Freshness is key ingredient at Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café

Published 12:20 pm Monday, July 18, 2022

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To taste the best, it must be fresh.

That could easy be the mantra for Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café in Nags Head, where staff may pull ingredients right out of the ground just outside the kitchen before putting it onto a customer’s plate.

Their tradition of keeping things as fresh as possible has helped them establish a reputation as a delightful place to dine along the Outer Banks.

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Caroline Basnight explains it’s all about sourcing the freshest vegetables, seafood and more every day. Her late father Marc set the bar high in 1995 when they first opened the doors to this soundfront restaurant located on the Nags Head-Manteo causeway.

Farm Fresh Produce

“I feel like we use the freshest North Carolina produce available in the state,” she said. “It comes right out of the ground to us, it’s not on an 18-wheeler for two weeks.”

Many times, Caroline noted, the food used for dinners was harvested the day before.

“Typically, we’re going to farms to bring in produce in the mornings,” she said. “We travel out to Butch Farms in Faison.” They also use Nixon Farm in Franklinville and Ronald Lee in Dunn, Caroline added.

“We buy a lot from him, but they don’t bring it out,” she said. “Hatties Produce of Edenton, they do bring it to us.”

Bounty of the Sea

As for fresh seafood, it finds its way to the restaurant daily. They also pick up from fish houses in Wanchese such as Fresh Catch.

“Fishermen in the afternoons bring it to our backdoor,” she said. “Everything is as fresh as can be – it may have been swimming just two or three hours before.”

And they strive to serve the best fish this region has to offer – tuna, mahi, sword, wahoo, cobia and sea bass. They also locally source tile, flounder, rockfish and red drum from area fishermen.

Caroline says after it comes aboard the boat, it goes right on ice and then it’s transferred by pickup truck for delivery to her. Once at the restaurant, they have a fish cleaning building out back adjacent to a greenhouse and soundside gardens.

She adds that they get the best oysters and clams from multiple area watermen from locations including Ocracoke and Engelhard, “depending on who is catching.” For shrimp, N-Seine Seafood out of Stumpy Point comes to Caroline’s mind quickly.

Homegrown vegetables

Visitors to Basnight’s Lone Cedar will see one of the larger gardens as they access the building around the east side from the parking area. Look for tall sunflowers to bloom soon. “They were dad’s favorite.”

There are gardens and plantings that wrap all the way westward around the entire soundside back yard.

They are each protected by barriers created from upcycled items such as oyster shells and empty wine bottles held in place by wire fencing. According to Ron Kneasal, longtime chef and catering coordinator, these were also part of the grand plan.

“Mr. Marc did all of this,” he said. “It’s blocking the wind and salt from hammering everything.”

Kneasal works with Susan Peel, executive chef and the pair keep busy year-round. The operation is quite the sight to see. There’s a recycled, weathered cypress tree that provides a home for a family of osprey who hang out in their nest and cry loudly at times.

Caroline said Marc got the tree dead and had it installed in the sound behind the café. It offers a great focal point for sunset photos. “People love it!” she said.

And there’s more behind Basnight’s.

We grow a lot of things here onsite behind the restaurant,” Caroline said. “We have two employees that do nothing but garden.”

They grow vegetables, herbs and garnishes, really anything that goes on the plate, Caroline said. A few specialty items include cherry tomatoes, whole beans and okra. They have composting areas with tumblers for garden scraps such as carrot tops to feed the gardens and water cisterns used to water them.

Sustaining the vision

“It’s a big production out there,” she said. “My dad had the vision.”

“He would tell our gardeners and show them what’s going where,” Caroline said. “Still to this day, we do exactly that.”

Gardener Wyatt Smith agrees.

“I worked really closely with him,” he said. “This garden was his baby.”

And then Smith points to plants near a back wall.

“Those are moon flowers and only bloom at night,” he said. “They’re for patio parties.”

In between making decisions and directing staff what to do, Caroline sums up the operation with ease.

“It’s fascinating, we’re a big establishment, short on help in some areas, but making sure we’re still doing the same thing,” Caroline said.

“Only local fresh Outer Banks seafood,” she noted. “And we grow all we can on site.”