Best Food I Ever Ate

BY Cole Dittmer

As the Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw once lamented “Everything I eat has been proved by some doctor or other to be a deadly poison and everything I dont eat has been proved to be indispensable for life. But I go marching on.”

Truly even more so now than when Shaw was alive sixty years ago the choices people make about what they eat have become increasingly complex as medical science discovers more facts concerning the effect of food on health.

This greater sense of health consciousness has caused a culinary conundrum: To eat what tastes good or to eat what is good for you? Finding a balance between these opposing ideals can be difficult particularly if you are from the South and have been reared on anything that can be battered and deep-fried.

Yet the magic contained within a truly delicious meal handcrafted with care and dedication has the ability to inspire to create to amaze and at its very least to satisfy one of the most essential and basic requirements of human life. Perhaps it is the wide range of senses that food appeals to that makes the experiences people have with it so varied and unique.

A handful of local noteables tell us about the best food they ever ate.

Jonathan Barfield

A life-long Wilmingtonian County Commissioners Chairman Jonathan Barfield is a busy man. With a wide array of commitments Barfields community outreach frequently leads him through the buffet line or seats him at the banquet table. He has chosen a dish from a local restaurant that has followed him from place to place for years.

Describe your relationship with food are you truly a food lover?

JB “I am a connoisseur of good food and I do a lot of cooking at home. Grilling is my specialty; I love grilling baby back ribs and filet mignon. Whenever I go out to eat I always try to order whatever the restaurants specialty is because that is usually what they put their heart into.”

Whats so special about this meal?

JB “When I used to DJ at wedding events for Starlight Entertainment a restaurant downtown called Crooks by the River used to do a lot of the catering and they were famous for their shrimp and grits. Fast-forwarding about five years ago I went to NOFO for the first time and saw Susan Covington the woman who used to own Crooks. It turned out that the woman who owned NOFO was her mother Jean Martin so they had the same shrimp and grits recipe. I did not need to hear anything else because I used to love eating the shrimp and grits from Crooks.”

The Dish Bill Neals Shrimp and Grits (signature dish from Crooks Corner Chapel Hill and Crooks by the River Wilmington) is lightly dusted shrimp sauted with bacon sliced mushrooms garlic and scallions served over cheese grits.

New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon

The hectic schedule of a county lawman does not leave much time for Sheriff Ed McMahon to eat out often. He frequently prepares a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to take with him to work but when he and his wife dine it is always a special occasion.

What kind of food do you typically like to order when you go to a restaurant?

EM “I am a very meat and potatoes kind of guy and I love Italian food. My wife actually does the ordering for me because she knows exactly what I will like since I am a very simple eater.”

Where did you have your favorite meal in Wilmington?

EM “I loved the chicken parmigiana at Osteria Cicchetti. I love to try the chicken parmesan at any Italian restaurant I go to so this was my first choice.”

Was it just the dish that was so memorable or was it the entire restaurant experience?

EM “The chicken parmigiana is fantastic but I think Osteria Cicchetti has all the overall ambience along with … great service; that really makes it a special occasion.”

The Dish Tenderized chicken cutlet dredged in egg and fresh bread crumbs fried and topped with the house pomodoro sauce and melted mozzarella cheese. Served over spaghetti finished with fresh basil and pecarino romano.

Bob Townsend

Bob Townsend has been the face of WECTs “Carolina in the Morning” for 20 years and a native of southeastern North Carolina. He admits that within the last few years he has tried to branch out with his food choices; however he still remains true to the simple meals he has grown up with.

What was one of the most memorable dining experiences you have had in the Port City?

BT “One of the best meals that I recall was at PortLand Grille. From the cut of the beef to the rich flavor the steaks are simply outstanding.”

What specifically about the meal made it so memorable?

BT “My wife and I chose PortLand Grille for an extra special evening for our 41st anniversary. They have the whole package great food relaxed atmosphere and impeccable service.”

The Dish The Cowboy Steak: a 10-ounce bone-in choice-cut naturally-raised Angus beef rib eye served with Armagnac-peppercorn-grainy mustard sauce goat cheese and pine nut-whipped potatoes and grilled asparagus.

Patricia Bell

Former travel editor of Gourmet Magazine Pat Bell says “Food is the window into a cultureyou are what you eat makes perfect sense when you are able to see what people around the world eat.”

Bell is currently spearheading Food For Thought a benefit event for the New Hanover County Library system centered around local cuisine agriculture and culinary education planned for October 20.

After 20 years of culinary globetrotting she had no trouble picking out a meal from a local restaurant that was like nothing she had ever tasted before.

What is the best food you have ever eaten in Wilmington?

