Foodie Travels: Wake N Bake Donuts, Wilmington, N.C.


When we travel, we intensely scout restaurants for weeks in advance. That means when we arrive in a new place, we already know the top-ranked dining spots on sites like Thrillist, Trip Advisor, Yelp and Buzzfeed. We also know which restaurants are trafficked more by locals than tourists, the hours the shops are open and which ones serve the can’t-miss dishes that are iconic to the local dining scene. (As a little pro tip to all of the disappointed eaters out there: This strategy can help you improve your satisfaction with restaurants because you won’t leave your meal or snack selections up to chance at the last minute.)

But sometimes good eats sneak up on us, and that was the case with Wake N Bake Donuts in Wilmington, North Carolina. We had already had brunch on a Thursday and were walking through downtown to visit a few shops, planning to wait until dinner to eat again. That’s when we rounded a corner and Molly spotted donuts in a store windowfront. This half-dozen box had maple bacon, chocolate peanut butter cup, a chocolate-iced with potato chips and other amazing-looking donuts. We looked up and saw the sign, and you know from there we had to head inside.


We were instantly greeted by the donut counter with a couple dozen creative options. There was a cotton candy donut, donuts with fruity cereals, an espresso donut, and the list goes on. As we game-planned on how many treats to try and which choices to make, we learned that Wake N Bake is not just the quiet little shop we thought we stumbled upon. This place won Cooking Channel’s “Donut Showdown” AND Buzzfeed made it North Carolina’s featured spot on its “Best Donut Shop in Your State” list. We’d uncovered a sweet gold mine and the rush was on to decide which treats to experience.


Molly indulged in a Reese’s-style donut, rich with the creamy flavors of both peanut butter and chocolate. I decided to test out the “Donut Showdown”-winning entry, a maple cream cheese-glazed donut with candied walnuts and a blueberry compote. It was like the donut gods had created this prize just for me, as anyone who knows me well is aware that I love walnuts and blueberries.


Wake N Bake wowed us so much with creative, rich donuts that are now among our favorites anywhere. (We took our donuts to the car and devoured them before heading to our next destination, because there’s not really any seating in the shop. We had to take a couple extra donuts with us for the road.) The shop also reminded these plan-ahead foodies to always keep our eyes open for delicious surprises. As much as we study a city ahead of time, there are always new experiences to unwrap on the travel menu!

Wake N Bake, 114 Princess St., Wilmington, N.C. (There’s also a location in Carolina Beach, N.C., at 1401 North Lake Park Boulevard, Suite 46.)


Foodie Travels: Best We Ate in 2017

Best We Ate 2017

2017 has taken us to more than half of America’s 50 states with more than 8,000 miles on the road, which means we’ve enjoyed a lengthy list of amazing #FoodieScore Travels experiences. In this second annual “Best We Ate” edition, we’ll share a few of our favorite food finds from this year. We must tell you that many of these picks were tough, and several categories were almost impossible to select! We’ve noted a few runners up where possible, and you’ll have to stick with #FoodieScore throughout the new year to learn about the rest.


Cattlemen's Steakhouse

Matthew – Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, Oklahoma City, Okla. – This 100-year-old steakhouse is commonly ranked among America’s best, and we now know why. The steaks are flavorful, juicy and come from beef in the adjacent National Stockyards. But this great meal doesn’t end with the meat. The fresh salad with a special house-made dressing, the soft and savory dinner rolls, a filling and delightfully topped baked potato, a creamy baked macaroni and cheese, and the fresh and fruity blackberry cobbler all played a role in this being the greatest meal I ate in 2017. Perhaps the greatest course of all: The check didn’t break the bank after dinner! HONORABLE MENTION: Dinner, The Dillard House, Dillard, Ga.

