The farm-to-table trend is a tough bandwagon to jump on, particularly if you're trying to keep prices low and appeal to suburban families, as evidenced by two recent closings.
Both Heirloom Eats in Mt. Pleasant and Lucky's Southern Grill on James Island advertised their locally sourced Southern fare and both closed in recent weeks.
Heirloom Eats was located out in Towne Centre and received a blistering review from Robert Moss for lacking "the elements that distinguish the heirloom, hyper-local cooking that Charleston's most famous chefs have gotten national recognition for over the past few years."
Lucky's fared better, with Eric Doksa praising them for serving big portions of "regional food straight from the heart." I had friends who swore by Lucky's and ate there frequently. Two weeks ago I got a foreboding text from one of those friends: "Wow. Just had a bad meal at Lucky's." Driving by last Friday, I saw the lights out and a sign announcing their closure.
It's too bad they weren't able to find the right balance of local and affordable, but farm-to-table fare is a chef-driven thing, not a concept that can easily be systemized in a lower end kitchen.
Two Boroughs Larder is a good example of a chef with a passion not a marketing gimmick. Josh Keeler's ambitious drive to do the kind of food he loves in a casual, neighborhood setting set him apart from the get-go. Of course, the food he loves and the products he wants to work with aren't always cheap. The menu prices have creeped up along the way, but to his credit, Keeler has been able to strike a balance, offering a range of items, from quality $5 breakfast sandwiches to reasonably priced sides and noodle bowls along with higher-cost creations that appeal to the hardcore eater. And that has a lot to do with his dedication as a chef.
The same goes for Heart Woodfire Kitchen on James Island. Chef Glenn Christiansen has a vision. On the website, he says it's all about "creating and preparing signature dishes using the freshest, local ingredients available, turning them into upscale dishes with bold flavors from the wood fired oven, rotisserie and grill."
The difference between a restaurant that has a marketing concept and one that is actually able to use local and high-quality ingredients is an uncompromising chef. If quality is part of the vision, the prices will have to reflect that. And if affordability is another part, then the chef also has to be creative about pricing and menu design. It's completely possible to do farm-to-table outside of the tourist district as these two beloved restaurants prove (in addition to places like EVO and Glass Onion), but it's not easy. The lesson to learn from these closings is to beware of "farmwashing" — shallow marketing that makes big claims without the passion and dedication to back it up.