Big City Flavors on Topsail Island: Secrets of an Award-Winning Chef

Big City Flavors on Topsail Island: Secrets of an Award-Winning Chef | Ward Realty

Topsail Island might be small, but we have several businesses that are comparable to those found in much larger cities. The Bistro at Topsail is just one example of an excellent local establishment that offers that perfect mix of small-town service and big city, cosmopolitan vibe. 

We had the distinct honor of speaking with Chef Bud Taylor (owner of The Bistro), and he tells us a little more about why he chose Topsail Island for his restaurant. If you want to read about more our wonderful local restaurants, check out this blog. It's absolutely full of choices that will help you eat like a local. 

Please enjoy this wonderful interview with Chef Bud! Bon appetit! 

Chef Bud Taylor, The Bistro at Topsail | Ward Realty

Photo credit:  Stacey Sprenz, Tabletop Media Group

Ward Realty's Interview with Chef Bud Taylor, "The Bistro at Topsail"

Q.  Why have you chosen the Topsail Island area for your restaurant? Weren’t you tempted to move to a larger city?

A.  I was born and raised in this area (Turkey Creek, about 15 minutes from Topsail). I left for college and lived in a few other places, but I wanted to return home where my family still lives. I worked at Blackbeard's Restaurant (where Daddy Mac’s is now located) when I was 19.  When I returned to the area and decided that opening a restaurant was what I wanted to do, I felt that there was a lack of high-end dining options here. Rather than go to Wilmington or another large city, I wanted to stay close to home, in the area that I love.

Q.  Describe your version of 'southern cuisine'.

A.  I enjoy taking traditional southern ingredients and combining them with surprising ingredients to create new versions of traditional dishes ... a delicious fusion of traditional and modern dishes.

What does 'Farm to Table' mean to you and your diners? It's a very trendy term right now. 

A.  Growing up in the rural south, everyone had a garden. When we got home from school, Mom would send us out to the garden to pick dinner. Every gardener had their specialties; one might be butterbeans, one tomatoes, or one squash. It was typical to trade off what you had grown with your neighbors so you could round out your pantry. This is how I’ve always eaten and I thought this was how everyone ate. 

When I went off to college and started living in other areas, I found out that wasn’t true. Here at the Bistro we work with 15-20 farms, all located within about 40 miles of the restaurant. We also grow some of our own produce. The meals I prepare go back to my roots of ‘picking your dinner’. 

It may be trendy to use the term ‘Farm to Table’, but at The Bistro, it’s just the way we do it.

The Bistro at Topsail | Ward Realty

Photo credit:  Stacey Sprenz, Tabletop Media Group

The Bistro at Topsail | Ward Realty

Q.  What are your personal favorite dishes to prepare for others in the restaurant.

A.  Grits are one of the simplest dishes, but you can do so much with them. It’s my mission to get everyone from the North to like grits.

Q.  What is your favorite dish to make at home?

A.  My wife is also a trained chef. So we like to experiment with foods that are different than what I prepare at work. 

Sometimes an interesting spice or ingredient will inspire me and will find its way into a future dish at the Bistro.

Q.  Do you have other favorite dishes or restaurants in the local area?

A.  Two of our go-to places are in Wilmington:  PinPoint Restaurant and Catch. We are friends with the owners and always enjoy our meals there. 

Photo credit:  Stacey Sprenz, Tabletop Media Group

Q.  I'd like to know about the various awards you have won and why they are important. What do they symbolize to a Chef / restaurant and what do these awards mean to your diners?


  • The James Beard Foundations Blended Burger Project (2017)
  • NCRLA Best Chef North Carolina Finalist (2017)
  • “Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator Magazine for 4 consecutive years
  •  “Best Bourbon Bar in America” nod from the American Bourbon Association
  • Open Table's "Top 100 Most Scenic Restaurants in America" (Food & Wine and Forbes magazines)

A.  Being recognized by NC Restaurant and Lodging Association is amazing. It gives you an opportunity to test yourself against your peers, and to see what is new in the industry.

The Best Bourbon Bar in America nod was a total surprise – we received the notification and were just thrilled. 

Participating in a James Beard program (or to receive a James Beard award) is like winning an Emmy for food! 

It demonstrates that you are held in high regard by your peers, and diners can be assured that their meal will be truly special. It’s definitely a bucket list item for a Chef.

We were the first local restaurant to be recognized by Wine Spectator Magazine. When we first started, we had only 7 bottles on our wine list. Now we carry over 200. 

There are only a few thousand restaurants recognized around the world.

The Bistro at Topsail | Ward Realty

Photo credit:  Stacey Sprenz, Tabletop Media Group

The Bistro at Topsail | Ward Realty

Q.  I know that the bourbons and wines are a big part of the dining experience at The Bistro. Why specialize in bourbon? Isn’t that an odd choice for the beach?

A.  We were never going to get into the typical ‘Beachy Drinks’... those neon, bright, frozen concoctions. While those have their place, we wanted to offer simpler, higher-quality options. 

We have several craft cocktails on our menu, but our biggest difference is the bourbon offering we have. 

Years ago, we wanted to do something special during the off season and came up with "Bourbon and Burgers".

When we started out, we carried only 10-12 varieties of bourbon. Going to the local ABC store offered a few more choices, but in order to really create a unique experience we had to special order additional selections. This meant ordering a whole case of each one. We ended up with a lot of bourbon in the back room! 

By offering the bourbon flights (3-5 options to try), we started educating our staff and the public about the nuances of bourbon. Now, folks are seeking out The Bistro as a place for a unique dining experience. 

Photo credit:  Stacey Sprenz, Tabletop Media Group

The biggest compliment came from a gentleman who had heard about The Bistro from a friend who had dined here. He flew all the way from Tennessee to Wilmington, then rented a car to drive to Surf City. After enjoying his meal and bourbon he drove back to Wilmington and flew home to Tennessee. 

You can get bourbon flights anytime, with your choice of any 3.

(When asked how a bourbon novice might select their flight, Chef Bud suggests talking with the wait staff or the bartender and ask for advice. Part of the experience is taking notes on your selections, so you have something to take home with you to guide your future purchases.)

Q.  What's next for the Bistro? 

A.  We have some new collaborations with the James Beard House in New York City (and a few other things that are still a little hush hush). 

One final note... If you’d like an even more leisurely experience, visit the Bistro in the Fall or Winter when its quieter and the staff is unhurried. 

Here is a recipe for Shrimp and Grits, courtesy of Chef Bud Taylor: 

Visit the Bistro:

The Bistro at Topsail | Ward Realty
The Bistro at Topsail | Ward Realty
The Bistro at Topsail | Ward Realty

Photo credits:  Unique Media

The Bistro at Topsail

602 Roland Ave
Surf City, NC

(910) 328-2000



Big City Flavors on Topsail Island: Secrets of an Award-Winning Chef | Ward Realty

eat like a local on Topsail Island

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