22 North in Wrightsville Beach hosted us for an incredible night. We arrived close to the time the restaurant was opening. During the day, their parking lot gets rented out to beach goers and as they get closer to opening, they section it off for restaurant parking only. Parking is not always easy in Wrightsville Beach but their parking lot made it an easy place to get to while coming in from Wilmington. James, the sous chef, greeted us and guided us through their dining experience. It quickly became apparent to us this was a special place. Many of their staff has been at the restaurant for a very long duration and the place ran like a well oiled machine.
We started off with a ceasar salad which is a Feasts & Spirits must have (hint, hint to future hostings). This met our high standards. We continued with a lightly fried soft shell crab served with a jalapeno cocktail sauce, a plate of curried scalloped potatoes complemented with peas and tomatoes, and a crab cake served over jasmine rice with a lemon caper aioli. If that wasn’t enough we also got to sample their gazpacho topped with seasoned crab and served in a cocktail glass. The gaspacho was currently off the menu and had an incredible presentation. It is frequently requested by a local resident and we are so glad we had the chance to sample this dish. All of these starters were out of this world and it is so hard to pick a favorite. If my arm was twisted, I think I would go with the scalloped potatoes which could not have been cooked more perfectly.
Although we had our hands full with the starters, we quickly moved onto entrees, sampling their shrimp and grits, cooked with a taso ham and red creole gravy. We also were served the bistro steak which was cooked to perfection. The oven roasted chicken came next and was served over grits. Five peppers on this one! We were surprised a beach restaurant had the best chicken ever on their menu and this showed the versatility of the award winning kitchen. This was followed with a blackened mahi and rivaled some of the mahi we’ve cooked on our own straight out of the ocean. This had a red pepper coulis giving the dish some pop. The menu at 22 North changes daily based on what is fresh and available. This unique aspect lets the diner know what the chef is recommending and they will get no argument from us on this approach. Ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible.
Although our faces were stuffed, we always make room for dessert. We had a granny smith apple pie prepared in a tart pan and made with a brown sugar oatmeal streusel and ice cream. This off menu item confirmed to us there is nothing the kitchen cannot do! We also had the peanut butter pie drizzled with white chocolate.
The staff at 22 North is a huge part of what makes them who they are. Their head chef Jason has been with the restaurant for 14 years and has been the head chef over the past year. James is an incredible sous chef and his hospitality is incredible. His brother also helps in the kitchen of which we were given a tour and were so impressed with how smoothly everything worked. The kitchen has a true passion for cooking and frequently enters cooking contests and wins award after award. They are the defending two time champion of the Cape Fear Wine and Food Festival cook off. James told us how everyone in the kitchen loves to stretch themselves and they proved it many times over for us. Katie was a manager who also had 14 years with the restaurant under her belt and we met other staff with over 10 years of tenure. In the restaurant industry this is incredibly rare. No one’s ego got in the way and they are truly a model of how a restaurant should be run.
22 North is a moment which set the bar for our hosting experiences and gave us an evening we’ll never forget. We had VIP treatment all the way and their hospitality seems to extend to every single guest. I’d highly recommend them to anyone close to the Wrightsville Beach area. A five peppers rating is an understatement for this fine dining establishment!