Tuna Tacos

Molly – Webb Custom Kitchen, Gastonia, N.C. – Every time I tried to decide on the best meal of 2017 – which was a Herculean mental effort, mind you – I couldn’t get Webb Custom Kitchen out of my head. Not least in my mind were the incredible array of options from the beginning of a meal – the Duck Cigars I picked as my favorite appetizer of the year – to the end – the multi-layer chocolate mousse cake that melted in our mouths. But first in my mind was a dish with such delicious, fresh flavor and texture that it truly made Webb Custom Kitchen rocket to the top of my list: the Raw Ahi Tuna Tacos. I’m a fish taco person anyway, but rarely eat anything that isn’t fully cooked. Yet the sound and description of these on the menu made me take a chance, and I am so glad I did. The rich tuna flavor, the firm, steak-like texture and the fresh toppings all nestled in a soft, light flour tortilla = fish taco perfection. So much so that I have wanted to get them again ever since.


Kim's Kitchen

Matthew – Kim’s Kitchen, Stanley, N.C. – I grew up eating Kim’s Kitchen cheeseburgers and even had them delivered to other cities and states in which I lived, so I was saddened in 2013 when Kim’s closed. Fast forward to April 2017. That’s when Kim’s reopened under its longtime management, and the cheeseburger I loved so much in my youth returned. You won’t find a better burger with fresher meat, meltier cheese and a softer, hearty bun than Kim’s, and I didn’t all year. HONORABLE MENTION: Smoke Stack, Montana Ale Works, Bozeman, Montana


Molly – Breaded Burger, Snappy Lunch, Mt. Airy, N.C. – A breaded burger might sound like an odd option for best burger of the year, and we certainly did have some amazing options for this title. But something about this homemade, hometown burger just really hit the spot for me. The soft, slightly crispy breading as you take a bite of the burger is just pure Southern comfort. Kitchens across the South in America in former generations made plenty of unique burger creations during the Depression era, in order to save on and stretch the hamburger meat. The method of adding bread to it is one my great-grandmother, Banny, passed down to my mother, who passed it down to me. Banny’s method is a bit different than Snappy Lunch’s, but both result in a simply delicious burger. Maybe that’s why it made my Best Burger of 2017.


Snappy Lunch

Matthew – Pork Chop Sandwich, Snappy Lunch, Mt. Airy, N.C. – Being the unofficial “state sandwich” carries a lot of pressure! The famed Pork Chop Sandwich at Snappy Lunch in Mt. Airy absolutely lives up to the heralded billing. It all starts with a milky-sweet fried pork chop that’s topped with a flavor explosion of zingy chili and cool coleslaw. Just as the restaurant name says, you’ll get it snappy, and you’ll get it cheap.


Molly – Half and Half, Shake Shop, Cherryville, N.C. – I hadn’t been to Shake Shop in years, though it is a famous institution in my hometown of Cherryville. When we went this year, which was Matthew’s first visit!, I got one of my classic picks: a half and half. The sandwich carries different names everywhere you go, but the description is simple: a long, hoagie-style bun with a cheeseburger on one side and a ham sandwich on the other. For me, you can’t get much more satisfaction than going back and forth between a melty, salty ham and cheese sandwich, to a hearty, cheese-covered burger, both topped with slaw and tomato, of course. And Shake Shop does both sides right.


Garage on Beck

Matthew – Mormon Funeral Potatoes, Garage on Beck, Salt Lake City, Utah – Outside of Utah, you won’t find many Mormon Funeral Potatoes, so you have to make such an experience count. Garage on Beck’s dish is like a crispy jalapeno hash brown hushpuppy. They’re so expansive you could make them your meal. Accent on COULD. Don’t miss everything else Garage on Beck has to offer, including the funky ambiance that’s part biker bar and part outdoor brunch.


Molly – Duck Cigars, Webb Custom Kitchen, Gastonia, N.C. – What a delightful, egg-roll experience Webb Custom Kitchen’s Duck Cigars are. Not only are they perfectly fried in a crispy spring roll shell and perfectly filled with a surprisingly delicious duck confit, they are accompanied by three impeccable sauces, including a house-made soy sauce. Try them all, repeatedly, and you won’t regret it!