PB “The deep-fried chocolate pot stickers at Bento Box because this dish shows creativity and culinary thinking outside the box. With this dish the chef has taken a classic element of Chinese cuisine and married it with something that has more international sensibilities. There is an elegance in the size it is a gem of a dessert and the experience is so intense because the chocolate is so rich.”

How often do you dine at the Bento Box?

PB “We had been there a few times but merely ordered the sushi and not taken notice of the dessert menu because generally speaking you dont think in terms of dessert when you go to an Asian restaurant.”

Was it something someone suggested?

PB “Our server mentioned that they had some delicious chocolate pot stickers and it caught my attention. I usually try to order things that I probably wouldnt make myself and this was one of them because it was a recipe that I had not seen anywhere else in the world.”

The Dish With a crunchy exterior and silky smooth Belgian chocolate center chef Lee Grossman experiments with different flavors pairing chocolate with Thai chili cashews coconut peanut butter and even bacon. The chocolate pot stickers are offered with three different caramel sauces.

Renee Saffo

Wilmingtons First Lady is frequently found on the center stage of soirees and social scenes. When its up to this ladys choice where does she prefer to dine? Just a stones throw from home across the bridge to Wrightsville Beach youll find her taking a ringside seat on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Describe your relationship with food are you truly a food lover?

RS “Absolutely I love it and look forward to my meals! I often get teased about being able to always clean a plate.”

Do you like to try new things or do you stick with what you know?

RS “I like variety and spicing things up as well as experimenting with new entrees especially if they are new to a restaurants menu.”

Where did you experience the best meal you ever ate in Wilmington?

RS “The crabcakes at Bluewater Grill are absolutely fabulous with their white chunky meat.” 

What specifically about the meal made it so memorable?

RS “It is a marvelous dish with scrumptious sides and an absolutely amazing view; whether day or night watching the boats go by on the Intracoastal Waterway is hard to beat!”

The Dish Jumbo Lump Crabcakes: Lump back-fin crabmeat breadcrumbs herbs and spices baked to a golden brown.

Staff Raves
The WBM Staffers are never at a loss for words when it comes to their favorite foods.

My favorite local dish is the Killer Carne from Tower 7. The mammoth steak enchilada smothered with Monterey Jack cheese and tomatillo sauce is matched with close friends good music and an easy going laid-back atmosphere.
Tyler Roberts contributing writer

The Fish House Grill prepares the best fried shrimp around town. Order the basket as an appetizer or piled atop the mixed green salad for a meal thats half-way healthy and half-way notthe perfect mix if you ask me.
Jenny Yarborough contributing writer

The steak au poivre from Brasserie Du Soleil with homemade pommes frites is simply delicious. The sweet smoky and spicy brandied peppercorn steak sauce accents the tender beef cut wonderfully. Each morsel melts in your mouth!
Cole Dittmer editorial intern

Big Thais savory lemongrass soup followed by a smoky panang curry with chunks of sweet potato and golden tofu served over aromatic jasmine rice and a slab of house made coconut cake drizzled with simple syrup and coconut icing. Yum!
Marimar McNaughton editorial director

Indochine is a convenient spot from my house for takeout and also has great atmosphere if I feel like a sit-down meal. My favorite dish is the pad thai with shrimp. It has a perfect blend of tangy and sweet flavors when ordered mild the way I like it!
Allison Potter director of photography

French toast served at the Kings Breakfast monthly on the first Saturday of the month. Its a free hot breakfast cooked and served by volunteers to all comers. Pine Valley Church of God member Dianne Boykin stirs up the French toast batter with fresh orange juice and peal plus grated fresh nutmeg. Donated sliced Panera or Atlanta bread is dipped into the egg mixture and laid on the griddle. Its served piping hot with real butter powdered sugar and syrup. Maybe its the Spirit of the event but this is the best ever French toast bar none!
3810 Shipyard Blvd. Wilmington.
Pat Bradford editor/publisher

I have a taco obsession and locally K-38 Baja Grills Roadside Grilled Chicken Tacos hit the spot a little more often than Id like to admit. These large tacos are made fresh and simply using warm flour tortillas grilled chicken lettuce tomato cilantro cheese and a squeeze of fresh lime. However what fuels my craving is a strong dousing of the house picante sauce that comes in a brown squeeze bottle and a side of the best salsa in town.
Teresa Kramer creative director

The grilled pineapples with purple sweet potatoes served during the Harbor Island Garden Club spring luncheon at the Surf Club in Wrightsville Beach were fabulous. The sweet piquancy of the pineapples perfectly balanced the earthy richness of the purple sweet potatoes and the dish was also highly nutritious.
Patricia E. Matson contributing writer