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
Founded in Matthews, right outside of Charlotte, NC, during the Great Depression, by William Thomas Harris and Willis L. Teeter, folks have been turning to the regionally based Harris Teeter for household goods and groceries since the ‘30s. Boasting numerous locations in the Port City, the food stop has secured the number one spot for Best Grocery Store in encore’s 2015 reader’s poll.
Locals hold dear to their VIC cards as they peruse aisles and aisles of food, pharmaceuticals, beauty products, fresh sushi, deli meats, produce, and more. The company even has their own brand name, which provides affordable, health conscious items through Harris Teeter Organics and HT Traders. Likewise, their website (www.harristeeter.com) plays host to a meal planning tab, which offers video guides and more, as well as coupons and weekly specials. They go the extra mile to give customers an insightful look at a balanced diet, and even stay up on trends, as they offer a full list of gluten-free items.
This prioritization of the customer’s needs can be found in-store. With self-checkout lines offered, there’s never a long wait—and dedicated staff is there help whenever needed. Adding to Harris Teeter’s propensity toward convenience are their online shopping options. People can select the items they want on the website, and either have them available to pick up at any area location or schedule a home delivery.
Though Harris Teeter is a chain store, it still revels in deep connections to the communities it serves. The grocer becomes involved with numerous nonprofits and fundraisers throughout the year. They offer their locations as a place to pick up or purchase tickets to area events, too. Environmentally conscious, the store also offers recyclable bags so people don’t have to depend on plastic or paper. For Harris Teeter, nourishing bellies, as well as communities, comes first.
Bagging fresh fare in the number two and three spots are Food Lion and Fresh Market
Need an oil change or a set of new tires? Is your car in need of repair? For almost 50 years, Pat’s Auto Service has been catering to Wilmington’s driving needs. Located conveniently on 5009 Carolina Beach Rd, the repair center has revved its engine into first place for Best Auto Mechanic.
Boasting 15 service bays and a full staff of knowledgeable, dedicated mechanics, Pat’s was voted by Motor Age Magazine as one of the premier independent repair shops in the U.S. As well, the car doctors are ASE certified, meaning they have undergone the tests and requirements to keep up to date with the rapidly changing auto industry.
Wheel alignment, battery repair, brake repair, diagnostic tests, A/C system maintenance, axle and electrical work, filter replacements, and more dot the expansive list of services. They also are certified to test vehicles for annual NC state inspections. Not only do they offer to fix and maintain cars, but they do 24-hour towing for vehicles unable to make it to the shop.
Routine customers can sign up for a Pat’s Appreciation Card on their website (www.patsautoservicecenter.com) or in-store. The card allows people to save on perks, like free oil changes. They have a referral program, which offers a 10-percent discount for folks who refer a friend. Check out their Facebook and Twitter for ways to save, too.
Pat’s doesn’t just give back to loyal customers; they also benefit a number of nonprofits. They participate in Whiteville’s Festival of Trees, which benefits the Lower Cape Fear Hospice. Likewise, they host an annual golf tournament that donates funds to Lower Cape Fear Hospice. The Domestic Violence Shelter and Services Inc. tops their list of charitable givings as well.
Also sending healthy vehicles on their way are MobileTech and Superior Automotive.
A best-rate guarantee is just one of the many ways Alpha Mortgage Corporation has earned the trust= of locals. This bond with the community has lent itself to their 2015 win for Best Mortgage Company on encore’s reader’s poll.
A host of southeastern NC dwellers annually turn to Alpha Mortgage for their fiscal needs. Whether putting a downpayment on a starter home, dream home or retirement bungalow by the sea, folks can depend on the lenders to help achieve it. Alpha offers same-day approval plans and 15-day closings, adding to their convenience.
Their website (www.alphamortgage.com) offers an array of testimonials. Each one lauds the business’s dedication. Folks commend their ‘round-the-clock service, as well as their low, fixed rates. Likewise, they discuss the company’s attention to detail and honesty.
What’s more, the mortgage-lending gurus have been at it for three decades, making their experience alone something to trust. When the business first began in 1983, under the guidance of founder and president Michael Lopez, they had 30-plus licensed loan officers. Now they have over 90 employees. Given its longstanding history, Alpha Mortgage comes in as one of the highest volume bakers in the Carolinas.
As well, the company sponsors and supports a number of charities and fundraisers, like the annual New Year’s Day Dolphin Dip.
Wells Fargo and Cunningham and Associates round out the category.
Summer’s the perfect time to tie the knot. There’s no spot in Wilmington that’s quite as beautiful as Airlie Gardens’ expansive scenery, which includes 10 acres of freshwater lakes, over 100,000 azaleas, and the pièce de résistance: the 467-year-old Airlie Oak. The garden’s scenic splendor has earned them the moniker Best Wedding Venue in encore’s reader’s poll.
For couples ready to take the plunge, Nicole Herron, the gardens’ wedding and event technician, can handle all your questions and requests. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (910) 798-7705.
Events are scheduled between March and November, and ceremonies can be held Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Receptions are only offered on Saturdays. As well, the premier wedding venue can accommodate up to 300 attendees.
Couples also can check out the latest wedding trends and get a rundown on Airlie’s featured vendors via their wedding blog (www.airliegardenweddings.wordpress.com). The gardens offer a range of beautiful scenery to snap that perfect picture to show the grandchildren.
Also providing perfect spots for nuptials are Brooklyn Arts Center and 128 South.
Spring is here, and April showers are about to give way to May flowers. Located in downtown Wilmington, The Transplanted Garden has been named Best Local Garden Store.
The time has come to put on those big hats the South is known for and get to planting. Opened by Tom Ericson and Allen Sabin, The Transplanted Garden has been selling all garden needs since 2000. Before coming to the Port City, Ericson honed his green thumb as a landscape designer in Connecticut. He even boasts award-winning designs at the Philadelphia Flower Show.
