By Sherri Robinson
After a delay due to a precocious nor’easter, the Taste of Wrightsville Beach returned for a seventh time on the evening of Sunday, Nov. 17, showcasing unique dishes from chefs at restaurants around the area and raising money for a weekend meal program for seniors.
The event celebrated the island’s diverse and delicious fare on and around the beach, with more than 30 local cuisine, beer and wine tasting booths were set up under the tent in the parking lot of host Bluewater Waterfront Grill. Celebrity judges rated the dishes with a “Best in Show”, “Best Savory” and “Best Sweet” dishes and participants will select the “People’s Choice”, “Best Beer” and “Best Wine”. Originally scheduled for Saturday, late in the week organizers rescheduled the event after forecast showed poor weather throughout the day.
Organizers said the voting margins were extremely close in many categories, even resulting in a first-ever tie for the people’s choice for the best dish between South Beach Grill and Oceanic.
“It is safe to say enough money was raised to cover over 5,000 meals for our senior citizens and shut-ins in New Hanover County,” said Lisa Weeks, event organizer, adding that it will take organizers several days to calculate the event’s proceeds.
“Being born and raised here, cooking is what I grew up doing, and these are the welcoming flavors I’m used to,” said Overman, noting that the entries were particularly suited for a chilly day. “It was a cold night, I wanted to serve comfort food, to make the dishes nice and heavy.”
One of the dishes that impressed the crowd was the North Carolina pork belly served by South Beach Grill, which earned a tie for People’s Choice Best Dish. The dish included warm Johnny cakes with bacon and blue cheese slaw, topped with crackly pork rinds and Cheerwine barbecue sauce, and served with pickles that were cured in-house. The restaurant, located at 100 S. Lumina Ave. in Wrightsville Beach, served chess pie bars, with blueberry gastrique, sweet potato Chantilly cream and candied lemons for its desert, which earned a second-place award from judges.
In preparing the restaurant’s entries, South Beach Grill’s head chef Michael Overman drew inspiration from his own backyard, using traditional North Carolina flavors as the foundation for the dishes.
Meanwhile, Waterman’s Brewing at 1610 Pavilion Place in Wilmington also reflected a geographical theme, presenting Hawaiian dishes that matched the restaurant’s style. But it took a little convincing before some attendees enjoyed the homemade “Spam” dish that earned a second-place award from the judges. The restaurant’s desert presentation of orange yuzu guri guri, a kind of Hawaiian ice cream, won a second-place award from the judges.
“Everyone seemed to really enjoy them, once you got them past that it was Spam, but that it was homemade and not out of a can,” said Waterman’s head chef Drew Stanley, who made the homemade spam from ground fresh pork shoulder and ham, which was cured, stuffed into a casing, sliced up and cooked. “I’ve made my own baloney before so it was cool to go with Spam this time. Everybody really dug it, they were coming back for seconds. That was an easy sell.”
The full list of winners included:
CELEBRITY JUDGES’ CHOICE
1st Place – East At Blockade Runner
2nd Place- Waterman’s Brewery
3rd Place- Oceanic
JUDGE’S BEST SAVORY
1st Place – Dockside
2nd Place – Sweet N Savory
3rd Place – Oceans At Holiday Inn Sunspree
JUDGES’ BEST SWEET
1st Place – South Beach Grill
2nd Place -Waterman’s Brewery
3rd Place – 22 North
PEOPLE’S CHOICE BEST DISH
1st Place TIE – South Beach Grill And Oceanic
3rd Place – King Neptune
PEOPLE’S CHOICE BEST BEER
1st Place- Wilmington Brewery
2nd Place -Bold Rock Cider
3rd Place -Wrightsville Beach Brewery
PEOPLE’S CHOICE WINE/SPIRIT
1st Place – Blue Shark Vodka
2nd Place- One Hope Wines
Weekend Meals on Wheels provides meals and social contact to senior and disabled persons on weekends and other days not covered by the weekday Home Delivered Meals program in New Hanover County. Because hunger doesn’t take the weekend off, Weekend Meals on Wheels steps in to provide critical nourishment to area seniors, organizers said.
Since its beginning in 1990, Weekend Meals on Wheels Council Inc.’s mission is to provide meals on the weekends and holidays, when the weekday meals program doesn’t operate, for homebound seniors residing in New Hanover County. They also provide meals in an emergency, such as natural disasters or if there exists a need for meals during the weekday. As an example, during Hurricane Florence, Weekend Meals on Wheels provided meals to New Hanover County’s shut-in seniors. In preparation for the storm, the weekend program provided shelf-stable meals to the clients of the weekend and weekday programs. The normal distribution of a shelf-stable meal for the weekend client list is 277; the Hurricane Florence delivery was 720 meals.
Program clients are 60 years old or older, homebound in our community, and include those who are frail, elderly, convalescing, sick, or disabled, with no resources or ability to prepare meals on their own. The majority of program clients are 75 years old, and they are seeing an increase in the percentage of our 90-year-old clients. Many are lonely. Along with a nourishing meal, volunteer drivers deliver friendly smiles, compassion, and also serve as a liaison between the community and the client. For many clients, this is the only food they will eat, and the only person they will see in a day. This service enhances the quality of life for homebound seniors, and for many, is a vital service making independent living possible.
The title sponsor of the event was Coastal Kia; Emeritus sponsor, The Blockade Runner; Host sponsor, Bluewater Waterfront Grill;
If you know someone who might benefit from Weekend Meals on Wheels or would like to donate or volunteer, visit https://weekendmealsonwheels.org/.
Staff writer Terry Lane contributed to this report.