Dining al fresco this time of year is what I consider one of life’s simple pleasures. It’s the season where we bid a fond adieu to heat, bugs and humidity and welcome more comfortable temperatures.
Mother Nature has cooperated with us deck denizens these past few weeks, allowing us to savor the last remnants of coatless comfort, while digging into whatever fall flavors feed our fancy.
For some, those flavors included Carolina-inspired cuisine thanks to Wes Stepp, who operates a Red Sky Café in Duck, North Carolina, and decided this spring to bring the concept to the Midstate.
Visitors to the Hampden Terminal Complex at 444 Carlisle Pike will notice landscaping improvements that include flowers, greenspace, a pond and an attractive boardwalk that leads to the side entrance of the restaurant.
Guests can choose to relax on one of two patios during nicer weather, or opt instead for inside seating, which offers the best of both worlds. Oversized garage doors remain up when weather permits, successfully bringing a bit of the outside in and adding to the airiness of the room.
The area along the back wall features a wood bar with a corrugated aluminum façade and red, backless chairs where patrons can perch. Two mounted televisions provide entertainment while mixologists do their thing with booze that customers provide (the cafe is BYOB). A menu lists a range of “mocktail” options from sangria, to berry mojitos, blueberry lemon coolers and Moscow mules.
Customers can also choose from comfy bench seating that lines the walls, or opt to take a seat in any of the red aluminum chairs that are paired with the wooden tables.
It didn’t take us long to peruse the manageable lunch menu, which lists about a half-dozen starters like sweet and smoky wings, Carolina crab dip and the popular “Dirty South Cheese Fries” hand cut and served with pimento cheese au gratin, Applewood bacon, guacamole and sour cream.
A selection of four salads include Caprese and Caesar, and for those with heartier appetites, there are sandwiches like the Carolina Cuban, a Brewhouse Cheesesteak, a Build-Your-Own Burger and a North Carolina Pulled Pork BBQ. Additional menu items included ribs, a chicken quesadilla and “Southern Parm,” comprised of panko chicken breast, mac and cheese, tomato gravy, mozzarella and garlic crostini. A “blue water burrito” served with fresh fish and Pico de Gallo is also popular, along with a build-your-own taco.
More recently, Chef Stepp has teamed up with Trimline to offer light fare for those watching their waistlines. The item on the menu is listed as “Tastefully Fit Build Your Own” and offers customers a choice of protein like chicken, fish, shrimp or beef, along with brown rice, black beans and corn relish.
It didn’t take long for our meals to hit the table, and within 15 minutes, we were digging into our orders. I opted for the “Tastefully Fit Build Your Own,” with chicken ($14), which was to be accompanied by brown rice, but instead was served with jasmine rice. “We change it out every now and again,” said the waitress with a smile. I especially enjoyed the corn relish, and for a light entrée, it was very filling.
My companion was quite pleased with his Carolina Cuban ($11). The house-roasted pork BBQ served with swiss cheese, “horsey cream” and a fried dill pickle was creamy, savory and crunchy, and he declared it non-standard, but “oh so good.” The small portion of potato salad and chips served on the side left him wanting more.
After we finished, the waitress presented the house made desserts, which included tiramisu, a dense and delicious looking peanut butter chocolate cake and several varieties of cheesecake.
If you’d like to experience the taste of North Carolina without leaving Pennsylvania, Red Sky Café is open from Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Up Next: Dinner at TJ Rockwells in Mechanicsburg