WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – A lifetime of cooking culminates for Chef Dean Neff, as he and his wife, Lydia Clopton, opened Seabird in downtown Wilmington this week.
The restaurant, located at 1 South Front Street, features fresh, seasonal seafood.
“There’s so many great sources of seafood in this area and there’s also seasonality to it just like with produce,” Neff said. “We thought it be fun to push forward how seasonal seafood could be in this area and try to highlight the good things that we’re getting right here.”
Fresh oysters were delivered to Seabird just a few hours before the restaurant opened its doors for dinner Thursday night, one of the restaurant’s first evenings of operation. The oysters, from Matthew Schwab’s Hold Fast Oyster Co. are just some of the first of many to be featured on Neff’s menu. In a few months, Schwab will farm “Seabird” oysters especially for the restaurant.
Neff and his wife partnered with Old School Rebuilders, Mauer Architecture, Smith Haynes Studio and landlord James Goodnight on a year-long project to transform the space, at the corner of Market and Front Streets.
“This whole project has been a collaboration between so many different people,” he said.
The result is a restaurant with a calm, coastal vibe. There is plenty of room between tables to allow for social distancing, something that was considered during the design process.
When asked about opening up a restaurant during the pandemic, Neff admits there were a lot of sleepless nights.
“We don’t take things for granted anymore,” he said. “We don’t really know what to expect in the future so the one thing with this project, I think it kept me focusing on movement and the future. In the times when things were really scary and uncertain, putting work into this project was an outlet.”
Neff explained he has always found the kitchen to be a calming place.
“I’m the youngest of four siblings and that was a spot where I can go and be alone,” he said. “Both of my parents worked; my sisters and my brothers were older than I am and they were in charge of making sure I didn’t get into too much trouble but I just felt comfort going into the kitchen and from a young age, I remember trying to fry chicken sandwiches and trying to do fried chicken in the kitchen and never being able to get it.”
Eventually, he mastered fried chicken. However, that’s not on the menu in the seafood-focused spot. He suggests the fried flounder instead.
Along with dinner, the restaurant offers breakfast bites and various coffees in the morning.
Neff plans to add lunch service soon.
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