Monday, February 29, 2016

Wilmington NC – Coastal Carolina

Back in September when we were touring the coastal areas of the Carolinas, we’d been fortunate enough with the weather while in the Charleston area but we were not so lucky in the Wilmington NC vicinity. 

Despite the deteriorating weather scene, we decided to do a bit of exploring.  This patch of ‘wild’ in the midst of overdevelopment is part of the North Carolina Estuarine Reserve on the tip of Wrightsville Beach.  It’s a tiny part of the 5,097 acre Masonboro Island portion of the Reserve.  Masonboro Island itself is an undeveloped barrier island accessible only by boat that lies south of Wrightsville Beach and north of Carolina Beach.

The estuarine system of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve is the third largest in the country, encompassing more the 10,000 acres.  This system is of is critical to the coastal area and the economy as 90% of the commercial seafood species caught in the state spends at least part of their lives in an estuary.  The beaches of Masonboro Island are a nesting ground for loggerheads and green sea turtles, and the waters on the sound side of the island are a nursery for spot, mullet, flounder and pompano.

With the weather the way it was, we decided to head on into Wilmington to explore the downtown area on the Cape Fear River.  There are a number of interesting shops in this area including the Cape Fear Spice Merchants.  We did pick up a couple of interesting spices and/or blends for future use.  They also carry loose leaf teas, oils and vinegars and gifts.  Bill likes to cook so he and Bonnie both liked this store…

This trolley-like conveyance was a little different approach to a ‘carriage ride’.  As it turns out, Springbrook Farms, Inc. also offers actual carriage rides too and they do refer to this vehicle as a ‘trolley’.  This tour operator uses rescued horses for tours along the riverfront and past Wilmington’s historic mansions.  Check them out on Facebook at

Oh Oh!  Could this be trouble for us ‘healthy’ foodies?!

Yes indeed!  We did indulge in a bit of candy.  The caramels and chocolate were excellent but we managed to resist the homemade ice cream, Mackinaw Island fudge and candy apples but Laurie's sister Bonnie got a caramel apple!  Kilwin’s is based in Petoskey Michigan and they’ve been in business since 1947.  This location is operated by a franchisee and there are now 80 Kilwin’s stores in 21 states from Colorado east… To learn more, go to

This is a foggy rainy view of the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington NC.  The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is a steel vertical-lift bridge that carries US Hwy 17 Business, US Hwy 76 and US Hwy 421 across the Cape Fear River.  This is currently the highest bridge in North Carolina.  It features a 408 foot long lift span that can be raised 135 feet to allow ocean going ships to pass through.
While the Port of Wilmington isn’t one of the USA’s busiest ports, in 2013 it still processed almost 7,000,000 tons of cargo…

Looking right across the Cape Fear River from historic downtown Wilmington, one can clearly see the retired battleship, the USS North Carolina.  The USS North Carolina Battleship Commission was established by North Carolina in 1960 to provide an organization whose charter was to oversee the administration and operation of the ship as a self-sustaining memorial and exhibit for the State's World War II veterans.  Laurie and I toured the ship several years ago and enjoyed the experience… To learn more, go to

The USS North Carolina was the first newly constructed American battleship to enter service during World War II.  She took part in every major naval offensive in the Pacific Theater of Operations.  Her 15 battle stars made her the most highly decorated American battleship of World War II.

The small old-fashioned looking boat in the foreground is the Capt. J.N. Maffett.  This tour boat provides tours of the riverfront and the port of Wilmington.  To learn more, go to

This was the first time that I’d ever been able to get any photo of a Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey in flight.  This multi-mission, tiltrotor military transport aircraft has both a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability.  They are currently in service with the US Marine Corp and the US Air Force.

For anyone who might be interested, here’s a photo of an early version of the Osprey landing on a ship…with the motors tilted up.  The motors are tilted back down for horizontal flight.

