Businesses, artists, thespians, chefs, theatre companies, musicians, humanitarians, environmental groups, media: They’re all recognized as the town’s best hot shots in encore’s annual reader’s poll—a poll that has been taking place well over 25 years in Wilmington. To put it simply: We hold the official “Best Of” moniker.
In 2015, we culled over 20,000 voices to weigh in on their thoughts about the Best Of Wilmington. Nominations opened in mid-November and closed in mid-December 2014, before final voting opened mid-December and closed mid-January 2015. All voting was done by the community-at-large through our online voting system, featuring over 130 categories. We try to be as fair as possible, and while we encourage local businesses and groups to campaign so their patrons/fans vote for them, we do lay a few ground rules in campaigning practices:
1) No stuffing the ballot box! That means you can’t vote under multiple email addresses or encourage customers and employees to do so.
2) No voting on someone else’s behalf. If you have a list of email addresses that don’t belong to you, please, don’t fill out ballots in their names.
3) Do not entice patrons/fans into voting for you by offering specials, discounts or prizes in exchange for votes.
After voting closes, we throw our annual Best Of Party and fundraiser. This year’s event was held at Brooklyn Arts Center on February 28 and benefitted DREAMS of Wilmington—a local nonprofit and multidisciplinary arts program for at-risk youth (see our cover story from encore’s February 26 edition for full info on DREAMS; www.dreamsofwilmingon.org). Thanks to 550 tickets sold, numerous raffles, a Best Of Battle of the Bands, and a live text-to-donate program, DREAMS raised more than $11,000 and will take in $7,200 after expenses. This money allows them to accept 45 students into their three-week summer intensive arts program.
Our Best Of hosts, comedy troupe Pineapple-Shaped Lamps (this week’s dashing cover models), entertained with a plethora of sketches across every category of award-winners—all set to a “Back to the ‘80s” theme. Aside from nailing spot-on impressions of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures,” they ensured audiences were rolling in laughter during their “Flashdance” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” interpretive dance numbers. And a bonus: Those funny Pineapple kids also got to know DREAMS’ students via videos they made for the show. More so, they will be volunteering with DREAMS this summer!
We laughed a ton and stuffed ourselves silly, thanks to food passed around throughout the evening—all provided from our numerous nominees in the food and beverage categories. We danced the night away with DJ KB spinning everything from “Under Pressure” to “Rich Girl,” and especially to the bands L Shape Lot and The Midatlantic, who were duking it out for final votes during the ceremony as Best Band. While L Shape Lot came out on top, it did not deter the camaraderie between these Americana/bluegrass acts. They closed out the night in a finale together with “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” As well, DREAMS music teacher Laura McLean and her band the New Riders of Calamity took the stage and killed it, especially with a smokin’ rendition of “She Bop.”
Blueberry Creative caught all the fun on film! (So be sure to check out the pictures in the next four editions of encore, wherein we announce all winners.) Folks were dressed to the nines in ‘80s gear, including our crowned king and queen—as picked by TJ Dunn, founder of Wilmington Fashion Week, and judged by audience applause. Christian Podgaysky as Boy George and Stacia Sylvester donned all the right classics from the era, acid-wash jeans and fanny pack included.
Welcome, Best Of Wilmington class of 2015!
Goods & Services
REAL ESTATE COMPANY
Intracoastal Realty has won Best Real Estate Company for quite a few years on our poll now. Yet, the win never becomes something they take for granted. “People want to do business with companies that their peers think highly of,” vice president Lake Slacum says. “We are honored to be voted as the best in the area once again by the readers of encore.”
Intracoastal’s dedication to supreme service in buying and selling homes, and overseeing their property management division for vacation homes and long-term rentals, remains the focus of their mission. In fact, the company operates with over 280 agents and multiple sales offices to ensure expansive reach.
“Intracoastal Realty founder and CEO Jim Wallace was living in Atlanta when he was hired by the developers of Station One condominiums on Wrightsville Beach to sell the 88 units in May of 1976,” Slacum explains of the company’s foundation. “After quickly selling out the project, Intracoastal Realty was founded in the fall of 1976. Jim’s success in selling real estate prompted other agents to express interest in joining his company.”
Thirty-five years later still, he oversees the first-class organization, which depends on cutting-edge marketing and technology to help make listing homes and selling them a breeze. “An example of a superior service is our state-of-the-art Home Search App for mobile devices,” Slacum explains. “This app launched in December and is receiving rave reviews from our clients, with many of them saying it’s better than national home-search apps.”
In fact, technological advancements have propelled the real-estate market’s reach tenfold. Intracoastal took notice to get ahead of the curve.
“The proliferation of mobile devices—and the subsequent increase in home searches done from these devices—inspired us to create a ‘responsive’ website a few years ago,” she continues. “We were the first brokerage in the area to launch the technology. The addition of the mobile app allows us to cater to a segment that prefers to use an app to search for real estate rather than to search a website on their device’s browser.”
Later this year, Intracoastal also will be upgrading their digital offerings. But Slacum is mum on the details, other than ensuring it will better serve agents and clients. Plus, Intracoastal will continue to give back to the area, including their Teacher Fund. “It was started by [Jim] in 2005,” she says. “The Teacher’s Fund is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that helps local public and private kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school teachers buy supplies, books, and fun learning aids they so desperately need.”
Other companies topping our reader’s poll for real estate superiority are Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Realty and Century 21 Sweyer and Associates.
In 1973 Charlie and Nelda Illickas opened a PIP Printing franchise, which later became an independent operation, Dock Street Printing Company. Cindy Meyers and Bill Goodwyn had been longtime employees of the company and upon the Illickas’ retirement, when the opportunity to buy the business opened, they jumped at the chance.
