Now, I may be a bit biased in my views, but what I am about to share with you here are some of the best places to shop in Wilmington for foodies like me, plus a couple of folks you should know about who can keep you in the foodie loop. That I happen to manage one of the stores I recommend may seem like a conflict of interest; since I am not being paid for my opinion, I don’t have any ethical qualms about it. Chalk it up to confirmation that I love my job! The opinions herein are strictly those of the author, and you know what they say about opinions. Don’t take my word for it – visit these stores and judge for yourself.
If you live here, I am sure you are aware that we have an abundance of grocery stores such as Food Lion, Lowes Foods, Harris Teeter, The Fresh Market, even Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s that both opened last year. Personally, I need nothing from Trader Joe’s, though I do stop into Whole Foods once every month or so for some bulk goods that I don’t find elsewhere. Also, their produce is reasonably priced and includes hard-to-find items. Their cheese selection is possibly the best in town, though it is expensive. I do most of my standard grocery shopping at Harris Teeter – canned goods, paper products, frozen items, etc. But the best in local produce at this time of year when the Farmer’s Markets are not operating is at La Huerta, located at 830 S. Kerr Avenue.
Spanish for “The Garden,” this wonderful place is a haven for delicious, fresh produce. Also to be found here are some great Mexican-style cheeses, dried chilis and spices, cookies, canned goods, dried beans, and cured meats. Much of their product comes from North Carolina growers and purveyors, so in many cases you are buying a local product from a local retailer – the ultimate in shopping and eating local. La Huerta doesn’t have everything – if you want watercress and endive, you are not likely to find them here. It is, after all, a Hispanic market that caters to the Mexican and Latin-American population of the area. But a visit here will not disappoint you, and will likely inspire a meal or two as you gaze at all the lovely ingredients.
Among the unexpected treats I found at La Huerta recently were a delicious Oaxacan rope-style cheese that had the texture of part-skim mozzarella and some lovely side bacon from hogs raised right here in North Carolina. The cheese was super delicious when I baked it up inside puff pastry pinwheels – it seemed to be more flavorful melted. The bacon I baked on a sheet pan to render off much of the fat, then dipped the crispy slices in melted chocolate and served it with a red Bordeaux at a wine pairing class last week. Mm mm mm. I also found green tomatoes in the dead of winter y’all, and you know what I did with those. You don’t? Where you from, Shug?
From La Huerta, you can head up Kerr Avenue toward Market Street and visit Saigon Market & Tatyana’s European Delights in Kerr Station Village. Saigon Market, 4507 Franklin Ave., is practically a landmark in Wilmington; if you like to cook and you live here for any length of time, someone will send you there for something. I confess to sending a good many people there when they are in search of obscure or Asian ingredients. I personally go there as much for the experience as anything else. I love to look at all the products, read what I can of the labels that may or may not have an English translation on them, and decide what strange new product I am going to take home to sample. I haven’t had the privilege of traveling to the Far East, so Saigon Market is as close as I have been to an Asian cultural experience. Also, they often have delicacies like quail eggs that you can’t find elsewhere in town. The other eggs, the ones without cartons or labels? You should really ask about those. I don’t want to spoil it for you. I love pork Lumpia (Filipino-style egg rolls) but not the laborious process of making them, so I buy the frozen ones here. If you need chopsticks, or rice bowls, or those functional little shovel-style soup spoons used in Asian restaurants, they have those too. Fresh produce is limited to the most common ingredients used in Asian cooking, but it is top notch. Mung bean sprouts, Napa cabbage, bok choy and much more is cleaned and bagged on the premises, refrigerated and ready for you to use. Open seven days a week until 7pm, Saigon Market is a feast for your senses!
Walk around the corner from Saigon Market and enter a little corner of Eastern Europe right here in Wilmington. Tatyana’s boasts an unimaginable assortment of items for such a small space – pickled veggies of all sorts, beverages, candies, cookies, sausages, just about anything you can think of from the old country. Fresh foods and baked goods are also available. Monday through Saturday 10am to 7pm and Sunday 12-5pm, Tatyana’s is ready to serve you with delectable treats from Russia, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, and beyond. If you don’t live here, no worries! Tatyana’s website has a virtual shopping cart – they will ship to your doorstep.
