Start with a cocktail shaker. Add Jimmy Buffett three limes, a mermaid, jerk seasoning, and a scoop of truffle mac ‘n’ cheese. Shake well, and indulge in The Felix Café.
When this tropical-themed joint popped up on encore’s radar at the end of last year, I added it to my list and didn’t give it much thought. It was December, after all. Four months later, I realized this modest grub-hub has been putting out an almost entirely made-from-scratch, locally sourced menu. Oh—and they have a tiki bar in the back.
Face, meet palm.
Although I was unaware that The Felix Café was putting out fresh eats and fruity drinks, the Sunset Park spot has been snagging up loyal followers since they first swung open their screen door. After a quick glimpse into Felix’s Yelp page, I learned they are slammed on the weekends and even the lunch crowd packs a punch.
Thanks to a scenic coastal backdrop, Wilmington’s businesses are known for pushing out paradise vibes. The difference in The Felix Café verses wannabe-beach-bars: high-quality homemade cuisine, unique specials, and jazz with Benny Hill on Thursdays. For downtowners on the hunt for a Carolina Beach feel without the 40-minute drive—welcome to a new favorite sippin’ shack.
The décor roars Rayburn (“Bloodline,” anyone?), which means a Florida feel with an emphasis on The Keys. But it’s not all margaritas and Kenny Chesney songs. Felix gives a solid nod to the craft-brew crowd with quality East Coast choices, like Virginia’s Devil’s Backbone, North Cackalack’s Mother Earth, and everyone’s hoppy fave-of-the-moment: Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Tropical IPA. As I was pretending to be on vacation, I opted for Florida Beer Company’s Key West Sunset Ale. This citrusy amber lager turned out to be an exceptional match for my laid-back mood and more importantly for Felix’s jerk chicken.
I took a seat at the cozy bar, which stared straight into the open kitchen. The owner, Felix, was literally preparing food inches in front of my face—clearly, a man comfortable with the concept of transparency. I polled the friendly patron to my left (an apparent regular) on the lunch selections and he suggested the jerk chicken wrap. Felix assured me the spice wasn’t overbearing, and something told me he wouldn’t steer me wrong. The wrap starred juicy, seasoned chicken, grassy cilantro-infused rice, corn salsa, and ranch with a kick. As promised, the chicken had a gentle Jamaican spice and was mighty tender. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by the hand-cut fries, as many restaurants in the area cut their spuds from scratch. These potatoes, however, had a steak fry-esque feel, which set them apart from the crowd.
For my next edible adventure, Felix assured me the Monte Cristo was one of their best-sellers. I typically can’t take more than a few bites of these decadent, French-inspired, deep-fried sandwiches—but, oh well, YOLO. The massive meal arrived in front of me in a cloud of powdered sugar. The puffy brown sourdough squares were drizzled with a glowing zigzag of raspberry preserves and stuffed with thinly sliced ham, smoky Gouda and Swiss cheeses.
Come on, did any of that sound bad? Didn’t think so.
And then came the big decision: which side? Truffle mac ‘n’ cheese, please! Another house specialty, Felix’s mac features fusilli noodles drenched in a tangy cheese sauce that made me want to do the funky chicken. The truffle flavor was subtle, but still offered a twang of musk and earthiness. The cheeses were sharp and pungent, like a combination of Pecorino Romano and Lady Gaga—most definitely not a bad romance.
My body was starting to unravel. I needed something green. Luckily Felix offers a “5-bite salad” which is, in my opinion, the perfect culinary balance to two sandwiches, French fries, and a side order of macaroni and cheese. The veggies were fresh and crunchy, and the ranch, made-in-house of course, had a hint of garlic and buttermilk.
My server mentioned the burger was another popular dish, but that the slider trio was prepared with the same ground ribeye. First up was “The Port”—a smoky combo of Applewood bacon and salty blue cheese. Next was “The Islander,” whose garnish included a sugary pineapple ring and crunchy red cabbage slaw. Last up was “The Tiki,” with smoked cheddar and ‘shrooms. To each his own on the toppings, but “The Islander” hit the homerun (pineapples scream paradise!). The meat was tender, thoughtfully seasoned, and cooked to perfection (not easy to do with petite patties). Also, fluffy buns galore.
And as Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake!” So, get the fusion coconut cake. This signature star closed down the Felix show and sent me into Food Comaland. It held up to its guarantee of being uber creamy and light-as-air. The slice was generous with lush sections of vanilla-y frosting and liberal shavings of coconut flakes.
In essence, grab those flip flops and a summer squad. It’s tiki bar or bust!