What do you get when you combine an eager oysterman with a passion for family, friends, Low Country boils, and local brews?
Oh—you’ve heard this one? Then you probably know Jud Watkins: owner, brewer, and head shucker at Wrightsville Beach Brewery (WBB). When the Southern contemporary brewpub opened 18 months back, everyone in town scratched their mesh snap-backs and asked themselves, “How did this just become a thing? How had no one put forth the effort to manifest a brewhouse (in a craft beer-heavy town) whose name bears our beloved beach, and whose vibe extends the laidback, coastal spirit of Wrightsville?”
Jump to present day.
WBB has maintained a solid reputation for their various brew styles and found a voice as a stellar, seafood-centric restaurant. Their menu will have diners leaving and saying, “Shuck, yeah!” every time.
I’ve been quietly observing WBB grow into its own over the last year and a half. As a frequent brewery-goer and avid eater of all Wilmington has to offer, the spot itself wasn’t a new find for me. I remember when they first opened their doors with minimal decor and a growing supply of house beers. The kitchen was like a wobbly newborn deer. Upon returning last week to get my official review on the book—and finding out Chef Jeffrey Porter now leads its helm—I couldn’t help but nod approvingly to the enormous coastal mural, gorgeous oyster shell-inspired art, clever menu additions, and most importantly, a mile-long brew list.
WBB’s offerings are uniquely inspired and I suggest diners follow my lead by taking flight with four samples. I’d be lying if I said I was absolutely in love with everything I tried, but here it is: Beer is just as subjective as food. Where one person can’t live without mayonnaise, another will cringe at the thought. Style-wise, the trend in the majority of what I tasted was less bubbly than brews which are intensely carbonated. Some will love it, others perhaps not. Hashtag … life?
WBB’s flagships you’ve likely spotted in cans include their smooth “Puppy Drum Pale Ale” (a balanced American pale with ahtanum, amarillo and centennial hops) and the malty “American Amber,” with notes of dried fruit. Standouts for me in the rotating collaboration selection were the crisp, “Chai-spiced Tama Tea Ale,” and the tropical, malty red double IPA duet with Beer Army. From coffee-scented porters to sour IPAs and beyond, it’s impossible to not have fun sipping down and around the list.
A belly full of beer calls for something deep-fried. Also, don’t even think about visiting WBB without trying some form of an oyster. Just don’t. If it’s chilly water season, slurp them raw because fresh is best. In warmer months, their kimchi and fried oyster bites satisfy any seafood craving. The menu is Southern based, so don’t be surprised to find the bright, quick-fermented greens under golden, puffy oysters are actually collards [ed. note: WBB now uses cabbage as of press time]. Thanks to a sweet, pungent punch from rice vinegar, an aromatic blend of garlic and chili paste, and a sharp zing from pickled ginger, the assertive collards are transformed into a refreshing, crunchy sidecar for the briny oyster.
For those who like to balance brews with veggies, WBB has a modest but thoughtful lineup of greens. From an Asian-style shrimp salad to hearty quinoa with walnuts and peaches, there’s more to their bowls than a pile of careless lettuce. I went for the spinach and strawberry salad; I have a hard time turning down poppyseed dressing. My only complaint: I prefer to have my greens already married with the dressing (especially when it’s a thicker-style vinaigrette). In hindsight, I likely could have just requested it ahead of time. As for the dish itself, the spinach was tender, the goat cheese was deliciously tangy, and the sweet poppyseed dressing was creamy and balanced.
I was well on my way to Shrimp Po’Boy Land, but took a hard turn when I heard the daily specials. When I learned the fresh catch always makes its way into lunchtime tacos, I opted for the seafood most recently swimming. The fresh catch was a mild white fish, well-seasoned, flaky, and expertly cooked. The mango salsa was sweet to counter the oniony, crisp scallions, but I believe that in tacos texture is king. A silky cream sauce and a bigger crunch from something like shredded cabbage would have amped it up a bit more. However, the sweet potato waffle fries (particularly dipped in the delightfully zesty housemade blue cheese) were addictive.
OK—the moment you’ve all been waiting for: pizza.
Pizza and brews are a nearly impossible duo to beat. When WBB decided to pour their beer right into the dough, a magical creation came to life. New York-style thin crust may be all the rage but one pull of WBB’s chewy, thick, yeasty dough can make anyone a believer. The coolest part?
Depending on the humidity in the air, the beer-infused dough rises differently every time, making for a fairly different bite and overall texture in each hoppy batch.
Also, the pizza menu is heavily seafood-based (as it should be) with ingredients ranging from a po’ boy pie with sautéed oysters and remoulade to a Carolina crab cake with cream sauce and capers. I went traditional with the classic Margherita. The center of the pie was spongy and tender, while the crust offered a super smoky, sturdy chew. Though it could have benefited from an additional dash of salt or Parmesan, overall, the pizza-beer-partnership was exceptional. Oh, and diners can get it gluten-free.
Between the knowledgeable, accommodating staff and a humble, welcoming owner always seen making his rounds to new guests and regulars alike, WBB is an oasis of beachy vibes, bomb food, and balanced brews.