Foodies are making Wilmington a verified destination this weekend, as the annual Wilmington Wine and Food Fest (WWFF) continues in its fourth year. Not only does the event welcome the best in food and drink, it works to better the Wilmington community by donating proceeds to local nonprofits. This year will focus on animal rescues, including CARE, Furever Friends and Skywatch. Proceeds also benefit the historic preservation of the Bellamy Mansion, the host venue for all WWFF events held Friday night through Sunday afternoon. “The Wilmington Wine and Food Festival has raised over $20,000 in its first three years for local charities,” WWFF festival director Chrissy Bonney tells.
For 2016 festival coordinators have added a Thursday evening affair at Bakery 105 (105 Orange St.), “The Toast of The Town.” Three chefs will prepare two courses each, all paired with old-world wines provided by winemaker Tim Crowe of Stone Tower Winery, Charlie Master of Master Wines and Steve Hedberg of HB Wine Merchants. While two local chefs are on the bill, including Dean Neff of PinPoint and John Oliver Evans of the Funky Fresh Food Truck, WWFF has expanded to include out-of-town chefs this year, too.
“Three-time James Beard finalist John Fleer of Asheville’s Rhubarb will be the guest chef alongside chefs Dean Neff and John Oliver Evans,” Bonney says. “The trio will be cooking aboard Evan’s progressive mobile kitchen known for bridging the gap between farm and fork in a fun and eclectic way. Fleer and Neff are well versed in sharing a kitchen. Before opening PinPoint in downtown Wilmington, Neff helped Fleer to launch his latest project Rhubarb in downtown Asheville.”
They’re using NC ingredients, including Heritage Farms Cheshire pork and Manchester quail, and local food cooperative Feast Down East will provide produce and other elements. The food will be complemented by wine portfolios that take on the theme of Old North State Meets Old World Wine.
On Friday evening the The Derby Party ($40 single/$70 couple) will continue to celebrate the weekend of the Race of the Roses, as folks enjoy Eastern NC BBQ and live music from The Paper Stars. Best BBQ Sauce award will be given, as will the Best Cocktail award. Returning to the annual bartender challenge is reigning two-time champion Derrick Cook (KGB). Cook will be paired against four other competitors, including James O’Donnell (The District), Andrew Bopes (Fortunate Glass), Matt Schwab (PinPoint), and Jason Konczynski (San Juan Café).
“They’re all keeping their recipes under raps for the big day, but the list of ingredients they can use includes our Friday night sponsors: Trey Herring Carolina Bourbon, Ron Abuelo Anjeo Rum, Jack Rudy Tonics, and Tippleman’s Simple Syrups. Attendees will get a sample of each signature cocktail and will cast their vote for the winning concoction.”
Saturday’s main event, “The Corks and Forks Grand Tasting,” features local music by Paul Obernesser, Stray Local and Dirty White Rags throughout the day. The festival will have 20 wine vendors and 18 restaurants at the Bellamy Mansion. Returning participants include PinPoint, San Juan, The Basics, Little Dipper, and YoSake. A slew of new attendees are joining the list, including The District, Ceviche, Sweet n Savory, The Surf House, Southern Smoke, Funky Fresh Food Truck, Big Thai 2, Beach Shop and Grille, Bar Local, Blockade Runner, Platypus & Gnome, Johnny Lukes, and 22 North.
“Newcomer The District in the Brooklyn Arts District is serving delicious rosemary lamb meatballs with tzatziki from their soon-to-be-released summer menu,” Bonney tells.
Last year’s champion chef from Cameron Art Museum, Jessica Cabo, will be attending in 2016, only she’s leading a new kitchen at Blockade Runner. Cabo will serve a shrimp roll on a brioche bun, with pickled onions and sweet potato chips. Last year’s pastry chef champion, Lydia Clopton of PinPoint, will serve her coconut cake with yuzu and fresh strawberries.
