The Gin Joint was my first full-length review for The City Paper, and though you can always count on me to write without bias, it has me thinking about our attachments to restaurants. For instance, it’s hard not to be fond of a place you’ve known since it was born. Granted, The Gin Joint is only about two months old. But restaurants are like kids. I should know — not because I have kids, cause I don’t — but because I’ve been lucky enough to staff a lot of newborn restaurants myself.
As a 16-year-old with a passion for cooking, I managed to talk my way into kitchen for what would be my first restaurant job. Little did I know it would be the beginning of a nine-year career where I’d work every job from prep cook (I was absolutely the worst) to bus girl (“Why don’t we try you in front of house, hmm?”) to waitress, hostess, bar-back, bartender, head bartender, and finally, manager. I’ve worked in restaurants everywhere from upstate New York to Manhattan and Nantucket, five of which were newly opening, three of which are still around today.
The passion, excitement, and possibility present when opening a new venue is addictive, and it’s a drug I miss. Getting to attend the soft opening of The Gin Joint, I was able to relive the energy of those start-up days — when the menu is constantly in flux, when front-of-house is still learning the menu and the staff is surreptitiously watching the customers first bite, first sip, out of the corner of their eyes.
Soft opening, the food and service were flawless, and on my recent visit the food was reliably delicious once more — the biggest bone I had to pick (ha-ha) being that so many menu items that had been listed online were nowhere to be found on the real menu. I had the opportunity to talk with the chef, MariElena Raya, after turning in my review (quite irregularly, she and husband Joe had been away from the restaurant), since none of the employees had quite known why, either, so many items were out of stock.
“It’s hard to keep that full of a menu when we’re trying to make everything in house, and when our ingredients have to be so fresh,” she explained. “So we’re making some adjustments to the menu that reflect what’s been most popular.”
The success of a new venue centers on the restaurant’s ability to flex, and the public’s approval and acceptance as new changes are made. MariElena is thinking about going more of the charcuterie route, a la Daniel Boloud’s DBGB in New York, and I certainly think, given the restaurant’s straddling of the dinner/drinks line, it could be an interesting development. In any case, The Gin Joint is one restaurant I’m looking forward to watching as it continues to grow up.
For nearly two decades, the Old Post Office on Edisto Island had people lining up around the block, waiting to get inside for modern Southern fare like corn and crabmeat chowder or Orangeburg onion sausage. Over the years, Chef Philip Bardin accumulated a legion of fans and was well-liked for his winning personality in addition to his tasty food.
The restaurant first took over Edisto's old post office (literally) in the late 80s. By the time I arrived in the Lowcountry in the late 90s, the place was legendary. We wrote stories about its popularity and sent writers to visit. The last time we reviewed the restaurant — in 2005, I think? — our critic praised the food but complained about the dated dining room. It was still decked out in the teal and mauve colors of the 80s.
It wasn't too long before the restaurant closed, leaving Edisto without a serious dining option. In 2007, locals Adam and Toniann Morris took over the space and have spent the last two years renovating and updating it. Gradually, the big hair and shoulder pad look gave way to a sleek, modern silhouette. The thoroughly updated dining room features dark wood floors and soothing blue walls, a perfect backdrop for the new menu.
The Morrises are not restaurant people by trade. They have both had careers in education, but they tapped Phil Bardin to return to run the kitchen. With his help, they've created a new menu that hews close to the old — local ingredients, traditional southern dishes, modern flair. The menu looks great: crispy duck livers, fresh smoked fish, shrimp paté, and grilled quail legs are just some of the appetizers. The entrees range from Firecracker Flounder (with jalapeno tomato sauce) and Veal Edistonian (pecan-coated cutlet) to crispy Grand Marnier chicken and pork ribeyes in country ham gravy.
They reopened on April 21st, and if their phone message is any indication, they've already got lines out the door. We'll be visiting them soon to get a full report. They're open for dinner Tues.-Sat.
The Charles Towne General Store out Savannah Highway in West Ashley is expanding to open a full restaurant called The Dixie Dog Diner.
