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INDUSTRY “It’s all been pretty eclectic, and fun,” he tells. “I’ve worked with some great chefs and learned a lot. It was better than spending the money getting a culinary degree.” His attitude fits in with what Dram + Morsel is adding to the downtown dining landscape. The atmosphere is comfy vintage, with couches, tables and lots of light during daylight hours. Sleek art and cozy illumination add another layer after dark, not to mention a craft cocktail and wine and beer list suited for any palate. “This is definitely more of a night-time spot,” according to the chef. With that in mind, Avery has been experimenting with items like sliders and shareable plates, inspired by his diverse background and a world of ingredients from locally sourced seafood. He utilizes Marcona almonds and Spanish olives, and manages to blend Asian ingredients from the sister restaurant, YoSake, downstairs. Dram + Morsel “Snacks” menu includes updated versions of pulled-pork nachos, chicken taquitos and lobster corndogs. “I’m rethinking what I’m doing and what’s important for Wilmington’s dining scene all the time,” Avery says. “I’m always tweaking things.” His latest menu includes globe-hopping entries like tuna ceviche, a braised pork belly with seasonal vegetables and scallops with a house-made parsley tagliatelle. But Avery is also adding more to enjoy at Dram + Morsel. His own interest in wine has led him to plan regular wine dinners. In fact, prior to working at Dram, he was hoping to obtain his first-level

sommelier certification. “I think it’s a great learning process, to really taste wine and develop dishes to go with it,” he notes. Avery has been working with his staff to create noteworthy desserts and offer more vegan and gluten-free options. Almond-butter and chocolate torte will appear on the refined menu, as well as Avery’s lemongrass-infused creme brulée. Recent experiments have also brought to the kitchen a vegan “cheese” sauce, made with cashews, nutritional yeast and depth-providing seasonings, like smoked paprika. He’s planning to include it as a topping choice for nachos and fries. His latest menu also includes a vegan slider—a tabbouleh-inspired dish of local vegetables and rice flour in a lettuce wrap. One recent special included local Shishito peppers, served on a bed of rich Romesco sauce. Then there’s the new Sunday brunch menu, which includes favorites like eggs Benedict and shrimp and grits, as well as a French toast with a custard batter, spiked with coconut milk and a veggiefriendly tofu hash. Even after his years in the restaurant business, it seems unlikely Avery will be a victim of what he says he sees happen to many chefs: getting caught in a specific foodie time or movement. “It’s easy to get stuck,” he tells. “It’s one of the worst things a chef can do.” On the opposite end, the best part of his day is sitting at a table overlooking downtown Wilmington when it’s quiet. He uses the time to process the inspiration he gets from Instagram accounts, favorite chefs and new cookbooks. “This is such a great time for us,” he tells. “It’s a great time for new ideas.” His hope for the work he does at Dram + Morsel is that some of his passion shines through in the food he prepares. “What I really want to do is showcase the love I have for this town, and food, and this great building,” he boasts. “I want to show that.”

Raul Benitez and Ross Casey

YoSake Downtown Sushi Lounge 33 S. Front St., second floor • (910) 763-3172 The role of head chef is generally known to be a one-person job. It’s his or her vision, the theory goes, that rules a particular kitchen. Most who work in restaurants, though, know cooking is often a collaborative art—it just might not happen with more than one chef in the top position. “I’ve worked in kitchens with more than one head chef,” YoSake’s Raul Benitez says. “I know it doesn’t always work.” Such isn’t the case at the popular Asian-inspired restaurant. Benitez is joined by Ross Casey as dual head chefs. Their partnership is relatively new, but they are calling it a success. One reason: YoSake is a busy restaurant, especially on the weekends. They both agree it can help having someone else by sharing responsibilities that come with making a busy night run smoothly. “It’s hectic, and that’s just YoSake,” Casey tells. Their kitchen is responsible for making wings, tater tots and other pub grub offerings that the craft-beer drinkers at The Husk, on the

• Left: Ross Casey and Raul Benitez create new and varied specials nightly, including Thai coconut lemongrass clams. Photo by Lindsey A. Miller Photography


Devour Summer/Fall 2017  
Devour Summer/Fall 2017  

Eat and drink across southeastern NC