SIMPLY THE BEST! TIPPING OUR HATS TO THE CREME DE LA CREME OF WILMINGTON

Apr 7 • Art, ARTSY SMARTSY, BEST OF WILMINGTON, Best Of Wilmington, Comedy, Drink Features, FEATURE MAIN, Food Features, GRUB & GUZZLE, Music, TheaterNo Comments on SIMPLY THE BEST! TIPPING OUR HATS TO THE CREME DE LA CREME OF WILMINGTON

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.

best of

Hannah Lynne Milojevich and Theo Milojevich kill it at encore’s Back to the ‘80s Best Of Party. Photo by Blueberry Creative

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

FLORIST

Ask Dana Cook about how many flowers Julia’s Florist orders annually and she will answer: “I know we ordered 5,600 stems for Valentine’s Day alone.”

Ask the shop owner about her favorite flower and the answer is Gloriosa Lily (or Flame Lily). Hailing from Africa, its leaves’ juices have been used for poisoned arrows by some of the tribes.

“It is a beautiful upside down orange, red or pink lily, with delicate petals that look like the flames from a fire,” Cook explains. “The lilies are harvested for homemade medicinal potions in India and Africa. These flowers are dangerously toxic if ingested. Traditional healers understand its toxic nature and use the plant to heal. The ground roots provide a cure for snake bites and scorpion stings, but in the wrong hands this plant is very dangerous. Beautiful, healing properties, and used to make poison tipped arrows … what is there not to like?”

Cook and her flower artists work boldly and with careful attention to brighten people’s day. They have been watching smiles and tears across the faces of their recipients for years. In fact, one of the sweetest memories comes from their quite impressive degree of customer service; they delivered a roomful of Birds of Paradise to a Chapel Hill hospital.

“After his daughter survived a double lung transplant, a father asked us to fill her room with her favorite flower,” Cook explains. “We made several arrangements and drove them up. With the entire room full of Birds of Paradise, her smiles made every bit of the two-and-a-half hour trip worth our while. We refer to that order as ‘Operation Birds.’”

Their most popular arrangement—and perhaps their favorite to fulfill—comes from the “Bright and Cheery Designer’s Choice.” Here, their flower designers can showcase their skills and express freedom in doing so.

FLORAL GREATNESS: Dana Cook and her hubby, Jess, cuddle up to their win for Julia’s Florist as Best Florist 2015. Photo by Blueberry Creative

FLORAL GREATNESS: Dana Cook and her hubby, Jess, cuddle up to their win for Julia’s Florist as Best Florist 2015. Photo by Blueberry Creative

“They’re artists, and each arrangement is painted by their fingertips,” Cook says. “Every stem in the vase is placed with care and intention. We make sure each arrangement is delivered with a ‘designed by’ signature, because these talented artists deserve recognition for their work.”

Yet, Julia’s also appeals to gift-giving beyond flowers. They focus on cards, bath products, as well as Rob Ryan wedding plates and garden mugs, and Bethan Lowe’s vintage ornament line.

Whether customers want their gifts acknowledged by the sender or not, Julia’s always promises to keep their secret safe. “The ‘Guess Who’ signature [often has] recipients calling and asking for help,” Cook says. “Occasionally, the sender requests that we don’t release their name, so we don’t. Just call it: ‘Flower Confidential.’”

Fiore Fine Flowers and Lou’s Flower World rank second and third.

GYM

Spinning onto our poll for the first time is the ever-expanding O2 Fitness, which serves Wilmington healthnuts with two locations, in Mayfaire Town Center and Hanover Center. The state-of-the-art gym comes with numerous amenities, like a sauna, cardio getaway theatre, pilates reformers, express workout area, and even an indoor functional turf area.

Their group classes are varied for all levels of working out, whether folks wish to enjoy a little Zumba, Lesmills Bodyflow, yoga, cycling, or total body conditioning. They also have personal trainers staffed, ready to help everyone meet their fitness goals.

And no excuse warrants skipping a workout here—not even the kids. In fact, O2 offers childcare for its members to make health a priority Their childcare hours are Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. (with additional hours at Hanover Center on Fridays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.).

Folks who wish to give it a go can do a trial membership to ensure the gym is exactly up to speed. Once joining, they’ll have access to 12 fitness centers throughout NC, along with two free sessions with a personal trainer, not to mention over 50 group exercise classes each week, full strength and cardio training, and a better outlook on life.

Other gyms pumping onto our poll are Gold’s Gym and Planet Fitness.

DOCTOR

Wilmington Family Physicians’ very own Dr. Jeremy Holdsworth is the winner of our debut category, Best Doctor, for 2015. Board Certified by ABFM in Family Medicine, with his medical degree from the University of Virginia, Dr. Holdsworth specializes in prompt, courteous care as a primary-care physician for patients all across New Hanover County.

Practicing for 16 years, and as one of 55 doctors at the New Hanover Regional Medical Center, he treats diverse health needs of children and adults. His private office at Wilmington Family Physicians is located at 4141 Shipyard Boulevard where he and a group of other doctors offer services in adolescent care, adult medicine, dermatology, gynecology, routine care, sports medicine, urgent care, and more. They accept numerous insurance groups, as well as Medicaid and Medicare Advantage. Patients can request an appointment through their interactive website, and can keep up with news from the practice, such as new services they offer, like FRAX. The fracture risk assessment is a bone density test, which estimates the risk of fracture over the next 10 years, as developed by the World Health Organization.

Other doctors checking in on our poll are Dr. Richard Gutsi (Magnolia Family Medicine) and Dr. Jessica Burkett (Wilmington Health Associates).

CONSIGNMENT/RESALE (HOME DECOR)

Around the 3000 block of Market Street, four buildings stand full of treasures and unique finds in furniture, stemware, china, plant and garden finds, and so much more. For over a decade now The Ivy Cottage easily runs our Best Consignment for Home Decor and Best Antique Shop categories. Andrew Keller took over the store in 2013 and carries forth previous owner Sam Dunn’s vision of being the largest furniture consignment store in the Southeast (especially since her passing in January 2014).

“We have the best employees and reputation in Wilmington and the East Coast,” Keller beams. By staying honest and passionate with customers, Keller ensures The Ivy Cottage reaps great rewards in loyalty and trustworthiness. Whether folks are constantly asking for reclaimed wood furniture (“We can’t get enough of it!”) or Davenport desks or age-old drop-leaf dining tables or milk glass, items move and sell daily. 

In fact, The Ivy Cottage’s merchandise which isn’t sold from consignors gets marked down 15 percent at 45 and 90 days during the 120-day run period. Consignors can remove any items before markdown dates.

