Savor: Fine Dining

BY Gregory Tyler Loftis

“Fine dining” is a subjective concept. For instance many people would consider made-to-order authentic French food think Caprice Bistro to be fine dining. However to Chef Thierry Moity the legendary Caprice is simply a modest French bistro. Other restaurant owners in Historic Downtown Wilmington feel the same way about their establishments considering themselves warm welcoming neighborhood eateries rather than fine dining restaurants. Just for today we respectfully beg to differ although we agree that what makes a restaurant a fine-dining experience isnt the white tablecloths or overly elaborate presentation; its the quality of the food drink service and atmosphere.

Over the last 20 years Historic Downtown Wilmington has become a bustling center for great restaurants and nightlife including these Port City eateries. They may not have starched-white tablecloths and $300 entrees but their food is worthy of five stars and the well-earned title of fine dining.

Caffe Phoenix

The elder statesman of fine-dining downtown restaurants Caffe Phoenix (35 North Front Street 910-343-1395) moved to its new location on N. Front Street last year. Since the 1980s Caffe Phoenix has served excellent American-Mediterranean food to its fiercely loyal clientele. Local art continues to decorate the walls and the relaxed but professional approach to service gives Caffe Phoenix a welcoming neighborhood atmosphere. With large brunch lunch and dinner menus Phoenix offers a variety of made-to-order pastas seafood and more. “My personal favorite is the cilantro encrusted tuna ” says manager Nicole Mize. Be sure to visit on Friday nights to see jazz musician Benny Hill perform.


Aubrianas (115 South Front Street 910-763-7773) specializes in Americana-style food with a Mediterranean flair. Featuring steaks local seafood and pasta Aubrianas serves a variety of fine-dining dishes. Opened in October 2008 Aubrianas continues to operate on a refreshing restaurant philosophy: Never rest on what weve done. The Aubriana staff is constantly trying to improve their food and service rather than congratulating themselves on a job well done and that has turned this popular downtown restaurant into a fine-dining establishment without the white tablecloths or tuxedos. “Our chef strives to make every dish perfect ” says general manager Cody OConnor “and makes sure every meal that comes out of the kitchen is exactly the way he wants it.”


Scott Haulman bought Deluxe (114 Market Street 910-251-0333) almost eight years ago and transformed it into downtowns ultimate upscale fine-dining experience. Haulman brought years of wine-service experience to the restaurant and created one of the most extensive and refined wine lists in the city. Deluxe features a New American-style menu with dishes ranging from tempura shrimp to prime beef tartare. Despite this upscale gourmet experience Deluxe is very approachable featuring local artists and serious yet relaxed service. Food connoisseurs dont need a special occasion they just need to be in the mood for an incredible fine-dining experience.

The Eat Spot

Less than a year old The Eat Spot (34 North Front Street 910-763-5366) offers a fine-dining experience at affordable prices. Owner and chef Jason Godwin had a vision when he opened The Eat Spot in March 2010: create a restaurant and bar that would please anyone who walked through the door. Godwin uses his experience as a fine-dining chef to create perfect meals injecting his own style into his made-to-order dishes. “We smoke our own barbeque in house ” Godwin says. “I take a lot of pride in my eastern North Carolina-style barbeque.” With a menu ranging from local seafood to sensational salads and a classic burger theres a fine-dining dish for every mood and every price.

The Basics

So named for the style of food they serve The Basics (319 North Front Street 910-343-1050) captures the “basics” of Southern cooking. From collard greens to fried green tomatoes to smoked pork barbeque The Basics has become downtowns go-to restaurant for Southern cuisine. Since 2007 The Basics has served breakfast brunch and dinner to customers craving comfort food. Owner and chef Mary Long suggests the Brunswick stew on a cold day. “Cozy ” “comfortable” and “fine dining” dont often wind up in the same sentence but they do when describing The Basics.


YoSake (31 S. Front Street 910-763-3172) opened to rave reviews in May 2005 and has been a fine-dining destination ever since. Executive chef Josh Woo takes pride in his ability to create the perfect Far Eastern dish. From Philadelphia rolls to tuna tartare Woo offers a wide range of seafood and vegetarian specialties. Located on the second floor of the historic Roudabush building YoSake features fabulous sushi along with a full pan-Asian menu served amid fabulous Tokyo vogue dcor. The first floor is reserved for events weddings parties and other special occasions. YoSake serves signature sushi rolls until one in the morning.

