Photos Courtesy Wrightsville Beach Brewery
Wrightsville Beach Brewery, freshly opened to the public on January 21, will rank high on your lists of favorite hangouts. This beautiful, homegrown brewery features some of the most interesting people in the Port City.
Owner Jud Watkins, once a commercial fisherman, grew up in Wrightsville Beach and often gathered with friends and family to enjoy local seafood. Yet at each get-together, he and his father wondered why they never had any local beach beers to go along with it. At the time, only Front Street Brewery was open across town.
That was the beginning of the dream that has just become a reality. In honor of his late father, with whom Watkins dove into the world of home brewing, he is now venturing into the life of brewpub owner and production brewing. The story seems more like a feel-good American movie than your typical restaurant opening.
Chef David Owens says, “Of all the restaurants I’ve opened, this is the scariest.” And he has opened a lot. Born in Ireland, he has been a chef in 23 different countries, has earned three Michelin stars, and has even cooked a meal for Vladimir Putin. So why is this local brewery venture scarier than Putin? Because it’s the lifelong dream of a father and his son, and Owens feels that pressure daily.
“Please tell people to come,” were Owens’ last words to me, and although I simply chuckled, I should have assured him that they will.
First of all, Owens cooks with integrity. He doesn’t use fish that he can’t drive to pick up, which means he’s buying his seafood from local fisherman. You won’t see farmed salmon, flounder or grouper on his menu, but he may serve you some African pompano or sheepshead fresh from the ocean. He is the kind of person who inspires you to be better, eat cleaner, and think about the environment: No GMOs are allowed in his kitchen, and he uses the leftover grains from the brews in his pizza crust to reduce waste.
Brewer Kevin Zelnio started his professional brewing career in a barn in Sweden. Trying to forget about the brutally cold weather and high European taxes,
Photos courtesy Wrightsville Beach brewery
Zelnio brewed beers for the people in the small village in which he resided. They convinced him it was good enough to sell, and soon he had his own microbrewery, Bryggeri Fängelset, which you can still visit if ever traveling through northern Europe. Lucky for Wilmington, that weather eventually brought him back to the States. Although he did admit to being a regular consumer of Icehouse in college, he now loves creating his own beers using ingredients like parsley, sage, rosemary, ginger, orange peels, and honey. A stout, an amber ale, and their Puppy Drum Pale Ale will be the first beers on tap, but Zelnio has plans for many more brews in the near future. His specialty is session beers—beers that are only three to five percent alcohol. Such beers can be consumed on a lunch break or at times when someone may want to enjoy a few but not get excessively intoxicated.
Wrightsville Beach Brewery is committed to keeping the environment in mind as well as giving back to the community. Eighty percent of spent grain will be donated to a local cattle farmer, and the bar and tables were made with wood from the trees that used to be on the property. Before the first pour has even been served, Watkins and his crew have agreed to donate 11 percent of profits from the “beer of the month” to local charities. In a world plagued with greed and waste, these are the kind of business owners one can be proud to support.
When you step through the over-sized bay door into Poe’s Tavern your eyes are immediately drawn to the dark wooded décor and the paintings of Edgar Allan Poe that adorn nearly all wall space. A giant mural of the author himself is painted on an exposed brick wall and seems to stare at you no matter where you are in the restaurant.
To no one’s surprise, after adjusting to the lighting and taking a full five seconds to check out the interior, I headed to the bar. Greeted by two friendly and knowledgeable Wilmington natives, I looked over the tap list. The bar itself is large and two-sided with one side opening to the expansive deck. There are three large TV’s over the bar allowing you to grab some food, a couple beers, and watch an afternoon college football game. Looking over the tap handles to the deck you notice a mural on the side of the old MOI building depicting Wrightsville Beach glory days of surfing and the Lumina Pavilion. Charleston artist, Jaycie Rappold, painted that one summer in 100+ degree heat. She came back to Wrightsville Beach to paint the Poe mural on the back wall.
A few recommendations were made and I started with a Ballast Point Sculpin. 17 of 20 taps devoted to craft brews. Notable North Carolina favorites on tap include Lonerider Sweet Josie, Foothills Hoppyum, Red Oak (Reinheitsgebot!) , Carolina Brewing Sky Blue, Natty Green’s Southern Pale, and Highland Gaelic Ale. There was also a Westbrook White Thai to round out the Carolina tap showcase. Eastern NC favorites Duck-Rabbit and Mother Earth are also available in bottles.
Poe’s menu has several really good items but what you want are the burgers. A half-pound of medium-rare (or however you like them) delicious cow meat on a brioche bun. They can be made to order but I urge you to try one of the ten different Poe’s tavern styles. I was able to sample 4 different ones and they all were extremely tasty.
It has cheddar cheese, Applewood bacon, and a fried egg. Yep. A fried egg. I ate half of that one. I would apologize to the others tasting but I didn’t care. (Highland Gaelic)
No big deal. Just a crab cake on top of my burger with a house-made vegetable remoulade. It’s pretty much what you hoped it would be. The others got to this before I did. (Westbrook One Claw)
Garlic blue cheese and buffalo shrimp on my burger. The burgers are good but the buffalo shrimp were almost perfect. This is the first time that buffalo shrimp had been added to my burger. From this day forward all of my burgers should have buffalo shrimp. (Red Oak amber Lager)
I’m going to walk you through this. Take your typical half pound burger. Get rid of the bun. Put some delicious spicy fries under your burger. Dump a cup of chili over this. Add a fried egg on top of the chili. Cover in queso. Dig in. Die happy. (Carolina Brewery Sky Blue Golden Ale)
Bonus: Spiced Yellow Fin tacos with pineapple relish and chipotle sour cream.
A true surprise was the yellowfin tacos that were cooked perfectly rare and had a spicy, citrusy flavor that paired very well with my Foothills Hoppyum.
General Manager Travis Wilson promised that having a local Wilmington brewery on tap is in the works and drafts would be rotated often. I definitely think a Front Street ESB, Broomtail Moe Brown, Check 6 Pope Imperial Porter, or Good Hops Topless Amber would be a perfect addition. Go by Poe’s and grab a delicious burger and a couple of tasty brews and then stop by Lighthouse on your way out to pick up something a little more adventurous.
Poe’s Tavern opens this weekend and is a great addition to the Wrightsville Beach area.