Port City Small Bites: Crofton’s on the move, two new food trucks rolling out, and more Indochine

Versie Dortch
Franchy’s has been serving homemade empanadas as pop-ups in The Cargo District for a year. It will become a food truck by March, according to the owners, Franchesca and Luis Rodriguez. (Photo by Billy Logan Creative)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Lots of movement happens around the Port City when it comes to new openings and closings of restaurants, food trucks, bars and bottle shops, as well as the launch of organizational and nonprofit foodie events and festivals. While Port City Daily already covers most of this news, “Small Bites” offers another way for readers to stay in the know.

READ MORE: Catch up on other food news of the week

Weekly, this column will unveil newsworthy tidbits, from smaller shifts and changes to local menus, expansions of existing establishments, temporary closures and renovations, added hours or grand openings, pop-up events and, of course, openings and closings.

Have something for us to consider? Email [email protected]

Franchy’s empanada food truck rolling out

Two years ago, Franchesca Rodriguez and her husband, Luis, moved to Wilmington from New Jersey after plans to open a café fell through. “Basically, the pandemic happened,” Franchesca said. 

The Rodriguezes were happy to be closer to family down South but also missed some of the offerings they had become accustomed to up North — specifically, “good, Spanish food — empanadas.” 

“My children love them,” she said.

So Franchesca and her husband, who cook often and love to entertain, began testing out recipes and along the way revisited their dream of opening a bistro. Having never been in the restaurant business before — Franchesca is in HR for an international company and Luis owns a property management business — they decided to ease into operations slowly. 

They hosted pop-ups for Franchy’s (Franchesca’s nickname) in the Alcove Beer Garden at The Cargo District. They would prep in the Mess Hall kitchen, which closed Sundays, and peddle empanadas to customers at the bottle shop.

“And it was a big hit,” Franchesca said. “People responded tremendously to something that was just an idea.”

Franchy’s offers six empanadas — feta and spinach, mozzarella cheese, pork, steak and chicken — for $4.99 each. Boxes of five, featuring one flavor each, are priced at $22. They’re served with homemade sauces, like pico de gallo and chimichurri. 

After a year of pop-ups, Franchesca and her husband are taking the next step to move the operation into a food truck. Their goal is to launch by mid-March.

While both run the business, “Luis is the chef,” Franchesca said. His pastry dough — made of flour, salt, water, oil and “a few special ingredients” — remains flaky and balanced, with just the right amount of crunch and fluff, she praised.

The proteins that get stuffed inside are slow-cooked, with the pork basted in Luis’ homemade, slightly sweet barbecue sauce. The chicken and steak are specially seasoned and cooked with peppers and onions. 

The restaurateurs don’t fill the empanadas until the freshly cooked meats are cooled to room temperature — “or it makes the dough break,” Franchesca noted. Making a batch in large quantities can take up to seven or eight hours of prep work in their commissary kitchen, so each turnover is ready to dunk into the fryer and within minutes is delivered hot to hungry customers.

“We might start selling baked ones,” Franchesca said. “But so far everyone loves them fried.”

The couple is also looking to jar their sauces once the business gets off the ground. The menu might expand a little as well, once the food truck launches. Franchesca said they will introduce a sweet pastry, likely guava-filled and made to order. 

“We’re still trying to figure out the perfect combination for that one,” Franchesca said, noting traditionally it comes with cream cheese. 

Franchy’s will park at local events, bottle shops and breweries. A shop in The Cargo District, Bottles, already has requested the truck’s presence at its establishment every Tuesday once it’s up and running. Franchy’s will announce its grand opening and kickoff party on its Instagram page in coming weeks.

Southport will get an Indochine Express by March, according to Indochine’s director of operations, Kathy Long. The menu will be the same as the Monkey Junction location. (Courtesy photo)

Indochine Express coming to Southport

A fourth restaurant from the Indochine restaurant group will head to Southport this March. Director of operations Kathy Long confirmed to Port City Daily Indochine Express will open at 1131 N. Atlantic Ave. in the former Siam Thai Bistro.

“Niki really liked the feel of this restaurant,” Long said, “and it has a nice kitchen.”

Owner Solange “Niki” Thompson started Indochine in 2004 on Wayne Drive. It has since become one of the most popular Thai and Vietnamese staples in the region. Thompson didn’t expand Indochine operations until 2020 when she announced the first express would open in Monkey Junction. 

By April 2021, she also opened Café Chinois in Fulton Station in the Pine Valley area.

The Southport express will mirror the aesthetic of Monkey Junction, Thompson said: “We want continuity.” 

