Downtown's Caffe Phoenix to close July 31
June 19, 2012By Liz Biro
Late Caffe Phoenix owner, Roy Clifton, believed a restaurant should honor its posted hours no matter what.
That in mind, Clifton’s wife, Ann-Marie, and the Caffe Phoenix staff are planning a full schedule in the weeks before the 22-year-old restaurant closes July 31.
“I would love for the final month to be a great month,” Ann-Marie Clifton said. “So come out and enjoy yourself … that’s what he wanted.”
Thirty-plus-year downtown restaurant veteran Roy Clifton died May 28 after at battle with lung cancer.
A tough economy and much downtown restaurant competition convinced the Cliftons earlier this year to shutter Caffe Phoenix in September if it did not sell before then. Ann-Marie Clifton hastened the date after her husband’s passing, although the restaurant remains for sale.
“It was Roy’s baby,” she said of the business, not only a downtown landmark but a restaurant credited with helping to revitalize the area when Caffe Phoenix opened in 1989 at a location two blocks from its current address.
For years, and through various owners, “Phoenix,” as locals call it, was a go-to restaurant and a celebrity hot spot. Even after Roy Clifton in 2010 moved the shop from its original 9 S. Front St. spot to 35 N. Front St., stars still stopped by, most recently Robert Downey Jr. and Virginia Madsen.
Two longtime Phoenix cooks will staff the kitchen during the restaurant’s final months.
Wilmingtonians Carson Jewell and Alex Morgan have worked at Caffe Phoenix for nearly a decade. Now and then, each left briefly, Morgan last year for a stint at well-know chef Charlie Palmer’s District Meats, now named Charlie Palmer’s District Tavern, in Denver, Colo.
The pair will focus on Phoenix favorites, such as the linguini, spinach and prosciutto dish named Spinaci con Prosciutto, as well as the Jewell’s newer, seasonal, Southern-learning dishes featuring local ingredients, including smoked pork chops, peach soup with honey whipped goat cheese and Jewell’s grandmother’s cast-iron skillet cornbread.
A special dinner is in the works for the restaurant’s final service, which might host three seatings and will include special drink prices.
“Every single thing will be cheap. It will be interesting food,” Jewell said. “I’ll make sure it’s a worthwhile night for everybody.”
Following Caffe Phoenix’s closing, Ann-Marie Clifton plans to continue volunteer work for various charitable organizations.
Jewell, a chef, guitarist, singer and surfer, will head to Peru to cook, play music and surf. When he returns to Wilmington in January, he and Morgan plan to begin work on developing their own restaurant.