This is a photo of the main street in historic downtown Wilmington.  It is very laid back and peaceful with restaurants and shops along the way…

The Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 263,429 as of the 2012 Census Estimate.  The community was first founded in 1732 and it was named Wilmington after an English lord, Spencer Compton, the Earl of Wilmington in 1739 or 1740.


·       Many notable personalities have called Wilmington their home over the years.  They include Sugar Ray Leonard, David Brinkley, Meadowlark Lemon, Sonny Jurgensen, Althea Gibson and the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.

This is the Bellamy Mansion, a historic home close to historic downtown Wilmington that is open for tours.  The mansion was built between 1859 and 1861 and it’s a mixture of Neoclassical architectural styles, including Greek Revival and Italianate. 

This 22 room house was constructed with the labor of both enslaved skilled carpenters and freed black artisans.  The adjacent authentic and unique slave quarters, which were fully restored in 2014, serve to depict the conditions in which slaves lived.  Because the property's slave quarters were constructed only a few years before the abolition of slavery, they are some of the best preserved examples of urban slave housing in the country.

What…!!  No photos of the interior of the house, just the gardens?  Nope… This is the first historic mansion that we’ve toured in a long time where photos, non-flash or otherwise, were not allowed.  We were told that it was an insurance issue due to the high value of some of the rare antique furnishings.
While we wish that we had some photographic memory of our tour, we would concede that it was interesting and informative and well worth the price of admission.  To learn more, go to  

That’s about it for our cloudy rainy tour of downtown Wilmington and the nearby beach area.  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Friday, February 26, 2016

Breakfast in Carolina Beach NC

Continuing with our trip to the shore in the Carolinas… The weather was bad and getting worse.  The wind was humming along and the skies were gray with intermittent spurts of rain and drizzle.  It wasn’t a good way to start our first morning in Carolina Beach.

Our first goal was to find a local place for a hearty breakfast…

This is Gulfstream Restaurant… It’s on a side street just off US Hwy. 421, which is the main road through Carolina Beach.  I’d learned about this restaurant while researching for possible dining spots for our trip.  In Trip Advisor, Gulfstream had 131 excellent/very good vs. 12 poor/terrible reviews, almost right on my ideal ‘go to’ guideline ratio of 10:1 good to bad. 

Gulfstream Restaurant is located right across the road from a large marina and some party/tour boats that are probably very busy in the height of the tourist season.  

The interior of the restaurant was bright and clean…looking just like what one would expect in a neighborhood dining establishment.  They were fairly busy at 8:45 am despite the weather and the fact that it was a little off season. 

This was Gulfstream’s version of Eggs Benedict. ($8.95) It came with a choice of grits or home fries.  Laurie thought that this was a very satisfactory breakfast indeed…good fuel for a rainy day!

Bill went for this ‘light breakfast’!  This was “The Platter”. ($7.95) This meal consisted of 2 big pancakes, 2 eggs and 2 sausage patties… That is a lot of food for a great price!  Bill was quite happy with his choice. 

Alternatively, diners can order French toast instead of pancakes and you could also order link sausage or bacon instead of the sausage patties.

Bonnie ordered the Ham and Cheese Omelet with home fries and a biscuit instead of toast. ($6.95) This breakfast was a good start for her day.  The biscuit was nice and fluffy…

I ordered the standard Two Egg Breakfast with Sausage Patties, Home Fries and Toast. ($6.25) The eggs were fried over-easy perfectly, the sausage patties were decent and, although I prefer hash browns to home fries, this kind of ‘crushed’ home fry version was very well done indeed. 

We liked Gulfstream Restaurant enough that we had breakfast there the following morning as well…and again we were content diners.  The food at Gulfstream is of good quality and the value, or bang for your buck, is definitely there!

Gulfstream Restaurant is located at 78 Myrtle Avenue in Carolina Beach North Carolina.  Phone: 910-458-8774.  Their Website can be found at:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for breakfast!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Havana’s Restaurant – Carolina Beach NC

Continuing with our September trip to the Carolina coast… It was our first night in Carolina Beach North Carolina and it was time to find somewhere to have dinner.  My research had turned up a couple of possibilities but one place was a bit upscale for our mood and no one felt like having Thai food.

