From The Grille

January 31, 2003 – Capturing the Spirit of the Carolinas Magazine
By Billy Cone

As you enter the dining rooms of Port Land Grille you immediately notice the simplicity of décor and the black and white memories of Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach hanging on the walls. An attractive bar looks upon the open kitchen where chefs prepare sumptuous cuisine. Anne Steketee and her husband, Shawn Wellersdick, have done a wonderful job creating a restaurant that has become a favorite in Wilmington for locals and visitors alike. Anne manages the restaurant while her husband is the executive chef. They met in Greensboro at Jimmy Noble’s restaurant and have been happy together ever since.

During our visit, Billy Mellon was our waiter. After being served by him, we felt he should be “Waiter of the Year” in Wilmington. He was cordial and unfailingly professional. We were thrilled when he brought us sweet and succulent oysters on the half shell with Pinot Grigio, jalapeno mignonette and Worcestershire cocktail sauce. Shawn’s Beef Tartar was a first for us, made from Black Angus beef. Tasty steamed little neck clams would have been the encore had the flash-fried, cornmeal-dusted, local soft shell crabs stayed in the salty wetlands. We loved them with just the right amount of crunch.

But my very favorite was the Pan Seared French Foie Gras over buttermilk 10-spice “French toast,” candied macadamia nuts, sake poached fresh peaches and a dark cherry, pomegranate glaze. This delight burst with flavor. I call an entrée of this caliber over-the-top delicious. Then we tried the pork BBQ & pimento cheese “Red Neck” Crostinis, the Carpaccio of Lamb (another first for us), the “Red Neck” Egg Roll filled with smoked shrimp, andouille sausage and collard greens with a papaya dipping sauce. We were impressed and amazed at the diversity of offerings and variety of flavors in each and every starter.

Port Land Grille has many savory salads, including a Grilled Spring Asparagus, a Crab Meat, an Old Bay Dusted Local Shrimp & Baby Spinach Salad, an Oyster Salad, and many more. There is something for every lover of greens here, but save room for the main course and certainly a special dessert.

Billy Mellon prepared us for what was to come: seared, farm-raised Hawaiian Sun Fish over lemon grass, coconut “fried rice,” ginger seared snow peas and a roasted sweet corn, mango Thai relish. This dish was cooked to perfection and reminded us of Trigger Fish. The creative combinations in the Alaskan King Salmon were right in line with the philosophy of Port Land Grille: bring out all the best flavors of the main ingredient with other complementary flavors.

The Organic Poussin and Veal Porterhouse were both tender and juicy, obviously cooked with care and great love. The presentation of each plate was colorful and made our mouths water. There is an artistic flair at Port Land Grille for food presentation. As Anne says, “The restaurant is a beautiful reflection of who we are.”

We cannot forget to mention the wonderful wine selection which we enjoyed throughout the night. The care in choosing their All-American wine list is evident by their achievement of receiving Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” two years in a row.

Believe it or not, we had somehow saved a little room for dessert. We were blessed with two offerings which we thoroughly enjoyed. My all-time favorite has to be the multi-layered coconut cake. But since I had already tried this incredible sweet, I tasted the creamy Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Viogner Poached Fresh Apricots and the Summer-Time Lemon Tarte with Fresh Local Lewis Farms’ Blueberries and Chantilly Cream.

For any city in America, Port Land Grille would be impressive. For Wilmington, North Carolina we are in awe.