Arriving on Ocracoke Island at dinner time, I popped into Back Porch Restaurant, tucked into the trees on the Back Road, hoping they had room for one. In the middle of summer, there is usually a wait. Somehow, they had space, and I was immediately seated, yes, on the screened back porch, with the fabulous Lulu, who made sure I had everything I needed.
The dark, casual dining room was buzzing with visitors and one particular whiff of savory aromatics and citrusy lime caught my attention as another server passed by with one of the house specialties, local fresh fish prepared with a Vietnamese flair. The catch that evening was bluefish, one of my favorites.
Thirsty, hungry and waning energy, Lulu’s suggestion of a mocktail with fruit juices and lime on the rocks was spot on, refreshing and invigorating. I knew deciding what to eat would be challenging, and the drink kick-started my appetite.
One of my current favorite preparations of locally caught, yellowfin tuna is poke. With origins in Hawaii, this dish is pronounced po-kay. Each chef makes theirs uniquely, so this raw fish preparation has many incarnations. I ordered their version as an appetizer, anxious for their interpretation.
Artfully presented, the dish was simple and respectful of the fish. Tiny cubes of purple-red tuna were tossed simply, with only a hint sesame oil and ginger and plated asymmetrically on rectangular dinnerware with drizzles of wasabi sauce spotted with sesame seeds. The squiggles of sauce heightened both the presentation and the flavor profiles within the dish, while still keeping it ultra simple. A powerful punch of protein, the tuna was buttery and bright. It was definitely just caught, and the enhancements perfectly whispered their tribute.
For my entrée, I had spotted just landed local shrimp on the special board outside the door, so, before even entering the establishment, the squid ink pasta with shrimp, tomatoes and capers was on my mind.
There is no seafood better, to me than just landed, sweet-summer-time shrimp, whether a cellular memory of good times and good meals or an absolute scientific statement. They are the best, and I was ready to do some eatin’.
The pasta dish was just as I had hoped. Topped with crunchy breadcrumbs, this fresh tomato sauced pasta was light, slightly salty from the capers and umami rich from the briefest introduction of the shrimp to the sauce. Cooked to perfection, the shrimp were plump and the edges slightly curled. Neither over-done, nor under-cooked, these fresh, briny shrimp were just right. The linguini was al dente and the summer tomatoes bright. It was just as I had hoped.
Disclaimer: I have eaten many meals here, leaving each time with delicious memories, and it was again comforting to relax and savor this meal, knowing that some things are still the same.
The consistency is a true testimony to the love that owner Daphne Bennick has given to her restaurant for almost 20 years. From the food to the service to her devotion to the community, everything she has created has been from the heart. She knows her stuff, especially her way around fresh local seafood and has had a devoted following since she acquired the location in 1998. A regional and oft quoted food expert, her plates are all cravable, as her annually returning guests dutifully testify. The team of folks she has working with her vibe the same way, and you feel it, both in the service and the food.
The Back Porch also has a sidekick, the Lunchbox, in case you are too busy scooting around on the golf cart to stop for a meal at a table. The Lunchbox offers fresh sandwiches, home-baked goods, smoothies, snacks and cold drinks. You just bring the picnic basket, and then hit the beach until sunset.
An elegant dinner or a deliciously sustaining snack, when on Ocracoke, these good folks will make sure you have everything you need.
Amy Gaw is a food entrepreneur who has eaten, cooked and written about food on the Outer Banks and surrounding areas for more than three decades. A clean food advocate with a focus on local seafood, Gaw is also a salt maker and the founder of Outer Banks SeaSalt.