Having a gourmet restaurant as our next door neighbor is quite nice. The restaurant, combined with their very successful catering business, is the vision that Chef Wes Stepp had when he first opened his doors 12 years ago. “I wanted to give people really creative food, in a casual atmosphere that focused on fresh North Carolina products,” said Wes.
There is a real flair to Wes’ preparation, but he never seems to lose sight of what the food means to his guests. Fresh, coastal and an innovative approach to preparing southern cuisine is what brought folks to his restaurant and the consistency keeps them coming back.
One of his signature dishes, shrimp and grits, is as southern and as memorable as it gets. The dish has all the classic southern elements but it’s brought up four to five notches and features jumbo shrimp, applewood smoked bacon and a tomato cream sauce with a bit of Cajun kick, all served over redneck risotto.
Seating in the café accommodates 60 to 70 diners and it features an open kitchen behind the bar, which adds to the open and casual appeal of the restaurant. They serve lunch and dinner, and lunchtime can get really busy, especially during the height of the summer season. Prices are reasonable, given the quality of the preparation, and most items are priced between $9 and $12.
Favorites vary depending on who you ask. Everything is good, well excellent, actually. The burgers are amazing, and there are creative daily specials and a kid’s menu. However, Wes’ understanding of how to prepare seafood takes it to a new level, and he enjoys preparing entrees around the fresh catch of the day.
As the Cafe’s reputation has grown, some of the things Wes felt were important to fine dining have become a part of the way the restaurant takes care of its customers. “I always wanted to give Duck visitors gourmet menus to go,” he says, “and then I discovered they would rather have me come to them to prepare meals.” His personal chef service, “Chefs on Call,” was born from this realization.
“I’ve prepared meals for two for Mrs. Fields of Mrs. Fields Cookies and meals for groups of twenty-five,” he says. For guests, having a team arrive at your home to prepare a gourmet meal is a wonderful change of pace. “You don’t have to fight the crowds because we take care of everything.”
Wes originally studied psychology at Marshall, but time spent on the Outer Banks for over 25 years most often included restaurant work starting at Kelly’s Outer Banks Tavern. “I’m self-taught, and I started at Kelly’s, which is one of the best experiences I could have had.”
The original ideas that drove him to open his own restaurant are still there, but he is always developing new and innovative methods. “My career has evolved,” is how he describes it. Over the past few years, he’s gotten into personal fitness and with that evolved a strong commitment to healthy food preparation. “Tastefully Fit” menu items focus on fresh, whole foods, and there are always one to two of these meals incorporated into his lunch and dinner menus. He’s also a bit of a TV personality thanks to regularly featured cooking segments on WAVY TV 10 out of Hampton Roads.
Even as things evolve, there will always be certain aspects of his business model that remain constant. The casual atmosphere, the attention to detail in preparation, and one more thing-the way the food looks. “My mantra is the first taste is always taken with your eyes.” We couldn’t agree more!