Blue Surf Café
By BRIDGET CALLAHAN Photos by JAMES STEFIUK
250 Racine Dr., Suite 1
Tucked away on Racine Drive, nestled between shopping centers and college kids’ apartments, there’s a quiet little restaurant that deserves a second look. Blue Surf Café started out as a second location for Carolina Beach’s Surf House, but branched out on its own a year and a half ago. Since then, it’s become a go-to destination for local lunch-breakers, and the secret crush of dinner patrons in the know.
It’s not hard to see where the name comes from. Jeremy Lozito, the general manager of Blue Surf, could be picked out as a surfer in any crowd, from his bright, blue eyes to his long hair neatly tied up in a bun. Blue Surf is the baby of Lozito and his head chef, John Webb, both local boys. Lozito grew up in Hampstead, and after attending ECU, has spent his career in restaurants. Webb also attended ECU, then graduated from the Cape Fear Community College culinary program. Both have also been with the restaurant since its days as Surf House, but are relishing this new opportunity to do things their way.
The food concept is “California style with an East Coast influence,” Lozito explains. “It’s healthier fare, lighter fare. A lot of thought is given to the balance between sweet and hot, sweet and salty. We slow cook our pork shoulders, we braise our brisket, so it’s got this kind of down home feel as well as a California vibe.”
The same thing could be said about the dining room décor, which is primarily blues and whites with golden, blonde wood tables and bright blackboard menus. The room is wide open, but has been expertly designed to give the feel of separate rooms, lending the place an air of intimacy no matter where you sit. Diners can also choose to sit outside in the cozy, canvas-sheltered patio.
The day I visited was an unusually warm and sunny December day, and several groups were taking advantage of the patio to enjoy the sunshine and their sandwiches. A little Jack Russell terrier was expectantly doing tricks to try and beg a bite. A mother and her college-age daughter sat off to the side talking quietly. A few men in work shirts were gobbling down burgers on their lunch breaks. The girl at the counter when I came in was immediately as warm and bright as the day outside. Everyone seemed to be in really good mood for December. To Lozito, that kind of relaxed atmosphere is paramount.
“I’ve got a great staff, and they’re very genuine, which is key to repeat customers. I tell all our staff to treat this like their home, treat each customer like a guest in your home. Be relaxed, and talk to people like you would talk to anyone else. I think that goes a long way.”
Like the décor, the menu is simple, clear, and bright. “We decided that instead of being spread out, we’d narrow our focus and just be deep with it,” Lozito says.
Breakfast is served until noon each day and all day Sunday, and the menu carefully straddles dishes both disciplined (yogurt parfait) and decadent (banana buttermilk waffles). The lunch menu, which is served until 5pm, includes popular starters like their Surf Chips, crispy potato chips covered in savory toppings like parmesan and lime or pimento cheese, and smoked salmon mousse served with olives and cucumbers. There are a few inventive salad options—the spinach salad comes with the usual suspects of goat cheese and almonds, but also adds sweet potato and tomato vinaigrette instead of the standard raspberry. The sandwiches and burgers are really the stars though.
Lozito’s personal favorite is the meatloaf sandwich (a sentiment echoed by the hostess), which comes with sriracha mayo, house-made ketchup, bacon, cheddar, red onion, and arugula on a soft brioche roll. Even though I’d been advised it’s definitely the signature sandwich, I opt instead to have the BBQ Pork, which comes with house-made, Texas-style sauce on that aforementioned 12-hour roasted pork shoulder, and pineapple-jalapeno slaw. Blue Surf Café actually won best barbecue sauce at this year’s Trey Herring Carolina Bourbon & BBQ Derby, part of the Wilmington Food and Wine Festival, and it was well deserved. The sauce is sweet, but not heavy. The pineapple slaw is perfect on it, and the crunch of the peppers goes a long way.
The dinner menu changes seasonally, and the star this winter is a Pork Pot Pie. It’s essentially a cassoulet, with pork, sausage, ham, and a ton of veggies all topped with puffed pastry, and served with braised greens.
“The braised greens give it a Southern feel. It’s kale, but it’s cooked in vinegar, and it’s got sugar, so it’s got that sweet and sour you’re looking for in your greens,” Lozito explains.
Those looking for something a little less heavy can opt for the cheese board—a collection of goat cheese, a chef's selection cheese, fresh grapes, house-made jalapeño relish, and Carolina prosciutto ham—or the Sweet Potato Curry Noodles. The two dishes that stay the same every season are the Mojo Pork, served with mango salsa and jalapeno corn bread, and that famous Beef Brisket.
“The beef brisket is definitely my favorite dinnertime option,” Lozito says. “It’s a big eight-ounce portion of braised beef with a jalapeno chimichurri served over roasted potatoes and roasted asparagus. It’s got this great heat and the brisket is literally just falling apart tender.”
And if you still have room for dessert?
“Our signature item in the winter is our hot chocolate; we offer seven different flavors. It’s made with Valhrona chocolate, which is about the same price per pound as filet mignon, and each individual hot chocolate is made to order, per cup. If five people order dessert, at least three of them get hot chocolates,” Lozito says. Better get there soon then, because winter will be over before you know it.