Savor: Great Beginnings

BY Michelle Billman

Although they date back in history to ancient Rome where egg dishes salads and cheeses were served at banquets modern appetizers are not bound to tradition. Here in Wrightsville Beach you’ll find the southern classics that a coastal town simply cannot neglect like calamari and fried shrimp. But you will also find novel spins on old favorites.

In fact that’s the concept behind the menu at Marc’s on Market owned by Marc and Sara Copenhaver. The restaurant which opened more than three years ago is not based on a particular dining motif. Marc explains “We’re not challenging people with unusual ingredients; instead we try to present common food products in a new way.” Prime example: mac and cheese bars.

Marc’s on Market is known for them. The bars are triangles of macaroni and cheese that are breaded and served with Tabasco butter dipping sauce. “We have customers who eat these religiously ” Copenhaver says. “And I think people enjoy the fact that it’s an identifiable food in a new format.”

Another popular appetizer at Marc’s on Market is the crisp-fried calamari and shrimp. Fried with sliced lemon and rice flour the calamari and shrimp are stacked in a bowl with what Copenhaver calls “a confetti of fine-cut veggies ” like radishes and scallions and dressed with sweet chili sauce.

For more subtle adaptations of traditional appetizers the grilled calamari at Rafaella’s an Italian restaurant located on Wrightsville Avenue might be more your style. Marinated in garlic olive oil and rosemary the calamari is grilled and topped with fresh bread crumbs. Then it’s placed on mixed greens with citrus vinaigrette. Owner Julie Kablouti says “It’s just nice to eat something that’s not fried. I think people get tired of it being served that way and this is a new way to present it.”

If you crave more traditional appetizers that incorporate Wilmington’s fresh local seafood check out Dan’s Mason Bistro at Masonboro Station. Kelly Murphy manager and daughter of owner and chef Daniel Murphy says that the seared tuna is a big hit. “I’ve literally had bar custumers cheering and clapping for the tuna ” Murphy says. That’s probably because the dish consists of a local yellowfin tuna that is seasoned and pan seared served rare finished with ginger soy and accompanied by fresh greens pickled ginger and wasabi. “Our chefs are amazing at cutting the tuna fresh in the kitchen ” Murphy explains adding “and it really just melts in your mouth.”

Along with the tuna Dan’s Mason Bistro also takes pride in its bistro shrimp polenta one of Daniel Murphy’s signature dishes. The appetizer is a mix of fresh jumbo shrimp tomatoes onions herbs and basil all served over crispy fried polenta cakes and drizzled with a creamy gorgonzola Pernod sauce. An impressive side note? Many of the herbs used at Dan’s Mason Bistro including basil mint tarragon and thyme are grown fresh in their own herb garden.

So whether you’re craving an appetizer rooted in coastal tradition a subtle adaptation of an old favorite or a radical leap from the norm Wilmington’s got your taste buds covered.