Likewise, Allen served as a department-store buyer and gift-store owner before opening The Transplanted Garden. He has a plethora of plant-related gift expertise and can point shoppers in the direction of containers that range in size and material.
Folks, too, can bring in pictures of their gardens, so Ericson can dispense vital advice. He also will help pick out plant materials perfect for any garden. Ericson gives lectures for local garden clubs; those interested just need to contact the store six months in advance. The Transplanted Garden also informs on what plants will make a vibrant, beautiful garden perfect to sip sweet tea in during those dog-day-of-summer afternoons.
As well, shoppers can visit their website (www.transplantedgarden.com) for gardening tips and helpful links. Their weekly newsletter gives dirty deets, and people can sign up by emailing email@example.com. The publication tells all about what’s in bloom, what deals are happening weekly and all kinds of tips.
The Plant Place and Progressive Gardens also spread their roots in the Best Local Garden Store category.
Summertime in Wilmington mens fun in the sun, but what does one do in preparation for those scorching, lazy days on the beach? Tanned residents of Wilmington have spoken and Tropical Tans, winner of Best Tanning Salon, is the sure-fire fix to get that golden touch.
The salon offers three locations in Wilmington (5003 Wrightsville Avenue, 402 Carl Street-Suite 101, and 5552 Carolina Beach Road-Suite D) and has been in business longer than any other local salon, with 27 years under their belt. Keeping things fresh, David Peterson—who updated the beds at each of its three locations—became the new owner of Tropical Tans in October 2014.
Customers are greeted by a friendly staff and offered individual stereos, deodorant, baby powder, towels, and goggles. For the indoor sun purveyors, it’s all about relaxation. Guests need only bring themselves and a clear head.
Aside from offering 30- to 15-minute beds, Tropical Tans also gives skin-care tips, tanning, lotion and product support, and is ready to answer any questions. They also boast a state-of-the-art Mystic Tan Booth, a spray-on tanning service. Their beds are technologically advanced, complete with a hot-air exhaust system, and an AM/FM/CD Pioneer sound system. Luxury never felt so good.
As well, the salon won’t break the bank. A one-year membership is only $20, with a $3 fee per visit. They offer monthly unlimited memberships, beginning at $39 for one month and capping off at $175 for six months. For new customers hoping to try out a spray tan, they feature two intro sessions for only $30. Folks can see a full list of their service and rates at www.tropicaltansonline.com.
Basking in the rays of second and third places are Saule Tanning and Tanglez.
BOARD A PET
With the fast-paced way of the world, everyone needs that week away in a tropical oasis or secluded cabin. However, often people forget their furry, four-legged friends also need an escape (burying bones is serious business). Luckily, for Wilmingtonians, Paw Beach Pet Resort offers a place for your constant companion to vacay while you vacay.
The 2015 winner of the “e” for Best Place To Board a Pet has won for three years now. “It is great to have our staff and facility recognized for their dedication to the pets,” Paw Beach owner Karen Simmons says.
The pet-boarding establishment opened its doors for those on all fours in 2011, and has since developed close-knit relationships with pets and their owners alike. “We developed our business out of a love for pets and are inspired by the relationships people have with their pets,” Simmons says. “For most of our clients, they really are part of the family!”
For Paw Beach and company, luxury is a priority. Their expansive, climate-controlled digs offer dogs and cats a place to catch up on their Zs on elevated, cushy beds, all while being soothed by the sounds of jazzy beach and classical music. (And, of course, family pets are allowed to stay together; after all, what’s a vacation without a best friend?)
Dogs that aren’t water shy can indulge in the 7,000-gallon, in-ground saltwater pool. The service allows canines to get exercise beyond the traditional collar-and-leash walking. Grooming services, pet training, and doggy daycare are offered. Folks can peruse www.pawbeachpetresort.com for a full list of options.
Paw Beach doesn’t just cater to pups and cats, they also ensure owners can be comfortable leaving their pets in the resort’s care. Live web cams allows customers to watch over their animals, and the boarders implore folks to visit the facilities before deciding if it’s a right fit for their loved one.
“We really try to emphasize customer service and communication,” Simmons comments. “Since pets can’t talk, it is vital to communicate with the owners.”
Paw Beach goes above and beyond working with their customers. They also collect food for the Karma Foundation, a nonprofit that helps supply food to hungry dogs and cats, as well as championing local fundraising events that support pet-kind.
Looking toward 2015, they have some tricks up their sleeves. “We have some expansion plans to accommodate even more dogs and plan to continue providing a quality experience to pets and their people,” Simmons tells.
Also providing pets with a place to stay are Atlantic Animal Hospital and Pups Play ‘n’ Stay. —Christian Podgaysky
Alan Perry has called Wilmington home for 24 years. Having opened his top-notch jewelry business in the mall, it wasn’t until 1999 that he moved Perry’s Emporium to its current location in Barclay Commons (2520 Independence Blvd.). Yet, his seasoned knowledge in the business has helped toward culling success as Wilmington’s Best Jeweler for two years running now. “I started in jewelry when I was only 14,” he says. He was one of six kids in the family, a son of a plumber.
“I did not want to dig ditches and work outside in the cold all my life,” Perry says. “When my older brother had a jewelry store that he worked in, I stayed and worked in his store for a week.”
Perry did all the odd jobs, like cleaning the place, and worked his way to learning how to engrave ID bracelets. He kept one for himself even.
“At school—I think I was in the 8th grade—the girls loved my ID bracelet and I liked girls, so…” he quips.
That’s when he decided to pursue the career. At 17, he moved to New York City, received his GG degree and has pursued his passion for gold, silver, diamonds, and more ever since (in addition to a passion for remodeling homes).
“I love to see folks come in with grins on their faces, with a big ol’ smile for me, loving the jewelry that they got,” he notes. “I care about what I sell to them so they keep coming back and sending all their friends.”