“We keep the classic styles while also consigned to newest styles,” Keller notes. “I attend trade shows to keep up with the trends.”

Keller is constantly remodeling the four buildings—one dedicated to garden items, one to their warehouse and two others full of furniture and accessories. He does whatever it takes to remain top-of-mind on the local market.

“It feels great knowing locals voted us the best!” he says. “There is a lot of competition out there, and we strive to be the best.”

Runners-up include Home Again Fine Consignments and The Eclectic Etc. in the consignment home-decor category, with Cape Fear Jewelry and Antiques and Uptown Market taking second and third in antiques.

ART GALLERY

Last year Bottega Art Gallery moved because, after being in business for nine years off Front Street between Grace and Chestnut, the lease on their location expired. Owner Sandy Perotto, who has operated the gallery since 2009, is celebrating 10 years in business with a larger space and great events continuously in rotation.

“At the beginning I was doing monthly arts shows, but it was just too much madness for my brain, so I now do six shows a year,” she says. “I’d guesstimate I have personally hung close to 40 exhibits at Bottega.”

Now at 122 Princess Street, across from Manna, the gallery not only stays bustling from busier street traffic, but their outdoor patio is a perfect beer garden for people to imbibe on numerous fine wines and craft brews.  “This truly has been the best move we could have made,” Perotto notes.

The gallery hosts Tuesday drum circles and belly dancing from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., with $3 starving artist wine all night. On Wednesdays they do wine tastings from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. with live performances, while every fourth Saturday is their poetry slam with open mic in poetry offered alternately.

“Weekends are scattered with varying creative events and always house a great drink special,” Perotto says. “Most nights some impromptu music or art activity seem to form. We are also open Mondays now, and we will be having outdoor events this summer since we have the space for it out back.”

Currently hanging is “Suspended Dermis” by artists Andrew Etherigde and Michael Polomik. However, this weekend on April 12 they will hang a new show,  “Revolver Dolls,” from visual artist and cinema director Juliana Rodriguez. An opening reception will be Friday, April 17, at 6 p.m.

The staff at the gallery and wine bar make it a welcoming spot for all to enjoy. Addie Wuench, a local artist and member of the band Loose Jets, along with Emily Jones—jewelry maker with her company Loon Jewelry—sell their art in house. Along with Sterling Morris and Nick Reeves, as well as occasional help from Perotto’s mom and Alexa Rea, all customers become a part of the Bottega family.

“I [have tried] to create a space that I personally would want to hang out in,” Perotto notes. Plus, she constantly keeps the gallery reaching out into the community. “We have done an exhibit which benefited Adopt an Angel that help homeless pets find homes,” she says. “We often hang pieces from artists with disabilities. I am hoping to do a show in the near future with all pieces created by individuals with developmental disabilities, a population which I have enjoyed working with in the past.”

Other galleries taking a spot on our poll include Eclipse at Blue Moon and Spectrum Art Gallery. —Shea Carver

GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN: The gals at Head to Toe Day Spa spunk it up at encore’s Back to the ‘80s Best Of party and score a win for Best Spa on the 2015 poll. Photo by Blueberry Creative

GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN: The gals at Head to Toe Day Spa spunk it up at encore’s Back to the ‘80s Best Of party and score a win for Best Spa on the 2015 poll. Photo by Blueberry Creative

SPA

Head to Toe whisks customers to a world where troubles seem far away and skin feels rejuvenated and beautiful. Their complete packages permit relaxation-seekers anything from a facial to a mud wrap and everything in-between. They offer the best in “manis and pedis” and provide a perfect destination for a girls’ day outing. As well, the pampering purveyors give cuts and styles or even make-up consultations.

The spa’s expansive list of services also includes waxing, sunless airbrush tanning, teeth whitening, chemical peels, nail enhancements, and an infared spa. For frequenters hoping to take a taste of paradise home, Head to Toe even offers a product line. Items from blinc, Biofreeze, Bio Iconic, and Boresha line their shelves.

To set up an appointment, go to http://headtotoedayspa.com and prepare to experience pure bliss.

Dolling out white robes and clay masks in second and third place are Ki Spa and Tanglez.

GOURMET STORE

In recent years, people have been paying closer attention to what they put in their bodies. As such, holistic remedies and natural, fresh foods have taken precedence in the food industry. Local business Taste The Olive, helmed by owners Kymberlei and Scott DiNapoli, has earned the title of Best Gourmet Store.

Growing up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Kymberlei has long been accustomed to transparency as to where foods come from. Likewise, Scott’s Italian heritage and travels to Mediterranean countries have guided their culinary offerings at Taste the Olive. For the DiNapolies it’s all about getting back to the basics, which they do at their shop and its attached eatery, The Olive Cafe and Wine Bar.

Their shelves evidence their affinity toward healthy fare. Their balsamic vinegars come aged, white or flavor infused. One of their biggest crowd-pleasers is the Aged 18-Year Traditional Balsamic, sure to complement any meal. Very Vanilla Bean, Razzy Raspberry and Wild About Butterflies top their list of flavored Balsamic vinegars.

Likewise, they offer olive oils, with flavors like Bursting with Basil, Under the Tuscan Herb, Caliente Chipotle, Boldly Butter, or Wild Mushroom and Sage. Their racks also are stocked full of salts and spices, and natural body essentials to keep skin silky smooth.

Visit Taste the Olive’s website for a full list of tasty, healthy recipes to make with their products. Creamy goat cheese pesto and juicy grapefruit balsamic jelly top their list of delicious dishes.

Plus, adventurous minds can indulge in their private oil tastings and education classes or a cheese and wine pairing event. Folks can schedule one by calling (910) 256-6457. Try Tate the Olive out by heading over on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. for half-price appetizers, wine and cheese pairings, chocolate and bourbon parings, and drink specials ($3 beers and $7 craft cocktails, and half-price bottles of wine).

Other locals keeping things fresh in the Best Gourmet Store category are Pine Valley Market and Temptations.

SURF SHOP

Surf’s up, dude! Located near the tubular shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Wrightsville Beach, Sweetwater Surf Shop has been chosen by encore’s readership as Best Surf Shop 2015.

Stocked with over 300 surfboards, their catalog runs the gamut between old and new, long and short, performance and retro. Surfers also can trade in their old boards for a brand spankin’ new one. Likewise, they’re filled to the gills with surfing accessories, like wetsuits, too.