Matthew – Cinnamon Roll, Lulu’s Bakery & Cafe, San Antonio, Texas – This cinnamon roll is 3 pounds. Do I need to tell you more? If so, it’s made of fresh-baked bread, delicious cinnamon spices and a rich icing that remarkably stay fresh for almost a week. We know because we ate a few bites with our meal and then took the rest on the road. After enjoying bites in San Antonio, Dallas and Oklahoma City, I think we finished it all somewhere near Little Rock, Ark. It was delicious to the last ounce. HONORABLE MENTION: Pie Flight, Baked Pie Company, Asheville, North Carolina


Molly – Reese’s Donut, Wake N Bake Donuts, Wilmington, N.C. – Luck was with us in Wilmington as we strolled down a quiet street, just happening to pass a donut shop we hadn’t previously heard of. This is highly unusual for us well-researched foodies, but Wake N Bake was a highly unusual, phenomenal find. The donuts in the window lured us in and let me just say, we were glad to be caught by this donut shop! My favorite was the Reese’s donut, with a creamy, whipped peanut butter filling, chocolate icing, and a Reese’s cup on top. (Top left in the photo above.) There was no wrong way to eat this Reese’s. HONORABLE MENTION: Key Lime Cheesecake, Mayworth Public House, Cramerton, North Carolina 



Matthew – HenDough, Hendersonville, N.C. – Get it all, and savor every bite! But certainly don’t miss the fried chicken biscuit, the biscuit with cheese and local bacon and eggs, the doughnuts, the smoked gouda macaroni and cheese, the sweet potato salad, or the locally made Dynamite Roasting coffee. HenDough also gets points for atmosphere, with its seating inside and outside of a house converted into a restaurant. HONORABLE MENTION: Breakfast Menu, Causeway Cafe, Wilmington, N.C.


Molly – BLET (Bacon, Lettuce, Egg & Tomato), Brunch, Peace-N-Hominy Q Shack, Belmont, N.C. – What a Southern combination Peace-N-Hominy has put together in this BLET! The bacon is thick and crispy; the tomato is fresh and the lettuce has that fresh crunch; the egg is fried (or cooked any way you want it) to perfection; the bread is so buttery-toasted; and the cheese is – this is where the OMG comes in – pimento cheese. This sandwich is everything you need and nothing more. HONORABLE MENTION: Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit, Hamrick’s Country Store & Grill, Cleveland County, North Carolina


Shirley Mae's

Matthew – Shirley Mae’s Cafe, Louisville, Ky. – You’re family when you eat at Shirley Mae’s, even on your first visit. Isn’t that the definition of soul food? This place serves up the best pinto beans Molly has ever eaten. The fried chicken wings are meaty and crispy. The macaroni and cheese is creamy and filling. And don’t get me started on the hot-water cornbread wrapped and kept warm by a foil blanket in its own little cup. You’ll wish Shirley Mae’s was in your town, and you’re in luck, if you live in Louisville.

Molly – Shirley Mae’s Cafe, Louisville, Ky. – The best soul food places serve Kool-Aid. Shirley Mae’s is one of the best, and I got grape. How good and how pleasant it is for food to be accompanied by Kool-Aid! Not only that, Shirley Mae’s gave me one of my favorite food items period on our 6,000+ mile road trip this summer: the pinto beans. Flavored with real pork, these pintos were the star of my meal, which also included delicious fried tilapia. Don’t miss this place if you ever go through Louisville!


