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Wilmington’s Culinary Cycle:

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The restaurant business is an ever-changing entity. Much like any industry, there is always fierce competition for the spotlight. Ensuring the longevity of any eatery can be sticky at best. The combative standing of the restaurants in the Port City are continuously reloading the cannon of culinary offerings to the public. The intricacies of their successes vary—from serving decadent dishes, to offering reasonable prices, to hiring attentive staff, to providing appealing atmosphere. Unless continuously monitored and updated, a restaurant risks falling to the wayside.

Residents of Wilmington are no strangers to the mantra “here today, gone tomorrow.” In 2010 there was a congestion of sorts with restaurant closings; establishments like Flat Eddies, Korean BBQ, Café Bossanova, and Sunset Café and Rooftop Patio name a few. But out of any situation comes both the negative and positive; I am happy to report the positive has arrived! A hopeful trek to the hearts (and stomachs) of locals exists in a few new openings throughout November. Allow us to introduce them:

Flying Pi
402 Chestnut St. • (910) 399-4591
Opening Date: November 22, 2010

As a local resident, Carolyn Atkinson heard a culinary cry that many have neglected to recognize in the area: homemade pies. In an area with heavy emphasis on entrée distinction, desserts sometimes get placed on the back burner.

“I do all the baking fresh in the restaurants,” Atkinson says, “all the dessert pies, savory pies, soups, desserts and cookies are all made on site.”

Atkinson and her partner Kathleen Colton play particular attention to quality over quantity. Atkinson bakes in small amounts, continuously changing day-to-day specials in the 30-seat restaurant.

“We also are very reactive to our customers,” she explains. “If they come in requesting a breakfast sandwich, we’ll consider doing just that. We’re a little more flexible, on our toes in comparison to other restaurants.”

They serve breakfast and lunch in a host of flavors, but the range of the savory pies ranks the hottest items on the menu: beef and vegetable, macaroni and cheese, even pork, sweet potato and caramelized onion.

“I make a snowball cookie that seems to be in demand, too,” she tells me only on her second day in business. “We opened yesterday and I’ve already sold 28 dozen of them!

Happy Days Diner
1125 Military Cutoff Rd.
(910) 256-6224
Opening Date: November 15, 2010

A member of the Circa 1922 group, Happy Days Diner joins the family of Ash Aziz’s restaurants, including Boca Bay, Osteria Ciccheti, Brasserie du Soleil, Circa 1922 and Grand Union Pub. Aziz has stepped back into the ‘50s to revive the classic diner, poodle skirts, cat-eye-studded glasses and penny loafers included.

The establishment boasts a soda fountain, coffee shop and pastry shop, where customers can buy an assortment of cakes by the slice—all homemade, of course. The diner has foregone traditional American ice cream, and decided to take a foodie route in serving frozen sweets. General manager Matt Noller explains, “We have 15 different flavors of gelato made fresh every day. Also, we have lots of different kinds of cupcakes and cookies.”

Their regular menu includes diner standards, like Blue Plate specials, which top off at $13, and they serve typical fare of patty melts, hamburgers, meatloaf sandwiches and breakfast all day long. Located right beside Regal Mayfaire Cinema 16, Happy Days Diner’s hot rod façade at the hostess stand, white tiled walls and red booths—with classic oldies playing overhead—most certainly will have folks reeling through yesteryear.

BEAT BOX SALAD: Jacob Hilbert makes one of Manna’s most popular salads with red and golden beets, goat cheese terrine, watercress, orange supremes, pistachios, ginger and red wine vinaigrette. Photo by Leslie Koehn

123 Princess St. • (910) 763-5252
Opening Date: November 3, 2010

Returning to the platform of fine dining in Wilmington, Jacob Hilbert and his partner William Mellon, former developers of the former Tango du Chat, have already set a high precedent with Manna. “Opening this restaurant was an opportunity to collaborate with my partner again” Hilbert says. “Honestly, all the cosmic tumblers were in alignment; it just seemed like the right thing to do.”

The duo was eager to introduce a new type of restaurant downtown to Wilmington, with particular attention placed on the price point meeting exceptional quality of food. They knew the demographic would support it, judging by what diners have enjoyed on the local scene.

“A lot of the restaurants downtown have been there for a very long time,” Hilbert explains, “and we wanted to come in and arguably take it to the next level.”

Response to the newly opened Manna has been almost entirely positive. One of their standout appetizers is the Beat Box Salad, made with beets and goat cheese terrine, watercress, orange supremes, pistachios, ginger and red wine vinaigrette. Hilbert also notes high remarks for the duck tart, autumn short ribs, snapper and scallops.

In an environment so aggressive in culinary competition, Hilbert does not shy away from adventure, which not only keeps his food cutting-edge but keeps customers happily asking, “What’s next?” His second go-round in downtown Wilmington will come with many rewards—for both chef and foodies alike.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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