“Through many changes in the industry, we are proud to still be a part of Wilmington’s historic downtown,” Cindy says. Their dedication to providing marketing products to companies, from business cards to flyers, pamphlets to menus, and beyond, keeps them popular with their customers. Their attention to detail and a dedicated staff is critical to their success. And every job—whether doing invitations for a special celebration or binding annual reports for that office meeting—is treated with a critical eye.
“The staff truly cares about making our customers feel welcome and strive to make them look their best,” Cindy says. “If they look good, we look good!”
Today’s standards in printing have demanded quicker service and more color needs. Dock Street responds with efficient professionalism. “It’s a gratifying feeling when a customer smiles and extends their thanks for catching an otherwise simple, but possibly embarrassing typo or formatting issue,” Cindy says.
They can get color business cards printed within 24 hours—and they won’t charge shipping costs either. It keeps them a contender against online giants, like VistaPrint. “We’ve noticed a trend in the past couple years of more people wanting to support local companies,” Cindy says. “They’ve come to realize that customer service is important. In some cases a real live person on the other end of the phone or on the other side of the counter, who genuinely cares about them and their job, more than makes up for a difference of a few dollars.”
Raking in their tenth win proves their support locally. And they’ve become known for their dedication to local causes. They have a pet donation jar on their countertop that customers willingly donate to, and funds are given to various no-kill animal shelters in the area. They’ve worked with Friends of Felines, Adopt an Angel, Sunburst Foundation, Carolina Canines for Service, SOAR, Basset Rescue and Paws 4 People, just to name a few. Every September they welcome pet photos for their annual calendar, which the public votes on via their Facebook page, and winners are selected in November.
“Being in Wilmington is fantastic,” Cindy beams. “The beaches, the great weather, the film and TV productions and beautiful historic downtown. We find it very exciting to work with new businesses in Wilmington. Being a small part of them seeing their vision become reality is very gratifying as well. Sometimes with all the growth in Wilmington, people forget that downtown is the heart and soul of our city.”
Other shops printing onto the poll are All Ways Graphics and Copycat. —Shea Carver
RESALE SHOP — CLOTHING
“I have always loved visiting resale shops and finding unique pieces while shopping,” Stephanie Denning, owner of The Fairy Circle, tells. “I wanted a job where my daughter could be with me, and a consignment shop seemed like the perfect opportunity.”
Boasting a dozen Best Of wins, local consignment shop The Fairy Circle fluttered once again into the top spot for Best Consignment/Resale Clothes. In business for nearly 13 years, The Fairy Circle’s racks come chock-full of gently used fashionable and original wares.
“It is gratifying to be acknowledged as being the best at what we do,” Denning admonishes. “I love to hear [people say] this is the only place they shop.”
Unlike many consignment shops, their goods are neatly organized and easy to peruse. Add to that a dedicated, knowledgeable staff, and shopping with The Fairy Circle is easy peasy. The retailers are all ears when it comes to customer requests, and the latest trends top the list when it comes to gathering inventory.
After renovating for 2015, they also have opened shelf space for locally made, hand-poured soy candles, which will soon make their debut. From bathing suits to blouses, shoes to jeans, The Fairy Circle has it all.
“We carry jewelry, stickers, and bags that feature Wilmington,” Denning adds.
With UNCW and CFCC right around the corner, the local schools provide an excellent customer base. Money-conscious youth, looking for affordable, stylish clothes, need look no further than The Fairy Circle. As well, the folks at The Fairy Circle keeps the interests of the community forever in their hearts through donations of unsold merchandise to nonprofits throughout the area. They also provide gift cards to local fundraisers.
“After 13 years in business, my daughter and I get to shop at the store together,” Denning comments.
Wrangling in quality resale items in second and third place are Clothes Mentor and Plato’s Closet.
It’s no secret that men are becoming more and more interested in fashion. With so many suave lookers in the Port City it comes as no surprise they want an outfit to match. Well, Wilmington has voted and The Gentleman’s Corner has taken home the award for Best Men’s Clothing.
The shop was launched by Chris Dalrymple, who boasts over four decades in the clothing biz, and it has locations every from Pinehurst, to Chapel Hill, to Palm Beach. It opened locally in Lumina Station in 2011.
The men’s fashion haven carries all the essentials for that first date, that night on the town or that perfect gift for any great guy in your life. Carrying brands like Peter Miller, Vinyard Vines, Best of Class, and more, Gentlemen’s corner offers up fashionable T-shirts, button-ups, shoes, jeans, and khakis. Skinny ties also top the list of trends making their way to shelves.
Like any good clothing purveyors, they have a staff to match the quality of their goods. Each man who enters the shop can expect warm service from knowledgeable employees. Color-pairing and finding that right fit are just a few of the bits of expertise folks can expect to learn. With so many trendy locals due to the UNCW and CFCC, selling wares has been made easy for the retailers. As well, having the youthful clientele base keeps them abreast with trends and accountable for staying stocked with quality goods.
Trending into the second and third place for Best Men’s Clothing are Bloke and Belk.
From flip flops to a hot, trendy pair of boots, locals like to slide their feet into the best of the best when it comes to shoes. There’s certainly no shortage of quality footwear at Monkees, the 2015 winner for Best Shoe Store.
Owner Deedee Shaw opened the store 20 years ago after seeing a void in Wilmington’s shoe scene. A former rep in the fashion industry, she’s honed a keen eye for stocking the store with the crème de la crème. From BCBG to Tory Burch, and from flats to sandals, boots heels, the boutique’s shelves a stocked with affordable, fashion-forward finds. Folks can try on classic, timeless shoewear for one of Wilmington’s myriad galas, or adorn their foot with a funky, fun item for a night downtown.“[Our current trend is] shoes with woven and lace-up details, as well as color,” Shaw tells.
Social media has given Shaw the ability to announce deals and showcase their cutest inventory. As well, excellent customer service, provided by a fashion-savvy staff, ensures each shopper leaves feeling good about themselves and with a pair of shoes perfectly suited for them.
