By Russ Lay | Outer Banks Voice on August 3, 2019
Quick. Name some varieties of food that tend to form the theme of a restaurant.
You might have thought of food groups such as pizza, burgers, steak, pasta or even salads.
Or perhaps ethnic and regional foods came to mind—Italian, Tex-Mex, Asian fusion, Japanese or Caribbean.
But it’s a safe bet that pimento cheese wasn’t among your Top 10 choices.
Welcome to The Far Out Bistro & Bar, which opened quietly this year, And the reviews so far are overwhelmingly positive.
We’re not talking about an eatery that serves only pimento cheese, nor is their take anything close to the mass-produced store-bought version you learned to pass up when rolling your cart down the grocery store aisle.
Located in the unassuming Chesley Mall strip center along Highway 64 in Manteo, visitors and locals unfamiliar with the locale might well drive by without noticing its presence. Roanoke Island residents know the shopping center well as it houses the island’s oldest and largest grocery store—Food-A-Rama.
And it turns out Food-A-Rama played a key role in the birth of the Far Out Bistro. In fact, the ‘Far’ in the name is composed of the first letter of each word in ‘Food-A–Rama’.
Brandon Leavel, grandson of Cheseley ‘Buddy’ Midgett, Jr, Food-A-Rama’s founder, is the co-owner and founder of Far Out Bistro & Bar along with Jeff Luthman and Leavel’s wife, Lillie, who manages the restaurant and is the person most likely to be seen greeting customers and supervising the actual floor operations.
And how does pimento cheese fit it?
As Leavel explains, “It started out with one of my duties at Food-A-Rama. We’re entering our 61st year and almost every member of the Chesley family has worked at the store. I still work there full time managing it with my mother Jackie and brother, Dylan.
Sadly, Leavel’s father Scott, who was a contractor and helped build the restaurant, passed away before it was completed.
“One of my jobs was making tub salads for the deli—potato, macaroni, and pimento cheese. The pimento cheese came from the distributor in a box with shredded cheese, mayonnaise and pimentos that I mixed together. The distributor quit carrying it, so I decided to make it myself, “ Leavel adds.
At this point, Leavel explains why his recipe is worth trying.
“I never liked mayo-based pimento cheese, so I came up with my own recipe that uses cream cheese as a base and in addition to the standard offering, I added another version flavored with jalapeno. The stuff flew off the shelves and it came to me that I could make some money at this!” Leavel explained.
His experience in the grocery business taught him that branding and logos are important to the success of any product, so he consulted with a high school friend, Brooke Scarborough, a partner at Outer Banks Media, and they came up with a name and a logo.
And, each ‘flavor’ of the cheese has its own logo that includes a unique, stylized face that creates a personality for that particular flavor. Far Out Foods, which is the trade name for the pimento cheese was born.
Leavel began to sign up stores and restaurants for wholesale accounts and soon outgrew the Food-A-Rama space used to make and package the product.
As luck would have it, a unit opened up at Chesley Mall and Far Out Foods moved into new digs. At this juncture Leavel needed to take on a full partner as he still holds down the fulltime job at Food-A-Rama and that’s when Jeff Luthman joined as a co-owner.
When he turned 23, Luthman decided to move here permanently and like many local restaurateurs, he worked stints at a number of Outer Banks establishments, gaining experience in many aspects of restaurant operations.
He left the industry to work as a mortgage lender, but soon returned to the food industry and jumped at the chance to co-own the Far Out Bistro.
Brandon’s wife, Lillie completes the team. Lillie’s grandfather, Capt. Buddy Cannady, was a well-known and respected charter boat captain and boatbuilder, cementing the new restaurant’s native roots. Lillie has extensive restaurant experience and manages the day-to-day activities including supervising and training the staff.
But what about the food?
This writer was skeptical about a restaurant where pimento cheese was the star. I’ve never cared for the stuff in its grocery store form and much of what I sampled at church picnics and the like was an unpleasant mix of cheese and mayo, which to my palate was too long on mayonnaise and mass-produced cheese and much too light on flavor.
But Far Out’s version is nothing like those chain store monstrosities.
Upon entering the restaurant, patrons are provided a small sampler which will always include the ‘Southern original” and the jalapeno versions. On the day I visited, there was also smoky chipotle bacon and a flavor of the month.
My advice is to just order the full-sized appetizer which includes four flavors.
The cream cheese allows the primary cheese to shine through, but provides the medium to make the cheese spreadable yet consistent enough to pile onto a pita chip with ease.
But the best aspect of this style of pimento cheese is how it melts to create incredible menu items.
It’s perfect on a pizza accented by a tasty pesto sauce and topping ground beef sliders the Fiery Jalapeno and Chipotle Bacon rocked the house. The third slider contained a rich onion jam that was another sensational flavor combination.
Three Mac Bowls ($10-$14) offer different styles from Cajun to Blue Crab, but the basic Pimento Bowl lets you choose your own pimento cheese with crispy pork belly’s and gruyere mac and cheese rounding out the dish.
There’s also pulled pork pimento cheese nachos ($9.50 half-size, $15 full size), chicken pimento cheese quesadilla’s ($10) and a grilled pimento cheese sandwich and soup ($10).
The daily specials and the menu contain non-cheesy offerings such as blackened shrimp tacos, a ‘Big Butt BBQ Sammy’ ($12.50) ‘That Jive Turkey’ ($13) with freshly sliced oven-roasted turkey with a cranberry relish and a gravy aioli topped with gruyere and well as grilled chicken and local seafood that show up as daily specials.
I’ve sampled the pulled pork, sliders, and fish tacos and haven’t yet been disappointed. In fact, I found them all to exceed my expectations and that the portions and prices provide value. As for the pimento cheese, I was sold at first bite!
The décor fits the name, with wall coverings featuring album covers, movie, TV shows and photos displayed in a ‘Far Out’ retro fashion reminiscent of the ’60s and 70’s decades, including the mandatory peace signs and psychedelia.
A small bar downstairs features a handful of sets for solo diners as well as what Brandon describes as the largest craft beer selection on Roanoke Island (cans and draft). The draft beer focuses on regional craft beers.
Upstairs in a loft-style setting invites larger groups to dine at tables with a wait staff taking orders and offering menu suggestions.
The Far Out Bistro has a local vibe that visitors who wish to mingle with the locals will find friendly and inviting.
And trust me, if you’ve never liked pimento cheese you owe it to yourself to give this specialty another chance.
Hours are Monday-Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 9 p.m. (closed Sunday’s).
Takeout is available and menus and online available can be accessed at their website: https://www.faroutfoodsobx.com/location/far-out-foods/
The exact location for those using a maps program is 216 U.S. 64, Manteo, N.C.
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