Giving also is ingrained in Perry’s blood. With Perry’s Emporium, he donates time, energy, products, and money to many nonprofits. He’s even well-known as the go-to auctioneer for many auctions. “This commiunty has been so good to me,” he says. “I want to help all I can—and thank God that I can.”
Their full-service store is run like jewelers from the ‘50s; customers can come to Perry’s not only for new, sparkling jewels, but can depend on them to fix broken jewelry and even construct custom designs. Upcoming will be a small remodeling of the store, as well as upping the ante on customer service, adn within the custom jewelry and repair ends. Plus, he plans on bringing in more diamonds and bridal wear.
“I have just opened a wedding dress shop next door [to Perry’s], and you will find the same great service there,” he says of The Wedding Dress Shoppe. “It’s first-class all the way.”
Without a dedicated staff, whom he respects and treasures, Perry says none of his business would be possible. He never takes them for granted for their superior knowledge and customer care.
“They are all like my children, and/or brothers and sisters,” he says. “We are family here. I love them so much; folks come here and tell me all the time about how much they love to be here, and it shows.”
Perry’s has continued its family-affair mentality, too, as Alan’s two sons have joined him in the business. “They are growing with me here and will take over one day—when I’m too old to work!”
Perry’s Emporium is joined on the poll by runners-up Snowden’s Jewelers and Reed’s Jewelers.
For many years now, Once Upon a Child, located at 4719-J New Centre Drive, has taken the Best Kid’s Clothing Store category by storm. The resale shop is everything a parent needs in providing for their child and family, all at once.
It’s simple in how it works: Folks can bring in their gently used children’s clothing, toys and even baby equipment to consign at the store. The customer-service representatives look through the items while you shop. Then, they select what they want and make an offer on your goods. You take the money or use it to shop at Once Upon a Child. Voila! It’s a win-win for everyone.
Once Upon a Child accepts tons of brands, including Abercrombie, Adidas, Enstein Baby, Baby Bjorn, Disney Store, Polo Ralph Lauren, Thomas & Friends, and more. The shop sets gold standards and often gets recognition for quality products, operations and customer service. They carry sizes preemie to 20 child, and keep a constant eye on safety to properly evaluate and upgrade store environment, product selection and staff training. Family-owned and -operated by Terry and Sharon Talbott, since 1994 Once Upon a Child has watched and helped families across southeastern NC grow.
Other kids’ clothing stores that have made the grade on our poll are Kid to Kid and Carter’s.
In 2004 Wilmington’s Riverfront Farmers’ Market opened on the riverwalk downtown every Saturday, so residents could get a hold of fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood and meats, cheeses and breads, from local farmers and food purveyors. In 2010 it became a nonprofit and has mainfested into a staple of weekend rituals along downtown streets. While they still offer fresh goods, it’s grown into a place where arts and craft vendors set up shop, and where local live music and educational oppprtunities thrive as well.
Board member R.T. Jones says, “[It] has proven successful in fulfilling its mission of enhancing the quality of life in Wilmington, by providing a community activity that fosters social gathering and interaction.”
Today the market has 40 total vendors. Every Saturday, from April 4 through November 21, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., customers meander down Water Street to purchase fresh cut flowers or local honey, herbs and spices, or even cakes, cookies and pies.
“While 90 percent of customers are driven to the market for produce, there are a variety of other products, including wine, seafood, meats, cheeses, baked goods, honey, dog treats, plants, herbs, flowers, and arts and crafts,” according to Jones. “Many vendors have started producing items based on customer feedback and demands.”
Located on the serene Cape Fear River, families stroll with their dogs, couples enjoy coffee hand-and-hand, and even local foodie tour guides shop for goods for their cooking classes. The market hosts nonprofits, civic and community organizations weekly, too, and offers educational programming.
Jones says right now the trend toward fresh, healthy and local food is part of market’s appeal. Consumers are really focusing on food safety, and organic and gluten-free items. “Accessibility to fresh, healthy foods in low-income communities [is really important,]” Jones notes. That downtown is considered a food desert—with no grocery store within walking distance, among high poverty rates—the farmers’ market is a once-a-week shot for many downtown dwellers to have convenient access to better nutrition.
“The market members strive not only to provide quality local products but to educate consumers about local farming and seasonal eating,” Jones iterates. “Market customers are able to interact and develop relationships with the folks who actually grow or produce the food they eat.”
When the market opens on April 3, consumers will find it has moved slightly due to construction along N. Water Street. The market will be held in the parking lot located at corner of N. Water and Princess streets.
Other farmers’ markets making the list are the Carolina Beach Farmers’ Market and the Poplar Grove Farmers’ Market.
RECORD STORE/PLACE TO BUY MUSIC
In August 2004, Matt Keen decided to open Gravity Records, after years of managing former Wilmington record store Manifest Discs. He opened the shop on Kerr Avenue, and began selling new and used CDs, DVDs, vinyl, and cassettes. Just two years ago, the shop moved downtown to the Castle Street Antiques and Arts District where it’s continued to thrive as Wilmington’s Best Record Store/Best Place to Buy Music for nine years now.
“My entire life I have been sharing music with people, whether it was through [playing] violin, [making] music with regional bands, or through sharing recorded sound with Wilmington and the world,” Keen says. “I love music, but more importantly I love sound.”
Keen really upped Gravity’s reach to the greater Wilmington area when he began fixing turntables and recording gear around town. In fact, his business has grown significantly from adding to the store’s services. Keen boasts the fact they’re the only fully service turntable repair shop in eastern NC.
“There is no other record store in Wilmington who has the knowledge base we do in regards to electronics or servicing turntables of any make or model,” he notes. “In most cases, we are able to make a turntable perform better than it did the day it left the factory. Have you ever walked into another record store in Wilmington and seen a multimeter or soldering iron in an employee’s hand? No, you haven’t. We have studied electronics and electrical circuits (audio specific) since the ‘90s.”