Folks can expect a plethora of deals, such event sales and giveaways, over throughout 2015, as the biz celebrates the big 2-0. It’s just one of the many ways Shaw and company say thank you to their patronage.
“Obviously, [winning] feels wonderful,” Shaw says. “We are in business to please our customers and it’s nice to know it’s working.”
Also cobbling up great deals in the Best Shoe Store category are Coastal Kicks and Rack Room. —Christian Podgaysky
Food & Beverage
Hailing from Goldsboro, NC, James Doss has risen to local culinary fame within a quick three-year period in Wilmington. Doss opened the Southern haven Rx Restaurant and Bar in the old Hall’s Drug Store building at the corner of 5th and Castle in 2012. By 2014, he had expanded and opened his second location, Pembroke’s, in the Forum Shopping Center, off Military Cutoff Road. Doss’ approach to the tastes of the South revolves around indigenous ingredients, all culled from locals.
“A daily changing menu is a concept derived from using what is at your hands, as we have great seafood and vegetables in Wilmington that allow for new ingredients everyday,” Doss tells of both eateries. “It’s a natural progression to keep inspired by area farmers and fishermen. Brainstorming starts with the ingredients and how to pair them texturally and flavor profiles to compose refined dishes.”
Doss’ mother and grandmother led by example in the kitchen in early life. They were outstanding Southern cooks, according to the chef. Time spent side-by-side in their kitchens have rooted many of Doss’ own twists on modern Southern cuisine, as tasted in items like butter bean hummus, roasted peanut and bacon mortadella, or cornbread clams casino. At Pembroke’s he utilizes cooking over an open flame in the wood fire oven.
“Pembroke’s already had a great space, with a wood grill and rotisserie,” he explains of the spacious open restaurant. “I thought it would bring out a different flavor and atmosphere.”
Doss sharpened his knife skills in Wilmington a decade ago when he worked as a line cook at Harvest Moon. He continued working under other great chefs and ended up at The Husk in Charleston, SC, working under celebrity chef Sean Brock, before returning to Wilmington to upstart his own restaurant. Purveying local foods is the mission of both Rx and Pembroke’s as Doss works with farmers like Cottle Organics, Black River Organic Farm, Red Beard, and others, while purveying fish from area markets like Mott’s Channel and Steve’s Seafood.
“I just try to do right by them and treat their ingredients with respect,” he says. “I’ve seen other restaurants and home cooks jumping on this trend and think it is here to stay. Sharing food and ideas is the cornerstone of a strong community.”
Other chefs making the list include Catch’s Keith Rhodes and Michael Seafood’s Brandon Stark.
It’s all about the farm to the plate at Henry’s casual American restaurant, located at 2508 Independence Boulevard. Chef Kathryn Irwin and her kitchen staff not only emphasize NC-grown ingredients in their daily Crate-to-Plate specials, they use them to maximize flavor in their salads. In fact, Henry’s is taking their first win for Best Salads in the Port City for 2015.
“[We have a] commitment to fresh, local produce that has made Henry’s a stand out restaurant for salads,” Mindy Stroupe, brand manager, says.
And their salad menu is quite extensive and priced reasonably, from only $7.29 to $11.99. Diners can choose from a classic spinach salad, dressed with bacon, eggs, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, and Kalamata olives, or a turkey Cobb, sliced steak over romaine, grilled seafood variety, plus barbecue chicken or ahi tuna. A taste of hearty freshness can be enjoyed in every bite of their harvest salad with blackened shrimp, served with mesclun greens with Danube blue cheese, candied pecans, red onions, seasonal fruit, and roasted red peppers.
Having opened in 1999, Henry’s focus always has been on serving top-notch food and offering superior quality, including careful attention to service. Currently, their staff goes above and beyond to ensure customers return. And if they can’t, sometimes the staff goes to them.
“Our bartender, Nancy, has even delivered food to guests that are sick and can’t leave their home,” Stroupe says. “That kind of service makes Henry’s a restaurant truly dedicated to its local community and clientele.”
Henry’s will be making changes in 2015 that will serve the community in its latest trend: craft beer. “We’re offering a rotating tap of North Carolina craft brews that have appealed to many of our guests,” Stroupe says. Plus, they’ll be undergoing renovations and launching a brand new seasonal menu this summer.
“Knowing that our locals support what we’re doing is an amazing compliment,” Stroupe notes. “In this industry we aim to please and being recognized for our efforts, especially our efforts to serve local produce from NC farmers, makes multiple trips to the farmer’s market worthwhile. Wilmington is the best city in North Carolina. We love serving our locals day in and day out.”
Other salads tossed onto our category include those served from Brasserie du Soleil and Rucker John’s.
We have a debut category in 2015 which, quite frankly, we can’t believe it took so long to include in the Best Of game. Best Brunch hits the poll with Boca Bay basking in its glory as reader’s favorite Happy Mimosa Day! And they serve a mean mimosa, too.
Serving an all-you-can-eat buffet from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays, Boca Bay fancies up the tradition of eggs and bacon with white tablecloths and fine china. At less than $20 a person, they have a make-your-own-omelet station, where diners can concoct eggs, sausage and cheddar or veggies and Swiss. Boca Bay offers bagels and cream cheese and lox, as well as eggs Benedict, Belgian waffles, hashbrowns, blintzes, and so much more. The spread suits all palates in Wilmington, young and old.
And if brunch isn’t your bag, their dinner menu will delight any day of the week. From starters like tuna tartare and ceviche to crab dip and oysters Rockefeller, to a slew of sushi (which is half-price on Tuesdays)and raw bar items, their seafood offerings will sate any pescetarian. Plus, they do a prix-fixe every Sunday through Thursday evening for only $24.95, which includes a starter, entree and dessert.
They cater to parties with a hefty banquet menu, starting at $21.95 a person. And their nightly bar menu from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. runs $5 selections with oyster shooters at $2. Located at 2025 Eastwood Road, Boca Bay offers outdoor seating, in a serene patio environment, and indoor dining, as well as a full bar (Wednesdays are half-price wine bottles).
