the franchise has become known for their hot sauce—a homemade concoction that blends spices and heat for a delightful topping. It’s been the same secret sauce since opening day, with a citrus base and a hint of sweet flavors. They started selling it locally about 10 years ago at Lowes Food stores and Robert’s Grocery Store in Wrightsville Beach, so folks looking to spice up their summertime cookouts can enjoy the Trolly Stop at home, too.
Fountain Drive, Southport and Chapel Hill locations offer catering options. There is the Trolly Stop Cart Service and the Trolly Stop Tailgating Kits for large parties, which include dogs, buns, tons of toppings, recipes and even delivery—for $2.75 per hot dog (comes with a 25¢ upcharge for the veggie, fat-free or all-beef hotdogs). Folks with gluten sensitivities should note that only the beef dogs are gluten-free, and gluten-free buns are also available for an upcharge.
Trolly Stop has a food truck now, too, so they’ll be wheeling and dealing carts with the hottest dogs from the coast to inland. Folks can check out all information about them by heading over to www.trollystophotdogs.com, where menus are listed, along with hours and specials.
The Trolly Stop garnered 52% of votes for Best Hot Dog.
BEST SEAFOOD: CAPE FEAR SEAFOOD COMPANY
Eleven years ago Evans Trawick and his wife, Nikki, took a leap of faith and opened Monkey Junction’s Cape Fear Seafood Company. With over 20 years of restaurant industry experience, the Trawick’s knew the struggle to come in restaurant life—and they overcame them all to find a winning formula, serving ILM the best in fresh seafood, with excellent service to match the finest quality.
Today, they’ve opened two more restaurants locally with a fourth in Raleigh, and are raising two children. Cape Fear Seafood Company has garnered many accolades during this time, including encore’s Best Seafood category, which they won by 55% in 2019.
encore (e): What’s new with Cape Fear Seafood, per menus, specials, cocktail/beer/wine program?
Evans Trawick (ET): We have several new menu items, including house smoked salmon cakes over fettuccine with a lemon dill sauce. We also have a great seared tuna appetizer, and a new sautéed BBQ shrimp app that’s sweet, smoky and topped with chicharrones.
e: You’re expanding into RDU—why take the restaurant into that market? Will the seafood still be fresh and local to our coast?
ET: We have actually opened North Raleigh, located at 832 Spring Forest Road in Raleigh. CFSC is a great brand with potential to grow outside of our home market in Southeastern NC. The response of the Raleigh opening has been extraordinary and we have been getting inquiries for years on expansion outside of our home.
The seafood served in all of our locations is sourced locally when possible and all of our fin fish is fresh always. In the Southeastern NC we rely on Steve Strouse from Brunswick County to supply us with fresh fish five to six days a week. Steve also delivers to the Raleigh market three days a week.
e: Do you have plans to expand more? If so can you share some of those thoughts?
ET: Yes. We are looking to partner with highly qualified and motivated individuals or operating groups to take our brand to other markets in the region. We are targeting larger metro markets and their suburbs as possible locations for future Cape Fear Seafood Company locations.
e: What makes Cape Fear Seafood highly ranked among encore in your opinion?
ET: I would like to think we do our very best every day to provide our guests with a wonderful meal, excellent service, in a relaxed and welcoming environment. By doing so, we have built our reputation as the areas go-to eateries for a consistent quality product and experience. When you dine with CFSC, we want you to understand you are dining with friends and family, regardless of who you are or from where you come.
e: What’s something most people don’t know about your restaurants?
ET: It takes an army of great individuals working together as a team to create dishes, serve them, wash them, clean up, and start all over again ever single day. We all love what we are doing and you can see it when you visit CFSC. We have been around for almost 12 years, and in the restaurant business that means we are among the elder statesmen at this point.
e: What seafood markets do you work with to get the best fish?
ET: We work closely with Steve Strouse in Brunswick County, Inland Seafood, Wanchese Fish Company and our broadline supplier U.S. Foods to provide us access product.
e: What’s your fave menu item and why? Tell me how it’s served.
ET: That’s a loaded question. I love fresh fish, so a beautiful piece of trigger, tile, grouper or mahi really hit the spot but shrimp and grits may be my true favorite. I love the depth of flavor in our version of a classic Southern dish. If I am grabbing a quick bite, our shrimp burger is out of this world.
e: What philanthropic work do you do with the community?
ET: We are constantly supporting local fundraising efforts through donations. With every store opening, we partner with local charities and to do three to five soft opening/fundraiser events and 50 percent of those sales are given back.
