The Budget Epicureans Review: Salt Works II

Jeremy Smyczek | Staff Writer


Each week, the Budget Epicureans visit a local restaurant or take-out, searching for quality and value. Bonus points are awarded for healthy eating options.

Most UNCW students find their way to Salt Works II on Wrightsville Avenue without any help. It’s the kind of place that gets handed down from one class to the next mainly by positive word of mouth. It should, although recent forays into high-style cuisine leave a land mine or two on the menu.

Salt Works II was recently renovated as part of a Food Network program, leaving it with a facelift that included a new bar and light fixtures and a new emphasis on fresh food. The additions look good without disrupting the place’s rustic character, but one is left to wonder if anyone was really asking for them in the first place.

Salt works II serves beer and wine, with a few nice draft selections, so depending on the time and mood, a cold draft of Sam Adams can alternate with a bottomless cup of coffee.

The lunch and dinner menus retain most of the Southern barbecue standards from before the changes. Pulled pork, fried fish, hush puppies and greens still dominate, with daily specials heavy on carbs and gravy.

The new food works too, mostly. Frozen and canned items were the main victims of the Food Network purge, and good riddance to them. Hand-battered catfish with country-style mac-and-cheese with a side of cabbage greens succeeded across the board. The hearty and creamy she-crab bisque reminds one of considerably more expensive restaurants.

But some items try much too hard. The shrimp and grits, though presented nicely with chopped parsley, brought an overpowering experience of barely cooked onion. When a menu tinkers that much with a regional standard, it ought to at least warn the customers in advance.

The service at Salt Works II is hit-and-miss. Peak time visits can lead to longish waits for a server, although a recent visit was spot-on.

Is Salt Works II improved by its recent upgrades? Sure, and probably even in a way that will retain its customer base and attract some new faces. But in its attempt to be a little hipper and smarter, one wonders if it hasn’t lost a little bit of its soul.

Cuisine: Southern/barbecue

Price range: $7-$13

Address: 4001 Wrightsville Ave

Wilmington, NC 28403

Contact: (910) 392-1241or

Store hours:

Mon-Sat 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Sun 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.