They’ll serve down home breakfast and lunch every day. For breakfast, you'll get homemade buttermilk biscuits with Neese’s Country Sausage, sugar cured ham and bacon, a fried tenderloin biscuit and “red eye” gravy and grits. For lunch there’s fried bologna, homemade pimento cheese, and a “big butt” pulled pork sandwich.
Perhaps this new venture will help solidify their place on the map.
Monday night, with no groceries in the fridge and a hungry crew, we decided to head out to Folly Beach to check out one of the new restaurants. In the last couple weeks, Center Street Kitchen, Blu, and Rita's Grill have all opened. We missed Blu's big opening night bash on April 2 because we were out of town for spring break, but reports were that the renovation of the old Holiday Inn was simply amazing.
We decided to stop in for dinner at Center Street Kitchen, stroll over to Rita's and check it out, and finish the night with dessert at Blu.
First stop was impressive. I wholly approve of the menu prices at Center Street Kitchen. Here we are, in the center of Folly Beach, and there's nothing more than $10. That's damn good and enough to win the loyalty of locals. The food was tasty, if a bit heavy for the beach. We ordered baked pimento cheese with grilled sausage and crackers and black-eyed pea cakes for appetizers. Good, but in retrospect I wish we'd gone for the BBQ pork sundae served in a parfait glass.
For dinnner, several at the table went for veggie plates. And, of course, these are southern "veggies," so that included cheese grits, red rice, and mac and cheese. I tried to keep it light and ordered collard greens and okra and tomatoes to go with my CHICKEN-FRIED STEAK. Ironic, I know. The fried catfish with crab succotash was a big hit at the table, and everyone was pleased with the black-eyed peas and the baby limas.
Biggest regret of the dinner: that they were out of the pickled vegetable jar appetizer. I love pickled veggies.
After dinner, we walked outside and found a blustery wind whipping around. Over at Rita's Grill, we ran into Chip, one of the owners, and he gave us a tour of the expansive patio, complete with outdoor showers and bathrooms for sandy beach bums. Good idea. This will no doubt be a popular place to hang this summer.
Final stop was the Holiday Inn. What a dramatic renovation. The lobby of the hotel is mod and fresh, opening right out to a fantastic view of the ocean. The Blu dining room features a nautilus theme in a palette of blue and cream. I loved it. The wide-plank floors have been left unvarnished, giving the whole place an upscale but natural vibe. Neon lights are used in a sophisticated way and it just feels so unlike Folly.
The dining room was pretty empty (it was about 8 p.m. at this point). We sat down and ordered some coffee and a pricey dessert sampler that gave us two creme brulees, a molten chocolate cake, and some other items I can't recall. It was good, but I think I need to go back for a full meal (hint hint husband).
Just got an email from Stratton Lawrence, one of our Folly Beach-living writers, about yet another new restaurant: "Just ate at the Drop-In Deli on Folly. Definitely a big step up from Dolphin Deli. Mushroom-brie soup was killer. Southwest salad was good. A big ass bowl of spinach artichoke dip for 3 bucks. And assorted pickled veggies with every order."
Looks like this weekend everyone will be flocking to the beach, so it's a good time to check out one of these new places before the crowds of summer hit full force.
Sent my trusty intern Candice Summers over to Mt. P to get the lowdown on the old gas station at 440 W. Coleman Blvd. that once housed Ray's BBQ, and before that the Red Pepper Squirrel and SoCal Burrito. We saw the new sign — "Finz Bar and Grill" — and were curious to get the scoop. Thanks to Ballard for snapping the pics.
The menu at Finz will focus on fresh, reasonably-priced seafood. Expect to see lots of tapas priced between seven and nine bucks. The menu will have your standard salads, sandwiches, and wraps along with daily specials that range from lamb osso bucco to grilled steaks.
The dining room is getting a total overhaul — out with the Bulldog paraphernalia and in with saltwater fish tanks, a huge bar, and private dining areas. They plan to begin serving there fare on May 4.
The BBQ lovers here were sad to see one of their favorite barbecue joints go, but perhaps they'll find something new to love at Finz.