I’ve come to believe that al fresco dining is the Rosetta Stone of the local restaurant industry. Put a few seats under the stars and an establishment will become an instant success. Thus, there was a good deal of hand-wringing in the foodie community when Mixto closed its doors for renovation last fall. Now it has opened again, re-imagined as a second location for Bald Head Island’s Delphina Cantina.
Delphina Dos (get it?) boasts “authentic Spanish cuisine,” with some Mexican and Cuban flair, as opposed to the more heavily Mexican and Argentinan menu of its predecessor. However, for a menu heavy with nachos, quesadillas, and tacos, the difference is not clear immediately. Still, the food remains pretty good, and there always will be a market for tables with a view on the downtown riverwalk.
Opening with the grilled island chicken and shrimp, I admit to having no idea what constitutes “island chicken” but the skewers are quite tasty. Skewered chicken sounds simpler than it is. Often dry and tough, it can be a surprisingly tricky test for a kitchen. Delphina Dos manages this dish nicely. With just the right touch of char on the edges and mild seasoning, the chicken tastes moist and delicious. Impressively, the shrimp maintains its firm texture. That may not sound like much, but I assure you it is a remarkable feat of timing. Folks shouldn’t miss the pineapple remoulade on the side either. The cool, acidic bite of the fruit cut by the mayo makes a nice counterpoint to the briny shellfish.
The carnitas verde (“green pork”) comes as a fried pork burrito served with cilantro, onions, and a salsa of roasted tomatillos and chipolte. Topped with pepper jack cheese and served with the ubiquitous black beans and rice on the side, the dish is an instant classic. The pork itself is a masterpiece, fried crispy on the outside, with the oil keeping the inside juicy. Rich and flavorful, it is given a spicy finish by the salsa. I’m a sucker for anything with chipolte; the smoky pepper is an all-time favorite. And no one ever can go wrong with grilled onions.
But here is where I must take exception to the changes made by Delphina Dos. Mixto became long known as a great haven for vegetarians. My inquiries at Delphina Dos fails. Almost everything gets cooked in chicken stock, it seems. Conflicting answers arise with the beans; one server says they’re vegetarian while another claims they are cooked with pork. I can’t vouch for the beans either way, but the rice is definitely not vegetarian.
While my gushing language about fried pork suggests I’m not one to worry about vegetarian offerings, I still hate to see an establishment make hard turn away from its former audience. Good herbivorous items aren’t easy to come by in this town.
The churrasco—marinated skirt steak with chimichurri and plantains—comes with meat-laden beans and rice. It tastes even better than what I expected. A request for rare temperature transformed into a beautiful Pittsburgh rare (heated to a high temperature quickly, so it is charred on the outside and red inside). The smoky charcoal and bright meat, accented by garlicky chimichurri, tastes quite good. And grilled plantains are a rare treat.
The peach carlotta, a dessert with which I was unfamiliar, ends any meal here rather lovely. Lightly layered cake with syrupy peaches makes for a refreshing after-dinner treat. I might ask for a lighter hand with the whipped cream next time, which transforms the dessert more heavily than need be. Otherwise, it gets a thumbs-up.
The interior has not undergone a massive reconstruction. The bar is in the same place and looks largely the same. The biggest change is the absence of the giant Dia de los Muertos paintings. I may be in the minority on this, but I say good riddance. I had nothing against the paintings per se, but they were hardly appetizing.
I’d like to suggest for diners to pay attention to the innovative drinks. I might have overdone it on the blackberry margaritas, but how can anyone pass-up such a combination? The berry sweetness mixed with the viciously tart tequila makes for quite a blend of flavors. I’m glad to see that Delphina Dos is joining in the craft cocktail tradition of using fresh ingredients instead of a lot of store-bought stuff. Keeping a bar stocked with homemade simple syrup may be a nuisance, but I think it’s worth the irritation.
Delphina Dos deserves a look, but I do implore management to make a vegetarian-friendly change. There’s no reason an herbivore should be unable to order a bowl of rice in a Spanish restaurant. Otherwise, I do recommend taking the opportunity to sample Delphina without having to take a ferry to do it.
5 S. Water Street
Mon. – Sat.: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Sun.: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.