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

IMG_3836

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.

IMG_3838

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.

IMG_3840

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.

IMG_3843

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.)

IMG_3839

Foodie Travels: Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn, Wilmington, N.C.

IMG_3893

We live in the age of digital marketing, a place and time in which companies sneakily obtain our personal information and then use it to lure us into buying their products or services. Even many of the old-fashioned billboards we pass on highways have been converted to digital boards that rotate, attempting to appeal to our culture’s tendency to move on quickly to the next newest and greatest thing.

So it might surprise some people that, for one, bumper stickers still exist, and two, they can still be a valuable tool for attracting customers such as me and my wife Molly to a restaurant. That was the case during a recent late-summer weekend getaway to the North Carolina coast. Over the course of two days, we noted a number of “Eat at Flaming Amy’s” bumper stickers on the backs of vehicles driving through the Wilmington, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach communities. We’d already visited other restaurants on our list for the weekend and still had a dinner destination to be determined, so we decided to listen to the bumpers calling, like colorful little subliminal messages, and visit the Flaming Amy’s website menu to learn more.

At that point, you might say we entered phase two of the marketing process. The bumper stickers caught our attention enough to seek more information. When we did that and learned of all of the delicious American-Mexican treats awaiting us, we quickly decided Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn was definitely the place to have dinner, meaning the restaurant’s whole tactic worked.

The Flaming Amy’s website touts the brand as hot, fast, cheap and easy. Let’s put that four-promise list to a quick test based on our visit. The meal only set us back about $20 for the two of us, which included two GIANT, specialized burritos, house-made tortilla chips and an included salsa bar with at least a dozen choices, two refillable drinks, and really no need for a tip because we paid at the counter and then visited the drink counter and salsa bar to serve ourselves. So cheap and easy checked out well. The burritos were steaming hot and clearly freshly rolled for us when they came out of the kitchen in less than 10 minutes, so hot and fast check out, too. Four promises were made, and all were kept, meaning the bumper sticker scheme felt more like a godsend than a gimmick.

IMG_3886

But Flaming Amy’s goes well beyond its simple promises. The restaurant’s burritos are packed with a TON (OK, so not literally a ton, but what might qualify in a human’s ability to eat a serving of food as a culinary ton) of fresh ingredients. I ordered a “Wok on the Beach,” a cleverly named concoction of shrimp, rice, broccoli and carrots that are like taking a Japanese stir-fry and using it to fill a massive tortilla. The burrito came with a side of chips, and I enjoyed dipping those in about nine different kinds of salsa from a salsa bar with even more choices than that. (Molly and I could only carry so many little cups back to the table without making excessive trips.) This place might consider adding the word “plentiful” to its list of promises. And “hip” would be another great choice, as Flaming Amy’s offers a very relaxing atmosphere that’s great for a dinner with the family or a meet-up with friends. We knew we were in for a treat when we reached the front door and it was colorfully covered (and that’s an understatement) with stickers.

IMG_3884

Before heading out those doors, I revisited the ordering counter to pick up my own Flaming Amy’s bumper sticker. While I don’t like attaching stickers to clutter our car’s bumper, I’m still proudly displaying the sticker in the form of this #FoodieScore recommendation, aren’t I? And you don’t have to pass me on the highway to see this advertisement. If you share it, it has the potential to reach an infinite number of people!

To summarize, and to unlock the next level in this great restaurant’s highly successful marketing plan by sharing my experience with other foodies, I’ll close with four more words: Eat at Flaming Amy’s.

Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn, 4002 Oleander Drive, Wilmington, N.C. (location also at 1140-A North Lake Park Boulevard, Carolina Beach, N.C.)

You can also check out Flaming Amy’s Burrito Bowl, with two locations in Wilmington, N.C.