“Terry Espy of Momentum Companies has been very instrumental in bringing a lot of new Wilmington restaurants to the line-up this year,” Bonney says. “We really appreciate her work in bringing great new talent to the culinary scene of the Cape Fear.”
Awards are given annually, including Best Sweet Dish, Best Savory Dish, Best Brewery, and People’s Choice Food Award. Handcrafted by local artist and Murray Middle School art teacher Pam Brodbeck, the plaques consist of fired pottery and found art. Judges consist of more than a dozen editors, chefs, food writers, sommeliers, and culinarians far and wide.
As well, wines from all regions will be represented and awarded in Best Old World White, Best Old World Red, Best New World White, and Best New World Red. “Rose is a major trend now, and almost every wine table is showcasing their favorite,” Bonney says. “Rose has finally gotten over the stigma of the ‘80s White Zinfandel—it’s what all the cool kids are drinking!”
Also on Saturday a new food cooperative, 40 Eats, will have a booth set up to share with the public their initiative to help Wilmington become even more of a foodie destination. Upstarted by Billy Mellon of Manna, the group includes chefs and restaurateurs from PinPoint, Catch, Port Land Grille, Little Pond Catering, and Rx and Pembrokes.
“I wanted to organize a group with similar philosophies in sustainable ordering practices and local purchase habits to form a coalition to encourage a ‘team’ between what is often considered a ‘competitive’ industry,” Mellon says.
40 Eats will hold around four events a year, with their first dinner launching in June or July. As of press they were still hashing out details on location and date. “We’ll use the profits to help local charities continue their fight, all the while working to show our guests we like each other, and we are in part doing this for our loyal guests and future visitors/residents,” Mellon tells.
They’re finalizing their board members and bylaws currently. They’ll nominate candidates who align with locavore philosophies. “Wilmington cannot be a culinary destination without harmony between all of us,” Mellon continues. “[40 Eats] will allow us to dig deeper into supporting our farmers by encouraging us to buy as a group (even as it will be for our individual needs) and bringing our customers a better product at (likely) a better price. We are small businesses with local ownership who are passionate about what we do for a living. We want to support those people out there farming produce, catching fish and raising other proteins with that same mentality.”
On Sunday the WWFF will be focused on food trucks, brewskies and bubbles in “Bubbles, Brews and Street Eats” ($15 includes five sample tickets; additional tickets are $1 apiece). Several local and regional breweries and food trucks will be on hand, alongside wineries showcasing the best of bubbles.
“We got so many food trucks participating this year,” Bonney says. “Steviemacks, Vittles, A&M, So Sweet Chocolates, Poor Piggy, Soulful Twist and Funky Fresh. Breweries represented are Wilmington Brewing Company, Flytrap, Waterline, Ironclad, Foothills, Sierra Nevada, Good Hops, Broomtail, Front Street Brewery, Double Barley, Mystery, and New Anthem—soon to open, no beer yet but coming to join in the fun! Flying in from Oregon, Jonathan Jones, mixmaster and author of ‘Fifty-Two Champagne Cocktails’ will be manning our mimosa bar and whipping up several creative libations on Sunday.”
Wilmington Wine and Food Festival
Bellamy Mansion, 503 Market St.
May 5, 6:30 p.m.: Toast of the Town
Three chefs, six courses, farm-to-table, paired with wine; $85
Bakery 105, 105 Orange St.
May 6, 7 p.m.: Bourbon and BBQ Derby Cocktail Party
Kentucky Derby-themed VIP cocktail party, featuring bartender challenge, eastern NC BBQ, barbecue sauce challenge; $40-$70.
Bellamy Mansion, 503 Market St.
May 7, 2 p.m.: The Corks and Forks Grand Tasting
Sample 18 restaurants and 20 wines from around the globe; $50.
Bellamy Mansion, 503 Market St.
May 8, 1 p.m.: Bubbles, Brews and Street Eats
Featuring local and regional breweries, find bubbles and bubble cocktails and lots of food trucks; $15 (five sample tickets; additional tickets $1 apiece).