So…we ended up winging it and just picking a place for dinner that looked good.  This is Havana’s in Carolina Beach.  It definitely has curb appeal!

Havana’s was also attractive, cozy and warm looking inside.  I don’t like booths but there aren’t any tables with chairs so we didn’t have an option.

Havana’s Restaurant has been open since 2009.  The dinner menu is fairly extensive with a nice variety of offerings for customers to choose from.  Choices range from a Redneck Cuban Sandwich ($10.50) and a Bison Burger ($12.75) on up the scale to Horseradish Tuna ($25.75) and a Super Seafood Combo with shrimp, oysters and catfish. ($26.75)

For one appetizer we ordered the Hot Crab Dip which came with these pita wedges.  It was a decent start to our meal…but we all agreed that it seemed to lack enough crab. ($11.75)

Our second appetizer was the Crispy Calamari with Thai Chili Sauce. ($9.75) The calamari was quite good and it went well with the chili sauce.

Service was a problem… Our server was less than efficient or perhaps she just wasn’t well trained.  Among other issues was the fact that the soup was served before we’d finished our appetizers and then our entrees were served before the soup was finished.    

This was Havana’s Clam Chowder, a local Chowder cook off award winner. ($5.75) Perhaps we’ve been spoiled having enjoyed clam chowder around New England as well as Tony’s Clam Chowder from Cedar Key Florida, but this version just didn’t do ‘it’ for us.  It still would have been fine though except it was lukewarm when served…

This was the Pasta Carbonara. ($18.25) It consisted of smoked bacon, fresh peas, wild mushrooms and four cheese tortellini tossed in a parmesan cream sauce.  Laurie felt that for some reason, this entrée didn’t have much flavor going for it.  The tiny sliced mushrooms didn’t add much either.

Bonnie went with this big Cobb Salad. ($12.75) She really enjoyed it, the ingredients were fresh and it was enormous as well! 

Bill’s entrée was the Lobster Seafood Bake. ($24.75) This dish consisted of lobster, scallops, shrimp and blue crab baked in lobster bisque.  It was served with sweet pea risotto and fresh sautéed spinach.  He enjoyed his meal but he thought that it was a bit pricy for what he got…

I went for BT's Chicken. ($16.75) This was a Romano cheese and Panko bread crumb encrusted chicken breast topped with a lemon butter caper sauce.  Although as plated it looked a bit lonely, the chicken was quite nice.

OK… Service wasn’t the best.  The food ranged from OK to very good.  The overall value was about average at best.  Havana’s Restaurant is better than a fuel stop but in our mind at least, it missed being really good.  After writing up this posting, I checked Trip Advisor to compare our notes with the reviews that have been posted.  There have been 232 Excellent/Very Good vs. 58 Poor or Terrible reviews…well below my normal ‘acceptable’ review ratio of 10:1.

This restaurant is located at 1 North Lake Park Boulevard in Carolina Beach North Carolina.  Phone: 910-458-2822.  Their website can be found at:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by to see what was for dinner!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Carolina Beach NC – Golden Sands Motel

When I researched the possibilities for our stay along the North Carolina coastline near Wilmington, I chose an area a little off the mainstream with some separation from the city itself.  I’d looked at Wrightsville Beach but it was just a bit too city like for my taste.

So I settled on the town of Carolina Beach for our 3 night stay.  The next goal was to find a hotel or motel that was on the water but wouldn’t do too much damage to our wallets. (I’d much rather spend our money on a great meal or an attraction than on a fancy room to sleep in!) It helped of course that our visit was during the end of September.

I chose the Golden Sands Motel for our stay.  This motel is on the water and it only cost $119.00 per day plus taxes.  The rooms were clean and functional with no negative issues to report.

