Comfort Food

Sundae Horn

Jason’s Restaurant brings back local favorite recipes from bygone days.

Hello, old friend.
Hello, old friend.

In the mid-90’s I was a regular at the Café Atlantic’s Sunday brunch, where my go-to order was Huevos Rancheros, a delicious and restorative concoction of eggs, black beans, cheese, salsa, and avocado served in a deep-friend taco shell bowl. The Café stopped serving brunch years before owners Bob and Ruth Toth retired and even stopped serving dinner in 2013, and I’ve mourned for brunch and pined for Huevos Rancheros ever since. 

I’m not the only one.

Last Wednesday, Jason’s Restaurant brought back Café-style Huevos Rancheros for a lunch special, and sold out in a little over an hour.

“It was a successful special,” said our server, Waitron-5000. “It brought in a lot of business and we sold all twenty-nine of the specials.”

A few weeks ago, co-owner Jason Wells explained, he was “bored one night and contemplating the fall season and how to drum up business” so he did what any business owner would do in this modern age – he took to social media.

“I posted on my personal Facebook page and asked ‘What’s a dish from a restaurant that has closed that you would love to have again?’ and the thread exploded with over a hundred comments asking for recipes from the Pelican, Café Atlantic, Capt. Ben’s, even turtle soup and recipes from before I was born. Anything from the 1950’s to the present day,” he said.

Ocracoke eaters are passionate about their favorite dishes. Prime rib at Capt. Ben’s, hush puppies at the Pony, spicy green beans from Cat Ridge Deli, Café crab cakes, the black bean casserole from the Back Porch (even extant restaurants can have extinct menu items)….we can, and will, go on and on about food we et and enjoyed – and still crave. Jason hit a nerve with his Facebook request and was overwhelmed with the response. Lucky for me, Huevos Rancheros got several mentions, and Jason chose it for his first wayback Wednesday time machine lunch special. I can't say it made me feel twenty-something again (sigh), but the taste was everything I remember. 

Ocracoke resident Leslie Monticone was there with a sample of Lovely Ladies from their weekly Lovely Ladies Lunch ensemble. They usually do lunch on Saturdays, making their way around the island eateries spreading the LLL love, but they made an exception for the Heuvos Ranchero special and turned out on a weekday.  “It’s a fabulous idea, so much fun to have something to look forward to,” Leslie said. She also put in a request for the Jason’s clam strips special to make a comeback.

Jason Wells of Jason's
Jason Wells of Jason's

At another table was Joelle LeBlanc, who came out for the special and brought friends and family. “Choo Chee shrimp!” she requested with enthusiasm. A Cat Ridge Deli (owned by Tim Fields and located inside Albert Styron’s Store back in the day) favorite, Jason plans to serve it up soon with spicy collards on the side.

Last throwback Thursday, he revived the grilled bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with jalapeno cream cheese appetizer from the Pelican Restaurant, circa mid-90’s, “the Sid Mueller years,” though the credit for the recipe goes to chef Lisa Caricofe. The shrimp special was gone within an hour. Nostalgia sells.

Jason is happy with the “smashing success” of his idea. “To me, my regular menu is very stale,” he said. “And all summer we did the same rotation of specials. I wanted something different and I wanted to reconnect with our local following now that summer is over.”

The golden oldie specials will be an off-season treat for locals and visitors. “Heuvos Rancheros is labor-intensive; I couldn’t do it in mad chaos of summer,” Jason explained. He plans to offer a vintage special at least once a week “for the foreseeable future.”

What’s coming up? Fettucine Nemo is on the horizon – it’s a shrimp, scallop, and crab Alfredo dish that brings back fond memories for Capt. Ben’s former customers. Jason has contacted Ben Mugford for that recipe and Capt. Ben’s Maryland crab soup as well. “I like reaching out to the old restaurant owners,” Jason said. “It’s a courtesy to talk to them and they’ve been positive about it.”

Jason knows the chefs well, and has cooked many of these dishes before. Years ago, he paid his dues in the kitchens of the Café Atlantic, Capt. Ben’s, and the Pelican. The restaurant business is in his blood; Ben is his uncle, and the original Pelican and original Back Porch were both opened by Jason’s dad and stepmom, John Ivey Wells and Debbie Wells. It was no surprise when he opened his own restaurant in 2000 with his business partner, Jimmy Bowen. 

Jason is open to requests for upcoming specials. If you have something in mind, let him know, but – “No guarantees,” Jason said. “I’m going to pick things I like.”

Follow Jason's Restaurant on Facebook to get news of the daily specials (I am also partial to Calzone Mondays; Sushi Tuesdays also have a big local following.) Jason promises that the Heuvos Rancheros will make another appearance, so if you missed it, don't worry!

Friday, September 22nd will feature Capt. Ben's Maryland Crab Soup!



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