Inspired Cooking with Marc Copenhaver

19 09 2012

I was sitting at home on Friday evening catching up with what people were saying on Twitter, and came across a tweet from Marc’s on Market about a cooking class on Sunday.  If you don’t know, Marc & Sara Copenhaver own and operate the restaurant Marc’s on Market at 7213 Market Street here in Wilmington.  I was looking forward to a day off on Sunday and had no plans; going to a cooking class sounded like fun.  So I called and left a message for a reservation and made a note on my calendar.

Those of you who know what I do to earn my paycheck may find it a bit weird that I went to a cooking class.  I manage The Seasoned Gourmet, a locally owned kitchen store that hosts the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club; cooking classes are a major part of what we do, and I teach classes myself.  For you, I submit this:  Just because I host classes every week and teach a few doesn’t mean I know everything.  I’m not a gourmet chef; I’m just a good cook.  I love food and cooking and am always looking for inspiration in the kitchen.  As it turns out, Marc’s class was definitely inspiring – I’m so glad they had room for me to attend!

On this day, we went beyond the simple, modern dining room I have patronized numerous times into the spotlessly clean operating room of this 2008 Wilmington Top Chef.  Marc’s theme for the class was to create a meal from what he found at the Farmer’s Market – seasonal cooking at its best.  He did indeed have some local, seasonal selections like kohlrabi, onions, okra, and head-on shrimp.  He also selected some items that are in season right now but not grown locally, like baby artichokes from California and Hatch chilis from New Mexico.  Marc recommends that you not get too hung up on the local thing, but challenge yourself instead to cook seasonally and enjoy the best of everything that is available.  As he said, “Everyone has a right to make a living selling their products.”

Marc started the session by sharing his thought process about how to bring all these great ingredients together, telling us that we
should apply what we know about cooking different ingredients and use that to guide us as we create new dishes.  The star of the dayCap Steak, Creamed Corn, Okra was undoubtedly the Deckel Steak (also known as Cap Steak or Loin Flap Steak), which Marc described as the cut of beef that is wrapped around the outside of the Rib Eye.  It looks a bit like the flank, but Marc says the grain runs the opposite direction of flank.  He trimmed the excess fat, sliced the meat lengthwise against the grain, and rolled it into pinwheels tying it together with butcher’s twine.  A simple seasoning of salt, pepper, and a brush of oil and Marc grilled this to a perfect medium rare.  Served with Fresh Creamed Corn with diced Hatch Chilis and Onions plus Pan Seared Petite Okra this was a fantastic small plate of food packed with flavor.

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Before we enjoyed the Cap Steak et al, we had what Marc called a counterintuitive take on Shrimp; “Sweated” Shrimp cooked low and slow (well, slow for shrimp anyhow) in a dab of butter and served with Kohlrabi Slaw and Roasted Baby Artichokes.  The texture of the shrimp was amazing.  “It’s the same bite all the way through,” Marc said, as opposed to the rubbery outside and soft inside that quick-cooked shrimp often has.  Marc’s idea here was to let the shrimp cook in their own juices with minimal seasoning, which can only be done with super fresh shrimp that hasn’t been drowned in tap water or frozen.  The kohlrabi slaw had a great texture but I would have kicked up the flavor some (the older I get, the more flavor I crave).

The final dish was like going to science class – and I was the student who was awed by it the most!  My cooking is very basic and traditional, so imagine my surprise when Mark flavored up some sour cream in the stand mixer and then added crushed dry ice to it to make an almost instant ice cream!  While I didn’t care for the flavor profile – sour cream, maple, cinnamon, apple cider – I was highly impressed with the texture and the speed of the process.  I will be going to Rose’s to get some dry ice to try this technique very soon.  Marc served the ice cream with roasted, caramelized pears for a sweet finish to a fun class.