But one thing that no one can control is the weather!  Every day was more ominous than the previous one… This was the view from our balcony on the day we arrived.  The surf was pounding but at least it wasn’t raining.

The Golden Sands Motel has a decent sized outdoor swimming pool, a restaurant and a pier complete with a Tiki Bar.  As you can see by the pilings out in the ocean, the pier used to be much longer than it is now!  A storm came through some time ago and wiped out the original pier…  

These 2 photos are the views to the north and to the south as seen from the Golden Sands Motel’s pier.  Despite the weather and lack of sunshine a few folks were walking or relaxing on the beach…

This view is from the Tiki Bar looking back at the Golden Sands Motel.  The wind was howling but it was coming from the north so the bar was open on the south side and it provided a windbreak as well as an opportunity for an adult beverage.

Here’s the specialty cocktail menu from the Golden Sand’s Tiki Bar… We mostly stuck to the beer options…

Then we got off the pier and walked up and down the beach.  Bonnie, Bill and Laurie doffed their shoes and got a little wet.  At one point a couple of para-surfers demonstrated their skills in the high winds and matching surf.

Yup…you’re right.  Laurie took this photo of Bill, Bonnie and me on the beach.  Given the weather, it wasn’t worth it to me to take off my tennis shoes and get sand everywhere… I walked the beach too, above the surf line!

Later that night after we returned from a drive around the area and our evening meal, we took this photo of the Tiki Bar at night.  It was all lit up and looking very festive.  Someone was having a party!  The bad news is that the weather continued to go downhill, so our afternoon visit to the Tiki Bar was our one and only chance to relax by the ocean…

We liked the Golden Sands Motel… We’d booked rooms for 3 nights but as you will see, the weather got much worse and we decided to head back to East Tennessee a day earlier than planned.  We had no problem checking out early but I’m sure that the motel’s business took a serious dive due to cancellations…

The Golden Sands Motel is located at 1211 South Lake Park Boulevard in Carolina Beach North Carolina.  Phone: 910-458-8334.  Website:  

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit to the beach!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Friday, February 19, 2016

Gavino’s Pizzeria – Knoxville Tennessee

Our search for quality pizza in East Tennessee continues… Recently we received a recommendation for a pizza restaurant from another restaurant owner so when we were in the neighborhood and it was time for an early dinner, we gave it a try.

This is Gavino’s Pizzeria.  It’s in a strip shopping center on Kingston Pike (US Hwy. 11) in Knoxville Tennessee.

We tend to try restaurants when they aren’t busy…before time for dinner or after the prime lunch hour.  That was the case at Gavino's.  It’s a decent sized pizza joint, it was clean and our waitress was very nice.

The menu includes Hero Sandwiches, Soups, Salads, Appetizers, 4 entrees, Calzones, Kids meals, sides and pizza.  Among the non-pizza choices, there is a Greek Salad, Mussels and a local favorite, “Jones Beach Frys”.

The last page of the menu is all about the pizza.  There are 7 specialty pizzas available and there are a variety of additional toppings that you add to your selection.  Pizzas come with 8 or 9 slices per pie.  You also have the option to “Make Your Own Special Pizza”.

Basically there is only one size pizza on the menu although you can order by the slice.  That was a negative in our mind… A thick crust and a thinner crust are available as well as a “Stuffed Meat Pie”.  We decided to design our own pizza.  We could add 3 – 5 toppings for $22.95.  We stayed with our standard preferences…pepperoni and Italian sausage. 

This was a good pizza, albeit a bit pricy.  The crust was good and the ingredients were of a decent quality.  We both agreed that the pie was a little short on the pepperoni and sausage.  Four or 5 additional pieces of each would have really popped up this pie to another level.  In retrospect we should have asked if we could double the meats to get us up to 4 out of our 5 toppings…

We will return to Gavino’s for another pizza.  Even with the price, single size fits all and the ‘toppings’ issues, it was one of the best we’ve found here in East Tennessee.  Gavino’s Pizzeria is located at 5211 Kingston Pike in Knoxville.  Phone: 865-657-9624.  I didn’t find a website but Gavino’s is on Facebook at

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a slice of pizza!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

39 Rue De Jean (Restaurant) – Charleston SC

Continuing with our September visit to Charleston South Carolina… Once again it was nearing time for dinner!

