Stoking the Small Businesses in Wilmington, NC — Part II with Fire & Spice

Some of the offerings at Fire & Spice in Wilmington

Fire & Spice Gourmet

Fire & Spice Gourmet in the Historic Cotton Exchange

We’ve been paying Tommy a visit for about eight years in his store, the Fire & Spice Gourmet. Located in the historic Cotton Exchange, Tommy and Judy Cooper offer wine, sauces, seasonings, kitchen gadgets and every hot sauce you can imagine. Tommy knows his products too. We always bought the Aussie rub and Tommie can tell you why in detail the company no longer makes our favorite rub. You may be able to get some of his products online, but visiting the store in person is worth it. You walk out with much more than your purchases.

Kathy, a retired New Yorker complete with the accent, now living in Wilmington, was staffing the shop today. She said, “You wouldn’t believe the women who go for these hot sauces. I’m not a sexist or anything, but I just always thought hot sauce was a macho thing. Not so…women like them too.”

I never quite thought about hot sauce that way, but I suppose if I worked at Fire &Spice, I might think about those kinds of things. I see Kathy’s point. After all, it was my husband Bill who discovered this place and remains a loyal customer.

Every hot sauce you can imagine and more.

Today’s purchases: three hot sauces and a southern treat:

Marie Sharpe’s Comatose Heat Level Habenero Pepper Sauce

The heat level was XXXXX (that is five Xs!). We gave this to our neighbors whose 14-year-old son, Kevin, loves taste-testing hot sauces. The critique came back as not so hot that it made you uncomfortable. It was spicy hot but with a nice flavor. Kevin said that even some XXX levels he has tried just burnt and didn’t have a good taste.

Gecko Gary’s Roastin’ Red PepperSauce

This is a hot sauce with a blend of roasted red pepper, red-ripened pepper and ripened jalapenos and habanero peppers with fresh garlic and southwestern seasoning. It’s robust with a bite and I recommend it for a variety of palates. Love the cute blue gecko on the label.

Magma Hot Sauce (Talk about “Stoking a Fire!”)

This one looks scary. It’s not even red until you shake it up. Directions read “Tilt then Shake.” Manufactured by CaJohns Groumet Foods, I have a feeling this one is true to its label that states: “WARNING! An Eruption of Disastrous Proportions…EXTREMELY HOT!

Oddly enough, the ingredients are vinegar, water, salt, and oleoresin of capsicum which is an agent found in pepper spray. Too bad Tommy wasn’t on site to explain this one.  This remains untested at this writing. I’ll let you know if anyone was brave enough to try it.

And, my favorite southern treat — Rose & Ivy Southern Pecan Pepper Jelly

Pepper jelly -- part of a well-stocked pantry.

When I chose this brand, Kathy rolled her eyes back in her head and said, “Ohh…mmmmm….that one is so delicious but my diabetes won’t let me eat it!”

I completely trust Kathy so I bought it. This all natural pepper jelly is made homemade by Bell Buckle Country Store, Inc., in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, where else?

This pepper jelly should be a pantry staple along with a block of cream cheese for those pop-in guests. Put the cream cheese in a pretty dish and pour some pepper jelly over it and serve with water crackers and they’ll think you’re real southern. Offer the beverages and you are good to go. (Now we’re talkin’ Kelley Hospitality!)

Be sure to visit Fire & Spice Gourmet in the Cotton Exchange, 312 Nutt Street, Wilmington, NC 28401. Phone: 910.762.3050. Email:

And remember, support those local businesses wherever you are!

Stoking the Small Businesses in Wilmington, North Carolina — Part I

Many antebellum homes like this one can be seen on a stroll through the city.

Wilmington, North Carolina, located on the Cape Fear River, is the quintessential Antebellum city. Incorporated in 1739, this charming city and its port played a key role in the Civil War — it was a major base for Confederate blockade runners. The Union Army captured the city in the Battle of Wilmington but since the battles took place a distance from the city, many antebellum homes and buildings are still standing.

The view along Front Street

A walk down Front Street along the Cape Fear River takes you back in time, yet you know you are in the 21st Century with attractive shops and restaurants. Local beaches — Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach — are nearby, as is Cape Fear Community College and the verdant campus of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Battleship USS North Carolina is parked in the harbor. Take a tour on this ship that was in service during WWII. The kids will love it -- it is like traveling through a maze in the belly of the ship!

