James Island has long been a culinary backwater. It's got a few gems (Mondo's, Zia), but in general there's not much choice. We thought the Roadside Kitchen was promising, but then our first bill arrived north of $100, and we decided we'd be better off eating our own homemade mac and cheese rather than their expensive lobster mac. That place closed down recently, so I must not have been the only one balking at those prices.
This week, James Island got not one, but two new restaurants. I tried one out last night, and I have to say I'm pretty thrilled. Heart Woodfire Grill is the creation of Glenn Christiansen, who's been busy getting ready for the opening, and I'm thinking this weekend — once word of mouth spreads — they'll be slammed with curious James Islanders.
Heart is in the old Daily Dose location off of Folly Road, and it's been transformed from a rustic barn-like space to a sleek dining room that's a little bit industrial but still comfortable and welcoming. The color palette is a muted yellow and green with comfy aluminum chairs. When we got there a little after 6 p.m., it was full of a variety of folks, but I'm pretty sure every table had a kid or two at it.
My kids were famished (we have a gutted kitchen at home and few snacks in our makeshift cupboard), so we let them order as soon as we sat down. My son opted for the baked four-cheese macaroni with tomato cream and bread crumbs ($9). which gets popped into the wood-fired oven before serving. My daughter wanted a hamburger with cheese ($7). She ordered it with cheddar and a side of sweet potato chips. They don't have a kids menu, but the server and chef were willing to do a half order of the mac and cheese if we wanted. My son is full size, so we stuck with the big portion.
The menu is varied but compact and changes every day, according to seasonal availabilty. One side is dedicated to cocktails, beer, and wine — all of which are reasonably priced and carefully considered. The cocktail list runs from The Skinny, a margarita with a St. Germain twist, to the Revolver, a Bulleit Rye with muddled orange, brandied cherry, old-fashioned bitters, soda, and a housemade cherry herring floater (?!). We tried the Skinny ($7) and the Moscow Mule ($5 — vodka, lime, ginger beer, and rosemary). A refreshing start.
The beer list runs from a $2.50 PBR tallboy to a $5 Holy City Pluff Mud Porter on draft. The house red wine is $5 a glass and is really quite drinkable. Our server said it was an Austrian grape. The menu provides the exact ounce of the pours (5 oz. for wine), and a reasonable $10 corkage fee. The most expensive bottle of wine on the menu is a $40 Brandborg Pinot Noir.
The big feature of Heart is the fire. An open kitchen area shows two chefs at work, manning an oven and a rotisserie grill that have stacks of wood piled up nearby. Giant flames leap up every so often. Most everything seems to get a turn in one of them. We tried one of the grilled speidies, which had shrimp and fennel and was served with a cold buckwheat salad ($8). The server said the snacks were for two, but the two skewers with a total of four shrimp didn't seem like enough for two. I barely got a bite, but mostly because my daughter, after polishing off her burger, wanted to try the shrimp too. She made me very proud when she dove in for seconds of the buckwheat salad, which she said was her favorite. It was mine too.
We also tried some grilled chicken wings ($10), served with Morrocan red pepper sauce, which were gobbled up before I could get a decent picture, along with an entrée of wood-fired vegetable stew with rice pilaf, lemon yogurt, and toasted almonds ($15). My husband and I were sharing this entrée, so it was a nice, thoughtful touch for the kitchen to split it into two bowls for us. Oh, we also had the winter greens salad with apples, beets, and pecans ($7), and opted for the lemon-ginger dressing. A nice, easy start.
Next time, I'll be trying out one of the rotisserie meats, like the chicken, the pork shoulder, or the spit-roasted sirloin.
Heart is open for lunch and dinner and has the same menu for both. They are also serving weekend brunch. Check it out and then report back. Do you agree with my glowing assessment?