Are you a beginner with all things nautical and gnarly? Never fear: Sweetwater offers rental options. Folks can check out a board perfect for a novice, as well as boogie boards and stand-up paddle boards. Their rates cary from partial-day, 5-hour, daily, or weeklong rentals.

If water sports aren’t your thing, Sweetwater also carries skateboards, men’s, women’s, and kid’s apparel, and more. From Vans, to sunglasses, to bathing suits, to hot brands like Billabong and Nike, they cover all the bases. Don’t forget to grab some sunscreen while you’re there, either. Most recently, Sweetwater Surf Shop even showcased their beach wares in The Swim Suit Issue Live at Wilmington Fashion Week.

Riding the waves into second and third place are Hot Wax and Bert’s.

HOTEL 

For tourists and locals alike, the ultimate in luxury digs is Holiday Inn Resort Wrightsville Beach, which opened in June 1999. Featuring amenities on amenities, it’s no surprise they once again have been dubbed top dog in the Best Hotel category.

Their oceanfront accommodations usher in a host of people from around the country each year. As well, its the perfect place for a “staycation” or to put up visiting relatives. No matter what the case, Holiday Inn offers a magical experience. They even have consistently placed in the top 20 of all Holiday Inns.

Head over to their website (www.wrightsville.holidayinnresorts.com) to take a virtual tour. Their propensity for a lavish stay yields an indoor heated pool and an outdoor pool. They advertise an airport shuttle, on-island subtle, and an oceanfront fitness center. For kiddies they have a state-of-the-art playground,  a playroom and an arcade. Youngsters can play while parents work with activities coordinators to set up fishing charters, massages, tee times, and more. WiFi, a business center, and conference facility, make Holiday Inn Resort Wrightsville Beach a perfect fit for visiting companies.

When the sun goes down, people can take advantage of Gabby’s Lounge, which plays home to live music every Friday and Saturday night year-round. Likewise, their Lazy Daze Bar, which is open seasonally, dishes out the best in sandwiches and tropical beverages.

Hilton Wilmington Riverside and The Blockade Runner also have impressed local and tourists in the Best Hotel category.

MOVEMENT IN ACTION: The crew from Back in Motion Chiropractic sported colorful wares at the encore Best Of party and won for Best Chiropractor 2015. Photo by Blueberry Creative

MOVEMENT IN ACTION: The crew from Back in Motion Chiropractic sported colorful wares at the encore Best Of party and won for Best Chiropractor 2015. Photo by Blueberry Creative

CHIROPRACTOR

Since 1998 Back in Motion has provided affordable chiropractic care, specific to every patient. Their personalized care and passion has allowed them to prevail as Best Chiropractor for the third year running.

“We are passionate about our field of chiropractic care, because we can help people decrease and/or eliminate the aches, pain and illnesses their bodies have naturally without medication or surgery,” Gina Policari, chiropractor with Back in Motion, says. “It is very rewarding when our satisfied patients refer friends, coworkers, and family.”

For each person that walks in their door, Back in Motion takes into account age and the source of the trouble. Chiropractic care is a relatively new practice that can aid in anything from back pain to those pesky headaches. For many, the pain may be physical, but the issue can stem from stress and other nonphysical sources. Back in Motion caters to neck pain, children (the first five years of life has a significant influence on the spine) or specialty care during pregnancy.

Upon a first visit, folks can meet with Dr. Policari or Dr. Michael Rosen. The consultation will comprise an in-depth examination of one’s personal health profile and a discussion on what one specifically hopes to get out of the experience. The next step is a spinal analysis and examination, complete with x-rays. The expert doctors will then go over the findings with the patient before venturing into the person’s first table examination. In order to save time during the first visit, potential clients can head over to www.bimchiropractic.com to download their new patient forms, so they’ll be filled out by the scheduled visit.

Likewise, their website features an abundance of information for novices to the chiropractic field. Techniques and a history of the practice are just a couple of the wealth of knowledge to be discovered. Folks can also peruse the FAQ link, which addresses many patients’ burning questions.

“Changes in 2015 for us will be to learn more about the changing insurance codes to ICD-10 and implementing electronic health records,” Policari tells. “No matter what the insurance or business aspects have in store for us, we will always care for our patients as family because their health comes first.”

Set up an appointment today by contacting their offices (located at 6303 Oleander Drive, ste. 102-A) at (910) 313-1322. “We have seen the area’s population grow [since opening], but we still love the warm and friendly people who make Wilmington and the surrounding areas be the treasure [Dr. Rosen and I] moved here for,” Policari enthuses.

Other practices relieving pain locally are Russ Chiropractic and Sito Chiropractic. —Christian Podgaysky

Food & Beverage

HOMEMADE SOUPS 

Sweet n Savory, located on Pavilion Place off Eastwood Road near Wrightsville Beach, has been a mainstay in Wilmington for quite some time. Personally, I’ve been eating there for 17 years now thanks to a slew of their delicious handcrafted, gourmet sandwiches, hand-cut chips and some of the tastiest homemade soups in town. While the cafe serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, no matter when you go, be sure to take a peek at their specials board. It’s like a smorgasbord of decadence, adding to the already lengthy menu of mouth-watering items.

Daily, their soups change. I can personally attest to the kale-and-sausage, chicken-and-rice and tomato-basil varieties. But I can’t guarantee that’s what they’ll be scooping out upon your arrival. Rest assured, though, something will catch your tastebuds, whether it’s fajita steak and rice, or seafood chowder, or creamy beef and mushroom, or roasted corn, leek and potato. Literally, they’ve served every variation of soup imaginable on the planet throughout the years, with up to four or five offered daily. Amazingly so, owner Rob Shapiro’s new culinary team—Andrew Stanley, Brent Williams and Layne Mack—continue to churn out savory concoctions that always pair superbly with one of their many half sandwiches or even a salad dressed in their tasteful homemade dressings. And each order of soup comes with little pockets of homemade bread, made right in their in-house bakery.

While food is what draws in the crowd here, Shapiro is constantly adding to SnS’s appeal. They host live music in the cafe throughout the week to make dinner an even more enjoyable romp. Plus, they do wine tastings every Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. To keep up with the cafe, be sure to sign up for their newsletter at www.sweetnsavorycafe.com.

Our readers also spoon out bites of greatness from Pine Valley Market and Michael’s Seafood in the Best Soup category.