They stock thousands of styli—record player needles—and know what needle a person needs by taking a quick look. They can discern if a cartridge is the right compliance for any particular turntable and tonearm. More importantly, they stock thousands of inventory to play on those tables—something they promise to keep increasing upon to accommodate the resurgence of popularity that vinyl is currently seeing.
“We stock nearly every genre of music on LP and get exclusive limited-edition releases that other stores do not,” he shares. Keen and his wife, Lindsey Zimecki, operate the store closely by working with numerous labels that provide bonus gifts and special items with each release.
“We as a company spend as much money as we can with other local independent companies, as well as NC-based labels and distributors to keep those dollars right here in NC,” Keen says. “We donate a substantial amount to multiple organizations, charities, and fundraisers annually. We believe in supporting local and each other in our personal lives and in the life of our business.”
Born and bred in Wilmington, Keen promises a lot of big surprises from Gravity in 2015. But his customers will have to stay tuned for more information. Immediately coming up: Record Store Day, April 18. Though they won’t know what will be available to them on that day (full list here: www.recordstoreday.com/SpecialReleases), they will have a ton of non-sanctioned limited-edition exclusives.
“It feels like we are doing our jobs right when we receive yet another encore award,” Keen says. “Winning in year’s past always brings in new customers who have yet to stop by the shop.”
Reggie’s Records and Yellow Dog Discs come in second and third on our poll.
For nine years now, Dr. Albert Bozart has practiced denistry, with the goal of providing comprehensive care affordably—more so a single set of teeth are not overlooked because of a dollar bill. His passion for keeping our community’s smiles white and pearly for miles, and healthy and happy, has landed him a win on our poll for Best Dentist for three years in a row now at Bozart Family Denistry (6132 Carolina Beach Rd.).
“I’m passionate about serving our community’s oral healthcare needs, as well as serving and donating to various local charities and causes,” Dr. Bozart says.
Their services span everything from general cleanings to pediatric denistry, special needs denistry, cosmetic services, orthodonics or oral surgery, and even anxiety control denistry.
“We strive to provide superior service with modern technology and techniques,” Dr. Bozart informs. “We recently added 3D imaging to assist with implants and surgery.”
He also added a laboratory, wherein his attentive and caring staff can fabricate crowns and bridges on the same day. His faculty goes the extra mile to pacify squeamish patients who already fear visists to the dentist’s chair. “We do our best to make it as warm and fun of an experience as possible,” he says.
In a day an age where healthcare often provides heartaches rather than heart flutters, Dr. Bozart makes sure patients find a financing plan suitable to their oral-health remains top-notch. Recently, they started a $50 a month plan to minimize the monetary burdens that dental care sometimes presents. Patients must sign up for a credit card authorization for recurring charges and present proper identification. “This is an in-house, 0-percent interest, dental-financing program that will really open up quality oral healthcare to everyone with a valid credit card,” Dr. Bozart says.
Currently, the office is noticing an upswing in dental implants and Invisalign (clear braces) inquiries. They’re actually running a special on Invasalign for only $3,160 ($790 off retail). Folks who wish to make an appointment can do so online (www.bozartfamilydentistry.com).
“In order to serve our local patients even better, we’ve expanded our hours to be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday; we close at 5 p.m. on Friday,” he says.
Other denists drilling their way onto the poll are Salling and Tate and Marshall Dental Excellence. —Shea Carver
Food & Beverage
Megan Loux’s love for beer started before she was legal to sip on it. Family vacations always included brewery tours and quips from 6-year-olds, whining, “Why do we only get one root beer and you guys get to drink all the beer you want!”
“[It] was our rapid-fire ammunition in an already lost battle of logic,” Loux quips. “I didn’t appreciate it then, but the craft of brewing was always the focus and wow-factor to whatever delicious pint was being consumed. My passion for beer was well-established before I knew it or got to practice it.”
While attending college, Loux studied sociology, which piqued from learning about the influences of various cultures, geography, social structures, and perceived social pressures. “I knew what I didn’t want to be,” she notes. “I didn’t want to sit at a desk or behind a computer or talk to a receiver more than people. I see my choice to bartend as my personal way of putting my degree to use.”
She has won Best Bartender in Wilmington now for three years, standing behind her post at downtown’s craft-beer haven, Cape Fear Wine and Beer (CFWB). Here, she’s culled a group of loyal customers, always looking for her friendly repartee and depending on her refined palate for craft brews, her favorite being IPAs.
“I talk about Victory Dirt Wolf like it’s the quarterback on the high-school football team,” she notes. “With a simpler malt bill, the hops are the showcase, with tropical brightness and a sharp, clean finish.”
The bar goddess also loves Ballast Points Sculpin IPA, which offers grapefruit and habeñero versions. According to her, “they take already solid beer to the next level.” She also has taken an interest in Unity Vibrations’ kombucha beers, which is a hybrid of fermented kombucha tea and Belgian lambic. “It’s exciting for many reasons, being that they are raw and organic and a solid American wild ale,” Loux explains.
The bartender is proud to work for CFWB owners Lector Bennett and Maaike Brender À Brandis, each of whom are constantly updating their establishment to reach all ages of beer lovers with ever-expanding inventory. Currently, they’re working on a new website, wherein they’ll offer an online draft and bottle list, accessible in real time and updated as every new keg is tapped.
“You can be in the bar and not want to lose your seat to check the drafts, or motivate yourself from your couch to get downtown,” Loux explains. “It’s still in its primary stages, but we’ve got a lot of ideas and the potential is immense.”
As well, CFWB’s cask ales present the largest variety in town. With the influx of Wilmington breweries opening shop, opportunities and propects are expanding quickly. The wave of new products keeps Loux’s thirst quenched for knowledge.