Unlike other classes where you know the menu in advance and the table is set for you, this experience was totally folksy (carry your own chairs to the kitchen if you want one) and free form – the menu is not announced in advance.  As long as you don’t suffer from any allergies or dietary restrictions, it’s rather fun to walk in and be surprised about what you will be eating.  The portions are modest, so you won’t have to cancel your dinner plans.  You aren’t provided recipes – you write down what you want to remember as you go, and Marc happily repeats anything you might miss during the action.  Sara pours generous samplings of the wines that she has carefully paired to the menu.  At $45 per person with the modest portions of food and the self-help aspects, I would rate it a fair value but not a great one.  However, if you want the chance to go behind the swinging doors into the restaurant kitchen of one of Wilmington’s most talented chefs, then the experience is priceless.

I hear that Marc & Sara offer these classes once a month on a Saturday or a Sunday at lunch time.  If you “like” them on Facebook or follow them on twitter (@marcsonmarket) you are sure to hear about them, as well as their menu changes and specials.  Whether you  attend a class or stop in for dinner any given day (except Monday), you are sure to enjoy good food and great hospitality!

The Rx for Good Eats: A Review

22 07 2012

I have been waiting for James Doss’ new kitchen to heat up ever since I enjoyed his food at Fire on the Dock on April 3rd.  You can’t judge a restaurant solely on the chef’s performance at an event like Competition Dining NC; it’s a tough environment even for the best cooks.  Despite James’ defeat that night, I knew I was going to enjoy his restaurant because the structure of his dishes and the flavor profiles held much promise (that bison short rib was killer, James).  My venture into Rx at the corner of 5th and Castle Street tonight definitely met my expectations.

Since I was dining alone, I opted to sit at the bar – I always feel awkward sitting at a table alone.  The hostesses were friendly and helpful, directing me to the bar.  The lovely and friendly Jane was tending the bar, as well as another young man whose name I did not catch.  There was plenty of staff on duty; perhaps they are still in training.  The menu was one page of delicious options – quite a number of “firsts,” a few “staples” that seem to be core entrées, and a quartet of “mains” that were the features.  There were also five dessert offerings, which appeals to me a lot more the older I get (here’s hoping my waistline doesn’t reflect this inclination too obviously).

I was torn between the Buffalo Pig Ears and the Pork Belly for a first course.  I opted for the latter and am so glad I did.  This was the most luxurious, sumptuous, decadent, sexy thing I have eaten in a while.  A gorgeously seared slab of pork belly coddled between a perfect sunny egg and cheesy grits with some sort of jus or sauce I couldn’t quite identify.  After the first bite it no longer mattered what the sauce was, or where I was, or what my name was, or who might be watching.  I may have visibly swooned.  This is seduction on a plate – or in a bowl, as it were.  I just can’t say enough about it.  I’m a total sucker for seriously good pork fat creations, and for perfectly cooked eggs.  This double whammy blew me away.  Give me a minute to compose myself, if you will.

Alright then, where was I?  Oh yes, the entrée.  I opted for the Sheepshead served with field peas in a tomato-based sauce that was spectacular. The sheepshead (a saltwater fish, for the uninitiated; not a sheep’s head, thank you) was perfectly cooked and seasoned and, as I said, the sauce was wonderful.  I felt the field peas were a bit too al dente – some were downright crunchy.  I ate over half of them anyhow because I had to have more of that sauce they were swimming in.  Another two minutes on the peas and I may have been swooning again, though nothing quite does it like pork fat and chocolate.

Speaking of chocolate, I decided to take a slice of the Dark Chocolate Cheesecake home with me as I could not eat another bite at that moment.  I usually require a sweet bite before retiring to the boudoir for my beauty sleep, so I will be enjoying it shortly.  I am sure it was made in-house (it is lacking the over-the-top touches that are the hallmark of a pastry chef/bakery) and will undoubtedly be delicious.  I wanted to try the ice creams – there was a choice of pear or sweet potato – but I just didn’t have room.  I hope they will have them next time I go back, which I will surely do more than once.

The pear ice cream had the name of two people attached to it, whom I am assuming are cooks at the establishment.  Once of them is Alex; my new downstairs neighbor is named Alex and he works in a restaurant.  I will have to be nosy and ask if by chance it is his name on the pear ice cream at Rx.  If so, maybe he can smuggle some home for me.