SLURP ON! Janna Levy happily accepted the award for Sweet n Savory, which won Best Homemade Soups on the 2015 poll. Photo by Blueberry Creative

SLURP ON! Janna Levy happily accepted the award for Sweet n Savory, which won Best Homemade Soups on the 2015 poll. Photo by Blueberry Creative

WINGS

Boasting 33 flavors, all made from scratch, in orders as small as six and up to 50, in boneless or bone-in varieties, Wild Wing Cafe has the name that says it all: Best Wings 2015. Whether a traditionalist who just wants straight Buffalo-style—which starts at one-pepper spice (medium) to six-pepper spice (Bravehearts)—or an adventurist who prefers sweet, spicy, bold, fun, or barbecue flavors, the cafe will make sure wing enthusiasts leave happy.

Their wings are always large and meaty, fried to perfection without being dry. As far as the flavor profiles, well, the Jalapeño Cheddar marries piquant fire with a creamy sharp taste, while the Old Yeller manages to take the South Carolina mustard-barbecue flavor to greater heights. Honey-lime sriracha, Thai, Asian barbecue, and more round out the list. Paired with their homemade blue cheese or ranch dressings, along with celery and carrot sticks, it’s a meal on its own.

And every Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., they offer a wing buffet. It includes a house salad or cup of soup and all-you-can-eat wings. Pair with them numerous daily beer, wine and cocktail specials, and the endless TVs scattered throughout the place, and it makes for a one-stop-shop for all the big games.

The Landfall Center location also hosts live music every weekend. Check out their music listings on encore’s Soundboard.

Other noteworthy wing spots include Buffalo Wild Wings and Copper Penny.

FOOD TRUCK

Locals love to reel in the flavors honed by  Chef Keith Rhodes, who runs and operates Catch Modern Seafood on Market Street. Now, fans can “Catch the Food Truck,” too, as Rhodes and his crew have become mobile with fresh seafood and organic produce, all served in the form of tacos, sliders and lip-smacking side dishes.

From parking at elementary school PTA functions, to local business parking lots, to events and festivals across town, to kickball tournaments, and even partaking in food truck rodeos across the state, diners looking for a taste can follow the truck on Facebook, Twitter and their website (http://www.catchthefoodtruck.com).

The menu is simple but flavorful, whether indulging in a pork-belly taco or crab-cake BLT slider or Rhodes’ famed white truffle and parmesan Brussels sprouts. Coming up on April 25, Catch the Food Truck will be at the Earth Day celebration at Hugh MacRae Park, plus they’ll be at the annual Thalian Association fundraiser, Orange Street Festival, on May 23 and 24 downtown.

But folks need not wait for these events to enjoy the eats. Anyone who wants the truck to be a part of their next function can call Rhodes, too. He happily caters private parties, weddings, corporate outings, and more, through a specialized catering menu.

Other trucks parking it on our poll include Vittles and Flaming Amy’s Sacred Burrito Bus.

A SLICE FOR LATE-NIGHT: Stephen Worrell, Slice of Life owner Ray Worrell’s brother, accepted the Best Late Night Eatery award for the pizza parlor’s numerous locations. Photo by Blueberry Creative

A SLICE FOR LATE-NIGHT: Stephen Worrell, Slice of Life owner Ray Worrell’s brother, accepted the Best Late Night Eatery award for the pizza parlor’s numerous locations. Photo by Blueberry Creative

LATE-NIGHT EATERY

When moseying about downtown Wilmington after a night of imbibing, Best Late Night Eatery Slice of Life has your hunger pangs covered. The folks at Slice have been slinging drinks and tossing pies for 16 years now. Current owner Ray Worrell took over the business over a decade ago.

“I love the restaurant business, it’s been my life,” he proclaims. Taking home Best Ofs since 2005, the restaurant has become a Wilmington fixture. It’s the perfect place to take out-of-towners and provides locals with a bookend for nights out on the town.

They boast locations all across town, from Military Cutoff to Wirghtsville Beach to Monkey Junction. “Location, location, location,” Worrell attributes to the pizzeria and pubs’ success. Quality ingredients and an awesome staff contribute to their fame. Known for their pizza—customizable with an array of toppings and served by the pie or by the slice—Slice’s menu diversifies with quesadillas, tacos, nachos, and a slew of wings. Soups and salads round out their selection for waist-watching patrons.

“When you get in your car and go to work, you [should] enjoy going, otherwise find something else,” Worrell advises to  his success. He keeps up to date on industry standards with an annual visit to the Pizza Show in Vegas. Slice also cultivates a presence in the community, routinely giving to local charities. Philanthropy becomes especially sweet given the validation Wilmington continues to give. “[It] makes me feel good that the locals enjoy Slice of Life,” Worrell humbly states.

Midnight diners can sink their cuspids into Jimbo’s and Cookout.

FRENCH RESTAURANT

For the second year running, Best French Restaurant goes to Brasserie du Soleil on our 2015 reader’s poll. Situated in Lumina Station, off Eastwood Road, near Wrightsville Beach, the quaint and cozy spot makes for the perfect date night, a meetup with friends, or even a lunch gathering. In fact, Brasserie has been hailed for their “build your own” salads, which come with a multitude of toppings to choose from. Paired with their onion soup gratinée, it becomes a delightful midday feast.

Whether dining on their crab and shrimp crêpe or mussels marinière and frites or country pâté (made fresh daily and served with cornichons, mustard and baguette), the outcome always sates the appetite. The restaurant also offers a slew of side dishes not to pass on, from carrot confit to haricots verts to boulangère potatoes.

Their daily specials can bring comfort, too. For instance, Monday nights serve up fish and chips.  Saturday takes on pork lovers’ appetites with côte du porc, slow-roasted pork loin lathered in fennel, garlic and pommes purée.

The Brasserie’s raw bar will appeal to pescatarians galore. Oysters, clams, mussels, and shrimp beckon diners for a taste of the fresh sea. And their appetizers shant be passed up either. The escargot is rich in decadence, while their charcuterie and fromage plates will make every night feel especially grand. A part of Ash Aziz’s Circa Restaurant Group, which includes Circa 1922, Osteria Cicchett, Towne Tap and Grille and Boca Bay, Brasserie knows how to keep customers returning.

Other French restaurants ranking on our poll are Caprice Bistro and Our Crêpes and More! —Shea Carver

ICE CREAM

A scoop of homemade ice cream and a leisurely stroll along the riverfront during warmer months comes easy with Wilmington’s Best Ice Cream/Frozen Dessert winner, Kilwin’s. The aroma from their waffle cones dares passersby to enter their Market Street location, located downtown at the foot of Market and Water streets.

Established in 1947, the creamery has been dolling out scoops of their original-ice cream so folks can indulge in sugary bliss. Their signature ice creams and toppings, like rich, smooth fudge or caramel, makes every spoonful an explosion in the mouth.