“To be super cheesy, [we’re] a family,” she says. “Everything about CFWB is unique: from the bar stools and hose, to o-ring in every draft line, to the names and faces of beers and their representatives, as well as brewers. It’s all crafted and maintained by the same magnificent faces you see here everyday.”
The good people and places, whether business owners, consumers, brewers, bartenders, or otherwise, propel Loux’s love for the Port City. She considers them all comrades, able to help one another in her industry. Though she’s skilled in the art of beer, she recognizes the hard work that local mixologists pour into their passion for tending bar, too.
“I do love me some cocktails, and Ian Murray at Manna, as well as Chris Tolbert from Caprice are my favorite bartenders to seek out,” she says. “I know what I like, and they are able to translate my taste with their expertise right in front of me. I can suggest a beer, even if it’s not my favorite style, but I’ll leave the [mixology] game to them.”
Other bartenders shaking up the list are Ian Murray at Manna and Daniel Fagan at Whiskey Creek.
And we have a new pizza winner on the polls for 2015! Elizabeth’s Pizza is no stranger to the encore win, as this category has vascillated over the years since we’ve begun our official Best Of. But the Market Street Italian restaurant is back on top for the first time since 2005, scoring Best Pizza.
A family-owned-and-operated establishment, Elizabeth’s has been serving Wilmington since 1987 at the corner of Market Street and Kerr Avenue in the North 17 Shopping Plaza (they also have locations in Fayetteville, Greensboro, and Eden, NC, and in Collinsville, VA). Their handmade dough served on all pizzas, calzones and strombolis can’t be topped thanks to its perfectly crispy and buttery decadence. Whether ordering a hand-tossed pie or the thicker Sicilian version, Elizabeth’s makes sure it comes out perfect every time. And folks can order from their numerous specialties—like grilled chicken and jalapeño barbecue—or simply build their own.
Yet, pie isn’t all the eatery is known for; they have a huge menu filled to the gills with entrees, salads, sandwiches, and more. Their pasta dishes are made to order (don’t go without trying the red clam sauce and spaghetti), and they cross cuisines, too, serving everything from Philly cheesesteaks to burgers. It’s Italian-American at its finest!
Over the years, they’ve renovated the restaurant, including the latest addition of their bar, open daily from 4 p.m. to midnight. Here, they offer nightly drink specials and even a slice and a pint for $6 on weeknights from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The restaurant opens daily at 10 a.m., ready to serve lunch, and stays open through dinner and into late-night hours, also closing at midnight.
For those on the go, take out is always an option, as are their catering services. Plus, they have meeting rooms on site, which house up to 50 people, perfect to host company lunches, birthday parties, family reunions, and more!
Slice of Life topped second place, while Brooklyn Pizza sliced its way into third.
It’s all about top-quality ingredients, prepared with thought and love, served in a fun, casual atmosphere at Dock St. Oyster Bar, Wilmington’s Best Oysters for 15 years in a row now. Louise Forbes-Simpson and business partner Steve Maillard opened the raw bar in 1999. “I have worked and loved the industry for 32 years,” Forbes-Simpson says. “Because of my true love for people.”
They focus on clean, guilt-free choices made with quality seafood. One thing diners won’t see on the menu: Calabash-style, fried foods.
“We have our core steamer menu and we are competitive with our pricing,” Forbes-Simpson assures. “We can easily meet most dietary requests because we use very few processed foods.”
Folks can indulge in a variety of appetizers, like their luscious jalapeño crab and shrimp dip, made with jalapeños, bacon and cheddar, blended together with shellfish. They can order from a selection of salads, like their chef’s seafood variety, including rasberry marinated shrimp, scallops and calamri. They can also order sandwiches, but the real gold comes in Dock Street’s multitude of steamers, which include any mix of crab legs, clams, mussels, shrimp, and, yes, oysters.
“We constantly change menu and beverage selections,” Forbes-Simpson notes. “[In 2015] expect more fresh, local ‘dock to table’ products and new ‘docktails’!”
They’ll also be increasing the local products they sell, as well as upping the ante on customer service. They strive to turn every guest into the quintessential Norm from “Cheers.”
“We love our beautiful city, and the people who live and visit here,” she continues. “We are humbled that they acknowledge this tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurant can put out such great food.”
Other oyster joints shucking on to our poll are Hieronymus and Shuckin’ Shack.
What’s a panini? Well, it’s a sandwich—a fancy one, pressed between two griddles and stuffed with all kinds of toppings and goodness. Folks often ask why this category exists. “Shouldn’t it be just part of the sub/sandwiches category?” Well, maybe. But isn’t a burger or hot dog technically a sandwich? Bottom line: We’re suckers for good paninis at encore—and, well, we think it deserves its own stand-alone category. For 2015 Wafarer Deli and Bistro has taken the category for its second year in a row.
Chef and owner Carey Way and Ron Suriano opened the bistro in 2010 to offer a place where sandwiches are treated with extraordinary culinary care. Specifically, their panini list tops any in town, with over 20 varieties offered.
“We use only fresh ingredients and make essentially everything from scratch here in our tiny, little kitchen,” Suriano, general manager, says. “We roast and/or smoke our own meats, make our own soups and of course, our famous s’mac ‘n cheese daily. We purchase only the finest of cheeses and charcuterie and use fresh, local produce whenever possible.”
They have items like the Benjamin Franklin, served with house-roasted angus beef, cranberry-orange chutney, havarti, organic greens, and on pressed ciabatta, and the R.G.T.B.L.T., made with roasted and seared green tomatoes, hickory bacon, onions, guacamole, and iceberg on pressed ciabatta. Plus, they cater to vegetarians with a full panini menu specified to herbivore diets, like the the Dünne Jäger (a.k.a. “The Thin Hunter”), made with roasted green tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olive tapenade, gruyère, spinach, and served on pressed sunflower bread.