Chico's Tacos

Matthew – Chico’s Tacos, El Paso, Texas – We enjoy an array of Mexican food each year. It’s one of our favorite cuisines, so you’d think this would be a difficult choice. It’s not. Chico’s was by far the most authentic Mexican food experience I’ve ever had, not because of the type of food but because of the delivery and the clientele. Sitting just a couple of miles from the Mexico border, Chico’s serves up a boat of rolled-corn, beef-filled, taquito-style tacos that you won’t find at any other taco shop. They’re cheap, so eat up! HONORABLE MENTION: Lunch Buffet, El Pinto, Albuquerque, New Mexico


Molly – Puffy Tacos, Ray’s Drive Inn, San Antonio, Texas – Ray’s Drive Inn’s Puffy Tacos are the stuff of legend – literally, they are credited with inventing the “Puffy Taco.” What is it? A soft, puffy (because the word just fits), fluffy, thick taco filled with the absolute freshest ingredients – lettuce, tomato, and any meat you want, including fish, beef, carne guisada, or chicken, just to name a few. To give you a good idea of what they’re like, here’s an analogy: these Puffy Tacos are to Taco Bell chalupas as a rack of Memphis’ restaurant Charlie Rendezvous’ Ribs are to a McDonald’s McRib. It’s the original, high-end, mouthwatering version that you’ve got to have, even if you can’t have it all the time. (Although, if we lived in San Antonio, I would!)



Matthew – Cristina Pizza, Moon Pie Pizza, Pasta & Bakery, Dillard, Ga. – We don’t eat pizza out very often, so when we do it’s a testament to how promising a pizzeria’s menu looks. Similarly, there are few pizza shops we reference in our household as memorable, because we hold a great pizza in high regard more than just something to be scarfed down like a Ninja Turtle would. (To be inclusive and to show you we’re not crazy here, we hold great pasta and stromboli in high regard as well, so Italian isn’t just pizza to us, but it’s a big part of the Southern food experience when it comes to Italian cuisine. Molly actually worked as a server at an Italian restaurant in Cherryville, N.C., for a while, and pizza wasn’t close to her favorite menu item there.) So it means something big to us when we enjoy a pizza enough to include it in this list. Moon Pie’s pizza dough was soft yet crackly from the oven, the cheese was ooey gooey perfect, and the prosciutto, spinach, mushrooms and truffle oil on top were both fresh and completely complementary. Delizioso!

we have the meats

Molly – Meat Lover Pizza, Portofino, Gastonia, N.C. – Portofino’s has been a favorite Italian spot of mine for years, less due to its proximity in nearby Gastonia, and more due to the satisfaction its rich, authentic dishes bring during every meal there. I have never been disappointed at Portofino’s and their pizza is truly to die for, hearty and full-flavored. This year, we got, for the first time, the Meat Lover Pizza. Matthew doesn’t typically love all-meat pizzas, but with the inclusion of Italian meatballs, he was all for it. If you’re near Gastonia and in need of a pizza, skip all the national chain spots and go straight here. I know you won’t be disappointed either!


Arthur Bryant's

Matthew – Burnt Ends, Arthur Bryant’s BBQ, Kansas City, Mo. – I’ve eaten a lot of barbecue throughout the Southern United States (and I ate more great barbecue in 2017 than any year ever before), but I’ve never had barbecue like this, quite literally. Kansas City is known for its burnt ends the way Texas is known for its brisket and the Carolinas are known for pulled pork. Arthur Bryant’s offered a delicious first experience with burnt ends, which were almost like a combination rib-brisket bite, covered in a barbecue sauce that was more tomatoey than I’ve ever had. And my plate of burnt ends came with pieces of plain white sandwich bread (just the way I like getting my barbecue) and a load of hand-cut fries. It was a true #FoodieScore! HONORABLE MENTION: Pulled Pork Plate, Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, Charleston, South Carolina


Molly – BBQ Chicken with White Sauce, Saw’s BBQ, Birmingham, Ala. – Oh, white barbecue sauce, how I love you! Could any barbecue sauce be more perfect than one with a mayonnaise base? My answer to that is now a definitive no. There are many sauces in the world, but Saw’s BBQ’s white sauce is the quintessential, unique sauce for me, and it goes perfectly on a roast chicken sandwich with a pickle, which is how I first tried it at Saw’s in Alabama. If you’ve never heard of it, or simply haven’t tried it, maybe this year is your time to be adventurous! If you can’t make it to Alabama, you can order white sauce in a bottle, as I did this year for Matthew, so we could include it on our own dishes at home. I can’t wait!

