BY Cole Dittmer

Valentines Day offers an opportunity to pluck the heartstrings of a special someone.

Regardless of whether that special someone is a spouse of 30 years a fiance a girlfriend or a first date there is something about sharing a meal that can leave an enduring memory.

What makes Manna Jerrys Food.Wine.Spirits and The Fortunate Glass excellent choices for a romantic culinary experience?


The objective for owner Billy Mellon and his business partner and executive chef Jacob Hilbert in creating Manna was to offer their customers an escape.

“What we wanted to do was to create something in the busy downtown area of Wilmington but to make customers feel like they are somewhere else ” Mellon says.

Manna is a New American restaurant and while noting that they are not doing anything groundbreaking by giving themselves this designation Mellon and Hilbert feel that they have their own unique perspective on this style.

“Our definition of a New American restaurant is trying to be honest about using fresh local American made products and that has tons of influence on what Jacob cooks ” Mellon says. “Buying local just for the sake of buying local is not the mantra here; it has to be a quality product and it has to be cost-effective.”

Hilbert adds that his cooking style lends itself to utilizing local products and regional soul food. However the soul food he is referring to is not all southern soul food but the respective comfort food dishes from locations around the world like enchiladas from the American Southwest Spanish paella and French cassoulet.

“When you look at the state of the world you can really tell what people want to eat; right now what people want is familiar comfort food that warms the soul and that ties into what makes a romantic meal ” Hilbert says.

The menu at Manna rotates seasonally and varies depending on what is found at local markets. An example of the kind of comfort food Hilbert likes to prepare which is currently on the menu is a fork-tender roasted Peking duck lacquered in citrus and a sauce of mustard ginger and kaffir lime that is served with roasted golden beets a green garlic chiffonade and thinly sliced watermelon radishes.

The duck defines what Manna is trying to do with its menu. Hilbert says “It is a beautiful colorful high-quality dish made with local products.”

Joining the roasted duck on the menu is a cured beef tataki appetizer served with quince roasted walnuts cardamom balsamic olive oil arugula and marinated goat cheese.

For dessert couples can expect to find such decadently sweet creations as a chocolate flourless cake with chocolate ganache or a brown-butter caramel mousse garnished with layers of chocolate cremieux chocolate paper and sweet and sour apricot jellies.

Jerrys Food.Wine.Spirits.

Nestled in a boutique strip mall on the corner of Wrightsville Avenue and Eastwood Road just before the drawbridge to Wrightsville Beach it would be easy to miss Jerrys Food.Wine.Spirits.

Jerry Rouse the restaurants owner and namesake has worked in the industry for 43 years. After earning his chops at the legendary Gray Gables coupled with the ownership of Jerrys Fishermans Wharf and 811 Mercer Rouse has poured his extensive local food scene knowledge and experience into Jerrys.

“This restaurant is kind of a compilation of my 43 years in the restaurant business ” Rouse says.

His 44-seat dining room is a reflection of Rouses wishes for an intimate eatery.

“With a small restaurant we can ensure the freshness of the food; we can experiment and be more creative with new recipes because the chefs are not pressured to expedite large numbers of dishes and it allowed me to create a comfortable atmosphere ” Rouse says. “I would say that Jerrys is casually elegant with inspirational recipes featuring local seafood.”

White tablecloths black napkins low lighting and dark wooden walls exude casual elegance and when combined with the scale of the dining room it makes for a cozy intimate setting.

Steven Powell has been the executive chef at Jerrys since March 2010 and has free rein to develop and experiment with new recipes.

“Our menu features progressive continental cuisine with an uptown southern flair ” Powell says. “We are definitely a local seafood restaurant primarily but I also like to throw in other recipes with beef veal and lamb.”

In addition to seasonal changes made to the menu Powell and Rouse also develop special menus for holidays. For that special day in February Rouse says they reconfigure the dining room so there are primarily tables for two.

“We try to feature all of the love potions on Valentines Day like oysters lobster and chocolate ” Rouse says.

A couple of dishes that will likely make their way onto the menu include a lobster en croute with saffron sauce and golden raisin chutney as well as the exotic Mediterranean tuna carpaccio served with roasted artichokes olive tapenade aged balsamic glac and chive oil.

To end the meal Powell likes to create sweet indulgences like a Grand Marnier crme brulee with berry compote and if customers are fortunate enough they might reserve on a night when Rouse has made one of his specialty desserts like the delectably rich chocolate toffee mousse cake garnished with vanilla caramel and mixed berry sauces.

The Fortunate Glass

When business partners and long-time friends Denise Fortuna and Celeste Glass set out to create a chic wine and tapas bar they invested their assets their hearts their personalities and even their last names inventing a new look for an old Front Street storefront decorated with a turquoise tiled ceramic bar top mosaic glass lamps and a large mermaid mural on the back wall.

“We really wanted to create an atmosphere that had serenity and a calming effect ” Glass says. “One of the things we tried to do was to use many different aesthetics and textures to create our own unique ambience that is reflective of our personalities.”

The result is a small intimate setting that boasts a few different settings like window seats cozy booths and stools around the counter.

Customers will not find large plates or main courses at The Fortunate Glass; this is all part of the unique atmosphere Fortuna and Glass designed. What can be found is a wide array of antipasto platters featuring fine aged cheeses like French brie and Spanish manchego as well as cured meats like the air-dried salted bresaola and dry-cured spicy sopressata. Other small plates feature fresh local ingredients.

For those looking for a little something sweeter The Fortunate Glass also has a selection of homemade desserts like the fluffy goat cheese mousse chocolate pot de crme and truffle cake morsels. Should the temptation of each individual dessert become too great couples can always opt for the dessert trio platter and have a little bit of everything.

“These small plates and tapas dont get in the way of conversation they allow couples to take their time and actually enjoy each others company which is what couples are usually trying to accomplish on a Valentines Day night out ” Glass says.