While paninis, soups, salads, and s’mac ‘n’ cheese is their forte, Wayfarer has become known for their bison burger Thursday and Saturdays, too. “We use a proprietary grind of bison from Carolina Bison, a small ranch just outside of Asheville, NC,” Suriano explains. “This place is centered around how and where we like to dine. Since we opened in 2010, we have seen a constant growth in our business—and ourselves. By creating new and exciting menu items on a daily basis, we have been able to keep up with the demands of our customers and the trends in the industry. We ensure that when we create something new, it’s either the best version of or something completely different that you simply won’t find elsewhere.”
And they’re constantly creating, whether paninis or burgers, on a weekly basis. Encore readers aren’t the only ones appreciative of the spot, either; reviews from other sites have placed Wayfarer as one of the “Top Sandwich Spots in North Carolina” as noted by Scoutology.com.
Still, being recognized at home matters. “We love the ‘small-town feel,’ with the added culture that Wilmington provides,” Suriano boasts. “Our little spot is just perfect for us; it offers a European, old-world feel that our customers love!”
Other panini joints pressing the poll are Panera and Atlanta Bread Company.
When it comes to burritos, Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn has it in the bag. The dining establishment began rolling specialty burritos back in 2000 and ever since have been keeping diners happily sated with 16 years worth of totrillas, rice, beans, fillings, and loads of chips and homemade salsas.
“The restaurant business is all I know and is pretty much all I have ever done,” says owner Jay Muxworthy, who opened the eatery with his wife, the restaurant’s namesake, Amy. “We just try to continue to put out the best product we can. I think when you have been around for a while it is easy to get too comfortable. I try to avoid that.”
With a focus on consistency, the restaurateurs have launched a quirky establishment welcoming the funky and fun side of life. From a wall of pink flamingos, to Elvis playing overhead, to the counter being constructed out of the front of an old hot rod, to employees proudly sporting their latest ink, Flaming Amy’s has attitude to match its creative burrito names, like the Baywatch (grilled tilapia and shrimp, lettuce, diced tomatoes, cheese, and Hasslehoff jalapeno tartar sauce) or Shrimp Makirito (cucumbers, carrots, spinach, rice, fried shrimp tossed in teriyaki sauce, and wasabi avocado salsa). Folks who don’t wish to order from their burrito menu can build their own, or go for tacos, quesadillas, nachos, or salads.
And their salsas—well, Flaming Amy’s only serves the best pineapple salsa in Wilmington, hands down (other flavors consist of black bean and corn, flaming hot, Asian cucumber, wasabi avocado, green tomatillo, chipotle tomatillo, and ginger peach). The Muxworthys founded Operation Salsa Drop years ago, wherein they sent Flaming Amy’s salsas to soldiers serving in the war overseas. Currently, they’re revising that concept. “We have a new salsa charity program in the works, but more details on that project coming soon!” Jay says. They also work with local charity NourishNC (encore’s Best Nonprofit 2015), which helps feed schoolchildren through a backpack program.
“We always appreciate being acknowledged by the encore readers,” Jay says. “Every year I think this is the year we will be knocked out of the winner’s circle, and each year, I am pleasantly surprised when we win.”
While the Burrito Barn will continue hosting lines of customers to place their orders, the Muxworthys are turning attention to their sister restaurant, Flaming Amy’s Bowl (a Mongolian-style grill). They began franchising the business in late 2014. “Right now we have a couple potential franchisees we are working with and we are just about to open our new corporate location in Northchase this summer if all goes as planned,” Jay notes.
Other burritos our readers like to sink their teeth into come from Chipotle and K38. —Shea Carver
PLACE FOR A FIRST DATE
Whether it’s that guy or girl you’ve fawned over from afar, who’s finally noticed your existence, or that potential catfish you chatted it up with on Tinder, first dates can be awkward. Atmosphere and a delicious meal can go a long way in combating the lulls in conversation. (I mean, first dates are primarily designed to treat yourself or be treated to a nice meal, right?) Well, Wilmington has given their long-stemmed red rose of approval to the Port City’s premier fondue spot, The Little Dipper, for Best Place for a First Date—which they’ve earned for several years.
Dim lighting and a downtown setting make it a lovely way to spend a romantic evening. Beginning couples can start off with a cheese appetizer, wlike cheddar, havarti, Italian cheeses, and more. Vegetables and fruits for dipping are served, alongside soup or salad.
Diners can then nosh on The Little Dipper’s meats, including filet mignon, chicken, seafood, and pork tenderloin, accompanied by one of their 17 signature sauces. Sweethearts can endcap their night with something sweet, with their delicious, mouth-watering chocolate-fondue desserts.
Head in on Tuesdays for $1 to $4 small plates, or enjoy a Thursday-night rendezvous with their four-course prix-fixe menu. It comes in at $27 per person. Friday is The Little Dipper’s official date night. They offer up a $65 special for two (or $115 for a double date). The deal includes three courses, each paired with a beer or wine of your choosing.
Caprice Bistro and Circa 1922 also top encore’s reader’s poll as a great place to get to know that potential soulmate.
BREAKFAST and DINER
Quaint and conveniently located in the heart of downtown (116 Market Street) Wilmington, Dixie Grill takes home Best Breakfast and Best Diner at encore’s 2015 Best Of Awards. Their small-town vibe and delicious, savory magic in the kitchen have been serving Wilmington, in some form or fashion, actually since the 1920s.
Tourists and locals alike enjoy beginning their day by indulging on their eggs, bacon and signature dishes. Folks can order Alma’s Biscuits and Gravy, which come covered in hot sausage and egg gravy. At a mere $5.50, it’s an affordable way to usher in the day.
