From the gooey to the melty to the citrusy and sweet, I’ve encountered many OMG-worthy Wilmington eats over the last 12 months. As I’ve chomped my way through the culinary landscape of our city, I’ve been making mental notes—not of the meals that have simply been satisfying or given me all the feels, but the ones that have crossed my eyes, curled my toes, and actually slowed me down from drinking my beer. So, here you have it: My top 10 most memorable Wilmington bites of 2018.
Buffalo Baby from CheeseSmith Co.
2018 brought the arrival of our very first grilled-cheese food truck, compliments of owners Brendan and Molly Curnyn. Their menu is loaded with thoughtful combinations of spicy, tangy, sweet and creamy—and the Buffalo Baby is the game-changer of the bunch. Buttery Havarti, tender Buffalo-braised chicken, homemade buttermilk ranch, and quick-pickled carrot and celery slaw.
Picture an elegantly deconstructed plate of juicy sauce-smothered wings and fresh veggies turned on its ass into an epic grilled cheese that pairs like a boss with local brews. All hail, Buffalo Baby (and the actual baby that Molly is currently baking—congrats, y’all!).
Winter Gnudi from Pinpoint
I know, I know: I’m biased. I think Pinpoint is not so much a restaurant, but more a glorious gift that fell from the heavens and landed downtown on Market Street. What? Don’t you hear angels sing when you down a platter of their raw oysters?
Well, when I bit into a forkful of the seasonal gnudi on Pinpoint’s winter lineup, I think those angels smacked me right in the mouth! The delicate dish features deceptively light gnocchi-like ricotta, surrounded by butternut squash, crisp greens, chestnuts, and earthy fried sage leaves. Oh, and did I mention a lemon brown-butter drizzle? Stop. It.
Rebel Yell from Rebellion
From lovingly rubbed and smoked wings to a fried burrata plate with beet butter, diners would be hard-pressed to find something not made from scratch in Rebellion’s kitchen. Yes, the sandwich I’m dubbing one of my best bites did happen to be featured on Food Network, but that’s the least of my concerns.
I’m telling you: Eat the Rebel Yell merely because it’s the only club you’ll ever want to end up face-down in. This bad boy is stocked with smoked turkey, gooey white American, bacon, tomato, and Mornay (a sharp, nutty white cheese sauce), and piled onto buttery sourdough. Comfort, meet food.
Buffalo Shrimp from Anne Bonny’s
I’ve been a big fan of Anne Bonny’s since the day they opened their doors … err, well, I guess they don’t really have a door. The floating barge has become a warm-weather staple, and they serve up some of the tastiest frozen booze around (two Dreamsicles, please). Their menu has slowly expanded and includes more scratch-made items, and while the Buffalo shrimp basket may seem like a standard app, it’s so much more.
Each ethereal morsel is jumbo, lightly battered, sauced to perfection and topped with funky blue-cheese crumbles. Add a side of garlicky homemade ranch and an ice-cold Modelo and it’s sublime summer day on the Riverwalk.
Yellowfin Tuna Wrap from Shark Bar and Kitchen
We’re a water town, so everyone offers their take on ahi. I wasn’t expecting to have my flip-flops blown off by Shark Bar’s yellowfin wrap—but that’s mainly because I’m still a little sore they took the place of my favorite Wrightsville Beach dive bar (pours one out for Buddy’s).
Putting those personal sentiments aside, I gave SB’s tuna a turn. Tucked inside the seafood handheld is peppery watercress, Napa cabbage, red onion, carrots and wasabi aioli. The fresh, crunchy veggies are a great textural contrast to the silky rare tuna, but the ginger-wasabi dressing (creamy, spicy, and oh-so-zippy) put this on the 2018 map for me.
Fried Pickles and Off-the-Ranch Sauce at Rolled and Baked
Pickles at a breakfast joint? Don’t act like you’ve never craved weird things in the morning.
I like to think of myself as a fried-pickle connoisseur, and R&B’s version is extraordinary in every way. First, the crackly, seasoned cornmeal crust. Second, they are spears, not chips. The bomb breading encases R&B’s housemade, long and thin-sliced pickles, which are briny, sweet, and have a hint of garlic and dill. The “Off-the-Ranch Sauce” is a thick, garden-fresh, herby pool just begging for a dunk.
Oyster Po Boy from Waterman’s Brewing
I appreciate a sandwich that doubles as a life raft. There are only a few quality ingredients needed to really nail an exquisite Po Boy, and Waterman’s doesn’t skimp on any of the steps. Head chef Andrew Stanley enjoys completely normal hobbies, like making his own bologna and rubbing boar down with achiote peppers. That being said, imagine what they do when it comes to the simplicity of a classic New Orleans Po Boy.
It goes like this: gorgeously golden-brown oyster nuggets tucked into pillowy French bread, topped with sliced seasoned tomato, crunchy cold lettuce, tart pickles, and a citrusy remoulade that you’ll be upset got on your shirt and not in your mouth.
Pretzel Chicken Sandwich from Front Street Brewery
Front Street Brewery has been revving up their culinary engines as of late. In the past year, their kitchen has made sure locals know they’re not any ol’ tourist trap. Case in point: Pretzel Chicken.
Don’t let your dining eyes float right by this one on the menu. Ask the staff and they’re sure to tell you this is their jam. I took their word for it a few months back, and the pretzel-encrusted tenders tossed in ‘bama sauce (a white mayo-and-vinegar based BBQ sauce) with housemade pickles on fluffy brioche instantly became a no-brainer for my yearly wrap-up.
Key Lime Bites from Love, Lydia
I’ve enjoyed many a sweet end to a Pinpoint meal when pastry chef Lydia Clopton was at the helm. Now that she’s opened her very own (adorable and delicious) breakfast establishment and coffee shop, I don’t have to wait until dinner to get my hands on her goodies. (That came out wrong. Sorry, Lydia.)
At this year’s Wilmington Wine & Food Festival—also known as one of the worst downpours in the city’s history—my saving grace from the weather was a square of Lydia’s key lime pie. From the buttery graham cracker crust to the velvety, tart filling, I would have stood in the rain all day for one of these bites.
Sausage Gravy Bites
My husband is the biscuits-and-gravy orderer in our family, so I was expecting him to enjoy Skytown’s sausage gravy bites far more than me. I was wrong. We both went equally gaga for the sinful starter.
Chef Stephen Durley is doing delightful things with ‘cue, but his spin on this Southern breakfast is a standout, for sure. Peel apart one of the crispy round fritters to find savory pork tangled with a luscious white gravy. I dipped mine in their signature ranch and I’m not sorry.