Other brunches scrambling onto the reader’s poll are Rx Restaurant and Bar and The Basics.
DELI and ITALIAN
We couldn’t be happier to welcome a double win in 2015 for a Wilmington staple that’s been serving hungry diners since 1994. A Taste of Italy dominates the poll with their tasty fare, from piled-high rolls and wedges, stuffed with a pound of Boar’s Head meats or homemade chicken and tuna salad, to the best eggplant parmesan in Wilmington.
Tommy and Chris Guarino moved from New York to bring the authentic northerner deli experience to southeastern NC, using all original family recipes, passed down by their mother through numerous generations. Their authentic taste is stamped on every sandwich, pasta dish, salad and side items, and cookies and pastries. They’re open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with weekend hours at 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Lines are found here especially during lunch, yet the efficiency of the staff keeps everyone moving through quickly and happily. Aside from daily specials, including pasta dishes like baked ziti or spaghetti and meatballs, the sandwiches are a mishmash of deliciousness—whether ordering fresh from the grill (go for their Philly cheese steak) or from the saute (pasta aglio olio will not disappoint with mushrooms, black olives and pepperoni).
They also sell their meats and cheeses by the pound, as well as their deli case of side items, like macaroni salad, traditional pasta salad, potato salad, the best chicken salad in Wilmington, as well as homemade egg and tuna salads. You can even get cold dishes to go to take back to the family for an easy-peasy dinner option. Add a salad or homemade soup and dessert—don’t miss the tiramisu and double chocolate chip brownies—and it’s deliciously simple.
As if all the food served from A Taste of Italy (1101 South College Road) isn’t enough to entice, their extensive market of Italian items also make it easy to find great brands to create your own masterpieces at home. From pasta to bread to sauces to olive oil to wine, they make shopping easy for your next meal.
Other delis on our list include Chop’s and Wayfarer, while Italian eateries that diners love to patron are Roko Italian Cuisine and Osteria Cicchetti.
Since 2010 T.J. and Simran Pama have operated Tandoori Bites in the old Wendy’s at 1620 S. College Road, located directly across from Hugh MacRae Park. Their fine cuisine—over 74 menu items, to be exact–ups the ante on Indian fare. Whether going for their lunch buffet to get a taste of everything (Monday – Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. or Saturday – Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.) or dinner, don’t miss out on their samosas, no matter what! The veggie option is delightful,; a crispy turnover filled with seasoned potatoes and green peas. In fact, they have an extensive vegan and vegetarian menu so folks with dietary restrictions aren’t left out of the palate-pleasing equation.
Their homemade paneer (Indian cheese) tastes like square pockets of fluff, while the baingan bhartha is exactly as its name implies: bangin’! The eggplant comes baked, flamed and then sauteed with onions, garlic, ginger, and spices. For seafood lovers, the shrimp vindaloo, with potatoes in a rich, earthy red sauce, is the ticket. And what’s Indian dining without lamb? Their seekh kabab contains minced lamb, seasoned with onions, herbs and spices, baked in a tandoori oven.
Prices are super reasonable at Tandoori Bites, too, with nothing over $17.95, and kids meals ringing in at only $5.99. Just be sure to add their super spicy chile naan or rich, buttery garlic naan to your order to sop up the sauces served with every dish (cooked to your preference: mild, medium or spicy).
The dining area is eclectically enticing with colorful art work indicative of the far east, and jewels bedazzle the chandeliers, as rich wood accents a burnt sienna color permeating the establishment. Full ABC permits will cool off the spice factor to near perfection, and the extremely helpful staff will make you feel like a regular from the first visit onward.
Siaa also set readers’ tastebuds afire in second place.
LATIN MEXICAN and TACOS
As their website states: “live. eat. surf.” That wraps up the motto for K38 Baja Grill, which specializes in the baja flavors that merge when Mexican cuisine takes on California style. The K38 story starts with a group of friends who took a surf trip to Ensenada, Mexico, where they rode the waves and noshed on the best fish tacos they’d ever eaten. In 1993, they opened a restaurant in Wilmington, NC, that tips its hat to those memories.
Located at 5410 Oleander Drive, K38 not only takes Best Latin/Mexican Restaurant for the second year in a row, they’ve also solidified the first win of one of our new categories for 2015: Best Tacos. Wednesdays pack it out with $2 hard-shell tacos. The quirky space features surf videos across their TVs, and wood decorates the inside as if it’s a surf shack off the coast. Just last year, they renovated the space to include new tile work on their bar, where they serve their famed Wannabe ‘ritas, which are only $3 on Monday, as are their fish tacos. Thursdays is all about half-price Miller Lite drafts and select quesadillas, while Tuesdays offer half-price fajitas and dollar PBRs.
Using chiles and spices from all across the Southwest and Mexico, they’re lengthy menu offers everything from fresh guacamole and Mexican street corn, to burritos and nachos, to their specialty rolls and wraps. Enchiladas, quesadillas, fajitas, chile rellenos, chimichangas…it’s all there, awaiting indulgence. And encore readers aren’t the only ones to take notice, either: Rolling Stone magazine reviewed it in ‘94 as “the place to go for Mexican food and drinks,” in Wilmington.
If the rock stars are doing, well, so should we!
Other Mexican/Latin eateries getting votes include El Cerro Grande and La Costa, while taco votes go to Islands and Las Olas, K38’s sister restaurant.
BURGERS and FRIES
P.T.’s Olde Fashioned Grille is quintessential Wilmington. It’s appealing to every walk of life who visits and lives here, whether a newbie college student, a retiree, a tourist on a week long beach vacation, or a hipster whose downtown street cred is as tight as his sleeve of tattoos. One of their six locations is within minutes of wherever you’re from, as customers who scribble their fave burgers, dogs, sandwiches, and such. Whether ordering a 4-ounce PT burger or their 8-ounce Olde Fashioned, a turkey or a roast beef sandwich, a black bean or a garden burger, chicken tenders or a grilled cheese, the flavors are always packed with a punch.