Heated in a copper kettle, sweet corns and brittles are made on site. As well, patrons can see the Mackinac Island fudge paddled on marble tables. Their flavors skyrocket back to simpler times as folks bite into familiar tastes of childhood.

Scooped into the second and third spot are Boombalati’s and Fuzzy Peach.

LUNCH, SUB/SANDWICH SHOP

With locations in the heart of Wilmington’s historic downtown, at Monkey Junction, and now at Wrightsville Beach (previously home to Gloria’s Italian Restaurant), Wilmington’s Best Lunch and Best Sub/Sandwich goes to Chop’s Deli.

After meeting each other while working late-night shifts at The Dixie Grill, Chris Graham and Brad Corpening cultivated a mutual respect. The two quickly realized they shared a passion and flair for sandwich-making—exceeding the effort exhibited by most burger slingers. From there the dynamic duo embarked on a trial and error culinary venture of their own. Placing emphasis on pushing boundaries Graham and Corpening began experimenting with sandwiches and soups.

Their efforts culminate in one of Wilmington’s most innovative menus. First-time diners are well advised to disregard their expectations of the traditional delicatessen. Each sandwich fuses ingredients so immaculately that it’s a sin to forego a single component of the sandwich. Their Amsterdam boasts a generous serving of pot roast, melted cheddar and a hearty, thick mushroom gravy that one can pour between the sour dough Kaiser roll at their own discretion.

Another favorite comes in the form of the Plymouth. The signature sandwich combines smoked turkey breast with Havarti, Granny Smith apples, and homemade cranberry relish served on whole wheat. The flavors coalesce so profoundly, it’s impossible not to get hooked with the first bite.

The locally operated deli doesn’t just thrive in the sandwich arena, their mac ‘n’ cheese—which they routinely change up—holds its own. As well, their soups regularly alternate and range from New England clam chowder, to tomato-basil gazpacho, to chilli and more. They perfectly complement any sandwich, too.

Satisfying appetites in second and third place for Best Lunch are Sweet n Savory Bake Shop and Café and Wayfarer Deli and Bistro. Up for second and third place for Best Sandwich/Sub are Jimmy John’s and Jersey Mike’s.

DOGGONE DELICIOUS: Steve Durant and Kathy Walsh once again top off the Best Hot Dog category for The Trolly Stop, which has been unstoppable on our poll for more than a decade strong. Photo by Blueberry Creative

DOGGONE DELICIOUS: Steve Durant and Kathy Walsh once again top off the Best Hot Dog category for The Trolly Stop, which has been unstoppable on our poll for more than a decade strong. Photo by Blueberry Creative

HOT DOG

New York, with their myriad street vendors, isn’t the only location reveling in delicious hot dogs. Wilmington has its own answer to hot-diggity-dog splendor. Wilmingtonians have voted and Trolly Stop is the go-to place for Best Hot Dog.

Venture back to 1976 when the very first Trolly Stop opened in Wrightsville Beach. Upstarted by B.C. Hedgepath, Trolly Stop has turned over ownership numerous time over the years. After selling the establishment to Ron and Winnie Krueger, they continued to build the business until 1996, when they sold to Rick and JoDeane Coombs. The Coombs expanded the hot-dog stop by franchising into Carolina Beach and Southport. They’re currently closed on Front Street, downtown Wilmington, for renovations.

Mom-and-Pop charm, along with fresh ingredients, have made their signature dogs weather the test of time. Eaters can choose from the all-beef Sabrett dog, the beef-and-pork original trolly dog, the Carolina smoked sausage, the vegetarian option, or the fat-free turkey dog. Folks then can load it up with toppings from their specialty options—which include the American (deli mustard, chili and onions), the Surfer hot dog (deli mustard, melted cheese and vegetarian back bits)—or build their own. Armed with a boat-load of ingredients, there are over 1,000 ways to personalize one’s hot dog.

Trolly Stop doesn’t just stop at hot dogs, they also offer burgers and baked beans. Folks can fully indulge by adding a bag of chips, fries, a milkshake, or a fresh dill pickle to their order.

Other local eateries dogging their way into the category are Island Hots and Paul’s Place.

TAKE-OUT

For diners who are hungry and in a hurry but want to avoid the unhealthy pits of fast-food, take-out is an essential option. For folks who love Japanese food but maybe not the prices of a steakhouse restaurant, Hibachi Bistro, winner of Best Take-Out on encore’s reader’s poll, has the perfect remedy. Patrons can stop in at their College Road or Monkey Junction location.

Their offerings include items like chicken, shrimp, salmon, scallops, and steak served hibachi or teriyaki style. Entrées come with fried or steamed rice, onion and zucchini or sweet carrots.

Hibachi dishes also come in bowl form, served with fried or steamed rice, or diners can chow down on their hibachi noodle dishes. From their spicy Volcano Roll to their vegetable heavy California Roll, sushi tops their list of specialties, too. More so, all their delicious meals come in under $13.

Pushing their take-out business to the next level, their website (www.hibachibistro.com) boasts an online ordering option, so meals will be ready promptly when you arrive to pick it up or eat in. And what is dining convenience without affordable pricing? Check out their website, as they routinely update it with coupons.

Rounding out the category are Chopstix and Uncle Lim’s Kitchen.

SOUL FOOD, FRIED CHICKEN, BUFFET

Navigating the food industry proves tough; however, finding a niche that people respond to separates the persevering from the bygone. Taking Wilmington’s Best Buffet, Best Fried Chicken and Best Soul Food is Casey’s Buffet, Barbecue and Home Cookin’, which has prevailed on our local scene since opening June 4th, 2005.

Working in the restaurant industry for 20 plus years, owner Larry Casey has been living the American dream and learning a lot of lessons along the way. But he’s always stayed true to his motto for serving soul food “just like mom used to make.”

“Casey’s goes the extra mile,” he states. “The customer is king at Casey’s—every customer is treated equally. We are grateful for each and every [diner].”

Exceeding the conventional buffet archetype, Casey’s accommodates the desires of all patrons. If one makes a special request, it’s likely they’ll receive it. As well, dishes that date back to the 1800s pervade their bountiful spread. Frequenters can pile their plates with pulled-pork, chitterlings (chitlins), chicken gizzards, pot roast, meatloaf, and every conceivable Southern cuisine inbetwixt. Plus, their golden-brown fried chicken completes any meal.

“We are the only restaurant in Wilmington who serves whole, on the bone, farm raised catfish,” Larry says.