Homemade Yeast Doughnuts


Earlier this year, we tested a doughnut recipe in the #FoodieScore kitchen that allowed us to make the sweet treats without using yeast. The result was a flavorful doughnut we enjoyed and shared with you. But the doughnuts from that batch became much heavier as they sat for a day or two, and I found myself wanting a lighter, airier doughnut that could last a bit longer. After all, we shared some of the doughnuts with family, but we still had plenty to eat ourselves and could only eat so many at a time, within reason.

So, I searched for a yeast doughnuts recipe, hoping the inclusion of yeast would produce a lighter result and thinking such an ingredient might take a little more work to prepare. Both of those expectations were accurate with the recipe I selected. Molly did most of the preparation on these doughnuts, which required the incorporation, settling and rising of yeast, and the frying. The process did take more time and effort, but the recipe did produce a slightly airier doughnut.


However, after a few days, the doughnuts still became a bit heavier and drier than when first made. So, I have a hypothesis about this and all doughnut recipes: They’re meant to make and enjoy right away. From our doughnut tests, we’ve learned there’s a reason why doughnut shops make their treats and sell them fresh on the day of production. A doughnut just isn’t as good after a few days. That also tells me something about those packages of Krispy Kreme and other doughnuts you see on the shelves in grocery and convenience stores. What kind of preservatives must they contain to help them maintain flavor and texture longer?


This recipe linked here was provided by Ree Drummond, known as the Pioneer Woman, for the Food Network. It’s a solid set of ingredients and instructions, and we thoroughly enjoyed the resulting doughnuts. We also enjoyed getting creative with our decorations and toppings, leaving holes in some doughnuts and filling them with creams, icing others and adding drizzles, sprinkles, bacon and more. But most of all, we suggest that you use any doughnut recipe with plans to eat your tasty creations within just a couple of days. You’ll enjoy them more that way.

Foodie Travels: HenDough, Hendersonville, N.C.


If you enjoy locally sourced food that’s served in creative ways at an affordable price inside a welcoming house (and who wouldn’t?!), then you’ll love HenDough, a phenomenal-yet-simple culinary experience in downtown Hendersonville.

We recently discovered HenDough—located inside a beautiful two-story house with bright, modern accents—during a visit to nearby Flat Rock to explore the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. Just check out what we ordered for a weekend brunch:

Fried Chicken Biscuit

Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit

Sweet Potato Salad with Bacon

Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese

Nutella Crunch Donut

Lemon Blueberry Donut

16-Ounce Locally Roasted Coffee


We enjoyed every part of our feast and, since we were so full, we actually took both donuts and half of each biscuit with us to enjoy later, as well as a second cup of coffee.

The biscuits were HUGE, buttery and wonderfully crumbly. The plump fried chicken was tender, perfectly breaded and had just the right amount of meat inside and crunch outside. The thick bacon crunched with a glorious seasoned flavor, paired with warm and filling egg and cheese.


HenDough’s side options give you a tough choice. We went with our top two, and we loved the creative use of sweet potatoes in potato salad with crunchy bacon and a mustard-mayo-tasting sauce, as well as the rich and cheesy mac.

Dynamite Roasting coffee, from nearby Black Mountain, is featured at HenDough in a serve-yourself setup. On the day we visited, choices included HenDough, Ethiopian, Mexican and decaf blends, and you can add whole milk, half and half, syrup, sugar and other ingredients at the counter. Dynamite is just one of many local outfits that partner with HenDough, including farms, bakeries, creameries and more.