Likewise, their buttermilk pancakes sate any morning sweet-tooth when covered in yummy maple syrup. For the more savory-oriented diner, the Louisiana Hash, comprising Cajun-fried potatoes, Andouille sausage, peppers, onions, chedder-jack cheese, is in order. Or just stick with the traditional steak ‘n’ eggs.
Dixie Grill landed in the ranks of Best Diner through delicious lunch options, like corned beef or turkey Reuben, or a crisp Cobb or Greek salad. As well, they offer the Treehugger, a vegan black bean burger, for non-meat eaters.
The classic Dixie Burger, which serves up half-pound of in-house, chargrilled ground sirloin, also pleases diners. It comes topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo, all melded between a toasted kaiser roll. Meals can be accompanied by French fries, onion rings, sweet-potato fries, potato salad, cole slaw, pasta salad, or fresh tomato slices.
Sweet ‘n’ Savory and The Basics also whipped up votes in the Best Breakfast category, while College Diner and Jimbo’s pleased food lovers for Best Diner.
Arts, Media, and Entertainment
“We like to play artists and songs that speak to the soul,” general manager Beau Gunn says of the Hometown Wilmington Media station, The Penguin 98.3FM—“a different kind of bird.” The Penguin found its footing in Wilmington over a decade ago and has taken over the city’s airwaves, playing music for the masses with their AAA programming. “[It’s] music made from real instruments by musicians that believe in crafting great lyrics and great compositions,” Gunn says.
Whether hearing the latest from Americana rockers Shovels and Rope, or NC darlings The Avett Brothers, or the greatest from legends like Bob Dylan or Neil Young, or the most recent jams from the likes of Widespread Panic, The Penguin has it all covered. They play electric, folk, blues, and everything in between from a slew of artists that music lovers have come to adore, whether it’s the next up-and-comer or locals.
“We have found that this blend speaks to a large population: people that have been disenfranchised with the direction that mainstream radio/music has gone in,” Gunn tells.
But The Penguin is more than just a mere radio station; they also host events within the community weekly to keep their listeners connected to the music. Rate-a-Record is held every Tuesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at downtown’s Slice of Life location. Here folks get to rate the new music that infiltrates the station and rate it; accordingly, the hightest scoring songs end up on the airwaves. Plus, The Penguin gives out prizes every week.
They also host SweetWater Pengo at the Mellow Mushroom on Oleander Drive from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Mondays. It’s like Bingo and folks can win concert tickets to local and regional shows. And it’s free to play!
“Our mission is to build a stronger community through music, and one of the ways we do that is by bringing Wilmington together at our weekly events as well as our live concerts,” Gunn says.
The Penguin has hosted greats like Gary Clark Jr., Michael Franti, Widespread Panic, and Dr. John locally. They’re gearing up for 2015, but Gunn remains mum on the details as of now. “You are not going to want to miss it,” he promises.
They’re also giving back to the community constantly. Just last month they partnered with Jim Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks, to host a concert for his band at the Calico Room. They raised $6,500 in two hours on behalf of the local nonprofit Chords for a Cause. Monies from the event are going to Mary C. Williams Elementary School for the purchase of new music equipment. “We recognize as a broadcaster, it is our duty to use our unique position to help others move forward as well,” Gunn tells.
While the content is all there for the great makings of local radio, The Penguin’s hosts—Kim Czornij (7 a.m. to noon), Eric Miller (yes, lead singer from L Shape Lot, winner of 2015 Best Band; noon to 3 p.m.) and Gunn himself (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.)—keep listeners dedicated and loyal. Their warm personalities and willingness to play the best tunes remain at the heart of The Penguin.
“Being able to make someone’s day through playing their favorite song is always the most fulfilling part,” Gunn says, “knowing that we can turn someone’s mood by hitting that right tune at the right time.”
Other radio stations dialing in include Z107.5 and WHQR 91.3.
Cardinal Lanes opened as a family-owned-and-operated business off Oleander Drive, across from Hanover Center. Once the mall went under construction, in the early ‘70s, the bowling alley moved to its current location at 3907 Shipyard Boulevard and has resided there for 40 years. Its then 12 lanes have multipled into 32 lanes, which serve for family fun. Cardinal Lanes also hosts numerous leagues and tournaments in town.
“The great thing about the bowling business is its ability to appeal to any age and ability from 4 to 94,” owner Ron Schnell says. “It’s a lifelong sport that any person can participate in. Here at Cardinal Lanes we like to say, ‘Where the Family Bowls!’ because once one family member gets involved, it usually will carry over into the whole family.”
The bowling alley has undergone multiple changes over the years. Most recently, they’ve updated their interior with new carpet and masking units, and coming soon they will upgrade overhead TVs. They host numerous birthday parties, a constant trend in the business, plus, they dedicate a lot of time working with kids.
“Here at Cardinal Lanes we love being part of the community by hosting fundraisers of all kinds and helping our community in any way we can,” Schnell confirms. “This summer we will once again be sponsoring Kids Bowl Free program.”
The program ensures that kids 15 and under receive two free games of bowling everyday starting in May. Plus, Cardinal Lanes does youth programs, which allow kids to earn scholarships in bowling. According to their website (bowlcardinal.com), kids as young as 5 years can get a head start on college tuition with scholarships from bowling at Cardinal Lanes.
As a member of the United States Bowling Congress (USBC), young bowlers are eligible for millions. Currently, more than $6 million in scholarship money is given by bowling associations, certified tournaments and bowling center owners each season. (Interested in more info? Contact Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.)
“At Cardinal Lanes we strive to accommodate all our guest needs,” Schnell says, “from bumpers and rails for small kids to great lane conditions and top-of-the-line bowling balls for our serious bowlers.”
Surprised by their first win in years for Best Bowling Alley, it’s not one Schnell or his staff takes for granted. “We love the fact that we are a small part of all the business community that make up our great city of Wilmington,” he says.
Other alleys rolling onto the poll include Ten Pin Alley and Beach Bowl.