It will offer takeout, delivery, as well as some dine-in seating and a full bar. The menu will also be the same, Long confirmed, featuring a dozen soups, salads and appetizers, as well as a truncated selection of chef specialties, including curries, Pad Thai, fried rice, soups, plus a handful of sweets. Prices range from $4.99 to $17.99 with lunch specials starting at $9.95.  

Aidan and Cara Crofton are moving their pretzel bakery to the former Shop-n-Go at 1604 Market St., a few blocks north of New Hanover High School. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

Crofton Pretzels on the move

Crofton Pretzels opened in 2019 at 6014 Oleander Dr. — a veteran-run bakery founded by Aidan and Cara Crofton. The owners confirmed to Port City Daily at the beginning of January they would be moving locations.

On Feb. 3, they announced on their Facebook page the official last day of operations on Oleander will be March 7. 

The bakery is making a move toward downtown, opening in the former Shop-n-Go at 1620 Market St. Located at the corner of 17th and Market, the pretzelry will be a few blocks north of New Hanover High School.

Crofton’s serves a variety of sweet and savory Philadelphia-style pretzels, known for their soft chew. Aidan makes the dough by hand daily daily, with styles ranging from traditionally salted to stuffed. Flavors include Buffalo, crab dip, cheddar-jalapeño, as well as cinnamon-sugar, Reese’s and brownie. Crofton’s serve vegan and gluten-free varieties.

According to a city permits application, demolition of walls, cosmetic renovations, and plumbing upfit will begin on the 2,000 square-foot space on Market Street. There is no word yet on the opening date at the new location, though Port City Daily will have a feature about the new Crofton’s in coming weeks.

Bar Local closes, owner to launch Italian food truck

Bar Local hosted its last shift Monday, Feb. 1. 

“I would like to thank everyone for their support and amazing times that we shared, as well as the memories that have come from them,” owner Dennis Mancinelli announced on Facebook a few days before the shop closed. “It was an incredible 9 year run, something I will never forget.”

Bar Local was located at the foot of Market, near Water Street in downtown Wilmington. It served pizzas, paninis, salads and other bites. Musicians often played the outdoor patio on weekends as folks also bellied up to the bar.

Mancinelli told Port City Daily the lease was up at 19 Market St., so he decided to go in a different direction in industry. The restaurateur is launching his own food truck by the end of the month, if all goes according to plan. 

“With Covid, it’s just so uncertain with a brick-and-mortar,” he said. “Having to shut down and open again, people being inside, grouped together.”

Mancinelli has his eye on a 14-foot trailer that has just enough space to churn out pizzas, paninis, sandwiches, and Italian street food, porchetta and Italian beef sandwiches included. He’s also considering meal plans and catering to special diets, such as Keto and Paleo. 

Prices will average $8 to $12, he said, and though he hasn’t landed on a name yet, Cucina Del Strada is in the running.

Aside from opening his own operation, Mancinelli also has his hands full with another project: helping Brad Nuznoff relaunch the Cheese Board ILM as a piano bar this spring. The Cheese Board focuses on wine, cheeseboards and sandwiches. It closed its Water Street location at the end of 2021 and will reopen elsewhere on the downtown riverfront in April, Nuznoff told Port City Daily in December.

“It’s a busy time, for sure,” Mancinelli said.

JohnnyLukes is offering a surf and turf for Valentine’s Day, along with their regular menu. (Courtesy photo)

Still looking for Valentine’s Day plans?

Procrastinators unite! Those who didn’t hop on the reservation train months in advance for Valentine’s Day (yes, that’s a thing) need not worry. A few local spots still can serve you and your love(s) come Monday, Feb. 14 — or even the weekend before. Here are a few to consider:

Grateful Graze
Grateful Graze curates charcuterie and cheese boards and is offering three styles for Valentine’s weekend or the Super Bowl (Sunday, Feb. 13). Diners can choose the personal graze box ($30), a sweetheart plate for two (appetizer portions, $45) or a lovers plate for two (meal-sized portions, $70). Pickup is at Brunches on Randall Parkway on Feb. 13, 4 p.m. – 5 p.m. Contact (910) 228-0817 or email [email protected] to place orders.

The Green House Restaurant
Though normally closed Mondays, Wilmingnton’s fine-dining vegan restaurant will be open for dinner on Feb. 14. It will serve its normal menu but also offer a special three-course Valentine’s Day meal. The special menu has not been released yet, but reservations can be made here.

Friday through Monday, Valentine’s weekend, Henry’s will have a special Valentine’s Day menu, serving chargrilled Angus ribeye, shrimp risotto and chocolate cake. It’s regular menu will also be served. Reservations can be made by calling: 910-793-2929.

The restaurant with rooftop dining along Market Street is offering a special Valentine’s menu in addition to its regular offerings on Friday, Feb. 11, Saturday, Feb. 12, and Monday, Feb. 14. A surf and turf comes with a grilled filet mignon, broiled lobster tail, JLs signature mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetable, and Boursin demi glacé. Reservations recommended: 910-769-1798 or online here.