This Foodie Travels find is definitely worth your time and money—each person can eat for about $10, as we did, even adding a doughnut to a biscuit and side. There’s a pretty good parking lot out back. And it’s in a great location to pair with a hike, downtown shopping or other adventure before or after you eat.


HenDough Chicken & Donuts

532 Kanuga Road, Hendersonville, N.C.

Simply Sweet Homemade Doughnuts


I’ve been craving doughnuts lately. Several local doughnut shops have fed my desire for sweet, fried dough, but I’ve been wanting to try to make our own doughnuts at home. The new CBS comedy “Superior Donuts,” a show about a longtime Chicago doughnut maker and his innovative new assistant, has further fueled my intense yearning to create our own baked treats at home. But I didn’t want to deal with a complicated or time-consuming recipe. After all, I’m not much of a baker. Molly fills that role in our house.

So I went online searching for doughnut recipes. Many use yeast, and I didn’t want to go that route. Others use shortening, and I’m not a fan of working with that ingredient. It’s more the consistency I have an issue with. (Though Molly’s biscuits are delicious!)

After some browsing, I finally found a recipe on, a recipe search site, that seemed to meet my criteria of simple ingredients, easy process. We tried it out on a weeknight, and I’ll just say that we were extremely pleased with the results. You’ll have to read our comments below the recipe to get the full verdict!


1 cup milk

1 cup sugar

2 ½ tbsp butter

3 eggs

5 cups all-purpose flour

4 tsp baking powder

1 ½ tsp salt

¼ tsp cinnamon

Cooking oil (your choice of kind)



  1. In a medium or large mixing bowl combine sugar and butter. Blend in eggs. Add milk and mix all together.
  2. In another large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
  3. Gradually add liquid mixture to flour mixture, beating vigorously. (It is possible to hand-mix/beat with a whisk or large spoon, but it is probably easiest to use a mechanical mixer.)
  4. Flour a work surface generously. Knead mixed dough on surface and add flour to all sides to keep from sticking.
  5. Roll out dough about ¼ inch thick.
  6. Use a solid-edge cup or other circular item (we used a solid plastic drinking cup) to cut out doughnuts. Be sure to flour the edge of the cutting surface to keep from sticking. Use a small utensil (we used an apple corer) to cut out holes in the middle of doughnut, if desired.
  7. Fry in deep, hot oil, beginning at a medium-high heat on stovetop. We used a large pot for frying. And we used a metal slotted spoon to slide doughnuts easily into the hot oil.
  8. When doughnuts rise to top, turn only once. We used kitchen tongs to turn and remove the doughnuts from the oil.
  9. Drain doughnuts on absorbent paper.
  10. You can top these doughnuts with powdered sugar, make a glaze, cover in a chocolate sauce or spread, or enjoy them plain.

Yield: We got 22 doughnuts out of this recipe, sized by the cup we used to cut out the dough.


Molly’s Take: Warm, fluffy, soft doughnuts with a hint of sweetness and a hearty helping of old-fashioned flavor. Matthew has been dying to make doughnuts at home, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to make this homemade recipe! It does take prep and time, but the end result is a truly delicious, homemade confection well worth the wait. I covered half my first doughnut with powdered sugar, and the other half with Nutella. I don’t need to tell you how amazing this combination was. Mm!

Matthew’s Take: These doughnuts only took about an hour total to make, from gathering the ingredients in our kitchen to mixing the dough to frying and cooling. In addition to the simplicity, the recipe creates a soft, slightly sweet doughnut that I would describe as a cross between a solid cake doughnut and an “old-fashioned” doughnut. The recipe doesn’t produce a light Krispy Kreme-type confection for all you KK-only fans out there, but it’s a delicious doughnut. I’d be curious to see how slightly modifying the recipe would impact the flavor and the consistency. But, honestly, for a first batch, these turned out amazing, and as Molly said, our house smelled like a doughnut factory!