Locally we have been supporters of The American Heart Association and their Heart Walk with our walk team “This Little Heart of Mine.” My daughter, Ande, was born with a congenital heart defect known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome or HLHS for short. Essentially, she has a single ventricle heart or half a heart as it’s sometimes referred to. The condition has required three open-heart surgeries since her birth—and we have been very proactive in looking for ways to support research associated with pediatric cardiology.
My wife and I have started a research fund at Duke Children’s Hospital called The Trawick Pediatric Cardiology Research Fund. This is where the bulk of our philanthropic efforts will be going in the future. Folks can donated directly by going to www.capefearseafoodcompany.com/charity. Please help us help thousands of children in supporting the research necessary to improve the quality of life for children born with congenital heart defects.
BEST SPORTS BAR, WAITSTAFF, LUNCH AND WINGS: COPPER PENNY & BEST SERVER: BRANDON ANGELLILI
The Copper Penny has become one of downtown’s most popular eateries since opening in Wilmington more than a decade ago. To prove as much is true—outside of an almost constant full restaurant—they’ve scored award after award on encore’s Readers’ Choice Poll annually. 2019 is no exception as they swept the best of with four “e”’s.
We interviewed general manager Andrew Devoid about their numerous wins and constant attention to providing the best experience for customers. Copper Penny scored best lunch with 72%, best server, Brandon Angellili, with 48% of the vote, best waitstaff with 43%, and best wings with 48% of the vote.
encore (e): What’s new at Copper Penny? Tell us about your weekly/daily specials whether in food or bar…
Andrew Devoid (AD): Having such a consistent and loyal customer base, we’re always experimenting with new items. We generally look to change our menu about three times a year based on everyone’s feedback and any new creations people like.
Since the time of the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” initial airing [last year], we’ve practically done nothing but make onion rings! One big change for us was the switch to only offering NC beers, with a heavy draft focus on all of our local breweries. We’re proud of the work they put into our community and are happy to showcase it. Matthew and the bar crew are also big on using as many NC-branded liquors for our refreshing cocktail menu.
e: You guys scored many wins on our poll this year—which stand out to you most? Why do you think your staff is always highly regarded on our poll—per best waitstaff and now best server with Brandon Angellili?
AD: We are grateful for the community recognition as everyone on staff works hard and appreciates being noticed for their efforts. All of them mean a lot to us in different ways. Best lunch and wings are nice ones, as it’s something we really tried to establish when we first opened. Being consistently voted best waitstaff for all of these years straight is truly a nod to the staff and teamwork they put in. How Brandon got nominated is a mystery but it’s really cool he won—just kidding! We were stoked for him! Brandon has been a big part of our staff for many years, a professional who remains dedicated and always going above and beyond for his tables and coworkers.
Our biggest element of mentoring our staff is always preaching and practicing teamwork. We try to surround ourselves with good people who care about their work and enjoy being here. Our staff is the face of our establishment and we treat them with a family sense of respect. There’s quite a few staff members who have been here a long time, and their leadership plays a huge role in the success of The Copper Penny.
One thing we do most of is give perspective to our staff to be thankful for the customers who choose to come in and dine with us. There are a lot of really great places to eat and enjoy yourselves in Wilmington and it’s something we do not take for granted. Whether it’s a quick lunch or dinner with family and friends, we always want everyone to leave satisfied and be glad they chose us each and every time.
As we all know too well, everyone’s a critic nowadays and it really keeps us on our toes at all times. We still make mistakes—and will certainly continue to in the future; however, we will always look to correct them immediately. Our staff is trained to be mindful of every customer and ensure they leave knowing they were taken care of even if they didn’t like something. As our business has grown, maintaining efficiency remains a key goal. Even after 15 years, we are learning and adapting on how to keep everything in sync.
e: What are your most popular dishes? Tell us how they’re made.
AD: We’ve had many house favorites over the years, but the two sandwiches that have stood out the most are the 109 Chestnut chicken and the hot roasted pork sandwiches with our beer-battered onion rings. We prep and prepare all our ingredients daily, from roasting and slicing our own meats, making batches of our specialty aiolis, to simmering au jus or our tasty wing sauces; there’s a lot of labor and love that goes into our menu. Our Kaiser rolls and wedge bread is baked fresh and picked up every day at Apple Annie’s Bake Shop; many mornings it’s still warm in the bags and makes the car smell delicious on the way downtown.