Lake Park Steakhouse
The Carolina Beach steakhouse is accepting reservations — first-come, first-serve — for Friday, Saturday and Sunday ahead of Valentine’s Day. The “Cupid’s Menu” features specials including escargot and pan-seared scallops with caviar, plus slow-braised osso buco. Wine, specialty cocktails and desserts also are on special. Reservations can be made by calling 910-707-0996.

Michaels on the Water
From Saturday, Feb. 12, through Monday, Feb. 14, Michaels on the Water will have a $40 two-course menu, featuring a starter of either crab bisque, shrimp wontons or oysters Rockefeller and an entree, with choice of NY Strip, swordfish or cioppino. Reservations are open: (910) 769-4252.

In Hampstead, the Old Point Country Club restaurant, Nineteen, is open to the public and will have a Valentine’s Day prix-fixe menu for $65 a couple. Soup or salad starts the meal, followed by Florentine stuffed shells, herb-seasoned airline chicken, surf and turf, or walnut-pecan-encrusted mahi. Chocolate-covered strawberries finish off the evening. Reservations can be made at 910-406-1419.

NOMA in Porters Neck is making Valentine’s Day easy. Dinner for two is $70, served to-go, with a salad, choice of filet or grouper, and cake or pie. Wine can be added on for $10. The menu is here and orders must be placed by Saturday, Feb. 12, 5 p.m.

From Friday, Feb. 11, through Monday, Feb. 14, Oceanic at Wrighstville Beach will have a special Valentine’s Day menu, in addition to its normal offerings. Prices range from $10 to $44, featuring items such as Parmesan-crusted artichoke hearts, grilled filet mignon, and chocolate-covered dipped strawberries. Reservations can be made by calling 910-256-5551.

Though downtown’s modern seafood restaurant will be offering specials in addition to its regular menu the weekend before Valentine’s Day, it’s menu for Feb. 14 will be a prix-fixe at $75 a person ($40 upgrade for wine pairings). Options include baked oysters, filet mignon, ricotta gnudi duck confit, cauliflower vichyssoise, lobster ravioli, braised short rib and dessert. Upgrades are available and the menu is here, while reservations can be made here.

Seaview Crab Company Kitchen
The seafood market and kitchen at 1515 Marsteller St. is offering a prix-fixe menu for two for $50. Three courses include crab dip to share, a NY Strip or fresh catch, as well as cheesecake, prepared by Chris’s Cosmic Cheesecakes. Orders must be placed by calling (910) 769-1554. 

Seawitch Café and Tiki Bar
Carolina Beach’s cafe and live music venue is offering a four-course meal for $40 a person in time for Cupid’s holiday. Items include caprese bruschetta, salad or soup, surf and turf, spinach and salmon pasta, and bananas foster, among other selections. The menu can be found here and is offered Feb. 11-14. Live music on Friday night will be played by the Bacon Grease Trio and on Saturday by the John Hussmann Trio. Reservations can be made by calling 910-707-0533.

Second Glass
Limited seating is still available for the four-course prix-fixe menu on Feb. 14 at South Front District’s fine-dining establishment. It’s $100 per person or $160 with wine pairings. Items on the menu include both vegetarian and regular options, including oysters, cashew cheese toast, warm pear salad, bourguignon (veggie or braised short-rib), duck confit, stuffed acorn squash, as well as dessert. Reservations can be made here.

Spoonfed Kitchen and Bake Shop 
The Wrightsville Beach location is offering a takeaway family-style menu that feeds four, plus menu options to feed two. Add-on sweets and wine are available, with prices ranging $60-$88. Orders must be in by Sunday, Feb. 7; menu is here.

For $119 a couple, Steam at the Embassy downtown is serving a four-course prix-fixe menu, featuring a local oyster starter, lobster bisque or salad, seafood cannelloni or a filet, and dessert. Reservations can be made here.

Sweet n Savory
A four-course menu is available, with prices ranging from $29.99 to $42.99. Each course has four to eight options, ranging from ceviche and empanadas, to soup and salad, lamb lollipops and pan-seared scallops, to a sweet finish of your choice. Reservations can be made by calling (910) 256-0115.

Located in Brooklyn Arts District, Three10 will have a special menu with wine pairings on Saturday, Feb. 12, and Monday, Feb. 14. Items include oysters, roasted beet carpaccio, blood orange salad, beef heart tartare, lobster risotto, sorghum-glazed duck, and diver scallops. For pricing and reservations, call (910) 399-5428.

Want to be added to the Valentine’s Day list? Email [email protected]

Have food or beverage news to share? Reach out to [email protected]

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