Using La Huerta as our starting point once again, you can head the other way on Kerr Avenue, between Wilshire and Wrightsville Avenues, where you will find Tienda Los Portales. This supermercado has a bevy of Mexican foods and products. If you need masa harina for your tamales, or just better prices on grocery items (like crema or tortillas) than you can find elsewhere, give this store a try. Pick up some fresh-baked cookies and bread, or a piñata to fill with candy for the kids at your next party. It’s a little bit of home for the Latin Americans in our community, and the rest of us “gringos” are welcome, too.
A few more essential links:
Fresh Bread and Amazing Desserts: La Gemma Fine Italian Pastries
Hard-to-find cuts of meat, yummy fresh-prepared foods, and much more: Pine Valley Market
Organics, Vegetarian, and Vegan Specialties: Tidal Creek Co-Op
I have to tell you about the store I manage – The Seasoned Gourmet, located at 1930 Eastwood Road. We don’t carry fresh foods like these other fine establishments; rather, we carry the tools and shelf-stable ingredients you need to cook at home. We have a large assortment of kitchen tools and gadgets – I’m going to go out on a limb and say perhaps the largest selection in Wilmington. Cookware, cutlery, bamboo boards and accessories, and bakeware abound in our modest space. Oils, vinegars, seasonings, and flavorings anchor one section of our space. We do a brisk gift basket business, and I know they are the best looking gifts in town because I have shopped around. We hand-tie all of our gorgeous bows, and we build the gifts to your specifications. Shipping and delivery are no problem.
Coffee & wine are a big part of our business, too. We have a coffee club that is free to join and has been around since our inception in 1994; members enjoy a free pound for every 10 pounds purchased, any coffee combination, any length of time. We offer fine coffees from Carolina Coffee Company which is roasted right here in Wilmington. We also have a hand-selected array of boutique and small production wine, about 150 different labels on any given day, ranging from $6.99 to $289 per bottle.
The Seasoned Gourmet boasts an ever-growing assortment of local and regional products, from the iconic Goodness Gracie Heavenly Toffee Cookies to all-natural cookies for your dog from My Porch Dawg. Mama Lou’s, Off the Hook, Outta the Park, Pluto’s, Bone Doctor’s, and Mother Shuckers are but a few of the sauces on our shelves. 8th Wonder Seasoning, Carolina Candy Company, Salem Baking Company, Polka Dot Bake Shop, Heide’s Homemade Buttermints, Old School Mill, Shirley’s Peanut Brittle & More, Cat Daddy’s, The Peanut Roaster, and Old Log Cabin (Berry Towne Crafts) are but a few of the other local products on our shelves.
The Cape Fear Food & Wine Club, which meets at The Seasoned Gourmet, offers cooking classes and wine pairing classes to members and their guests. In addition to store staff, the Club hosts some of the best chefs in Wilmington who offer recipes and instruction culminating in chef-prepared meals. It’s a chance to get up close and personal with the folks behind the stoves at your favorite restaurants! The Club is a one-of-a-kind offering in Wilmington, teaching classes in a kitchen equipped with residential equipment, just like at home. From hands-on techniques classes (knife skills, soufflés) to demonstration classes with themed dinner menus, the club has something for everyone who enjoys cooking.
We like to say that we are “Wilmington’s Complete Culinary Experience,” and we want every visit to our store to reflect that sentiment. We have wine and food open for sampling nearly every day, so be sure to ask if you see something you want to taste. The Seasoned Gourmet takes phone orders for gift baskets and many of our products can be ordered through our website, which is still under construction.
The prices are more than reasonable at all of these places. I may be a store manager, but I live on a budget like everyone else these days, hence the crappy tree house apartment I complain about often on this blog. These are the places I shop because they have the best product for the price, and I am all about quality. I want the best value possible for my hard-earned money. These stores offer just that.
For the up-to-the-minute scoop on what’s going on in the Wilmington Food Scene, two indispensable resources come to mind. Port City Foodies (@portcityfoodies), a blog hosted by the Star-News and driven largely by a hard-working guy named Paul Stephen (@pauljstephen), definitely has its finger on the pulse of all things food in Wilmington. Another reliable resource is Liz Biro (@lizbiro, @lizbirofoodtours). This lady knows everyone who’s anyone in food in the Port City and can hook you up with a tour to see the best of the best in action.
That’s it for my insider tips to the best foodie finds in Wilmington for now. Get out there and Eat Wilmington!