128 South Water Street
New general manager Douglas Sanders told the Lunch Bunch an embarrassing story as we browsed a revamped menu at The George last week. His brother-in-law attended a dinner meeting with some colleagues a few months ago and while discussing local cuisine, a gentleman piped up about one of Wilmington’s not-so-great eateries. Yep, you guessed it.
“I couldn’t believe it!” Sanders said. “How humiliating.”
As Sanders continued to talk, we realized he had taken the information as a call to action. When he was recruited in the fall to re-think the river-front eatery, Sanders already knew vast improvements would be needed. Clearly, poor impressions were made as The George garnered a previous reputation for serving so-so cuisine. The reason, according to Sanders, was the abundance of frozen food in the kitchen.
“When I started working here, I got rid of so much frozen seafood, steaks, desserts and other things,” he said. “I knew we needed to make a switch to fresh food.”
And freshen up he did.
He started by bringing in self-taught executive chef Ryan Blackstone, who worked with Sanders at the Blockade Runner for two years. Now, they order seafood from Mott’s every other day. They also upgraded to premium steaks from local vendors, and they pick out daily new desserts from Sea Salt Bakery in Hampstead (the new venture of former Sweet and Savory owner Dave Herring). As far as we could see, the new menu was impressive, boasting plates like tuna with orange soy-chili glaze and lobster thermidor.
Since it was lunchtime, we mostly decided on pastas and sandwiches, but I made a mental note to return for dinner.
Appetizers came quickly. Nothing but oozing confidence came from their hot crab and spinach/artichoke dips—and for good reason. The plates emptied fast, with each pita point or garlic toast taking its turn in a bath of cheese and butter, crab meat or chunky artichokes. As our sandwiches arrived, silence befell the table. A french dip came stacked with tender shavings of beef, perfectly accentuated by a crusty-edged and soft-cenetered hoagie roll. The sweetness of the grilled onions paired nicely against the horseradish sauce and fresh au jus. The Southern white cheddar grits also made a lasting impression. They were yellow, stone-ground and rich with cheese, cream and what I am sure is more butter than any of us should consume in a week.
My Po’ Boy came filled to the brim with crisped shrimp, golden brown yet not overcooked. I proved the whole table wrong when they insisted I wouldn’t finish it. Sue’s and Jeff’s crabcake sandwich left them wide-eye for a second return, while John must have loved his chicken panini, as no one else was able to taste it. Better luck next time. Jen boasted a piquant, filling penne with vodka sauce, while Kris’ crab-and-shrimp nachos looked ready for a party, as their tri-colord tortilla chips came covered in seafood, cheddar and Monterey Jack, tomatoes and scallions. Leftovers were sure to abound.
Then, Chef Blackstone delivered both a tuna and a scallop special while we were mid-bite into our sandwiches. The tuna seemingly became the hit—at least for Sue and I, who kept it purposefully placed between us. The glaze consisted of sweet and fiery notes, doused over medium-cooked tuna.
Shea preferred the bacon-encrusted scallops, which were cooked more on the medium side, and had a breadcrumb-and-bacon sear all around them. They also came with silky, rich risotto and broccoli rabe. “You had me at the bacon,” Shea later told Blackstone. “I almost forgot about my sandwich—almost.”
As satisfied as we were, we suddenly found more room when two desserts made their entrance: coffee-flavored cheesecake and chocolate zuccatta. The coffee was so powerful in every bite of the tangy and airy cheesecake. At encore, we’re coffee addicts, and decided this could nicely replace our afternoon cups (if only it didn’t come with the calories!). The zuccatta consisted of a chocolate crust, cream-and-strawberry-filled pie, covered in ganache. It couldn’t have ended our meal on any better a note.
As Blackstone greeted us, we promised the handsome food artist that we would go out and spread the word about The George, redux. We highly recommend those gentlemen schedule their next dinner meeting there and give it another go.