Southern Vegan Gastronomy Tour—Wilmington, NC
We last visited Jim’s parents in North Carolina about a year and a half ago. It was during the summer and the perfect time to be at the beach. When we decided to go for the holidays this year, the first thing I thought of was to search for great vegan food, since we weren’t vegan last time we visted. Vegan isn’t the first word I would associate with North Carolina, home to the country’s largest pork producer. In fact, there just aren’t a lot of choices upon first glance when driving down Route 95–but we were pleasantly surprised to find an array of choices when we arrived in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Incorporated in 1739, Wilmington is a small city of about 101,000 people. It’s just miles from the border of South Carolina and bordered by the Cape Fear River to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Geographically, I really didn’t have much hope that we would find vegan food since there are no vegan restaurants at all in the city or surrounding county. Thankfully, I was wrong—we found lots of great food that week!
On the 26th, we went with Jim’s parents to Nick’s Diner for breakfast. It’s a funky little restaurant right on Front Street in downtown Wilmington. Not only is there artwork all over the walls, but the tables are all painted, too. It’s a fun atmosphere and was fairly busy when we dropped in. They have a separate vegetarian menu with just a few vegan choices. Jim had the Please, Please, Please Let Me Get A Vegan Skillet with scrambled tofu, fresh-cut shredded hash browns, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes. He loved it and ate it all up quickly! Becca had the Hummus Among Us Pita with home made hummus on a grilled pita topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumbers and olives. I had some of hers and it was quite yummy. Unfortunately, I had the Lynn’s Vegan Style Breakfast with scrambled tofu and fresh-cut shredded hash browns. I really wish there was more seasoning in the tofu and that there was something colorful on my plate. I’d love it if they included a small micro green salad with some salsa—just some vegetables would have been great.
When we left, we went across the street to Hot Pink Cake Stand. It’s this large bakery with some cute “Cake or Death” t-shirts (Eddie Izzard fans take note—they are a little too cute if you love that skit like I do). These guys make a limited amount of vegan cupcakes each day, and that day we took the last 4 chocolate cupcakes. They were really good—nice springy chocolate cake with creamy chocolate icing. That made up for the lackluster breakfast, as far as I was concerned!
We had plans to see some family friends that evening, and it was pizza night. We found one of the best pizza places in town—Mellow Mushroom on Oleander Drive. They have an extensive menu, as do many pizza joints—but this one had some of the best toppings I’ve ever seen. To build your own pizza, you choose a base (olive oil and garlic and red sauce were the vegan choices), fruits and veggies (your standard fare), proteins (the real surprises here were the bbq tofu, tempeh, tofu, and jerk tofu), and cheese (yep, they had some vegan cheese). We built a huge half of a pizza with the jerk tofu and lots of veggies, no cheese (Becca had the other half plain with tomato sauce, extra tomatoes, garlic, and spinach). It was delicious and I’d go back there in a heartbeat (we will definitely be there next time we’re in town). Even after a less than exciting start to the day, we ended it happy to try more local fare.
On Tuesday, we decided that we would be eating our lunches out so we could cook at home (which was great, because Jim’s mom is getting inspired to cook vegan). Our plan was to go to a movie later in the afternoon, so we decided to go to Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn for lunch beforehand. If you’re ever in Wilmington and get to stop at one place, make FAB your choice! It was Tattoo Tuesday, but unfortunately none of us currently have tattoos so we couldn’t get 10% off our order. There’s a huge line to stand in to place your order, but it went fast and the food came out quickly. I ordered the chips and guac to start and had the Tree Hugger burrito—spinach, shredded carrots, rice, beans, Daiya cheese, lettuce, diced tomato, tomato salsa, and tofu. It was huge, so I split it with Becca and it was definitely enough for both of us to eat. Flaming Amy’s also has this terrific salsa bar with all kinds of delicious toppings to choose from—cucumber, cranberry, green tomatillo, ginger peach, wasabi avocado, pineapple jalapeno, chipotle tomatilla, black bean corn, and tomato. There’s a list of rules when you walk in and “Don’t be a salsa hog” is one of them—but it’s nearly impossible with those kinds of choices! This place is lively and spirited. The food is hot, fresh, and tasty. It’s a Wilmington institution. You just can’t go wrong at Flaming Amy’s!
The following day, we decided to try the newly expanded Lovey’s Café. Lovey’s Natural Foods is a nice-sized food store in the Landfall Shopping Center in Wilmington. We’ve been there before, but now the café has been expanded and they have a whole menu and organic salad bar. Jim, Becca, and I decided to try the salad bar since there were so many great choices. One side had the traditional fresh veggies and the other had all kinds of great salads, many of which were vegan. I tried the cold noodle salad, kale and chickpea, and a tofu salad, all of which were fresh and inviting. Their menu includes foods such as a tofu melt with broiled vegan cheese, a falafel wrap (which Jim’s mom had that day), and a sautéed veggie plate as well as some organic turkey and hamburgers. I would love to have one of these places close to me so I can pop in quickly for a bite at lunch. Since we had to make a stop in town, we also decided to run back over to Hot Pink Cake Stand—and grabbed the last chocolate raspberry cupcakes they had!
Thursday was our last day with our family, so we wanted to spend some time at the beach. Wrightsville Beach is about a 20 minute drive from Jim’s parents house and we’ve been there every time we’ve visited. One time we ate at Tower 7, so we wanted to see if it was as good this time as it was a few years ago. They still have some of the best fresh salsa I’ve ever tasted. It tastes like a hot summer day, sweet and spicy at the same time but not so hot that you can’t keep eating it. The menu is traditional Mexican, and we just requested no dairy on our burritos. They were good—not as multifaceted or gigantic as those at Flaming Amy’s, but they were yummy. Just about half a block from the beach, it’s a great stop after a long day of swimming and surfing (and they have great margaritas, too!)
Now we can’t wait to go back down to visit our family in Wilmington and try some other great restaurants. It’s a wonderful, laid-back town with a lot of choices for us vegans. So if you’re planning on taking a trip down south, don’t assume you’ll be unable to eat out. Just plan ahead and be ready to eat. I hope you have as much success in finding great places to chow down as we had in Wilmington.