We change our fryer oil every day and sometimes even twice daily on the busy days to maintain the fresh flavor of our onion rings and wings. The onion rings have become an open-to-close prep item as we go through so many trays daily. It’s a lot of work but we absolutely love them. Yes we’ve been known as your standard pub-grub type of place, but we have tried to do it with the very best ingredients and keep it fresh.
e: You guys give back to the community at large monthly per the 109 Chicken sammie program. How much money have you raised to date and how do you choose your nonprofits? Any other philanthropic work you do?
AD: We are proud of our charity work; it has grown into our biggest accomplishment here at The Copper Penny. Initial inspiration grew out of the passing of Roland Grise 6th grade student Alex Newsome from an accident at baseball practice. They are family friends of ours and watching how the community rallied around the Newsome family was very inspirational and motivated us to do more. Alex never wanted anyone to go hungry and NourishNC was the springboard for an annual community food drive held in his honor.
We first started collecting toys for sick children at Duke Children’s Hospital and the response from our customers was immense. Our first trip up to the hospital to deliver the presents created a very memorable moment and we knew right then, there was no turning back. Giving became contagious and we realized many people want to help but may not know where or how to, so we came up with the Give Back Tuesdays campaign. By using our restaurant as a rotating platform, we had the opportunity to bring awareness to so many wonderful organizations to so many people who may not have known they even existed. Our friends at Wilmington Brewing Company created a charity beer called Penny Pale Ale, and we definitely wanted to feature Apple Annie’s Bake Shop’s amazing wedge bread, so we came up with the $1.09 donation idea. Every month we feature a local charitable organization, and on Tuesdays we donate $1.09 of every 109 Chestnut Chicken Sandwich and Penny Pale Ale sold. We decided to use our spots on The Penguin and in encore to help promote each and every charity.
I’ll be the first to say, there are a lot of really great people in our community doing amazing things. We’ve realized, yes, the monetary donations are great, but the recognition and increased awareness has had a resounding effect on all of the groups we have worked with. Our staff is always on the lookout for new ways to help in the community, and many of our customers will offer suggestions. We look forward to continuing this program and sincerely thank everyone who has taken part.
Thank you again, Wilmington, for being an amazing home. And to all of the loyal customers we’ve had over the years—you rock! We love what you and the staff have made of The Copper Penny. We have some exciting ideas and plans for the near future, so be on the lookout, cheers!
— Shea Carver
BEST PIZZA & LATE-NIGHT EATERY: SLICE OF LIFE
Since 2005—maybe longer (counting is hard)—Slice of Life has nailed down the encore readers’ choice award for Best Pizza and Best Late-Night Eatery. 2019 is no exception as the trio of eateries—downtown, Wrightsville Beach and Pine Valley—welcome folks from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. And not only are they noshing on pie aplenty, the sips coming with it are top notch, too.
Owner Ray Worrell’s love of tequila ensures Slice of Life has a vast selection, whether to sip on neat, enjoy mixed with a cocktail or on the rocks.
“For a long time tequila has been my favorite,” Worrell tells. “It is almost like wine, with many different complexities. I guess one of the reasons why we have one of the largest tequila selections is half our menu serves Mexican items, such as quesadillas, nachos and tacos.”
They offer meat and veggie varieties to appease all palates on their lunch and dinner menu. Plus, folks can order nachos. Add to it a variety of salads, subs and wrapsand the Slice menu extends far beyond pizza pie.
However, for folks who wish to sip on wine or beer, Slice’s extended list of imports and craft flavors are appealing. And it will spread to the Porters Neck area soon enough, where the fourth Slice is slated to open.
“It will stand alone but will have four other businesses next to it,” Worrell tells. “In between the two buildings will be a really cool covered outdoor area.”
2019 also celebrates the restaurant’s 20-year anniversary. Thus Worrell’s eateries will surpass the 100,000 pounds of cheese they served in 2017. Toppings vary on every pie, whether spinach, feta and onion or pineapple and ham, or Italian sausage and pepperoni, or just plain cheese. “We use the best ingredients the best way we can,” Worrell says.
Slice of LIfe pays back its devoted customers with its loyalty card program. It tracks diners meals with a point system. Folks can review their awards points at Slice’s website, grabaslice.com.
“It’s pretty simple,” Worrell tells, “for every $100 you spend with me, you get $10 back. It is built into our point-of-sale system to keep track of your purchases.”
