I am not fancy. My wardrobe consists of two pairs of ripped jean shorts, faded local brewery T-shirts, and Rainbow sandals. I keep Hot Pockets on hand for hangovers and brush my cat’s hair more often than my own. What I’m saying is: I typically don’t dine on caviar and truffles.
But when I do, it’s at Grand Cru.
The novel tapas eatery quietly opened their doors over the summer in an attempt to work out any pre-advertising kinks. However, soon enough, locals will certainly be familiar with Grand Cru’s Lumina Station space—former home to The Dirty Martini.
Grand Cru may not yet be on anyone’s culinary radar yet, but I’ll be damned if Wilmingtonians have never heard of Vittles Food Truck. As somewhat of a food personality, I’m often asked for my go-to restaurants in the Port City. Most folks are surprised when I gush over the remarkable meals on wheels this town has to offer. Sure, we have a handful of phenomenal brick-and-mortar gourmet hot spots (lookin’ at you, PinPoint), but I’ve always been overly impressed with the plates that the über-confined mobile kitchens are dishing out. Thanks to a life-changing pork-belly grilled cheese I once almost proposed to after several hoppy pours at Flytrap, Vittles has never failed to top my list of local dining destinations.
Imagine my excitement when I learned Vittles’ leading lady Kirsten Mitchell had parked her days in the truck and moved into the executive chef role at Grand Cru. Her menu may have a different name, but her determination to feature locally sourced products in an elegant way stands strong.
Although the ambiance screams grapes (namely, a 300-bottle wine list, a broad collection of Champagne, and a 20-bottle, wine-by-the glass system), when I shimmied up to the bar (Rainbows and all), I couldn’t help but be tempted by the list of specialty cocktails. Hey, what’s the point in loosening my ripped jean shorts for a feast if I’m not also going to treat myself to some whiskey?
Smokey Bear may have noted, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” but Grand Cru kicks off their Old Fashioned by lighting the drink on fire. Well, not exactly—but my bartender did ignite a small shred of maple wood and infuse it into the glass. Muddled orange and cherry, simple syrup, whiskey, and bitters also went into the pre-smoked vessel. The real charred flavor seemed to radiate from the torched piece of caramelized citrus rind, but the “pre-smoked glass” was undoubtedly a unique and tempting treat. The drink itself was expertly balanced.
Another epic nod to my bartender/server, as he recommended what will probably go down in history as the best deviled eggs I’ve ever had. I had my eye on the smoked fish spread, but my Grand Cru cruise director steered me toward a different small plate. Out came a glorious lineup of three hollowed out hard-boiled eggs stuffed with a decadent piping of truffle-scented filling. Each boasted a small sophisticated “top hat” of inky caviar, on an herb oil-decorated plate. My butter knife slid through the center of the first egg to reveal a luxuriously smooth mixture, cooing with an earthy mushroom funk. The caviar distinctly popped with every bite and contrasted the creamy spread spectacularly. I unapologetically ate all three and then licked my knife. After convincing the couple next to me to substitute this dish for their dessert, they followed suit—knife-lick and all.
Grand Cru’s characuterie and cheese menu offers global bites of meats, like Ibérico jamon or Italian soppressata, as well as cheeses galore, from a French triple cream to a Welsh cow’s milk blended with mustard seeds. Yet, I read several glowing reviews of their pull-apart lobster rolls and noticed the majority of Grand Cru’s patrons were partaking in them upon my arrival. The buttery, fluffy split bun was a homerun, and the meat itself was tender, light and perfumed with the licorice-y flavor of fresh tarragon. This may have been a mere coincidence, but both my first and second plates were adorned with the same vibrant green herb oil and a pinch of microgreens. A bit of distinction between the presentations would have been appreciated, but I made everything disappear so fast that looks weren’t my first concern. While the lobster roll was tasty and fresh, it wasn’t nearly as memorable as the outstanding deviled eggs or my last course of brisket sliders. All three small plates were delicious, but the two with their exceptionally layered flavors were standouts by far.
Let me just say: I loved the sliders so much I saved one for today. Although, physically, I’m here in front of my computer while typing this article, mentally, I’m inside of my refrigerator face-deep in thinly sliced brisket. I didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed with joy for this course, but the first bite did exactly what a magnificent dish is supposed to do: surprise me.
I anticipated the homemade BBQ sauce draped over the meat to be rich and savory. Instead, it had tangy Korean-based flavors and whisked me back to the beloved spare ribs of my childhood. The vinegary slaw isn’t an average Eastern NC cabbage mixture tossed with pepper flakes. The julienned veggies (particularly the red onions) were practically pickled, which made for a beautiful bright crunch alongside of the hearty meat (the sliders also are available with pork belly, might I add).
Although I didn’t opt for a sweet course as my finale, the friendly couple next to me offered me a fork when their Key Lime pie hit the bar. With a twist of my arm, I shared in their anniversary dessert. The tart, mousse-like creation was light-as-air and far fluffier than any form of Key Lime pie I’ve ever tasted.
From smoked things to truffled things to sharing sweets with strangers, look out Wrightsville Beach. Chef Mitchell’s got a brand new bag … of tricks and especially treats.