Sunflowers Cafe has been around for several years now, operating out of the old Hardee’s facility on Peace Street that had been vacant for several years in the early 2000′s. Sunflowers started out serving lunch – primarily sandwiches – for the downtown crowd. Sunflowers has branched out into dinner. I was very familiar with the lunch menu, and I recently had the chance to check out its dinner.
Sunflowers has always been quirky. At first, it only accepted cash. Sunflowers now takes credit cards but only for dinner. The sandwich production line does not have the corporate assembly line feel of Subway or Jersey Mike’s; Sunflowers has more of a free-for-all process. There is usually a long line at peak lunch hours, and that speaks as much for the organization as for the sandwiches. This is where Sunflowers is nearly peerless; it serves some of the best sandwiches in Raleigh.
Sunflowers has a large one page lunch menu. Vegetarian sandwiches are on one side; meat sandwiches are on the other. The Sonny (avocado on sunflower bread with romaine, tomatoes, ranch dressing, and havarti cheese) is a great all-round vegetarian sandwich. There’s a nice crunch from the lettuce and a good flavor from the cheese and dressing. The Avocado Pesto Melt (avocado, pesto mayonnaise, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and red onions on sunflower bread, grilled) is similar, but warm and, with the addition of some red onions and pesto, has more bite. I am also partial to the Arabian Grilled Cheese (Swiss and provolone cheeses, tomatoes, onions, mayonnaise, and house mustard on pita). Unfortunately, it comes in a disappointingly small pita pocket. On the meat slide, the Chicken Salad (with pecans and grapes) and the Reuben are very good.
I have tried Sunflowers at lunch dozens of times over the past few years, and have always been impressed with the freshness of the ingredients and the consistency of their excellent sandwiches. The quirkiness that I mentioned earlier carries over into dinner, which I tried recently for the first time.
The dinner menu was heavy on the Mexican options. I tried to order chorizo. No luck: out of chorizo. I ordered the pork-pulled tacos, which came with rice on the side. No luck again: out of rice. The waiter asked if I’d mind if they substituted orzo. I went with that. The food came promptly enough, but not before a distinct burning smell came from the kitchen.
I addition to the pork-pulled tacos, I was able to try the grilled scallops, which came with honey-dew avocado salsa, pickled red onion, and Mexican cornbread. As usually, everything was fresh and well seasoned. The scallops were excellent. The two pork-pulled tacos were very tasty but disappointingly small. (The Arabian Grilled Cheese all over again.)
As much Sunflowers has a real identity with its sandwiches, it has lost its way a little bit at dinner. The quality is still there, and I can recommend it, but I could not help thinking that I had other options for Mexican.