Cooked vegetables and hearty mac n’ cheese are also supplied in heaping portions. A Casey’s meal simply requires second stomach or a second visit—no menu fixin’ should go un-sampled.“It’s always an amazing feeling to be recognized by our customers,” Casey admits. No matter how long a restaurateur remains in business, diners’ appreciation always validates.

Never settling, Casey’s will expand this year with a banquet room, more catering, and a food truck.

Cooking up a smorgasbord in second and third place for Best Buffet are Golden Corral and Boca Bay. The Basics and The Sawmill satisfy appetites for second and third in Best Soul Food, while Smithfield’s and Bojangles sizzled into the Best Fried Chicken category.

VEGETARIAN

Vegetarians long have struggled finding restaurants that cater to their needs. Their love for animals and devotion toward monitoring the health effects of what they put into their bodies are often ignored by restaurants. However, in Wilmington, vegetarians can rejoice in the deluge of vegetarian-minded eateries around town, including 2015’s Best Vegetarian Food winner, Epic Food Co.

Diners can begin the day with a breakfast burrito or egg bowl. They can choose from egg whites or whole eggs, and load up on toppings. Epic Food Co. offers the Epic Pico, which consists of spinach, jack or cilantro yogurt, or the veggie option, comprising spinach, chopped tomato and basil.

For dinner, pescetarians can enjoy the fresh salmon special. As well, customers can sink their cuspids into sides, like sticky brown rice, sauteed seasonal veggies, quinoa salad, kale salad, a roasted sweet potato, and more. Dishes can be washed down with a beverage, like their naturally flavored waters, or from their beer—including several brewed in NC—or their wine lists. As well, they offer daily specials.

Kids, who eat free on Monday and Friday nights, can enjoy a natural peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Take-out options and catering also line their list of services, or locals can munch on their fresh, to-go casseroles, offered in a baja, curry or veggie stir-fry options. Just call 10 minutes in advance and order, take the casserole home, and bake it for 15 to 20 minutes on 350 degrees. They will last for two months if frozen.

Also sating herbivorous palates in the Best Vegetarian Food category are Lovey’s and Sealevel City Gourmet.

CATERING TO THE BEST: Lisa Laverick, Theresa Wicker and Elizabeth Lee accept Middle of the Island’s win for Best Catering for the second year in a row. Photo by Blueberry Creative

CATERING TO THE BEST: Lisa Laverick, Theresa Wicker and Elizabeth Lee accept Middle of the Island’s win for Best Catering for the second year in a row. Photo by Blueberry Creative

CATERER

Serving Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington, Middle of the Island Catering has been serving delicious spreads since 1959. Their seafood and Southern fare, as well as their expert staff, have earned them bragging rights in encore’s Best Catering Service category, which they’ve taken home since 2013.

“We have many great customers, but also some great competitors, which keeps us always focused on providing the best possible experience,” C.M. Rogers tells.

The caterers provide for over 200 weddings per year, an effort that has landed them mentions in WeddingWire’s  Couples’ Choice Awards and Bride’s Choice Awards, as well as several nods in The Knot’s Best of Weddings picks.

Since their humble beginnings, they’ve evolved to be able to manage almost any caliber event in a 400-mile radius. They serve thousands of people at fundraisers, business events and everything in-between.

Their full-service menus include everything from The Presidential Buffet—which encompasses beef tenderloin, jumbo lump crab cakes, a baked potato bar, four-cheese, tri-colored tortellini in pesto, and more—to The Southern Buffet—which doles out pulled-barbecue pork, barbecue chicken, fried chicken, roast beef, roast pork, and choice of six side items, like green beans, yellow corn, mashed potatoes, among others.

Likewise, their drop-off menu, best-suited for smaller events, invites customers to choose two of their mouth-watering entrées, three sides, and one dessert. Rates vary from $9.49 per person to 8.99 per person, depending on crowd size. There also is a $20 delivery charge, and Middle of the Island provides plates, cups, silverware, serving spoons, bagged ice, and sweet and unsweetened tea.

As well, they offer a backyard burger shack option for cookouts. Folks can choose from the backyard cookout, pulled pork and chicken feast, jerk shack/island style, and family gathering options. One staff member is required per 25 diners, with a $100 rate per staff member needed.

For a full list of rates people can look over their website (www.middleoftheisland.com). “It feels absolutely wonderful to be recognized for all of our staff’s hard work,” Rogers tells.

Rounding out the category are Pine Valley Market and A Thyme Savor. —Christian Podgaysky

Arts, Media, and Entertainment

INDEPENDENT FILM

“Honestly, I pray to God for great ideas, and this was one of them,” Nakia Hamilton, director of local feature film  The Greatest Sex I’ve Ever Had,” details.

“I was displeased with the way virgins, relationships and sex are portrayed in films,” Hamilton says of the film’s inspiration. “I wanted a film that told a biblical side about sex, but [that] was also super funny!”

“The Greatest Sex I’ve Ever Had” addresses these issues by focusing on three couples with relationship issues that try to handle matters themselves. They strive to achieve sexual liberation in their committed relationships, but their attempts are marred by fear, selfishness and comical mistakes.

With an eye-catching title and a cast and crew full of heart, the comedic film earned enough of a following to secure the “e” for  Best Local Independent Film. Though it was an official selection for the NC Black Film Festival, which was held in Wilmington two weeks ago, and the Charlotte Black Film Festival, Hamilton, who began as a musician before dedicating his live to God, notes love wasn’t always the emotion shown toward the film. Before a single scene had been captured on film, he was assailed by online critics who were outraged merely by the title. “They assumed,” Hamilton says. “And you know what happens when you do that!”

Outside voices weren’t the only ones showing concern, Hamilton felt displeased with the film’s first cut. He just didn’t see the onscreen chemistry happening, which led him to briefly kill the project. Eventually, He recommitted to the project and shot with some new cast members, but, unfortunately, little to no budget.

“The lead cast (RayShawn Smith, Nikkita Johnson, Crystal Nicole, Justin Brugos, Carla Stanley) set the tempo and just really inspired me,” Hamilton tells. “[It] was a great experience.”

However, as production continued and the pressure of time and money began to truly sink in, a hilarious adventure that wasn’t part of the script occurred. Hamilton’s devotion to see the project through led him to begin shooting in a hotel without permission. As would be expected, the hotel staff was less than pleased to see two men with cameras and mics following around a man in his PJs and a woman in romantic nightwear.

“They just knew we were filming a porn,” Hamilton recalls with a laugh. “I was going to explain, but once I realized we hadn’t told them the name of the film yet, I knew we never had a chance. So we just left.”