I decided to take a walk in the area to photograph a couple of the historic churches near our Hampton Inn.  Laurie, her sister Bonnie and Bonnie’s husband Bill wished me luck and they headed over to “39 Rue De Jean”, a restaurant and bar just down the street from our hotel.

Following my photographic trek, I met them at the bar at “39 Rue De Jean”.  I found that they’d been charmed by the bar tender, a young fellow of Irish descent.  We had a couple of drinks, checked out the dinner menu and decided that we’d come back a little later for our evening meal… 

“39” is a large spacious restaurant and it offers an upscale menu.  When we returned for dinner, it was early and they weren’t very busy.  The top photo shows a separate dining area at the back of the restaurant.  Our table was at the front near the windows.

“Rue” as it’s referred to by locals, is a French Brasserie style restaurant... basically an upscale French Café and Bar.  This restaurant is located in a former warehouse that was built in the 1880s.  As was our habit during this visit to Charleston, despite the research I’d done before the trip, we just picked “39” based on a whim…

Well heck…we had to have something to nibble on to accompany our Jack Daniels Neat, Citron Mojito, Westbrook Draft and glass of Malbec. 

The first plate was the “Charcuterie Assorties” with house made sausage, pate and the chef’s selection of rillettes (a coarsely chopped pate). ($17.99) 

The second plate was the “Assiette A Fromage”. ($14.99) This upscale cheese offering is priced daily depending on the cheeses chosen for presentation.
It was all beautifully presented and these plates went well with our adult beverages…

I ordered the Steak Au Poivres with roasted Brussel sprouts. ($27.99) This big hunk of beef was top notch, it was broiled perfectly (medium rare) and the pepper sauce was excellent!  I also liked the Brussel sprouts…even if my wife’s version is better…

Bonnie kept it simple… She went with the Brasserie Burger topped with Roquefort cheese and accompanied by pomme frites. ($11.99) The burger was very flavorful and it was grilled perfectly.  The French fries were good too.

This was the Plat De Jour for Tuesday evening, September 22, 2015.  It was the Choucroute Garnie. ($22.95) This entrée was composed of house-made jagerwurst sausage, braised pork belly, fried Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes and sauerkraut, and served with a side of whole grain apple mostarda....another excellent entrée!

Note: My thanks to Andres Contreras, the Manager of 39 Rue de Jean for providing me with the name and ingredients in this entrée.  My receipt only described this offering as the Plat De Jour and I’d reached out for an assist.

This is the Brittany Grilled Double Pork Chop with Calvados sauce. ($24.99) It was accompanied with roasted red potatoes and cooked and seasoned red cabbage.  Pork is always a little risky when ordering it out…at least in my opinion.  The main problem with pork chops is that many, if not most, restaurants overcook them.  That wasn’t the problem in this case.  Another great entrée!

This is Megan.  She was our personable and efficient waitress at 39 Rue De Jean.  Here she was trying to sell us on a dessert…but after the appetizers and the meals we’d just eaten, there wasn’t a chance that we could indulge in a dessert and still walk back to our hotel!

Another restaurant that was chosen at random as we explored Charleston South Carolina…and yet another winner!  I think that there are more good restaurants in the compact old town area of Charleston than just about anywhere else.  Yes, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans and Chicago have a plethora of fine dining establishment…but the concentration of quality food in such a small area of Charleston is a bit mind boggling!

This restaurant...39 Rue De Jean, is located at 39 John Street in Charleston.  Phone: 843-722-8881.  Website:  We would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Charleston!

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a top notch meal!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave