The Pharmacy Café

By Jenni Hart
Photos by Davies Photography

Surveys of social trends show that what people really love about their neighborhood are attributes like walkability, dining and retail options, and good schools. But the single most important factor is less tangible: a sense of community.

The Pharmacy Café in the Person Street neighborhood may be the ultimate incubator for human connection, with its classic soda shop aesthetic, inspired breakfast and lunch menu, and a centerpiece 18-foot-long community table—home to an impressive collection of games and playing cards.

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It’s safe to say The Pharmacy Café is the only spot in the Triangle where you can cradle braised duck on a baguette in one hand while plunking down a winning UNO card with the other. Of course, you’ll need both hands for a round of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, so better to order a classic milkshake or handcrafted soda. Win or lose, you can ease the pang of nostalgia for that 1970s childhood staple with a taste of the Café Burger (grass-fed beef, pimiento cheese, North Carolina prosciutto, pickles, mixed greens, roasted tomatoes, and mayo on a brioche bun) or the Carteret Catch Shrimp Roll (tossed in a pickled okra remoulade, served with lettuce and tomato).

Chef Patrick Cowden, along with his Green Planet Catering partner Daniel Whittaker, opened The Pharmacy Café two years ago in an area that was heating up with new dining and entertainment spots. Cowden says he and Whittaker saw an opportunity to satisfy early-morning diners, folks who break late for lunch, and everyone in- between. “I wanted to get back to the essence of a neighborhood gathering place,” he says, noting his extensive history with high-profile, large-volume restaurants.

Cowden created the menu for The Pharmacy Café by hewing to his long-held belief of securing fresh, local ingredients and combining them in interesting, imaginative ways. The hearty Uncle Mack’s Biscuit layers country ham, blackberry-honey jam, North Carolina blue cheddar, and a poached egg; the Pedro features house-made chorizo, avocado, egg, habanero cheddar, and ranchero sauce. More than a dozen additional breakfast items ensure there’s something here
for everyone.

Equally enticing lunch offerings include a soup of the day, sandwiches, wraps, salads, and grain bowls, as well as an impressive number of vegetarian choices. Local beers on tap, ice cream floats, and fountain drinks fashioned from custom flavorings—no branded sodas here—round out the beverage side of the menu.   

Hailing from the mountains of western North Carolina, Cowden characterizes his culinary influences as primarily French and Southern. His training at the New England Culinary Institute, which he entered after serving three years as chef de cuisine at Jean Claude’s French Café in North Raleigh (now closed), provided the academic and practical underpinnings for future stints as executive chef at several of the Triangle’s best-known restaurants, including Michael Dean’s, Weathervane Restaurant at Southern Season, and Tobacco Road Sports Cafe.

Two years into this new venture, Cowden says The Pharmacy Café feels like the right place for him at this stage of his career. Neighborhood regulars and enthusiastic newcomers make the place feel like home. “It’s such a simple thing,” he says. “But nothing beats a customer saying that was the best burger they’ve ever had.”  And on days when the line spills out the door at lunchtime, it’s clear that his early plans to “elevate the sandwich” have earned the café lots of fans.

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Sweet Potato & Black-Eyed Peas Cake

Inspired by seasonal produce and both French and Southern flavors and preparation techniques, Chef Cowden created a Sunday Supper recipe for Midtown that layers interesting textures and the rich colors of a North Carolina harvest. As a dish that’s both vegetarian and gluten-free, the Sweet Potato and Black-Eyed Peas Cake offers a refreshing alternative to the heavier fare that Sunday dinners are sometimes known for.

3 medium-sized sweet potatoes
1 cup black-eyed peas, cooked*
1/3 cup red pepper, diced small
1/3 cup red onion, diced small
1/3 cup green onion, sliced
1 cup gluten-free flour**
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp cumin
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp salt


Bake sweet potatoes; cool. Peel and discard skin. Place potatoes in large mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients; mix well. Form into equal-sized cakes and sauté in frying pan with a small amount of olive oil, approximately two minutes on each side.

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Late-Summer Succotash

2 T olive oil
2 tsp fresh garlic, chopped
½ cup onion, diced small
4 ears fresh corn, husks intact
2 cups edamame, shelled
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
¼ cup fresh oregano leaves
1 T fresh sage, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions: Roast corn in 350° oven for 25 minutes. Cool. Shuck; remove any remaining husk and silk; slice kernels off cob. In large sauté pan, cook garlic and onion in olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Add corn, edamame, and grape tomatoes; cook until heated through. Add fresh oregano; season to taste with salt and pepper.

Basic Pickling Juice

4 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
½ cup sugar
¼ cup pickling spice
2 tsp kosher salt

Instructions: Place all ingredients in small saucepot; simmer 15 minutes. Amount is likely to exceed what is needed; any excess may be refrigerated.

Pickled Red Cabbage

2 cups red cabbage, julienned (sliced in long, thin strips)
Pickling juice, as needed

Instructions: Place cabbage in quart jar. Add pickling juice to cover cabbage. Refrigerate overnight.

The Pharmacy Café relies on this method of quick pickling vs. a lengthier canning process. Feel free to experiment with other varieties of fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers, okra, peppers, blueberries, etc. Pickling takes one to two days on average.

Green Tomato Relish

4 medium green tomatoes, diced small
½ cup poblano pepper, diced small
½ cup red pepper, diced small
½ cup red onion, diced small
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp allspice
2 tsp turmeric
½ cup sugar
½ cup honey
3 cups cider vinegar
1 tsp salt

Instructions: Place all ingredients in medium saucepan; simmer 20 minutes. Strain and discard liquid; allow relish to cool.

Collard Green Slaw

3 cups fresh, tender collard greens
(leaf only, no stem). Chiffonade the
collards (slice in long, thin ribbons).
 cup pickled red cabbage
½ cup green tomato relish
2 T olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions: Combine ingredients; mix well. Refrigerate at least two hours to blend flavors.

Cider Beurre Blanc

½ cup cider vinegar
2 cups apple cider
2 T shallot, finely chopped
½ cup dried apple, diced small
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup (1 stick) butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions: Combine vinegar, cider, shallot, and dried apple in medium saucepan; boil until liquid is reduced by two thirds. Add cream; boil for 1 minute. Whisk in butter, one tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt and pepper

The Pharmacy Café
702 North Person St Raleigh, NC 27604