“The ‘fresh not frozen’ approach is the biggest thing that sets us apart from other restaurants,” Kent Williamson, general manager of the original P.T.’s on Fountain Drive, explains. “There are no freezers in any of our stores (except for the ice cream). The [Certified Angus] burgers are freshly ground, the chicken cut and marinated daily, and the potatoes are hand-cut before and during each shift. In addition to our fresh quality, the ‘open’ kitchen helps to differentiate us from the competition. Customers (especially kids) love to watch the whole cooking process. “
And a sandwich at PT’s just isn’t complete without a pile of their hand-cut fries, doused in lemon pepper. Ask anyone who has ever ordered from there, and they’ll comment on the potato’s savory flavor. Add to the good food quick, efficient and friendly service, and it’s no wonder the restaurant continues to top our polls every year for three decades.
For those who can’t make it to a PT’s, have PT’s come to you! The launch of their new food truck, PT’s Grille Mobile, makes parties, corporate events, private functions, and even lunch at the office a bite better than ever. They sell their famed burgers, chicken sandwiches and fries onsite (reserve the food truck by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org).
Other burger grilling onto the poll are Five Guys Grill and Winnie’s Tavern, while Five Guys and Copper Penny secure votes for Best Fries. —Shea Carver
North Carolina never shies away from pulled-pork. With regional specialties galore, a certain pride takes hold of purveyors and diners alike. Once again encore’s Best Barbecue moniker was voted on by the public and awarded to Jackson’s Big Oak, located in midtown Wilmington on South Kerr Avenue.
For the culinary minds behind Jackson it’s all about tradition. Offering eat-in and take-out options, they revel in giving their customers the familiar tastes of childhood or exposing out-of-towners to the wondrous goodness that is Southern dining.
Their finger-lickin’ good house-prepped Eastern NC-style sauce has won locals over for years. It smothers their hot and delicately made pork and chicken and bursts with flavors. Folks can take the delicious treat home for only $3 a bottle so every night can feel like a night at Jackson’s.
As well, locals can grub on their savory BBQ potatoes and load up with sides of fried okra, fries, hushpuppies, and more. A friendly waitstaff makes Jackson’s feel just like eating in Mama’s kitchen at home.
For those less keen on barbecue, they offer daily specials, like the chicken and pastry or a nice hot stew. Folks can top their meal off with chocolate pie, banana pudding or lemon pie. And, as with any right-minded Southern eatery, fresh brewed sweet tea is always flowing.
“For all of us at Wilmington Wine, the social aspect of wine was what brought us together,” Zak Kilson, manager of Wilmington Wine, says. “We have now been in operation for six years, and every day we wake up excited about sharing our knowledge, and love of the grape with the people of Wilmington.”
Wilmington Wine’s laid-back, friendly style, which rivals the traditionally thought of idea of snooty wine connoisseurs, secured them the spot for Best Wine List on the reader’s poll.
“We know how intimidating the subject of wine can be for people, and we want to provide a comfortable, friendly environment to all of our customers—whether it’s their first time in, or they are a regular,” Kilson elaborates.
Located in the Art and Antique District on Castle street, the local hub for lovers of nectar from the vine has been in operation for six years. From pinot noirs to cabernet sauvignons, red wines adorn their expansive list of wines, as well as a host of white wines, sweet wines and sparkling wines. For those less interested in tastes from the vine, they also carry beer and mixers for spirits.
Folks can enjoy their offerings through their exclusive Wine Club membership, which is available in four different levels. The Collector, which costs $249 per month, will keep cellars stocked with two to three bottles of wine, information about the producers, personalized notes, and food pairing suggestions. The Connoisseur membership gives discounts, three premium bottles, personalized tasting notes, food pairing suggestions, and a intimate knowledge about grapes to guide the palate through their vast array of wines—all for $149 per month. Less expensive options include The Explorer ($79) and The Student ($39).
As well, they have been involved with the Wilmington Wine and Food Festival for three years now. This year it will be at Bellamy Mansion on May 1 through 3.
“It’s a special time in Wilmington for all things food and beverage, and we feel fortunate to live in such a great little city,” Kilson says.
So many developments in the wine industry are trending right now, Kilson finds it difficult to even count. Well-made, hands-on wines have completely changed the idea of quality over quantity for wineries across the globe.
“If there is any one thing that is trending, it’s that we (arguably) live in the best time to drink wine,” Kilson quips. “To that we say, ‘Cheers!’”
For the team at Wilmington Wine, ties to the community run deep. Their work with the nonprofits and organizations that dot the area is just part of their life-blood as a business.
“Our hope is that we continue to be a boon to the community at large in a capacity that extends beyond our walls,” Kilson says. “We love our customers, and appreciate the recognition. There are certainly a number of very well curated wine lists in Wilmington, and we’re honored to be mentioned in their company, let alone win the award.”
Also stomping grapes in the category are The Fortunate Glass and Circa 1922.
The peaceful sound of wind, chiming along the Intracoastal Waterway, and a healthy dose of seafood make a perfect summer afternoon in Wilmington. Wilmingtonians have taken notice and once again decreed Bluewater Waterfront Grill Best Outdoor Dining in the 2015 reader’s poll.
The local eatery began opened in 2000, but it wasn’t until Lou Moshakos took the reins that renovations began to make Bluewater’s outdoor dining patio a perfect oasis for Wilmington diners. Since, the seafood haven has been working overtime to keep up their scenic reputation.
“We are the only restaurant on the waterway in which guests have a direct view of the sunset,” Mindy Stroupe, Bluewater’s brand manager, says. We have made the commitment to making our restaurant warm & inviting for locals and tourists alike. Bluewater is the perfect place to come and relax and enjoy a wonderful meal and superior service.”
