I don’t know much about Castle Hayne. I’m a downtowner, so my comfort zone stretches from Front to North 4th street. But here’s what I learned about Castle Hayne last week: Our coastal town just seriously stepped up its food game.
Nestled into the gorgeous riverfront community of River Bluffs (picture Landfall’s mini-me) is Porches Café. In January the restaurant welcomed in members of their luxurious neighborhood—as well as the public—and have been utilizing fresh, organic crops right from their very backyard ever since. I’m not just hashtagging “eat local” here. Thanks to a 10-acre farm that resides on the development, Porches takes full advantage of their bounty and plates straight from their farm to (you guessed it) table. Many modern eateries take a helping hand from native growers, but how often does a place produce the goods themselves?
I was doing cartwheels before I even glanced at a menu.
As of now, the café’s hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Despite having a trendy bar (that I’m sure River Bluffs’ residents would love to stumble home from), Porches offerings are mostly meant for lunch. And, yes, that includes booze. Wine, spirits and a small selection of beer is up for grabs—just don’t roll in after dinner looking to party.
Porches offers a few breakfast items (homemade muffins, scones, etc.), but the majority of the menu boasts sandwiches and salads. With several smoothies available (and the reminder that fruits and veggies are coming from out back), I started my edible adventure by getting my slurp on. The “Green Giant” smoothie had my name all over it, and I needed something to wash down the housemade granola bar. Into the blender went kale, spinach, apples, banana, yogurt, honey, and wheatgrass. With such outrageously fresh ingredients, I was expecting more pizazz, but unfortunately the drink could’ve used more sweetness to mellow out the greens. Porches had all of the right components, but didn’t execute as fruitfully as expected. Had my server given the smoothie the straw-taste-trick, I might have received a more balanced mixture. The granola bar had similar issues in that, while the flavors were present, the crumbliness of the oats made it difficult to eat. A little nut butter might keep it more intact.
Now for the lunchtime lineup.
I decided to try out three sandwiches from different ends of the spectrum. I started with the Mt. Mitchell—a pressed Cuban roll with roasted eggplant, red peppers, Portobello, and briny feta. Though I didn’t pick up on the pepperoncini aioli, all other fillings in this vegetarian creation were smoky, salty and mingled well.
Next up was the Cape Fear. This classic combo of turkey, bacon and avocado, with the addition of chipotle aioli and Swiss, on lightly toasted sourdough was excellent, to say the least. As with practically every menu item, each ingredient was high-quality and every sauce was homemade.
I assumed my third choice of the Southern Staple was a fan-favorite because, well, bacon jam. Thanks to a hearty portion of smoked ham, the unctuous spread was lightly smeared on as to not overpower each pimiento cheesy bite. While I appreciate the idea of pickled okra, I couldn’t get past the texture. Maybe it’s just me, but slimy isn’t a word I want to use to describe a mouthful of food. Other than that snag, all sandwiches were exceptionally well-made.
For sides: I opted for the slaw, house salad and soup of the day. The coleslaw (although visually appealing) was take it or leave it, as the dressing didn’t hold up to the superior nature of the rest of the meal. But the ranch—oh, my ranch! It was a 15-minute drive to Porches, and I would walk back for the ranch. Not only was this herby dressing bursting with fresh dill and garlic, but the simple salad itself was thoughtfully constructed, with sliced cherry tomatoes, shaved red onions, cucumbers, celery, and carrots. The only thing tastier than the ranch was the luxuriously silky local yellow squash bisque. The seasonal soup was garnished with tangy herb goat cheese and each addictive spoonful was buttery and brimming with love. Can’t. Stop. Drooling.
With a garden around the corner, I knew sampling an entrée salad was a must. I respect a restaurant who bases their cuisine on which crops are popping up. I originally planned on the “Beets Me,” but found a similar item on the specials list loaded with in-season produce. This refreshing fusion showcased elegant microgreens (sunflower and pea shoots), candied walnuts, local strawberries, watermelon radishes, shaved fennel, and goat cheese. The salad was dressed in a striking pink strawberry vinaigrette, and I ate the multicolor masterpiece like someone was going to take it away from me. The vivid watermelon radishes—limey green on the outside with stunning crimson flesh—were shaved and slightly peppery, while the strawberries brought a bright burst of sweetness.
No matter where diners reside—downtown, midtown, in Wrightsville Beach, or Ogden—they need to mosey up to Porches before the crowds go wild. Despite a few hiccups, “bravo” is an understatement for this organic gem!