Buying local and keeping small businesses in business is important to me having grown up in a family who owned a chain of restaurants. We depended on  local people to help build and grow the business. A trip to Wilmington is a always on my list when I’m at the beach. Come with me on my stroll while I visit some special places today.

Hot Pink Cake Stand

A real sweet find on Front Street

When you walk down Front Street, you can’t miss this storefront and its bold sign, so I wandered in to see what was baking. I discovered a charming place with a counter where you can take a break and enjoy a cake and tea. Their “open kitchen” means they are busy baking the cakes all in the open where everyone can see. They aren’t ignoring you, they are just on a deadline, except for Whitney who was serving the customers the day I came.  I chose four cupcakes to take back to the beach — cookies n’ cream, peanut-butter chocolate, “Hostess” cupcake, and coconut. They were all moist and delish.

Whitney chooses my cupcakes. I ask her if I can blog about them and she says, "Sure if you say something sweet!"

Sometimes fancy cupcakes are just that — fancy — but blah with no distinct flavor like they were all made in the same mixing bowl. Not these! Their cupcakes rival the Georgetown Cupcakes I get back home in the D.C. area. (INMHO even better!) Since January 21, 2010, Jody Carmichael, owner and cake artist, sees to it that the cakes are always fresh, beautiful, and on time for your special event!! Visit the Hot Pink Cake Stand when you are in Wilmington.

With Hurricane Irene on the way, why not stock up on some cupcake provisions?

The Italian Gourmet Market

Bruschetta seasoning ready for tasting at the Italian Gourmet Market.

I stepped in and Valerie asked me if I wanted to try the bruschetta seasoning. Most, if not all (I didn’t read every label), of the stock in this enticing market is from Italy. Owner Frank Delia travels often to Italy seeking the best Italian foods. The bruschetta seasoning, manufactured by Cannamela, is a recipe of salt, garlic, black pepper, crushed chillies and basil. Valerie had some olive oil on a plate with the seasoning sprinkled on top. I dipped the bread in the seasoned oil…SOLD! I’ll take a jar. They also carry a selection of fresh pastas — had I been at home cooking and not at the beach I would have tried some. What a delight. Visit the Italian Gourmet Market on Front Street, you’ll be glad you did.

Stay tuned for the next blog posting where I visit Fire & Spice.

Taking it Seriously in Kure Beach, North Carolina

When Kure Beach Mayor Dean Lambeth declared: “This is a family beach and I don’t want to see any thongs on MY beach,” one volunteer took him seriously.

Kure Beach is another small, historic beach town along the Cape Fear Coast, nestled in between Carolina Beach to the north and Fort Fisher to the south. You find all these sleepy, yet interesting, beach towns on Pleasure Island right across the Snow’s Cut Bridge driving south from Wilmington, North Carolina.

I feel like I discovered a treasure here on this island. And, if you’ve ever been to the crowded beaches of Maryland or even the Outer Banks, you will too. But you have to be ready to go with the flow, because it’s like no other place I’ve found on the East Coast. If I had to choose a motto for Pleasure Island, I would say it could be: Keeping it Real on the Inner Banks of North Carolina.”

“I Don’t Want to See Thongs on My Beach!”

When Mayor Lambeth declared this, and I’m really not sure if it was publicly or in the privacy of his home, one man took him seriously. Charlie Copelan (79), retired Navy commander and pilot, and retired engineer with Carolina Power and Light, quietly established his own patrol. When you ask Charlie about it he solemnly tells you how he is on duty and his specialty is discipline. By golly, I believed him at first, but as I got to know Charlie, he is a pistol. He can tell you something with a straight face and have his tongue in his cheek at the same time. And, the red VW convertible is just the car to take on patrol, don’t you think? Don’t let that groovy hair fool you — it’s a visor with a mop of gelled-up hair.

Charlie on patrol with friends Bill and Patrick

So, watch out you thongers! Charlie is on the prowl!

No, this is NOT one of the young ladies Charlie apprehended. This is Peggy Brummitt, an upstanding Carolina Beach citizen. She prefers to ride with Charlie in the car WITHOUT the signs.

What Do Sea Turtles Have to Do with Hospitality?

Sea turtle nest #9 in front of the Cabana condominiums in Carolina Beach.

Anyone on the beach early Sunday morning today would have seen the turtle’s trek back to the sea after laying her eggs on the beach at Carolina Beach, North Carolina. I call them the Sea Turtle Girls from the Pleasure Island Sea Turtle Project. They come out early and carefully bury the eggs deep enough to be safe from human and natural predators.