As well, a quality waitstaff keeps diners happy; though the view is plenty to chew on, a restaurant is only as good as its dedicated employees. Drinks are always filled to the brim, and the staff ensures the coveted outdoor tables are cleaned in a prompt manner to keep wait times down. The freshest seafood and meats available are sourced, too, creating meals just as memorable as the sun’s disappearance beyond the horizon.
Their view has attracted more than just diners. “We continue to be a preferred venue for events,” Stroupe says. “[Whether it’s ]weddings, corporate meetings, galas, reunions, people love celebrating with us. We have great private event spaces and have been consistently booking more and more events.”
Likewise, Bluewater gives back to the Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach communities. After all, where would they be without a host of local yokel supporters. From weekly bridge clubs, to rotary meetings, to participation in the Azalea Festival and Wilmington Fashion Week, Bluewater revels in its ability to take part in local culture.
Come 2015, there will be updates to their menu and banquet offerings, as they continue to strive to be the best. “Continuing to win Best Outdoor Dining reinforces that the resources, time and energy we put into creating a tranquil outdoor dining space and bar at Bluewater was worth the investment,” Stroupe says.
Offering beautiful views in the second and third spot are Indochine and Dockside.
Cultural fare has long been a part of the American culinary scene. Curious diners are always looking for that authentic taste from around the world. For Chinese food, Wilmingtonians have spoken and crowned Szechuan 132 as Best Chinese Restaurant.
With 26 years in the food industry, Szechuan 132 owner Joseph H. Hou maintains its always a joy to open his kitchen in the morning. “The restaurant is no longer our (my wife, Sally) working place: It is our good hang out place now,” he says. “The place we share fun, joy, and gratification with our customers and our restaurant family. We are the artists in our own little fun world. We “wok” and roll with different ingredients in the kitchen every day to create something that we can showcase to the world with pride.“
Their menu comes complete with a variety of authentic dishes. Their pineapple chicken comes with a kick, as the chicken is marinated and placed into a stir-fry, complete with a spicy sauce. It perfectly blends the sweet and spicy, making for a lively experience for the palate. Likewise, their rosemary lamb is combined with fresh-market seasonal veggies, while the Cape Fear Treasure offers an array of seafood. Locally sourced meat and seafood, derived from environmentally-sustainable methods, always remains a trend the eatery adheres to. They also have been focusing on children’s nutrition and gluten-free products.
Hospitality takes precedence for Hou and his team, both in-store and outside through the various nonprofits they are involved in. “Besides business, we as human beings have a duty and responsibility to serve others,” he comments. “My favorite quote is, ‘Even the most introverted individual can influence ten thousand others during his or her lifetime, provided that he or she settles with the attitude to serve and not to be served.’ That is because giving and serving are the highest levels of living. Whether it’s spending more time with your family, developing an employee who shows potential, or helping people in the community, it is what services you can do for others. Our dedication and commitment to serving others is what makes Szechuan 132 superior.”
Their food isn’t the only thing fresh about Szechuan 132; they also have kept their digs evolving over their 26-year history. From moving the dining room to small changes with decor and lighting, they always strive to keep an aura to complement their noteworthy fare.
“The little changes are undeniably worth every penny of our effort,” Hou states. “Of course, there are constant day-to-day problems that need to be rectified and fixed. We are constantly assessing what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong.”
It’s an attitude like this that earned them their coveted moniker this year. “We are very grateful for the recognition we have received for our work because we are very sure that every other nominee for this award was just as deserving of this award,” Hou says. “As we all know, there are no businesses in the world without its hurdles. We are no exception. We face challenges, obstacles, and mistakes along the way, but each setback has only strengthened us and helped to make us a better restaurateur and better people. This award could not have been achieved without the inspiration, help, and support of our friends, family, and community. The support we have been given drives our strength to challenge ourselves to work harder and excel every day. This award belongs to our friends, family, and our community.”
Double Happiness and Lucky Star round out the category.
With numerous locations in the Port City (Monkey Junction, Mayfaire, Oleander, Market, and UNCW), Chick-fil-a’s iconic chicken has prevailed as the recipient of Best Fast Food. Their pickle-fried chicken sandwich sate the hunger of locals on-the-go, and their sweet tea is nothing to scoff at either.
The quick eatery boasts a menu full of breakfast items and lunch and dinner items. For those inclined to guard their health, freshly made wraps and salads also adorn the menu, offering a lighter option. As well, their milkshakes fulfill everyone’s sweet-tooth hankerings. Not to mention, their cow mascot is just so darn adorable.
Lines wrap Chick-fil-a’s drive-thru, but service never slows due to volume, thanks to a dedicated staff. Making the customer and community at-large happy tops the restaurant’s list of priorities. Several locations offer backstage kitchen tours on Monday, which gives diners a glimpse of how the magic is made. They also offer party-planning options for kids’ birthdays and such.
Likewise, Chick-fil-a is involved with numerous charity events and givebacks throughout the year. Folks involved with local organizations can check out their website in order to get information about give-back nights, that donate a portion of the restaurants proceeds to nonprofits. They offer a Business of the Day option, too, wherein local companies can sign up to potentially win free lunch. Chick-fil-a has evolved to be more than just a national chain; it takes pride in becoming involved with each community it is a part of.
Serving up quick eats in the number two and three spot are Cookout and Taco Bell.
Arts, Media, and Entertainment
Seven nights a week the stage at Browncoat Pub and Theatre, which routinely comes alive with theatre openings and various mentalist performers, hosts locals as they put their singing chops, or lack thereof, to the test. Hosted by the one and only Aaron Moody (a.k.a. Captain Karaoke), their nightly event has landed them Best Place For Karaoke in the reader’s poll for several years now.
