Holly Herrick

Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

Looking Through a Glass Onion

“Well, here’s another place you can go… Listen to me.”

Lennon and McCartney were right on when they penned these lyrics for The Beatle’s venerable White Album classic, Glass Onion. Forty years later, these words still ring true, especially in the context of the newly opened Glass Onion restaurant in West Ashley. Now a month-old, The Glass Onion, situated in what was formerly an ugly book exchange shop on what is still a relatively ugly stretch of Savannah Highway, is putting the Fab Fours’ tune to incredibly delicious culinary music, in a most modern way. It is definitely another place you can go, and one you should go to, too, if you seek across-the-board exceptionally fresh, reasonably priced and delicious food.

The folks here are not necessarily “fixing a hole in the ocean” as the psychedelic song goes, but The Glass Onion is well on its way to casting a brighter shade of green upon the Charleston localvore dining and all-important ancillary local farming scenes. Their web site outlines their commitment to buying locally and seasonally – “We strongly believe in the importance of eating seasonally, locally and naturally. So, you can expect all natural meats, local seafood and vegetables from as close to home as we can get.”

The restaurant’s timely and relevant creed is backed up with the seasonally revolving, Southern-inspired “soulful food” menu rife with tantalizing, homey promise in dishes like Miss Kimberly’s Shrimp with Beans and Rice ($12), Grilled Pimento Cheese Overstuffed Sandwich ($6) and Fried Chicken Livers with Bibb Lettuce (Big, $8, Little $5).

The menu mood is decidedly country Southern, with serious nods to New Orleans and the Lowcountry. It’s a logical composition since the restaurant’s young owners (Charles Vincent, Chris Stewart and Sarah O’Kelley) hail from New Orleans, Birmingham, and Georgia, respectively. The trio found each other at FIG, where Stewart landed a job as sous chef while Vincent was working there. After a two year-long search and a long-established dream to open their own restaurant, they put their mutual fine-dining backgrounds (which include working with the likes of Emeril) to use to make “mid-scale comfort food,” found the space at 1219 Savannah Highway, and set up shop.

The space is bright and uncluttered with a large, open counter to place orders. Several picnic tables are situated outside to invite alfresco dining. The restaurant employs a handy system to pair orders with their owners once the food comes up from the kitchen. Pictures of celebrities – from Jackie O to Miss Piggy – are affixed to clear, plastic stands and placed on your table. The celeb’s name (in my case, Einstein!) is written on your order ticket and a clear-visioned spotter then tracks the corresponding picture down and delivers the food. It’s a much better system than those pesky buzzers, and infinitely more personal. The food came quickly and with a smile, despite the fact the restaurant was serving a nearly full house the day I visited.

The personalized mood continued throughout and perhaps most importantly, in the food itself. Local, fresh flavor and a love and knowledge of Southern cooking sang through virtually every bite. The House made Pickles ($2, or one of four side choices for $7) are made of snappy cukes, red peppers and onions in a mild, sweet brine that spend a night in the cooler only to emerge as fresh as daisies. Similarly, the Roasted Garlic Potato Gratin, composed of tight layers of whisper-thin potatoes wobbling with frailty in creamery-fresh cream and sweet, roasted garlic, and subtle, luscious White Beans and Rice sides, were impeccably executed and impeccably infused with authentic, rural Southern spirit.

O’Kelley told me the restaurant buys their Bibb lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes from Kurios Farms in Moncks Corner. I assert they need to keep that up! The Glass Onions Bibb Lettuce salad is arguably one of the most simply beautiful things I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Served on chunky, off-white plates (like all the food here) that recall diners of yesteryear, the pale and lime-green leaves were opened like a flower seeking the sun and generously (but not overly) topped with a creamy/tart black peppercorn buttermilk dressing that rivals any truly house made salad dressing I’ve ever had, let alone in Charleston.

After the stellar starter debut, I was a tad disappointed with Stew’s Meatball Po Boy ($8), finding the texture of the meatballs a bit on the mushy side. The flavor of the marina and girth of the thick, oven-warm and toasty baguette were spot on, however, and there is no topping the tender Root Beer Glazed Pork Belly ($12) served with sweet collards and toothsome Anson Mills grits.

“Locals don’t let locals eat imported shrimp,” one of several green-themed bumper stickers posted on the small refrigerator behind the small order-taking counter implores. Indeed, I contend that locals (or anyone) must not waste another precious minute to take a big bite out of The Glass Onion. Reasonably priced, locally grown and delicious, Southern “soulful” food doesn’t come along every day, especially with free and ample parking. The restaurant’s menu is updated daily on the web site listed below.

The Glass Onion

1219 Savannah Highway, West Ashley

(843) 225-1717

Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Sat., brunch, 10 a.m.-4 -p.m.

www.ilovetheglassonion.com

Sizzlin’ Bacon and Cercie Surprises

Recently, I found myself at Carolina’s to share an easy Sunday dinner and a birthday celebration with friends. Since this wasn’t a working dinner, per se, I didn’t go into it with the requisite review perspective. However, I came out of it with some distinct impressions and some new information that I want to share.

Firstly, Carolina’s, which was not so long ago stumbling clumsily along in the food department, has truly stepped up to a pristine plate of restrained, gorgeous Southern-inspired cooking in the capable hands of executive chef Jeremiah Bacon. In just over a year, this Charleston native and CIA grad has transformed Carolina’s once again into the belle of Charleston’s culinary ball with stunning dishes such as Laquered Bacon with Sauteed Cabbage and a Carrot Puree ($9) and Glazed Quail with Bacon Hominy, Ragged Jack Collard Greens and Black-Eyed Pea Relish ($10).

More than impressed with his cooking, I hope he soon gets the public recognition for the grand work he has privately forged in his kitchen.

Though I was aware that the restaurant started serving lunch in early February, I wasn’t aware they offer a most appealing special on Sunday and Monday evenings (1/2 off bottles of wine $75 and under and 30% off bottles over $75). This is a soothing break during these tough economic times and one that cut our bill, literally, in half. “It’s one of those things that’s advertised in email blasts and something that locals and regulars know about,” says Bacon.

In addition, frugal diners can look to a 1/2 price bar menu on Monday – Friday from 5 -6:30 p.m. where Carolina’s justifiably celebrated Shrimp and Crabmeat Wontons and burgers (among other things) can both be had for just $6.

Carolina’s
10 Exchange Street, downtown
(843) 724-3800
http://www.carolinasrestaurant.com/

Farmers’ Market Road Trip

Sorry it’s been so long! I’m up in North Carolina combing farmers’ markets to research the upcoming Southern Slow Food book I’m writing. I’ll be back in Charleston soon with restaurant updates. Look for them soon. I might just be telling you about something I’ve tracked down in this charming neck of the woods. Best until next! Holly

Gotta’ Getcha’ Geechee

It is tragic that a region built on rice and the Gullah foods and customs born of Africa’s “Rice Coast” has so little to show for it in our present-day culture, particularly our restaurant food culture. The language, once so prominently ringing through the streets of Charleston and the marshes of Lowcountry barrier islands, has dwindled to an ebbing murmur of days past. The food, characterized by rice, lima beans and other native African ingredients is still around, but mostly dapples restaurant menus as opposed to fully showcasing them, unless you count (once again) “soul food” restaurants.

Alluette’s Cafe is the latest ode to local soul food, but owner Alluette Jones-Smalls throws a surprising twist into the usual soul food equation. Alluette’s is “holistic” serving “fresh, local organic produce and dry goods when available”. In addition, as the menu states, all meats are “free of hormones, nitrates, artificial color and sulfites.” Rice and soy milk are the restaurant’s accepted substitutes for dairy. There is one more thing. Alluette’s does not serve or cook with pork.

What? No pig in a soul food joint? How can this be, you might ask. I asked Alluette myself when I entered the recently opened restaurant on a sunny afternoon; the light casting a pink hue on the coral, cinder-block walls like a sunset on winter marsh grasses. Her resisitance to cooking with pork (and pairing certain foods) does go back to religion, but not because she’s Muslim as I’d clumsily implied in my awkward query. It has to do with the teachings of the book of Leviticus from the Old Testament of the bible. She told me so. I researched it after returning home from a soulful and savory lunch here and learned that eating pork and other divided-hoofed animals that do not chew their cud is listed as off-limits in Chapter 11 for various reasons that essentielly relate to respecting the body, spirituality and God.

Whatever your beliefs (or Alluette’s) on such matters, there is no doubt that she is committed to preparing body-friendly foods and has been granted the talent (along with executive chef Absalom Thomas) to make it taste divine. Originally from Mount Pleasant, Jones-Smalls recently sold a successful restaurant on St. Helena island near Beaufort to set up shop in this understated setting situated smack dab in the middle of the up-and-coming Midtown area of the peninsula, because, as she told me, “Charleston is where I need to be right now.”

She’s re-roosted in a big way. The restaurant is far from fancy. The small is space dominated with an eclectic array of mis-matched tables and chairs and a huge blackboard posting the days specials for breakfast, lunch and dinner; all this flanked by a rundown looking courtyard with a tattered link fence. Still, it’s attractive, clean, absolutely homey, appropriate and intelligent. Regarding the latter, I’d far rather see a small, family run business sink their funds into the food as opposed to the sometimes suffocating overhead of fancier digs.

That’s what Alluette’s does. The investment is in the food, the preparation and the startling friendly and sincere staff, beginning with Alluette’s firm handshake, hello and introduction she offers her guests upon arrival. When she’s not doing that, she’s standing behind a small window in a small kitchen whisking and stirring myriad pots and bowls, seemingly sprinkling them with the pixie dust of Geechee culinary magic. The food is so clean and pure tasting, you don’t even miss the pig, even in the collards which seemed infused with a blend of seasonings you might otherwise taste in dill pickles.

But, there’s no telling, at least not from Alluette. She doesn’t share her recipes, according to our maternally warm server. That includes the magical mystery tea ($1.80 per glass) that is blended with a series of fresh fruit juices (no sugar added!) and served over plenty of ice. I thought I sensed a mix of mango, papaya and apricot in just the right amount blended into my delicious brew that just kept coming whenever I said the word and even when I didn’t.

Alluette buys her vegetables locally from Joseph Fields and also is loyal to St. Helena Island purveyor, Barefoot Farms. The freshness of Lowcountry produce burst through every ounce of the fresh baby lima bean soup ($4.50, cup) and the tomato-based fish stew ($5, cup). I particularly appreciated the former which, in its clean, savory broth and 100% lima bean purity, was quintessentiel simplicity seasoned only with salt and a dash of cayenne pepper provided on the table. Only talented chefs with devotion to fresh produce can make something so simple and pure taste so good without getting heavy-handed. Put this one on your must-order list. The fish stew’s high notes were in the veggies – threads of spinach, chunks of carrots, sweet tomatoes – all brought together with fresh bites of basil.

“Baked Chicken” ($9.95) with one side (the aforementioned collards) seems like an overly-humble misnomer for this juicy, wholesome rendition of thyme-seasoned perfection. This just spoke to my heart and made me think of easier, simpler times. The feel-good, taste-delicious mood carried over to the Angus steak sandwich special (8.95), layered with 1/4″ thick slices of pure beef, tangy cheddar cheese, a warm, caramelized red onion, and slivers of yellow peppers on a chewy, toasted baguette. This was served with a small cup of a tangy/sweet, crunchy slaw peppered with celery seed and a crisp, cold pickle.

Unlike a lot of soul food restaurants where food (though delicious) can feel heavy, I left Alluette’s Cafe feeling light and satisfied. My belly was comfortably full and my soul was happy. I felt like I had made a solid investment in time well-spent. Speaking of time, keep in mind that it’s not hurried, and at times may feel a little slow if you’re not accustomed to food being cooked to order as it is here. Be patient. You’ll be glad you did.

Brand new, Alluette’s is still working out the kinks on little things (like a non-functioning credit card machine the day I was there), but gets almost everything right. In the future, the restaurant plans to offer cooking classes and serve alcohol. For now, settle into some of that tea and have a good ole’ holistic Geechee good time. I’m planning to head back for breakfast. I can’t wait to dig into “Hey Y’all”…Savory Sardines with Caramelized Onions and Olive Oil served over Local Stone Ground Hominy Grits ($5.50). Doesn’t that just sound Geechee delicious?

Alluette’s Cafe
80 Reid Street, downtown
(843) 577-6926

Mon., B/L, 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
Tues., B/L/D, 8 a.m.-9 p.m .
Wed.-Sat., B/L/D/Late night bites, 8 a.m.- 2 a.m.
Sun., Brunch, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Live Music sometimes offered on Friday and Saturday evenings, 10:30 p.m. – 2 a.m.

Break Away from the Everyday

One of the risks inherent in living in or near a popular international tourist destination and virtual playground like Charleston is to begin taking it for granted as “just home.” Home in the not-so-positive sense that this is where you work, this is where you pay bills, and this is where you experience stress. From this perspective, it’s easy to start thinking about taking a vacation elsewhere to “get away from it all.” While an away-from-home vacation can be just what the doctor ordered, there are many nearby destinations that do just the same thing and for far less money. One such place, as I was recently reminded, is Jasmine Porch restaurant at The Sanctuary hotel on Kiawah Island.

Less than $20 will buy you a first-class lunch or breakfast (dinner ‘s a bit pricier; entrees range from $22-$39) at this prestigious hotel, which just recently was awarded five stars by Mobil Travel Guide making it one of just 41 U.S. lodgings to wear the same coveted lodging crown. And, instead of dealing with pesky air travel or other myriad travel-related nightmares, getting there is half the fun. The 45-minute drive from downtown affords the most luscious, pristine marsh vistas and Lowcountry scenery this side of paradise. You’ll feel your troubles literally melt away as the sweeping serenity of nature infuses your soul and somehow makes everything seem just as it should be.

The sentiment follows you into the palatial, early 20th century-style villa as you feast your eyes upon its museum-worthy art collection and manor-born style. Just a few feet inside lies the unsuspecting culinary wonder called Jasmine Porch. Billed as a “casual dining experience,” The Sanctuary’s “Southern style” restaurant is so much more. Yes, it’s markedly more relaxed than the hotel’s significantly pricier, signature Ocean Room restaurant, but dining here still feels sumptuous and indulgent; a little slice of heaven on a plate with commanding ocean and pool views, to boot.

Now nearly four years old, the hotel and Jasmine Porch (as the five star status implies), provide ample proof that they are in full stride. Always impressive, the restaurant, her staff, and the food, just keep getting better. The most recently appointed Chef de Cuisine, Nathan Thurston, a North Carolina native and graduate of Johnson and Wales, puts restrained, yet playful polish into sophisticated yet down-home Southern style dishes like his chopped Southern Cobb salad ($15) and pulled pork sandwich ($9) which features golden barbecue, country bun, Napa slaw and a blue cheese spread.

Lunch here begins with a basket brimming with flat bread and sweet potato biscuits with a deft dash of cinnamon. A pert, aged yellow-cheddar housemade pimiento cheese and soft creamery butter are served on smart-looking rectangular plates that give a sophisticated edge to Jasmine Porch’s otherwise soft, rounded Southern decor. An endless array of Charleston brick-framed arches embrace the restaurant and her brigade of ocean-view windows while generously padded, round, deep wicker armchairs provide a soft cushion for a home-away-from-home gentle landing. One whole wall is host to the restaurant’s extensive wine selection, overseen by certified Sommelier Garth Herr.

Since I was lucky enough to be spending the weekend at The Sanctuary, I took three opportunities – two for breakfast and one for lunch – to sample the goods at Jasmine Porch. Everything was splendid on each occasion. The Breakfast Buffet ($20 adults, $11 children under 12) includes fresh fruit, housemade pastries and breads, an omelet station, sausage, eggs, French toast, smoked salmon and almost everything else you can think of, making it one heck of a deal for big eaters of all things good and great. I settled for a flaky, warm biscuit topped with an earthy tasso gravy, cubes of cool pineapple and a fluffy, made-to-order egg white omelet just bursting with fresh, local shrimp, crab, spinach and Swiss cheese.

Another morning, I merrily savored two pan-fried eggs, long-aged, savory country ham, and two mounds of marvelous creamy Anson Mills grits – all plated beautifully (like everything I sampled here) with the additional allure of a royal purple fresh orchid. My server, who had most effectively served myself and a larger party for lunch the previous day, continued his run of some of the best, most accomodating, most sincere and most adept service I’ve ever experienced.

Lunch felt a little more festive than the sedate, almost meditative breakfast experiences. The room bubbled with positive, yet quiet, energy from a host of happy diners. Our lunch began with a sampling of something the chef was “working on” for his new, seasonal menu – an out-of-this-world oxtail ravioli with nuggets of sweet corn and a light snowfall of grated fresh horseradish root in a gorgeous broth layered with flavor. Rave reviews were shared for the braised beef sliders with a blue cheese slaw, she-crab bisque, a beautifully constructed iceberg lettuce salad with bacon and blue cheese and the impeccable German chocolate cake. A new menu, reflecting seasonal produce and featuring a toasted lobster salad wrap ($15), black angus burger ($11) and crispy salmon and spinach salad ($15) among other things is in the works for imminent release. Expect nothing less than excellence.

That is, afterall, precisely what Jasmine Porch consistently delivers. Do yourself a favor and keep that in mind next time you need a little break from it all.

Jasmine Porch
One Sanctuary Beach Drive
Kiawah Island
(843) 768-6330
http://www.kiawahresort.com/

Open daily.
Breakfast, 6:30 – 10:15 a.m.
Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner, 5:30-10 p.m.
Sunday Jazz Brunch Buffet: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Reservations highly recommended.

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