I highly recommend a visit to this new addition to the Wilmington dining scene.  As I was leaving with my cheesecake about 7:30pm, things seemed to be picking up.  I heard the dinner service continues until about 10PM, after which the bar menu carries through to nearly 2AM, pig ears included.  If you are a night owl, it seems that Rx will leave the light – and the fryer – on for you.  Rx could be the next favorite after-hours spot for the downtown crowd, including off-duty cooks from other eateries.  That’s where I’d want to eat at 1AM – if I was awake.

O. M. G.


BlueWater: A Meal with a View

15 04 2012

4 Marina Street, Wrightsville Bch, NC 28480  (910) 256-8500  ‎

I will confess that BlueWater is one of my favorite places for lunch in mild weather.  I have rarely gone when I couldn’t sit on the patio.  I guess that exposes my true motive: the ambiance.

Owned by a Corporation based elsewhere in NC, this restaurant is local-ish.  The management is pretty stable but the staff has become a revolving door.  This is not an uncommon phenomenon in a college town – they come, they work, they graduate.  But in this case, I happen to think the management may have something to do with it.  They haven’t even retained their best bartenders (who were not college students), usually a more stable position than servers because they tend to earn a bit more.  I’m just sayin’.

This is THE place to see and be seen on Sunday afternoons on Wrightsville Beach.  Their ‘Summer Outdoor Concert Series’ packs people in from 4PM until after 7PM.  I will warn you that it is very loud and hard to navigate the outdoor patio or get any service short of lining up at the bar, so if that’s not your thing go another time.  I went at about 12:30PM today and business was brisk but service was still timely.

BlueWater is definitely aided by their location and outdoor dining venue.  Convenient for tourists and locals alike, their summer business is beyond brisk.  They have a lot of dining space over two floors and the patio, so they also do a good bit of wedding business and group gatherings.  Having recently completed a remodel, it’s a very picturesque venue.  Location, location, location.

I have read some pretty harsh reviews of them on the internet.  I guess I have gone there often enough to know what I like on their menu and what I don’t.  My expectations are also realistic.  This is not fine dining.  Nor, however, are the prices – at least not for lunch.  It ain’t cheap to have nice waterside property nor to maintain it, so I expect to pay a little more for the great atmosphere.  My fish tacos and fries were $9.50 – to me that’s moderate.  It’s casual seaside fare with a little something for everyone.

You want seared, chilled tuna – they have that (and its pretty good).  I’ve had the oysters on the half shell a number of times and was only unhappy with them once.  I generally like the specials, the burgers are good (though they do not grind their own meat and must thoroughly cook the burger per the State health code).  I am a serious fan of the Grilled Fish Tacos – ask for some limes instead of the lemon and they are perfect.  There are other good selections as well.  I stay away from the Calabash-style fried seafood platter – it’s not to my liking (though I did have a great fish and chips one day recently as a special).  The fries, however, are pretty darned good, and the coleslaw is decent also.  My friend likes the rice and beans that are a de rigueur option for sides, but I’m not a fan.

Did I mention that if you have a boat you can float right up to the dock at BlueWater and, at least on weekends, someone will be there to help you tie up?  Well, you can.

I enjoy going to BlueWater, enjoy the ambiance, and used to enjoy speaking to the staff I knew.  Now I don’t know them – none of them were familiar today except the managers.  Maybe my timing was bad and the ‘A’ team only works evenings now.  I can’t say.  I’m sure I’ll go back from time to time for the fish tacos and the view.  Hopefully I’ll see a familiar face.

The Pizza Project 3.1: Antonio’s Take Out

6 04 2012

If you don’t know what this whole “Pizza Project” thing is about, you can read my intro here  Or not.  Right now, I’m talking about take-out pizza (my third category of pizza exploration) from Antonio’s Pizza & Pasta in Porter’s Neck (for my distant readers, Porter’s Neck is a northern suburb of Wilmington, NC).

Yesterday afternoon was cold, dreary, rainy – a good pizza day (who needs soup?).  Much like today, unfortunately.  So it was decided by committee (me, myself, and I) that dinner was going to be take-out.  I just cleaned up the kitchen and I am not in the mood to do it again.  The others agreed.