Toward the end of the 60 days, the Sea Turtle Watch crew moves in with a pavilion, flashlights, and lots of refreshments. Men, women, children, working folks and retired folks, all volunteer to keep watch until the birth.  There are several sites like this one up and down the coast on Pleasure Island. This particular nest is a bit late this year.

A birth of a baby is always a big event and it’s no different for the sea turtles. At the end of 60 days, there will be a party like you can’t believe as the eggs hatch and the babies are carefully guided back to sea. Don’t you wish you could be there?

Volunteers are dedicated to the protection of all sea turtle species. Go to their website to read about this heartwarming and worthwhile work on Pleasure Island in North Carolina.

The mama turtle leaves a trail back to the sea after laying her eggs. Tracks also showed something was following her, like a fox.

The Ubiquitous Fish Taco on Carolina Beach

Fish tacos seem to be on the menu in many (if not all) the restaurants on Pleasure Island, which is home to Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and historic Fort Fischer. I’ve been making my own version for years but I am open to new ideas which means I have to go on a fish-taco-testing spree. My findings:

The Lazy Pirate’s Fish Tacos

catch-of-the-day with “pirate sauce”

They use the fish of the day and the catch is plentiful here this summer — flounder, grouper, mahi-mahi and more. Today’s catch was flounder. The fish was spiced and grilled to perfection and served in a soft tortilla shell with a mystery sauce. The sauce was spicy good but too heavy on the sauce for me so next time I will get it on the side and add as I wish. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was but I knew it had a mayonnaise base. I asked the waitress and she replied: “That is our pirate sauce!” Yarrrhhhh! (See my other post about The Lazy Pirate.)

The Dive’s Fish Tacos

Would you go to a place called The Dive? I mean, really? This Pleasure Island mainstay has pool tables, bar, sports on TV and a few tables. Despite its name, Bill, Patrick, Peggy, Charlie and I decided to give it a try. Talk about some awesome food! The menu is limited but, again, they had the ubiquitous fish taco on the menu.

This time it was made with mahi-mahi, one of my favorites. It was excellent and would please most palates even if you’re not a fish lover. The fresh grilled mahi-mahi was in a soft taco shell with shredded cheddar cheese, avocado, red cabbage, onions. The cheese masks too much of the lovely fish for me, but that is why non-fish lovers would love these tacos. But I would definitely order them again and hold the cheese.

locally-grown Tommy and "Willis"

Locally-grown Tommy and “Willis”

A visit to The Dive is not complete unless Tommy visits your table and makes you his family. The bartender and waitress kept asking, “Is Tommy bothering you?” Of course not! Tommy finally gets kicked out and we add a drink to our tab for Tommy the next time he comes in.

Fish Tacos at The Sea Witch

Sea Witch’s Tiki Bar serves mahi-mahi tacos

The “Grilled Mahi Tacos” were made with cilantro, lime, cabbage, and pico de gallo. Another wonderful taste treat with more mahi-mahi. The catch must be plentiful this month. You can spot the Sea Witch from afar with its blue roof. The tiki bar is a local hot spot and the outdoor atmosphere is tropical with Jimmy Buffet music. The intimate inside seating with hardwood floors and white, bead-board paneling, looks like a coastal cottage.

Now, My Own Recipe for Fish Tacos

Growing up part of my life in south Florida, we had all kinds of tropical fruit trees. My mom would find a way to make lemonade out of lemons. We had a Calamondin orange tree with bright, tangerine-colored petite oranges. Their appealing exterior masked their bitter insides. Wikipedia says the fruit is used for household and medicinal uses like as a hair conditioner, body deodorant, ink stain remover on fabrics, for treating insect bites, for curing skin problems like acne, as a cough remedy, etc. However, mom found a way to turn this bitter fruit into a delicate and sweet preserve for toasted English muffins.

Such was the way of the mango. Our neighbors had a mango tree and shared the bounty with us. But none of us liked the pulpy fruit so mom chopped it up, added some onions, lemon juice, sometimes sweet peppers or chopped Florida oranges from our other orange tree, and some kind of seasoning. She put it on chicken, pork chops, and we dipped shrimp and chips in it. So…you know where this is heading. I adapted that sauce for my fish tacos.