“The most unique aspect of karaoke at the Browncoat is our passion,” Richard Davis, owner of Browncoat, tells. “We go all in to create an amazing experience. That carries over to our regulars and new people alike. Where else can you sing karaoke on a real stage with real theatrical lighting and stadium seating for your audience. You’re a star when you sing at the Browncoat.”
Aside from their A-list treatment of karaoke singers, they also provide a platform for local, original theatre productions and up-and-coming directors and actors to get their footing. The unsung artist truly is the hero at Browncoat, and they incorporate ways to give back and expose locals to artistry any chance they get.
This deep devotion to the community came back sevenfold over the past year when Davis’ wife became ill with Stage 4 IgA Nephropathy. As Davis was preoccupied with his familial obligations, a noteworthy staff and a sea of local support stepped up to the plate and ensured this artists’ haven continued to thrive.
“I’ll steal my favorite quote from my favorite film, ‘Serenity: ’Love keeps her flying when she ought to fall down.’ Davis says. “The way these amazing people reacted when my wife fell ill was both uplifting and humbling. It showed me that I wasn’t alone and that I hadn’t screwed everything up. These people showed that they were my closest friends and family. We love and support each other not in spite of our flaws but because of them. Like the perpetually leaky roof at the Browncoat, our flaws add some Wabi Sabi to the vibe. I’m forever grateful to these folks. I’m so glad we’re part of this insane idea together. That goes for anyone past present or future who puts their mark on the Browncoat. Every person who comes through her doors changes her forever for the better.”
Looking toward 2015, Browncoat will continue to put on the ritz for theatre productions, entertainers and karaoke-loving locals, as a new batch of staff members take the reins. Richard Blaylock takes on the role of technical director, Nick Smith has become the new assistant artistic director, and Besse Rawtisch and Samantha Aviles have stepped in to oversee the box office.
“Some really amazing people have stepped up and taken ownership of many things that have made the Browncoat special,” Davis says. “For too long it was one person’s vision and we suffered for it. Moving forward it will reflect the ideas and efforts of more people who share the love and passion for what we do. Their energy will shape the Browncoat in ways I can’t even imagine right now. All I know for sure is that we’re so much stronger together.”
Likewise, adding in a “geek chic” theme, full of “Game of Thrones,” Star Wars,” “Doctor Who” imagery, has taken hold of the back bar. They also ha backstage renovations slated for 2015.
Katy’s Bar and Grill and Silver Dollar also were given props in the number two and three spot as Best Place For Karaoke.
“How to you balance what people need to know with what people want to know?” That’s the question Caroline Curran and the dedicated staff at Hometown Wilmington Media’s Port City Daily, winner of Best Local Website, ask themselves every day.
Hot-button topics and local issues and successes adorn the website’s home page. Their parent company, Local Voice, hit the world wide web in 2008, when president Tom Davis noticed the lack of trust in the local newspapers of Williamsburg, Virginia. This seemingly stemmed from the slant caused by the staff member’s opinions. Consequently, Port City Daily has maintained their fair, accurate, balanced, and accountable information for their two and a half years in operation.
“We have to cover city council, boards of education and county commissioners meetings, but we also love to write feature stories about the people who work, live and play here,” Curran says. “I find that’s what people respond to most [is] features about the great people who live right here in Wilmington.”
The free online publication allows readers to peruse with ease throughout their website, with a well-archived plethora of great reads. As well, they offer free obituaries (a rarity in their field). It also only has articles that are local-based, ensuring every piece is pertinent to the Wilmington browser, all of which can be accessed at www.portcitydaily.com.
“There’s no AP or wire content,” Curran details. “We think you can get that anywhere. We want to tell you what happening right here in your community. We’re here to provide a service to our community and we feel we do that very well. There’s also the radio aspect: You can hear us on your favorite local stations 98.3 The Penguin and The Dude 106.3 and 93.7 FM.”
Beginning in 2013, they began doing broadcast updates from their calendar, The Scene, which greatly increased the amount of people submitting events. Last year they added a Thursday roundup that makes viewing the local happenings for the upcoming week viewable in a convenient manner of their website.
Advancing the work they’ve already done, this year they aim to add two new reports. They also are looking to increase their transparency through educating the masses on how to comment and spark a discussion.
In an effort to give back to the community that supports them, they began company-wide volunteer days in 2015, wherein employees donate their labor to nonprofits. Likewise, they work with nonprofits with budget restrictions on advertising.
“My favorite compliment, which also happens to be the one I receive most, is when people tell me how much they love PortCityDaily.com because the news is fair and thorough,” Curran concludes. “To be honored with encore’s “Best Of” award for the second year in a row is truly a great honor.”
Attracting web traffic in the second and third spot are www.encorepub.com and wblivesurf.com.
The South comes laden with a vast, rich sonic history. The tranquil shores of Southeastern North Carolina have certainly not been immune to its fair share of musicality. Armed with guitars, drums, upright base, and an affinity toward all things Americana and bluegrass, Wilmington’s own L Shape Lot has swooned local listeners enough to become top dog as Best Local Band/Performer in 2015 after duking it out onstage at the encore Best of Party with The Midatlantic.
“It feels great to be recognized by your local community, especially with the amount of talent we have in our area,” acoustic guitar player and vocalist Eric Miller details. “We have received so much support over the years and couldn’t have accomplished half of what we’ve done without the support of others. We are more grateful than we can express with words.”
Comprising Miller, Alex Lanier (electric, acoustic guitar, vocals) Rick Williams ( 6 string electric bass, upright bass, vocals) and John Kovalski (drums, vocals), the band got its start over a decade ago. Their sound routinely can be heard permeating the various venues located in Wilmington, as L Shape Lot’s sound layers high-energy country that invites audiences to put their feet to use. As well, they’ve participated in a number of fundraisers over their years; their roots in the community run as deep as their bluegrass roots.
“We have seen the community come together some many times over our 14 years, it’s hard to keep count,” Miller says. We have always been honored when we are asked to participate in any kind of event that can help others. It would be hard to list them all we have done over the years, as they range from huge fundraisers, to backyards events just to help a friend. With all the support we’ve gotten over the years, we jump at the chance to pay it back when we can.”
