Goodnight Irene

The view from our living room -- waves are almost over the dunes during Hurricane Irene on Pleasure Island, North Carolina.

Hurricane Irene spared much of the Cape Fear Coast and the Wilmington, North Carolina, area. We weathered the storm in our oceanfront condo — a place we playfully refer to as “Banana Cabana.” (I like yellow walls!) Stocked with batteries, water, libations, and food, the four of us — me, Bill, Patrick, and Mike Kelley, fire chief from Montgomery County, Maryland, and Bill’s brother — watched the storm.

Safe and sound, we’re all back home. So ends my reporting from the Carolina Coast until I return. Stay tuned, this fall will bring many more escapades from Kelley Hospitality. I hope you’ll follow me as I transform the ordinary into the extraordinary!

And that's a wrap from Coastal Carolina. See you soon. (Wraps are an easy-to-prepare hurricane food while you're busy storm watching.)

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.

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.

Piping hot donuts from Britt’s, Carolina Beach

Britt’s Donut Shop in Carolina Beach, North Carolina

YUM! Hot donuts from Britt's

Why mess with perfection? Why try to put sprinkles or frosting on something so perfect as a Britt’s donut? Since 1939, Britt’s has been on the Carolina Beach boardwalk, opening March to September only a few days a week, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. For some folks, it’s a destination. For newcomers, they’ll think they’ve died and gone to heaven!

“We’ve never changed the recipe because people seem to like it,” says Bobby Nivens, who owns the shop with his wife Maxine. Bobby worked at Britt’s in high school in the 1950s before buying it in 1974. “I’ve always loved this place and we hope to pass it on to our daughter.”

The Nevins’ raised their daughter, Lynn, in the house down the block on Cape Fear Boulevard. A friend of ours, Peggy Brummitt, a resident of Carolina Beach for 32 years, lives in the Nevins’ former home—a completely restored and charming beach-town house. We walked over last night for happy hour and got a tour of the place.

“Bobby and Maxine embraced me the minute I started dating their friend, Doyle Brummitt,” said Peggy, who later married Doyle, a retired Marine and town fixture who had known the Nevins for years. “They raised Lynn in this house and she is now the town clerk for Carolina Beach. Lynn applied and got a job with the town when Doyle was mayor pro-tem way back when. This house has a lot of good vibes in it.”

Owner Maxine Nevins wears the birthday hat husband Bobby made for her from a donut bag.

Just follow your nose back to the boardwalk to Britt’s. The line is long but it moves fast. You can eat at the counter or take a bag with you. But, eat them hot, the only way. Bobby’s right: don’t mess with perfection.

Visit Britt’s on Facebook.

#11 Boardwalk, Carolina Beach