Monday, July 15, 2013

Cocktail tour of Wilmington is worth lifting a glass

These days, where there is food, there's a food tour. Brews cruising, restaurant walking, winery pedaling: Pick a place and someone will lead you there. On a  trip last week to Wrightsville Beach, outside Wilmington, we decided to take a break of a different kind, with one of Liz Biro's cocktail tours.

Biro (right) is a freelance food writer and an old friend from the Association of Food Journalists. So I'm not surpised she knew her territory. Downtown Wilmington is in a full food renaissance, thanks to all those movie and TV people. She offers several tours, including one for restaurants and another that takes you through the local farmers market. The cocktail tour was just what we wanted -- at only $30, it was a reasonable price, and at only 5 stops within a short few blocks near the waterfront, it was the perfect length. Just enough to get a taste without taking up a whole evening.

We met in front of the very popular restaurant Manna, where mixologist Joel Finsel was ready to mix up a tasty little drink that involved gin, cucumbers, rosewater and ginger-flavored Domain Canton. The restaurant was buzzing, getting ready for an evening fundraiser: Ashley Christensen of Poole's Diner et al in Raleigh (left) had come in to cook for the evening.

Since everyone in our group was from Charlotte, Caprice Bistro was a popular second stop: We all remembered when chef Thierry Moity had Patou here in the 1990s. For our drink, we trooped upstairs to the "sofa lounge," where we had a twist on a mint julep made with Trey Herring's Carolina Bourbon from North Charleston  and fresh basil instead of mint. Better than it sounds: Liz pointed out that basil and mint are botanical cousins.

Around the corner at Mixto, a waterfront Mexican restaurant, the vibe was fun and colorful. We were served a fruity punch that used both rum and tequila, along with a nice amuse bouche of chorizo and clam with a corn relish. We also had a taste of an usual cocktail made with tequila steeped with serrano chiles and mixed with coconut milk and orange. It was hot and sweet and controversial in our group. We spent the rest of the night debating who liked it. (I did, but I only took a small sip as the night's driver.)

The next stop was time for wine, at The Fortunate Glass, home of the mermaid on the wall at the top. Celeste Glass, co-owner with Denise Fortuna, poured a Rhone and an usual white, Qupe Roussanne, along with tasty toasts topped with goat cheese and fruit relishes. They make small plates along with an impressive collection of wines by the glass.

The final stop was dessert: Gruet sparkling wine with a plate of miniature cupcakes at the popular and stylish bakery Hot Pink Cake Stand. At all five stops, we got generous pours, small bites to eat and enthusiastic bartenders who really seemed to be into talking to us. If you're headed to Topsail or Wrightsville and you need a break from the sun, it's worth going indoors for this. Details and reservations:

The absinthe water fountain is part of the decor at Manna.