A UNCW graduate who took over Slice in 2004, Worrell has grown and expanded his eateries while also giving back to the community. Today he focuses a lot of energy on ensuring area students are fed beyond mere school lunches, by serving on the board of Nourish NC. The nonprofit stuffs backpacks with food for kids who live in food deserts or don’t have access to nutritious meals outside of school hours. The end goal is to help kids feel empowered and succeed in the classroom and community at large.
Currently, folks can sport Slice of Life gear, including T-shirts (long- and short-sleeved), hoodies and ball caps online. Costs are $15-$30. However, through June 24 apply the code SF9611 in the shopping cart to save 25%.
Slice of Life took 44% of the Best Pizza vote and Late Night Eatery for 53% of the votes.
— Shea Carver
BEST PHILLY CHEESESTEAK: J. Michael’s Philly Deli
The Philly cheesesteak is as quintessentially American as apple pie at this point in our short culinary history. Ask folks around town who has the best, and while some may snarkily remark, “We aren’t on ‘Cheesesteak Row’”—where half of Philadelphia’s neighborhood goes to Geno’s and the other half to Pat’s—we do have eateries in town to rival them. Enter J. Michael’s Philly Deli. They’re holding tight to their win and to their popularity. Next year they will celebrate the big 4-0 on Wilmington’s restaurant scene.
“We are an old Wilmington company,” owner J. Michael Huston says. They have around 125 employees under their belt. “I was checking on the longevity of some of them, and we have over 600 years of experience—some of our staff has been with us for over 37 years. That’s pretty amazing!”
“The Philly Deli,” as it’s known to locals, has been in business since 1979, with its first store opening in Wilmington’s oldest shopping center, New Hanover Center. The flagship store still serves folks daily, with Monkey Junction and Porter’s Neck locations being added throughout the years. “We take great pride in our products,” Huston promises.
In fact, Huston orders his restaurants’ bread directly from a 114-year-old business outside of Philadelphia—the Amoroso Baking Co. They’re well-known and respected for their bread that cuddles custom-sliced steaks—whether topped with homemade cheese sauce, onions and peppers, or mushrooms, lettuce and tomato, or just plain. J. Michael’s also subs out chicken or veggies for Philly meat if customers so desire. “Our meat is from the highest grades of beef,” Huston adds. While folks up north may prefer the fermented Cheese Wiz on their steaks, in ILM, J. Michael’s custom blends and creates his own sauce. It’s white, gooey and super yummy.
“We use a special blend of block white cheeses shredded and melted to a creamy texture so that can be then poured over each sandwich,” he tells.
J. Michael’s has added to their menu over the years so folks of all appetites can enjoy something. Hoagies and grinders come in all forms and styles, like meatball and italian grinders, plus homemade tuna and chicken salad, served as a sandwich or on a salad. Folks can even get their fave Philly on a salad!
“Hoagies are served cool and grinders are bake in the oven,” Huston explains. “We also have wonderful salads—chef salad, chicken salad, tuna salad and egg salad, all made in house.”
The adventurous will even find a hot dog on the menu that’s unlike most in town. John’s Island (South Carolina) Hot Dog is all beef and topped with peanut butter, mayo and onions.
They do soups, like French onion, broccoli and cheese, potato and bacon, and chicken noodle. And, of course, they have a Philly chili. On top of weekly specials, J. Michael’s makes sure no one’s wallet is hit especially hard, either, so he offers lunch combos.
And don’t forget the lengthy appetizer list: fried mushrooms Frickles (fried pickles), fries, mozzarella sticks, jalapeño poppers, chicken wings and fingers, and more. It’s all available during lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Overseeing three restaurants does not slow down Huston. He gives back to his community at large any chance he can by working closely with the New Hanover School system PTAs, even hosting promo nights to raise money for their activities.
“We also help at the public school level with the program called ‘occupational course of study,’” he explains, “where students from local schools come in and work in our restaurant to develop tools to help them when they graduate from school and go to the workplace. It has been very successful and we have actually hired several of these fine students.”
Huston has served on the board of the Domestic Violence Shelter and Services for almost 30 years and continues helping raise awareness. At Philly Deli they recognize veterans and first-responders, as well as Boomers and nonprofit organizations with discounts.
J. Michael’s took 62% of the vote.
— Shea Carver
BEST THAI, RESTAURANT OVERALL, OUTDOOR DINING & ATMOSPHERE: INDOCHINE
Indochine is a bonafide staple on Wilmington’s dining scene now for almost two decades. They’ve hit a tried-and-true formula of serving the community at large consistent, delicious, flavorful Thai cuisine.
