Way back when, my friend Gerry and I were trying to come up with a spot for dinner. He was working through the mental restaurant rolodex of his when he spun out Hayes Barton Cafe & Dessertery (HBC) in Raleigh as an option. But to no avail, we hadn't made reservations and it was already too late, past 7pm. So we put it in our back pocket and prepared for our first visit. I couldn't even imagine that there were many restaurants that would even require a reservation but this place does. My first experience at Hayes Barton Cafe was fantastic across the board and I've gone there at least 8 or 10 times since. It's one of the few places where you want to eat your meal in reverse and start off with dessert! The cakes and pies at Hayes Barton Cafe are that delicious and amazing. But what's even more impressive is that the whole meal and experience is wonderful. You can not go wrong at Hayes Barton Cafe, outside of forgetting to make a reservation or needing to watch your waistline!
What makes HBC a special local gem is its discrete location. At the corner of Fairview and Glenwood in Five Points lies the Hayes Barton Pharmacy. HBC started as a luncheonette area for the pharmacy and its entrance is located on the Fairview side street. You could drive past it a hundred times and not really notice the place. Step inside and you're transported to an old- school, 1940's supper club environs. There's a u-shaped counter where onesy-twosy diners can sit and a handful of four-tops around the room. There's only one slightly larger table for 5 or more people so life is much easier with smaller numbers. Reservations are taken for four or more at 6pm and 7:30pm, Wednesday through Saturday.
The owner and maitre d', Frank, typically greets you at the front, dressed in traditional black-white and a vest. Decor is old-school and World War II, think Andrew Sisters, Glen Miller and Sinatra. You might want to get a preview of dessert at the lit cake counter for the evening's happy ending. Patrons at HBC are typically locals and regulars that visit frequently! While some people have complained about access to tables at HBC, I haven't had any problems. And personally I don't have anything against a bit of favoritism towards regulars who are often critical to a restaurant's financial well-being. Regardless of what happens, the food at HBC is certainly worth the wait.
The menu is not huge, you'll have a choice of a half-dozen appetizers, ten or so entrees and of course, a handful of cakes and pies. And while the menu is a bit pricey, all of HBC's dishes are large, fresh and cooked with care. For starters I'd recommend the MGM mussels or Buster Crabb dip. While the mussels are wonderfully done in a pesto-tomato broth, the real killer here is the crab dip! You get a LARGE plate of home made bagel chips along with a rich and generous bowl of luscious dip. The bagel chips are substantial, basted with butter and toasted. This appetizer alone can feed four or more people and has enough calories for a 26 mile marathon, proceed with caution!
For entrees, HBC has a rotation of regular comfort food choices along with a handful of specials which are typically seafood and/or filet mignon. My most memorable dish was mahi mahi braised over risotto with a barbecue beurre sauce. The mahi was cooked just right along with the risotto and the sauce just put it over the top. Odd combination but it totally worked for me. My chicken potpie was a HUGE crusty pie complete with a baked star on top. The chicken, potatoes, peas and sauce inside was savory and delicately done, you could happily feed a small family off of this meal! The other dishes I've had and seen have all been wonderful across the board. Fresh ingredients, well-prepared and delicious.
Of course after a great appetizer and entree, who can say no to dessert?! I typically can, I know my limitations but not when it comes to HBC. As a first-timer, we ordered a sampler plate with 4 smallish slices of cakes. All of them sound and taste delicious, some popular choices are their tiramisu, almond torte, peanut butter pie and coconut cake. The flavor that really blew me away was a coconut cake with raspberry filling, oh my gosh! Their cakes are just the right density with some moistness and depth. The frosting are equally scrumptious and totally enhance the cake. But this coconut-raspberry combination was out of this world! I remember grazing off that one slice for two or three days. During the time I visited HBC, they had a stellar baker and waitress named Carrie Gephart who has moved on to start her own bakery, Just Crumb. I'm hoping that HBC's desserts have continued on without her, it would be a shame otherwise. One of my measures of a good restaurant is how good the food tastes the day afterwards which is critical at HBC since you'll most likely be bringing food home! And Hayes Barton Cafe passes this test with flying colors in my experience.
Service at the HBC is extremely attentive and professional, they know how to pace your meal properly. Waitstaff are used to crowds and know how to balance service without intruding on the meal. Hayes Barton Cafe has got a small bar but primary drink options fall under the beer and wine domain which is not a problem because you won't need many additional calories on top of the food. So what's there to say about HBC other than that it's a fantastic local find and dishes out great food with love and care. With pies and cakes this good, your entire meal is nearly an appetizer before dessert. And you really can't go wrong here at Hayes Barton Cafe. Show up early or get a reservation and you're guaranteed a wonderfully satisfying and sinfully delicious trip back in time when life and food was simpler!
Hayes Barton Cafe & Dessertery 2000 Fairview Road Raleigh, NC 919.856.8551