All mishaps and successes aside, “The Greatest Sex I’ve Ever Had” managed to wrap, and the finished product clearly is nothing to scoff at. It premiered at TheatreNOW in October 2014. Since it’s been shown at UNCW, and it’s currently available on Amazon, Roku, Reelhouse, and the film’s website (www.greatestsexmovie.com). “We are going to continue to sell it and show it until we die,” Hamilton quips.

What’s more, though Hamilton has made four other films, “The Greatest Sex I’ve Ever Had” marks his first feature-length project. “I think it was local people coming together to make a great project,” Hamilton humbly says. “Not to pat us on the back, but you can criticize whatever about the film, but you can’t deny that it was funny as woah!”

Hamilton’s latest project with his and Jay James’ production company, Liv Life Entertainment, will be entitled “Beautifully Insecure.”  The film will tell the story of a young woman living with alopecia, who struggles with telling the love of her life. Folks impressed by “The Greatest Sex I’ve Ever Had” who would like to help “Beautifully Insecure” can check out www.aplopeciamovie.com.

Runners up in the Best Local Independent Film category were Joseph A. Covas’ “Two-Eleven” and Best Local Filmmaker Brannigan Carter’s  “Get Up.”

THESPIAN

Local theatre productions are blessed with a vast, worthy pool of talent. Each year hundreds of Port City residents give Broadway a run for their money. In 2015 Mary Beth Redman, who also is a massage therapist,   takes home the gold in encore’s reader’s poll as Best Local Thespian.

“I have always had a true love and motivation toward theatre and performance in general,” Redman tells. “It was ingrained in me at a very young age. As a child my brothers, sisters, cousin and I would  all put on full out plays, musicals and various singing performances.”

She began singing in church around age 5 and continued to perform throughout high school. Redman burst onto the scene in 2012 in the musical “9 to 5.” She was nominated for Best Newcomer and Best Actress (Musical) in the 2012 Wilmington Theater Awards.

“I will always and forever be thankful to Tom Briggs, Mike Thompson and Amanda Equality Hunter (stage and music directors) for giving me my first role in almost 10 years in 2012 as Dora Lee Rhodes in Thalian Hall’s musical, ‘9 to 5,'” Redman proclaims. “I had the time if my life in that show and am forever thankful that they believed in me and helped inspire me to follow my dreams!”       

She was nominated for Best Thespian in encore’s poll in 2014, but this year has proven to be her year. She was featured in Thalian Association’s “Of Mice and Men,” directed by Tom Briggs, in March 2014.

“Playing the role of Curley’s wife was definitely a growing experience for me as an actress, Redman tells. “Tom really helped me get to know the rawness of the character. I started to empathize so much with her and all the undeserved ridicule she had to undergo (I was also the only woman in the cast which was a different but cool experience too). The play was set in the 1930s, before the height of women’s rights movement, so getting to know this character was also a solid reminder of how very far we have come in respect to women’s rights.”

Though she continues to perform in fundraisers for The Carousel Center, a nonprofit for abused children in Wilmington, she’s taken a break from theatre auditions in order to advance her music career.

“Receiving recognition for something you sincerely love to do is a really amazing feeling,” Redman admonishes. “I have been so blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful people in the theater/film/music community here in Wilmington. It’s hard not to get inspired! It has felt beyond amazing to feel the love and support of my peers, and I am  beyond thankful for the recognition I have received.”

Other thespians getting votes are Chase Harrison and Heather Setzler.

DANCE CLUB

Wilmington is known for its residents’ flair for fancy footwork. When the weekend rolls around and the groove enters the soul, there’s no better place to get down than 2015’s Best Dance Club, Goodfellas.

With a fully stocked bar and plenty of room to let those feet do the talking, folks can head over to 106 Market Street to enjoy a night out at Goodfellas. Live DJs will keep the beats pulsing throughout the night, and many note the affordable drinks purveyed at the bar.

Spanning two floors, Goodfellas offers a quaint sport’s bar on the third floor and a dance lounge on the second floor. Their dance area features loads of entertainment, with dancers and a VIP section.

Dim lighting and lavish decorations add to Goodfellas’ ambiance. Strobe lights, a festively lit bar and pool tables also usher in plenty of fun, too. The establishment makes for the perfect place to let off steam, as friendly staff members and barkeeps ensure things run smoothly.

Dancing up a storm in second and third place are Pravda/Sputnik and Ibiza.

LOCAL WRITER

Raised in the community of Bethesda, just outside Durham, Clyde Edgerton’s North Carolina roots run deep. To his name, he is credited with the Guggenheim Fellowship, Lyndhurst Prize, honorary doctorates from UNC-Asheville and St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, the North Carolina Award for Literature, and is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. With accolades like these, it’s no surprise he won Best Local Writer in encore’s 2015 reader’s poll.

A creative writing professor at UNCW, Edgerton lives here with his wife and their children. He’s written 10 novels, an advice book, a memoir, and an endless list of essays and short stories. Hisfive  books “Walking Across Egypt,” “Killer Diller,” and “Raney,” even have made their way to the big screen as they were adapted into films.

Several of his writings also have made their way to the stage; in fact, “Raney” will make its debut at TheatreNOW this summer. Plus Edgerton is distinguished as having of his novels breach the list of New York Times notable books. Likewise, his short stories have been published in New York Time Magazine, Best American Short Stories, Southern Review, Oxford American, Garden & Gun, among other publications.

Never short on talent, Edgerton is a well-received painter (he’s this year’s Azalea Festival featured artist) and he dabbles in musicianship. He’s performed with other notable musicians like Jim Watson, Mike Craver, Jack King, and Matt Kendrick.

Other local wordsmiths churning out great reads are encore’s own Gwenyfar Rohler and April Vickery.

MUSIC VENUE

Referred to as the cradle of music for the Carolinas, Ziggy’s has been operational in Winston-Salem, NC, for 25 plus years. In 2013 the music haven officially opened its doors in Wilmington, ushering in a host of head boppin’ concerts. Nominated as the best thing to happen to the Port City in last year’s reader’s poll and winning Best Live Music Venue,  Ziggy’s by the Sea once again earned favor with locals in 2015.

“Personally, I’ve been in the live shows/venue [business] for 10 years, and it just clicks for myself and for the owners of the business [Jay Stephens],” Aaron Flahardy, regional marketing manager for Ziggy’s, tells.