Being on the verge of a foul mood due to lack of sunshine – and having to get a sweatshirt out of the closet (I thought we were past that, dammit) – I did not feel like venturing far from home.  Ruling out the nearby delivery options – Papa John’s (not bad), Pizza Hut (greasy), Little Caesar’s (only in desperation), and Domino’s (not even on my radar – they shouldn’t have changed their sauce) – I settled on Antonio’s, just up the road a short five minute drive.  I hadn’t been before, but I had heard good things.  So off I went, leaving my non-voting committee member to keep my chair warm (isn’t he cute?  He’ll eat anything, food or not, so he doesn’t get a vote).

The sign adorning the building was either a good thing or a warning – under new management.  Either way, I was committed at this point.  So in I went, and except for the floor plan that requires one to go left or right immediately, it was a good vibe.  The ‘seat yourself’ sign said to me, “We’re casual here” so I headed toward the action in the back of the restaurant.  There I found the register on the counter, a pleasant young man in attendance, and the pizza maker busily assembling pies behind him.  It was early – just after 5 – so the staff-to-customer ratio was high on the staff side.  Given the modest size of the establishment and the number of servers I saw, I’d say the potential for good service was high for in-house diners.  Maybe I’ll give it a try one day and see for myself.

In perusing the menu and the pile of pizza boxes awaiting filling, I determined that there was no “small” option here.  The medium pizza is purportedly 14” – that’s a large in most places in town – and the large 18” wide.  Yikes!  While I was languishing in indecision, contemplating stomboli, my thoughts were interrupted by the pleasant clerk, “Our medium three topping pizza is on special for $9.99 tonight.”  That did it.  So I ordered it with pepperoni and banana peppers (my favorite), and since I had a third option, I added sausage.  Hey, don’t laugh at me.  I may be the food snob who regularly channels Thomas Keller in the kitchen, but pizza is pizza – not potato pavé with melted leaks over Comet’s tail peppercorn crusted prime rib with cherry gastric (yup, I made that recently – it’s my cover picture on my blog, and it was THE BOMB).  This?  This is just pizza.  Simple is just fine.

While the pizza maker went to work, I took a seat on a narrow bench near the restrooms in the middle of the dining room (did I mention this place was small?).  I scanned the pictures on the cork board, along with a couple pieces of fan mail from happy customers.  I saw the pizza maker hand off a box to a young man who headed out the back door and made a mental note to check if they deliver to my neighborhood.

Soon I was being passed a box by the pizza maker from behind the counter.  The box was nearly too big for me to hold onto, and I was thinking it couldn’t possibly be


a medium.  When I got it home and parked it on the stove, it nearly covered all four burners.  I got my measuring tape out to confirm – yup, it’s a large.  It filled nearly every inch of the box – a true 18 inches.  I was only able to eat one piece – it covered the plate!  Very New York of them, I thought.

Normally, I’m more of a thick crust girl.  Thin crust, in true NYC fashion, is to be folded in half lengthwise when eating, not only because of size, but also because the

center of the crust is inevitably soggy.  I did have to fold to eat because of the massive size of the slice, but there was nothing soggy about this crust – it was quite good.  Overall, the pizza was very well made, the toppings were generous, and the absence of sogginess made me a happy camper.  Unfortunately, the sauce and overall flavor was not memorable, which left the total experience sitting firmly in my ‘just OK’ pizza pile.  It’s a shame, really, because that crust is really great.

Antonio’s offers specialty pizzas with different sauces, so I will try again some time with a different sauce.  They even offer their penne pasta in vodka sauce as a pizza topping, according to their website – the pure decadence of doubling up on carbs makes that worth a try.  And since the crust is so good, I will give the Stromboli a whirl.  Eventually.

For now, I have to find some people to help me eat this T-Rex of a pizza.  It’s so big the box doesn’t fit in my fridge.  What’s that?  Oh yes, my non-voting committee member would be happy to help.  But if you haven’t noticed, he is only 15 pounds big.  One slice adds a pound to him, and the vet says that’s a bad thing for his little self.  So he gets his kibble and a sweet potato palm tree made by his favorite baker, Alan, at My Porch Dog.

Until the next time, take it easy, friends.  I’ll see you along the pizza project road!






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