The first solo project from Lydia Clopton (former owner of Love, Lydia Bakery & Cafe) and her husband chef Dean Neff has taken flight in downtown Wilmington. Seabird is the couple’s ode to innovative coastal Carolina cooking and is Neff’s first time back in kitchen in more than a year (he was previously chef at Pinpoint).
The restaurant is located at the intersection of Front Street and Market Street, right in the very heart of Wilmington’s historic downtown, and the duo worked with a trio of Southeast firms (Old School Rebuilders, Mauer Architecture, Smith Hanes Studio) to update and preserve the historic storefront.
After observing how the pandemic impacted the hospitality industry, Clopton and Neff have embraced the idea of the multi-hyphenate restaurant. Seabird will be open in the mornings for grab-and-go coffee and Clopton’s pastries, which will please fans of Love, Lydia. Clopton also curated a small bookstore in the bar area of the restaurant, stocking it with some of her favorite magazines and cookbooks.
In the evenings, diners can expect to see a menu that plays to Neff’s love of seafood. The current spring menu includes a slow-cooked, smoked yellowfin tuna paired with cabbage, mango, and a toasted peanut-soy vinaigrette, as well as a smoked catfish and oyster pie with parsnips, celery cream, and a potato crust. The swordfish comes “schnitzel style” with lemon jam and spaetzle, for diners who might want a Bavarian spin on some fresh catch.
For those looking for a more land-based meal options include applewood-smoked bavette steak, sorghum-lacquered pork ribs, and crispy wings fried in schmaltz.
Oyster lovers can belly up to the bar and enjoy a dozen cold ones on the half-shell, or opt for baked oysters with hollandaise and crab, or barbecued with shrimp, or served Rockefeller style with Benton’s bacon. All can be washed down with the restaurant’s selection of cocktails, natural wines, and local beers.
Clopton and Neff plan to continue building on their long-established relationships with the greater Wilmington food community. In a press release marking the restaurant’s opening, Neff says, “We’re uniquely fortunate to have so many small-scale seafood sources for exceptional fish and shellfish delivered straight from the boat to our door; there really is no better place to enjoy North Carolina seafood than here in its home on the coast.”
Seabird’s oysters come from Hold Fast Oyster Co. and Stone’s Bay, while Steve’s Seafood is providing the fish. Neff and Clopton have partnered with Burgeoning Farm, Anson Mills, Changin’ Ways Farm, Benton’s, and more for other ingredients, and local artist Janette Hopper and photographer Lindy Schoenborn assisted with decor, along with draperies by local seamstress Susan Covington.
Seabird is currently open for grab-and-go breakfast and dinner, with plans to expand to lunch and weekend brunch soon.
• Seabird [Official]