Whether it’s rock, reggae, country, or EDM, Ziggy’s brings the best and brightest acts locally. Diversity is the name of the game. Folks routinely can see tour busses and a line outside the door, as they bring the who’s who of the music industry locally. Their centralized downtown location makes it easy to enjoy a show and indulge in Wilmington nightlife all in one trip. With an expansive downstairs floor space and a large balcony overlooking the stage, the venue revels in great acoustics and plenty of breathing room.

Last year alone, Ziggy’s hosted the likes of Charleston-based Americana sensation Shovels and Rope, Plain White T’s, Steep Canyon Rangers, Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, and more. With so many not-to-be-missed performers gracing their stage, the win comes as no surprise.

“Acknowledgement period is appreciated,” Flahardy says. “The kindest words have the simplest, ‘you guys deserve it’ [or] ‘great job’ creates that sense of appreciation that motivates us [as] the staff to strive harder to win again!”

Turning toward 2015, Ziggy’s has a plethora of new features. They’ve kicked off their Hoops and Hops program, which takes place Sundays and Mondays. The event beckons hula hoop and craft-beer lovers to party the night away.

As well, Reggae Sundays have recently become a staple for the local haunt. With only a $3 cover, the venue brings in Caribbean-inspired acts and offers up $2 Red Stripe and $3 whiskey. Flahardy implores folks to stay up to date via their website (www.ziggysbythesea.com), teasing that there are a number of hot shows slated for summer and winter 2015.

Likewise, a number of charities and fundraising events once again will benefit from the venue’s generosity. Ziggy’s donates tickets to events and also works with the Downtown Business Alliance and Wilmington Police Department Recreations Association to hone in on what the community needs and wants. “We serve our customers with quality entertainment, so we strive to bring the best for all,” Flahardy professes.

Bringing tunes locally in the number two and three spot for Best Live Music Venue are Greenfield Lake Amphitheater and Brooklyn Arts Center. —Christian Podgaysky

COMEDY TROUPE

Five to eight members make up Wilmington’s Best Comedy Troupe, Nutt House Improv, who have taken the coveted “e” for quite a few years now. Made up of Dave Dimmurro, Colton Demonte, Steve Marcinowski, Mike Henniger, Jon Ripley, Tyler Wood, and Timmy Booth, the group takes over Dead Crow Comedy Room every Wednesday at 9 p.m.

“We started performing at the [former] Nutt Street Comedy Room [in the basement of the now-defunct Soapbox] in December 2009,” Jon Ripley says. “We have been performing every Wednesday since.”

Their show features various sketches, made up on the fly and with audience participation. The audience is often asked to provide ideas on people, places and things to get the troupe going. The comedians then embark on long- and short-form interactive improv games. The best part: The laughter comes for only $3.

Though Dead Crow is the troupe’s homebase, they’ve participated in events at the NC Comedy Arts Festival, as well as in various local events, like Port City Comedy Festival and even the Wilmington Wine and Food Festival.

Other comedy troupes laughing onto the poll include Pineapple-Shaped Lamps and The Comically Impaired.

MUSEUM

Stimulating a child’s imagination and providing an educational, fun experience for the family, the Children’s Museum of Wilmington takes Best Museum for the first time on our reader’s poll. Their playful, hands-on, interactive exhibitions and ongoing events can turn any ordinary day in the Port City into something magical!

Located at 116 Orange Street, the museum opens daily at 9 a.m. (closed Mondays; Sundays, 1 p.m.) for folks to explore exhibits like “Ahoy, Wilmington,” which welcomes all scallywags onto the pirate ship, or visit “Secret Cove Under the Sea” for language workshops, reading circles and book clubs.

Special events rotate daily, such as StoryCOOKS, held every Thursday. Here, kids learn about food through story time (they also can join the museum’s Kids Cooking Club, held on Tuesdays). From Toddler Time to Adventures in the Arts on Fridays, to sports training and games through Thursdays BodyRock to STEM’s Wednesday explorations, there is always something to learn and enjoy.

Memberships are up for grabs annually, too, and range from $100 to $250. Members are admitted free always, and normal admission prices are $8.75 to $9.75 daily. To keep up with the museum’s calendar, visit them online at www.playwilmington.org.

Cameron Art Museum and Cape Fear Museum are second and third on the poll.

A HEALTHY RIVER WINS! Michael Ussery, Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette and Suzi Walter accept the award for Best Environmental Group. Photo by Blueberry Creative.

A HEALTHY RIVER WINS! Michael Ussery, Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette and Suzi Walter accept the award for Best Environmental Group. Photo by Blueberry Creative.

Humanitarian & Environmental

ENVIRONMENTAL GROUP

Kemp Burdette is quick to say he has the best job in the world. At his hands is the upkeep of our treasured Cape Fear River. The Riverkeeper leads encore’s Best Environmental Group, Cape Fear River Watch, for the third year running. And, boy, are Burdette’s hands busier than ever these days.

“Recently, there has been a lot of public attention on coal ash, but we’ve been working on this issue for years,” Burdette informs.

The organization has pressured Duke Energy to clean the ponds, and even sued them last year for contaminating groundwater and Sutton Lake. “We will continue to push for clean-up of these hazardous waste-filled pits that sit right on the Cape Fear River,” Burdette notes.

In fact, up and down the river, industrial-scale factory-farms continue polluting with animal waste regularly released into our waterways. Burdette works closely with the county’s zoning ordinance. “We will be working to make sure [it] stays strong and allows the public to have a voice in decisions to bring heavy, and highly polluting, industry to our densely populated county.”

Likewise, the Cape Fear River Watch fights for restoring migratory fishing populations.  “In fact our economy depends on the river and the environment,” Burdette says. “If we don’t do a better job of protecting and improving the river, we will kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Short-term economic gains at the expense of clean water will lead to long-term and permanent economic ruin for our community.”

The river watch leads programs galore throughout the community annually. They host an educational seminar and breakfast at their headquarters at 617 Surry Street every first Saturday of the month. They even cook a free pancake breakfast for attendees. On the second Saturday, they do an open clean-up, wherein community members gather to help collect trash at a set destination. On the third Saturday through November they host  paddles on a local waterway.

“Each one is different and each one explores a unique part of the river,” Burdette says. “We rely on our community in many ways. Much of the work we do is only possible because of volunteers.’

Memberships are $25 annually. CFRW also depends on eyes of the public to help spot problematic areas throughout the year. “Most of the incidents that we respond to are first reported by citizens who see something that just doesn’t look right—and they call to report it,” Burdette says. “We stopped a sewer spill not long ago this way.”

Other environmental groups marching onto our poll include the Stop Titan Action Network and the Surfrider Foundation.—Shea Carver

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