Since forming, they’ve released seven recordings (as a troupe and a duo), received the coveted “e” award in 2011, and earned mention in Beat Magazine as Best Country Band. As well, they’ve performed as part of the Under the Radar Series at Virginia’s Floydfest.
In 2014 they got to perform on the main stage at Rooster Walk in Martinsville, VA, as well as the main stage at Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion in Tennessee. “We got to hang with Sturgil Simpson backstage,” Miller enthuses.
However, their most cherished memory from 2014 has to be their send-off of member John Kovlaski. The longtime percussionist decided to step down in an effort to free up more time. He performed a farewell show with the band at the Brooklyn Art Center on December 19.
“Even though it was bidding him farewell, it was one of the best shows we have ever had,” Miller tells. “You could feel the love in that room.”
Turning toward 2015, the band intends to continue working on new material and continuing to tour the area. They currently are focusing on filling their lineup, but until they feel like they’re in a position to make a decision about a permanent percussionist, their shows will feature revolving members.
The Midatlantic and Machine Gun also received votes in the Best Local Band/Performer category.
Chosen as the 2013 Azalea Festival featured artist, local artist Elizabeth Singletary’s collage work has spoken to the hearts of many Wilmingtonians. Her piece comprised three large azalea flowers and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, ushering even more color into the already vibrant spring street fair. Her flair for cheerful, upbeat imagery has earned her the title in encore’s reader’s poll as the 2015 Best Local Artist.
“I chose to do [the piece] because I am always amazed when the azaleas bloom every year,” Singletary illuminates. “The piece could be anywhere, even my backyard!”
Utilizing magazine clippings to render her work, she’s always loved working with paper, but she only began honing her skills three years ago. Collage artistry came naturally to the young talent, and has made its way into locales like the Fisherman’s Wife, Urban Revival a South Carolina Gallery. Her collages are so seamlessly prepped they look like paintings; the gathered photos combine to make an image that seems impossible to create out of the tiny clippings. She also dabbles in commissioned work.
“[I am] so thankful for all the wonderful people in the community that have encouraged and supported me throughout this journey,” Singletary professes. “[It’s] a great reminder that if you dream it you can achieve it if you stay positive and work hard. [I am] so very honored!”
She will have a show at WHQR, which was the first place she ever showed with a collection she created with Penny Ames entitled “Outside,” come May, and with such an optimistic, compassionate heart, she always takes to thank the forces behind her work and give back. She’s done pieces to benefit cystic fibrosis, juvenile diabetes, and sea turtle rescue efforts.
“I like to give back to the community because I feel like God has given me a gift and blessed me beyond words,” Singletary says. “I donate live auction items to charities close to my heart. I also always donate to silent auctions. One day I would like to write big checks, but for now, this is my way of giving back! A reminder that we all can give in different ways.”
In 2015 she plans to take her skills beyond Wilmington city limits and hold more out-of-town shows. “Being chosen as the encore Best Local Artist was an incredible feeling,” Singletary says. “I look at my plaque and still am amazed that three years ago I was just starting this.”
Also wowing locals in the Best Local Artist are Grey Pascal and Robbie Kass.
For Best Local Filmmaker Brannigan Carter, staging and shooting one-shot sketch comedy movies with GI Joes was an impetus for a cinematic career that’s just beginning. Winning the “e” marks Carter’s first win as a filmmaker, though he’s been nominated for a plethora of awards.
Carter’s film career is guided by a fearless knack for taking risks: He shot, wrote, directed, and acted in a full-length feature film before even attending a single film class. As well, he self-financed it and made it for only $1,000.
“People thought I was crazy, but I did it,” Carter quips. “And I kind of did it just for fun. That’s what catapulted me in the film community here.”
Carter also has another feature, “TwoEleven,” to his credit. The film was nominated as Best Independent Film in encore’s 2015 reader’s poll. With Carter serving as cinematographer, the film cost $3,000 to make, but due to its sleekness and Carter’s skill with the camera, folks thought it was undertaken with a whopping several hundred thousand dollar budget.
“It’s a huge compliment when people say you lie about a tiny budget,” Carter says. “I’ll say this as a cinematographer: It’s my job to make everyone else look good. If you’re an actor, I’m supposed to make you seem better than George Clooney. If you’re a director, I’m supposed to make it look like you’re the next Spielberg. And that’s my mindset. If I’m not making everyone else’s face light up when they see the frame on set, I’m not doing my job right.”
Carter quips that it’s always refreshing to see an actor update their social-media accounts to include frames he’s shot. While much of his job is fun and games and fulfilling his life’s passion, life’s restriction prove a huge challenge. Money is one of the biggest, and like all burgeoning filmmakers, Carter strives to make best with small budgets. It not only impedes upon his ability to stage and shoot the film, it also generates issues when trying to find crew—most people want fiscal compensation. Luckily, Wilmington is fully stocked with a sea of locals willing to put their talents on the table for little to no money. Despite the struggles, Carter’s resilient nature allows him to push through the hardships of the “starving artists” and continue working toward his goals.
With one class between Carter and finishing up his film studies at CFCC, he looks toward the future. Obviously, an onslaught of local, independent productions are in his fortune, but he also hopes to impart his wisdom to young, hungry minds by becoming a film professor.
“I think I have a different way of thinking when it comes to this profession, and my ‘philosophies’ and practices could probably come in handy for the next generation of independent filmmakers,” Carter states.
As well, Carter hopes to be inducted into the American Society of Cinematographers, which he claims is even bigger than an Oscar win for him.
“I like to stay busy and each finished film for me is a milestone,” Carter reports. “I get better with each project.”
Also getting “reel” in the Best Local Filmmaker are Nakia Hamilton and Kenny Martell. —Christian Podgaysky