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East Oceanfront Dining Racks Up Top Awards At Taste Of Wrightsville Beach

By Miriah Hamrick, posted Nov 9, 2022
More than 40 local restaurants and breweries set up tasting booths around the interior perimeter of the big white tent for the 9th annual Taste of Wrightsville Beach. (Photo by Miriah Hamrick)
About 600 people gathered for this year’s Taste of Wrightsville Beach on Nov. 5, which event co-chair Lisa Weeks said was the biggest turnout they’ve had in roughly a decade of holding the event.
 
Beneath the white tent in Bluewater Waterfront Grill’s parking lot, more than 30 local eateries participated in this year’s event, each putting their best food forward, along with roughly a dozen beer and wine establishments, all with hopes of securing a prize from the judges or the crowd.
 
But it was East Oceanfront Dining who swept the board this year, nabbing first and second place for Best Overall as well as first place in Best Savory and Best Sweet with their cocoa and red wine braised beef served with black bean puree and avocado mousse over crispy plantain chips and horchata cupcakes topped with vanilla bean buttercream and cinnamon swirl.
 
Jessica Cabo, executive chef at East, said the braised beef dish was inspired by mole, a savory Mexican sauce made with chiles and chocolate, with the cocoa adding a depth of flavor to the meat. The radish matchsticks and radish microgreens on top brought brightness and crunch to the dish, as well as a nod to Cabo’s affinity for the vegetable.
 
“That’s one of my signature things. I’ve got radish tattoos,” she said. “I love them. It’s my favorite vegetable.”
 
Chefs Lori Eaton and Christi Ferretti, sommeliers and food podcasters Max Trujillo and Matthew Weiss along with food writer Jason Frye served as celebrity judges for the event, rating the dishes from each organization’s tasting booth to determine the winners for this year’s awards: Best Overall, Best Savory and Best Sweet.
 
The judges selected Fish House Grill’s southern-style fish stew, with chunks of white fish swimming in a slightly spicy red broth, as third place in the best overall category behind the two East dishes.
 
Meanwhile, Port Land Grille’s balsamic-espresso glazed beef short ribs over mashed Yukon gold potatoes topped with pickled shallots, pomegranate seeds, beef tallow breadcrumbs and micro greens was named People’s Choice. Bluewater Grill came in second among patrons with their “redneck” take on oysters Rockefeller: roasted oysters topped with pimento cheese, collard greens and crumbled bacon. Gelarto’s gelato came in third with flavors including honeycomb, strawberries and cream, chocolate and hazelnut, and lemon.
 
Waterman’s Brewing Company was named People’s Choice in beer and Noni Bacca Winery was the people’s pick for best wine.
 
Taste of Wrightsville Beach is the main fundraiser for the Weekend Meals on Wheels program in New Hanover County, a volunteer-based organization that provides meals and social interaction for older adults on weekends when the government-funded Meals on Wheels program does not operate. The program provides hundreds of meals each weekend for homebound older adults in the area.
 
In addition to supporting a worthwhile cause, Cabo said she enjoys the annual event for an opportunity to connect with other chefs across Wrightsville Beach and showcase the work they’re doing to the public.
 
“It’s become my favorite event of the year,” she said.
 
The winners were:
 
Best Overall
1st place: Cocoa and red wine braised beef with black bean puree and plantain chips, East Oceanfront Dining
2nd place: Horchata cupcake with vanilla bean buttercream and cinnamon swirl, East Oceanfront Dining
3rd place: Southern-style fish stew, Fish House Grill
 
Best Savory Dish
1st place: Cocoa and red wine braised beef with black bean puree and plantain chips, East Oceanfront Dining
2nd place: Pimento cheese sliders with jalapeno jack cheese and pico de gallo, Poe’s Tavern
3rd place: Sliced beef short rib with chimichurri and parmesan, King Neptune
 
Best Sweet Dish
1st place: Horchata cupcake with vanilla bean buttercream and cinnamon swirl, East Oceanfront Dining
2nd place: Monkey bread, Beach Bagels
3rd place: Pumpkin spice bundt cakes with buttercream cream cheese frosting, Nothing Bundt Cakes
 
People’s Choice Dish
1st place: Balsamic-espresso glazed beef short ribs over Yukon gold mashed potatoes with pickled shallots, pomegranate seeds, beef tallow breadcrumbs and micro greens, Port Land Grille
2nd place: Redneck Rockefeller-style roasted oysters topped with pimento cheese and bacon crumbles, Bluewater Waterfront Grill
3rd place: Assorted flavors of gelato, Gelarto
 
People’s Choice Beer
1st place: Waterman’s Brewing Company
2nd place: Wilmington Brewing Company
3rd place: Catawba Brewing Company
 
People’s Choice Wine
1st place: Noni Bacca Winery
2nd place: Windham Distributing Company
3rd place: Prestige Beverage Group

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