Crow Hill

August 2010 marked the grand opening of Historic Downtown Wilmingtons Crow Hill (9 South Front Street 910-228-5332) a fresh and unique face for the citys fine-dining scene. Offering a thoughtfully fantastic menu filled with locally sourced dishes Crow Hill features a variety of carefully-prepared entres ranging from local trout with sweet potato hash pancetta and brown butter to a North Carolina Cornish game hen to a blue plate special every night of the week. The menu adjusts to whats in season the dcor is rustic and warm the food is fabulous and the experience even in Crow Hills casual setting is pure fine-dining.

The George

The George (128 South Water Street 910-763-2052) is the only downtown dock-and-dine restaurant. And its the dining part that youll remember. The George features a riverfront deck that offers the most dramatic sunsets in town. The restaurants interior is stylish modern and casually upscale. With an outstanding menu for brunch lunch and dinner one of the best martini menus in the Port City and Cape Fear River views to die for The George has it all. From prime-cut steaks to fresh local seafood everything is made to order. The restaurant is also a partner of the philanthropic Wine to Water project which works to bring water to impoverished nations. Visit The George on March 26 to take part in a public fundraiser and experience fine dining that will make a difference in the world.

Black Sea Grill

When Cem Akthas emigrated from Turkey with his family in 1995 he brought years of Mediterranean-cooking experience with him. Akthas opened the Black Sea Grill (118 South Front Street 910-254-9990) in December 2008 and has helped run the family-owned restaurant since that time using the freshest fish and produce to make authentic Eastern European cuisine. The Black Sea Grill is an intimate restaurant with dcor that will make you know youre in a Turkish bistro. Menu items include kebab falafel fresh anchovies and specialties such as humus and eggplant delight. A cup of Turkish coffee completes your European fine-dining evening.

Press 102

When Jeff Jones opened the Hotel Tarrymore he had far more in mind than just a hotel. The hotel houses Press 102 (102 South 2nd Street 910-399-4438) one of Wilmingtons newest fine-dining restaurants. The name is meaningful in the sense that almost everything on the menu is pressed. Press 102 starts with the classic panini and adds Southern flair and flavor the country morning panini (country ham and scrambled eggs) for instance. Press 102 also offers fan favorites such as shrimp and grits and braised short ribs. After dinner grab a signature cocktail at the bar made with fresh-pressed fruit.


The name “Manna” comes from the Biblical history of the Israelite people who having fled Egypts tyranny by was of the Red Sea awake in the desert to find that God has answered their prayers for food with manna from heaven. The Israelites ate the manna to sustain themselves the 40 years that they wandered in the desert and this story inspired Chef Jacob Hilbert to open Manna (123 Princess Street 910-763-5252). To place Manna in any one genre is a tricky business. Chef Hilbert makes sure that the menu is constantly updated with unique dishes such as “the nice rack” (a roasted rack of lamb) “groupies in the water” (seared grouper) and “drunk pigs on a cot” (brined pork tenderloin). Hilbert doesnt believe in creating a menu locked into one style or region and the result is a unique fine-dining experience.

The Little Dipper

Opened for dipping in 2005 The Little Dipper (138 South Front Street 910-251-0433) was the first fondue restaurant in Wilmington. Owned by a business-savvy group of friends The Little Dipper is a unique fine-dining experience with an impressive menu that includes premium meats fresh seafood vegetables and homemade sauces for dipping. For dessert strawberries melon and other fresh fruit can be dipped in warm chocolate sauce. The Little Dipper is a social restaurant with your party cooking together in a communal fondue pot. Whether its a large group celebration or a romantic dinner for two The Little Dipper is as much fun as you can have in a fine-dining establishment.

Circa 1922

Circa 1922 (8 North Front Street 910-762-1922) has served sensational tapas to a generation of fortunate Historic Downtown diners. Served in small portions meant for immediate gratification tapas are fresh exquisitely presented and highly creative small plates served a la carte and offered in a variety of styles. Tapas such as duck pastrami brie cheese squares and tuna tartare can be mixed together to create the perfect meal for any taste and any occasion. Circa 1922 also prepares elegant dishes such as grilled filet mignon seared Maine scallops and escargot. After the meal one of their colossal confections such as the grand mariner crpe is a sweet au revoir. Winner of many downtown restaurant awards Circa 1922 is one of the Port Citys finest examples of fine dining.