July 15, 2017
CASTLE HAYNE — Chef Erin Wiley is bringing her experience from San Francisco’s trendiest kitchens to a farm-to-table experience in Castle Hayne.
For more than two years, Wiley has been at the helm of Porches Cafe. a restaurant at the entrance of the gated River Bluffs development that feels like one of the homes. What began as a soup and sandwich lunch stop with a small general store, quickly morphed into something bigger. Wiley said it was not long after opening when the general store got nixed and Porches made way for more indoor seating.
Wiley, who is six months pregnant, has managed to come up with nightly menu creations that span culinary genres without the use of a stove top or deep fryer. With just half a kitchen, she has found creative ways to make use of changing ingredients from farms and create a fine-dining experience with a griddle, sandwich press and oven. Wiley admits she is creating food unlike other places in Wilmington and managing to check all the boxes — organic, farm-to-table, a changing menu and made-from-scratch recipes.
“I think it’s really made me a better chef, having to figure out how I am going to create fine dining food with this equipment,” said Wiley. “While that’s really a challenge, I think as far as the location we have exceeded expectations.”
Porches has a number of regulars, not only from the neighborhood, but some who drive as far as Leland to dine. The lunch menu has staples that pair nicely with the equipment inside such as pressed sandwiches and fresh salads. But the dinner menu that changes nightly is a culinary feat. Think obscure German dishes, Israeli food, Korean flavors and a number of curry dishes. “We’ve done everything from chicken wings to stuffed quail,” she said.
Brisket sliders, potatoes roasted in truffle oil, duck confit, baby back ribs, heirloom tomato pies and roasted fennel tarts with a house-made dough, herbed ricotta and spiced honey have all made appearances on the menu. Wiley lists a lamb shackshuka — an Israeli street food that is a homemade lamb sausage stuffed with stewed down peppers, onions and tomato and a cracked egg inside that runs out of the sausage — as one of the more off-the-wall creations in the mini kitchen.
But as interesting as the creations can be, the recipes do follow a theme.“I just like comfort food, which for me can be a big bowl of pho or biscuits and gravy,” she said. “Each culture has their own comfort food, and working in San Francisco exposed me to so many different types of cuisine and their comfort foods.”
She worked in the kitchens of Firefly, 1300 on Fillmore and in Foreign Cineman, which Wiley credits as her bootcamp. The menu changed every day. After relocating to the East Coast, Wiley helped open two of Wilmington’s notable farm-to-table establishments, Rx and Pembroke’s.
Eventually Wiley and her husband, Jason Crumpler, also a chef, hope to run their own restaurant. But for now, Wiley hopes the community will continue to embrace the world cuisine she is bringing to the dinner menu at Porches Cafe.
– By Ashley Morris StarNews