Chef Wes Stepp of Red Sky Café greeted me with two questions: “Are you hungry?” and, “Do you like seafood?”
Yes and yes, I replied.
He smiled broadly and disappeared into the kitchen. He returned quickly with North Carolina Crab Cake—what he called, “red-neck risotto.” North Carolina shrimp and a rounded crab cake sat atop a mound of seasoned, creamy grits. Spicy Sriracha sauce rimmed the plate. I yummed through mouthful after mouthful, telling myself to slow down.
“Southern contemporary,” Stepp explained.
Red Sky Café—named after the sunsets and the rehashed saying, “Red sky at night, gourmet’s delight”— expanded to Camp Hill in November, parked inside the former Sun Motor Cars dealership along the Carlisle Pike. You can find it attached to the newly opened Ever Grain Brewing Co., which converted the former dealership’s customer service window into an ordering window.
“We’re two separate businesses connected at the hip,” Stepp said.
In February, the café opened its fully functioning dining space, complete with an extended menu and specialty cocktails. A garage door situated along the café wall can be raised on a beautiful day to bring in fresh air, giving the dining space an al fresco feel.
Stepp guided me toward a spacious private dining area with space that comfortably sits 60 people. Business partner and catering manager Katie Kennedy decorated the row of tables for the evening’s dinner and beer pairing event.
“We have a full house,” Stepp said proudly.
Stepp, a self-taught chef with more than 25 years of experience, has been in this business since age 13. He cooked his way through college.
“I started out doing dishes, then picked up summer jobs in the Outer Banks [North Carolina], cooking in restaurants,” he said. “I moved up from fry guy to executive chef.”
In 2002, he bought his own restaurant, the Red Sky Café in Duck, N.C. The Camp Hill location is his second.
Business partner, Mike Kennedy, convinced Stepp to bring his cooking north. Kennedy has been a good friend and regular customer of the original location for 10 years. He invited Stepp up to central PA in October last year. After the two talked awhile, Kennedy said, “Wes, just open a restaurant here. People will love your food.”
I certainly did. Other customers have packed the dining area for events such as “Taste of the Beach Tuesdays” and “Tastefully Fit Seminars.”
Stepp said Red Sky Café in Duck is known as a premiere caterer in North Carolina, booking weddings, private parties and corporate events.
With a general manager running his place in Duck, Stepp is bringing a piece of his Red Sky to our backyard. The original restaurant provides fresh, local cuisine to its Outer Banks patrons. The Camp Hill location has a twist. The goal is to fuse North Carolina fresh seafood with classic central PA pork and beef.
“Inlands meets outskirts,” Stepp said.
I asked if he was hesitant to move up north.
He shook his head.
“I have a lot of faith in Mike, in his friendship and in his vision,” he said. “I’m excited about how I’ve been received and in how people have treated me.”
The fear of Pennsylvania winters didn’t scare away the West Virginia native.
“I’m familiar with northern winters,” he said. “I’m a big outdoorsman.”
And, as a sometimes-bodybuilder, Stepp also has a passion for fitness.
“One of my goals is helping use food as part of a healthy lifestyle,” he said.
Years ago, he “was challenged” to take part in a bodybuilding contest, he said.
“That’s when I learned about nutrition. In those 12 weeks, I journaled all my food, recipe’d it out, and came up with a cookbook.”
His book, “Tastefully Fit,” covers exercise, active living and clean eating.
“Clean eating is eating foods as close as they appear in nature,” he said. “When people get off processed food, their energy level goes way up.”
He plans to expand the health and wellness programs offered at his restaurant. Currently, he offers “Tastefully Fit” seminars and cooking demonstrations.
“I’d like to offer ‘Tastefully Fit To-Go,’ where I supply people with good food and develop recipes based on what they like to eat, packaged in a cooler and ready to go,” he said.
He also hinted at another recipe book in the works.
“I see Red Sky Café having a bigger part in special events and retreats,” he said. “I’m not sure where it’s all going to go, but I’m doing what’s possible. The gratification is in serving people, even when things go wrong, as long as it appears flawless at the end.”
Red Sky Café is located at 4444 Carlisle Pike, Camp Hill. For more information call 717-525-9722 or visit the Facebook page.