Recognized for many years as one of Wilmington’s best restaurants, Port Land Grille, is a class act from cocktail to dessert. It is known nationally, too, recently receiving a Distinguished Restaurants of North America Award of Excellence. Local, visitors and the famous (Wilmington is home to a busy movie studio) relish well-spaced tables and a warm, stylish ambiance.

The restaurant’s long-standing reputation is thanks to outstanding service and the extraordinary dishes by chef/owner Shawn Wellersdick. He began offering farm-to-table fare years before it was cool. Some selections are from the “port,” for instance pan-seared, wild-caught grouper over blue crab meat, English pea, pancetta risotto, butter-wilted baby organic spinach and a roma tomato, saffron, basil, melted sweet onion “fondue” sauce.

Other selections are from the “land,” such as the chef’s personal favorite: a pork porterhouse chop served alongside roasted butternut squash, balsamic glazed cabbage and “red neck” potato gnocchi with heirloom pork barbecue. Savory bacon jam and sweet and tangy balsamic plum barbecue sauce finish the presentation.

Appetizers include the restaurant’s famous Red Neck Eggroll filled with housemade pulled pork barbecue and Southern-style local collard greens. A mango and fresh mint dipping sauce comes on the side. Also popular is Shawn’s Smooth Pate of Chicken, Duck and Rabbit Liver made with cognac and pistachios and served with quince preserves, crostini, capers, diced red onion, cornichons and whole-grain mustard.

Changing seasons and the chef’s imagination regularly bring new selections and tweak more regular offerings. Don’t miss soft-shell crab season at Port Land Grille. The chef is a master with these fresh delicacies.

Port Land Grille also presents snacks, tapas-style plates to share, homemade soups and “not your ordinary salads.” The roasted beets, baby organic kale, fennel and gold beet “carpaccio” salad comes with candied walnuts, boursin cheese, fennel pollen and vanilla bean-clover honey-citrus vinaigrette.

Find room for dessert, especially the famous and oh-so-tall, caramel-drizzled coconut layer cake filled with mango coulis. Sample classic and signature cocktails from the bar, which has a view of the kitchen. A remarkable wine list, with labels you’ll find no place else in the area, enhances meals, and servers really know their stuff when describing, pairing and pouring wine. Port Land Grille opens for dinner at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

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