Aside from killing it in costume a la Run DMC (or Beastie Boys, depending on how ya look at it) at encore’s Best Of Back to the ‘80s party, held at Brooklyn Arts Center on Feburary 28, DJ Brian Hood began turning tunes in 1995. He adored music and entertaining, and decided to spin at a house party in college.
“[I had a] record player, CD player, two-channel mixer, and some half-ass speakers!” he quips. “Lots of table-bumping and spilled drinks on my equipment—and me fumbling through what song to play, totally nervous and rattled, but it ended well!”
Today the DJ primarily takes over the speakers at weddings, corporate parties, fashion events, and fundraisers. Though folks may not see him at standing gigs in town, he’s always up for a set. When he plays, folks will hear a mix of all sounds, from funk to disco, R&B to hip-hop, EDM to dance, rock to lounge. As far as his most requested song these days? “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson, featuring Bruno Mars.
Personally, though, DJ Brian Hood (“It’s my government name,” he says) has a variation of faves he plays on his Pioneer players, Rane mixer and JBL speakers. “Jay-Z is my favorite artist,” he notes, while Coldplay and The Police take top honors among his fave groups. “‘Latch,’ by Disclosure is a great song,” he continues. “Stevie Wonder is genius.”
Ask him to play any of the above and he will happily agree. Though he takes all requests, some still make him queasy. “I wish I didn’t have to play beach music and line dances,” he reveals.
While deejaying is a hobby he loves, his day job involves a partnership with event venues downtown. Naturally, the two complement each other swimmingly. And the DJ is happy to donate time where he can to keep the dance floor pumping. To date, he’s done events with Lower Cape Fear Hospice, Make a Wish, C.A.R.E fundraiser, Cape Fear Literacy Council, and Wilmington Fashion Week.
DJ Battle and DJ Time also raise the roof on our poll, according to readers. —Shea Carver
ARCADE/GAME ROOM and POOL HALL
There’s nothing like a night out to play games and drink beer. Though many of us are getting long in the tooth, skeeball, pinball or pool still fill us with the same joy it did during youth. Folks can indulge in all of the above at Blue Post, voted Wilmington’s Best Arcade/Game Room and Best Pool Hall.
Walking into the local haunt, nestled in an alleyway on Front Street, will reveal innumerable “e” awards that line the post at their bar. With such diligent, friendly staff and two large pool tables, which are front and center in Blue Post’s main bar area, it’s no surprise that they claim so many accolades. As well, the bar space offers a third pool table and a dart board.
Spacious and full of seating, the bar can play host to a large crowd without it feeling overwhelming. As well, the expansive interior ensures there’s no bumping of elbows during a pool match.
When folks head to the back for a full array of games, they’ll find air hockey is in order. The back room also houses two additional pool tables, pinball games galore and even a basketball-shooting game. All activities are made better with one of Blue Post’s ice-cold brews, or for designated drivers, there’s more to do than wrangle in partying friends.
Jungle Rapids and Ten Pin Alley won votes in the Best Arcade/Game Room category, too, and Orton’s and Breaktime racked up votes for Best Pool Hall.
Every year around Christmastime, locals can bank on Wilmington Ballet Company’s production of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” coming to life. Evoking spirited images of the dancing Sugar Plum Fairy and a world of grandeur beyond one’s wildest dreams, the show, which played in December at Kenan Auditorium on UNCW’s campus, wowed audiences enough to win Best Theatre Production of 2014.
Local talent was on full display as 250 dancers, actors, martial arts students and teachers, marines, volunteers, acrobats, and singers came together to make this year’s production happen. “Although Wilmington School of Ballet is the primary studio that manages and creates the performance, there were many other team players among wilmington studios,” tells Elizabeth Hester, whose been directing the Wilmington Ballet Company since 1999. “Techniques in Motion performed a fantastic acrobatic Mother Ginger, Laa Petite Dance created a majestic sea scene, Southside Dance Center (from Columbus County) danced a delightful candycane scene, and Babs McDance waltzed beautifully in the party scene. King Tiger Martial Arts performed a spectacular intermission show. Techmoja Dance and Theater Company entertained the audience with a pre-show and the Arabian dance. Local professionals Emily Bannerman and Kevin Lee-y Green awed audiences with their technical skill. Regional guest artists from Carolina Ballet and Atlanta Ballet amazed local with their world-class performance.”
Coordinating the artists and performers that came from all over, as well as the nonprofits limited budget, proved huge obstacles to overcome. The show’s physicality also gave way to a unique challenge.
“It is like organizing a three-ring circus,” Hester quips. “The studio directors were spectacular in truly working together to organize and manage the dancers, costumes, and props. Kenan’s technical staff and administrative staff went above and beyond to develop a technically amazing show with this many moving pieces.”
Likewise, ballet enthusiasts in the U.S. have a difficult time getting men interested. Hester notes that in other countries it’s viewed as a sport/art, and men and women are equally invested in the dance form. However, Hester and company found willing Marines to pair up with young ballerinas and a plethora of contemporary male dancers. She even lauds Captain Keaton Thomas’s performance in the fight scene as being one the production’s highlights.
This marks the first year the show has taken home the coveted “e” award. “The company has built each year on its wardrobe, set capacity, and performer pool,” Hester says. “It has been a long, long journey to reach a point that we are recognized in this way. Thousands of people in our community should be proud because it took all of them over many years to get to this point. Ours is the largest and most spectacular ‘The Nutcracker’ ever produced in the region!”
In 2015 Wilmington Dance Company plans to make the production even bigger. As well, they are preparing for their spring shows, “A Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which will be performed at Scottish Rite Temple in May.
Pineapple-Shaped Lamps “Sex AKA Wieners and Boobs” and City Stage Co.’s “Carrie the Musical” also wowed audiences in the category.—Christian Podgaysky