Barbara’s Seafood Tacos


  • Any kind of fresh, fleshy, fish, mahi-mahi, flounder, grouper, scrod, whatever is on sale at the fishmonger’s. (about 2 pounds for 4-6 servings)
  • 2 mangos, chopped into small chunks — everything should be tiny bite-sized
  • 1/2 cup chopped green scallions
  • 1-2  avocados, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • soft taco shells

Mango salsa: Mix mangos, scallions, avocados, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Season the fish with any type of seasoning you like (this is where you improvise to your own taste buds). I’ve used blackened seasoning, Old Bay, salt, pepper, cayenne. Drizzle some olive oil over the fish to get ready to cook on the grill or a stove-top pan. Cook the fish about four minutes on each side for a total of 8-10 minutes (depending on thickness, this is only a gauge).

Spoon fish into taco shells and top with mango salsa.

Whew! This ends my fish-taco-eating spree! I’m moving on to other coastal culinary delights!

There’s Been a Sneeze Guard Sighting in Carolina Beach, NC

The front porch of The Lazy Pirate

Dave Pierce owns The Lazy Pirate on Lake Park Boulevard in Carolina Beach, North Carolina. He also owns Slickers Raceway next to it where the kids can race go-karts while their parents sit on colorful Adirondacks on the front porch and enjoy some libation. Or, as  Peggy and Charlie often do, have a beer and watch the traffic go by.

We met Dave two years ago when he was building the restaurant and we toured the construction site. He was going to call his new restaurant the Lazy Parrot. After the place was built and the signs were up, he became aware of a trademark issue with the name. No problem for Dave, he just rearranged some letters here and there and the place became the Lazy Pirate. That’s the way they are here in Carolina Beach—real laid back and real adaptable.

We stopped in for a bite the other night and lo and behold, I spotted a  sneeze guard in the corner. They were rearranging the furniture for karaoke at 9 p.m. What’s the big deal about the sneeze guard? Read I’m a Sneeze Guard Heiress” in my first post. I digress.

Sneeze guard sighting in Carolina Beach

The decor is sports and games and fun. The tabletops are various games and one of their events is Texas Hold’em for Charity. In fact, The Lazy Pirate if often the site for local charity events. This town can thank Dave for his generosity and his good food!

The game tables at The Lazy Pirate


Keeping the Flies Away at Port City Produce

I stopped because of the name; I liked the sound of Port City Produce—not only the alliteration but it’s so Wilmington-sounding. I was traveling south from Wilmington, NC, to Pleasure Island (the island on the other side of Snow’s Cut Bridge) and here was this charming roadside stand at Monkey Junction. I’m also a firm believer in buying local and getting the freshest produce possible.

What are those hanging plastic bags?

Fly bags at Port City Produce

See the plastic bags of water hanging over the produce? These are to keep the flies away. Each bag has a penny in the bottom and the sunlight is reflected and shoots rays in all directions. According to Sam, flies are attracted to light, so the flies are drawn to the bags and not the produce. Then, when the light rays bounce from the bag away from the produce, the flies follow the light off into oblivion.I asked Sam what are these bags called? She replied, “Plastic bags with water in them.”

I’m going to find a way to rig some up at my next outdoor picnic.

Young Entrepreneurs

Andrew Cameron, Chris Hutchins and Sam Helms

Owners Sven Wallin and Chris Hutchins, two “youngins” as they say in these parts, started Port City Produce wanting to offer fresh local produce to folks. They have another location on Market Street in downtown Wilmington, NC, a lovely antebellum city, a few miles north of this location. I talked with Andrew Cameron, a principal with Port City Produce, who said they were all graduates of Cape Fear Community College and Applachian State University and wanted to give this a go. Into their second year, the business is doing well.

What I really love is how these young entrepreneurs chat it up with the customers. Their welcoming southern-boy drawl pulls you into their arena. They like to find out who you are and what made you stop. They even tried to get some of their customers in the photo with us. “We’re gonna be famous,” Andrew beamed.

Sam helps them out at the register. She is a student at the local University of North Carolina-Wilmington majoring in exercise science. She is fit as a fiddle and pretty as a picture—she obviously eats what she sells.

Port City Produce also carries a variety of jams, pickles and other jarred items (even chow chow!) from D’Vine Foods, Bellew’s Market, and Dutch Kettle. I picked up a jar of Triple Berry Spin Preserves made from a special blend of strawberries, blackberries and blueberries from North Carolina.

Back home, I like to buy local and buy fresh so I can cook with the very best ingredients. Here at the beach, I’m not doing any cooking, but I’m buying fresh and local. In the middle of this blog, I got up from my computer and helped myself to a ripe, juicy peach. My keyboard is sticky with juice but boy was it good!

Check out Port City Produce and if you’re in these parts, stop by and say hey.

Port City Produce at Monkey Junction, NC