Born and raised in Vietnam, owner Solange Thompson prides the authenticity she is able to recreate from southeast Asia onto Wilmington’s culinary scene. She hires native chefs who prepare with careful thoughtfulness the food she grew up on and loves.
“I stay true to my upbringing and what I’ve learned as a child in Vietnam, but I have also lived in this country for over 40 years and my husband and children are all American,” Thompson tells.
“This combination of unique experiences have helped me blend my roots with my American life.”
Stepping into the restaurant is like traveling to her homeland. The decor is peppered with bamboo, new Indonesian art, buddhas, and vast color. Outside in their expanded tiki bar area are hand-built cabanas perfect for dining al fresco on comfortable sunny days. Surrounding the cabanas are lush foliage and a koi pond. It feels much like stepping into a rain-forest hideaway.
“We typically serve around 200,000 annually,” Thompson says, which is no small feat. They don’t take reservations, so it’s on a first-come-first-serve basis—and the parking lot proves people don’t mind waiting every night of the week. Lines begin for dinnertime around 5 p.m. and end at closing time.
Folks can’t get enough of Indochine’s variety of dishes, whether craving daily lunch specials starting at $8.95 (hello, Bun Bo Hue), or looking for an intimate dinner with loved ones (the Bun Thit Noong is a must-try!). There are specialty creations aplenty, as well as sushi, curries, and of course an appetizer list that could make a meal unto itself. Wine, specialty cocktails, beer and all ABC permits ensure every sip is paired perfectly with every bite.
The restaurant runs like a well-oiled machine and is a family-affair. “It stays in the family forever,” Thompson promises. “I built this place with my family and cannot imagine it existing without them. I enjoy my work but I have slowed down a lot and let my daughter, Marie, take over many day-to-day operations.”
The real question remains: Might those operations ever include expanding? Thompson leaves it up in the air. “The possibilities are endless,” she says. “I never know what tomorrow will bring.”
Well, except for delicious food and super customers. And there are many she wants to remember—one stands out from 2001—the year Indochine opened.
“My most memorable experience since I opened was when Usher came in,” Thompson recalls. “He was the most polite and handsome man I’ve ever seen. He graciously took pictures with all of my staff and was just so pleasant. I wish I knew where those photos were!”
Indochine won Best Thai Restaurant by 71% of votes; Best Restaurant Overall by 46%; Best Atmosphere by 53%; and Best Outdoor Dining by 36%.
BEST BURGER AND FRIES: PT’S OLDE-FASHIONED GRILLE
It is damn near impossible to beat PT’s Olde-Fashioned Grille at their burger and fries game. For roughly a dozen years the local franchise has taken encore’s readers’ choice award for fresh and crispy French fries, and they are always contenders for Best Burger. PT’s has taken home the “e” for both in 2019.
“As always it’s a privilege to be named ‘best,’” owner Jim Biermann says. “Especially when there are other great restaurants in Wilmington serving similar food—we never take it for granted. Wilmington has been great to PT’s—thanks, encore readers!”
Biermann, who owns the PT’s on Carolina Beach Road, says one of the best parts about operating one of these local staples is the simplicity of their menu. It’s the same simplicity which he thinks is the selling point for a lot of customers as well. “I don’t see any additions in the near future,” he notes in spite of occasional hype around new food trends in the burger industry, like the Impossible Burger—the plant-based meatless burger that was being served around town until a shortage of the product hit when national chain Burger King started flipping them on their menus, too.
“I’ve never tried The Impossible Burger but have certainly heard about it,” Biermann says. “I’ve never entertained putting it on the menu because its cost would require us to price it out of our normal price range. We do have garden burgers and black bean burgers that are similar in concept to the Impossible.”
The perfect burger is up to each customer, according to Biermann, whose personal favorite is a medium-rare PT Burger with mustard, ketchup and cheese. As well there always are extra toppings to choose from to add layers of flavor, including mushrooms, chili, slaw, grilled onions, bacon and jalapenos. When it comes to those award-winning fries, however, the secret’s in the seasoning—of which can be found and purchased by the bottle. “I think people like the fries because they are fresh, mashed out daily before each shift,” Biermann adds. “We use an Idaho potato, which has great flavor. And the seasoning helps!”
PT’s can be found at five other locations throughout Wilmington, including 17th Street, Fountain Dr., Porter’s Neck, Military Cutoff and Monkey Junction.
PT’s Olde-Fashioned Grille won Best Burger by culling 41% of votes and 66% for Best Fries.