Local diners looking for a casual meal with a couple of tasty brews now have two more options.
Coleman Public House
427 W. Coleman Blvd.
Entrée Prices: Moderate ($9 - $18)
Serving: Lunch and Dinner
On Mt. Pleasant's Coleman Boulevard, two blocks off Shem Creek, the Coleman Public House recently opened its doors. It advertises itself as a "community watering hole" in the tradition of a European public house, but it's hardly a cozy English pub. The room is big and has a definite upscale feel, including tables covered with white cloths and a long bar with rows of gleaming silver beer taps. The menu is printed on long cardstock and delivered on a wooden clipboard, and it shows some serious beer and food action going on.
The Tap Room menu lists more than a dozen high gravity and craft beers on draft, and the selection rotates frequently — as evidenced by the many handwritten emendations on the list on my last visit. The entries span a wide geography and include some impressive craft brews like Starr Hill Northern Lights from Virginia and Bell's Two Hearted Ale from Michigan.
And it's not just the beer list that's ambitious. Rather than plain old sliders, the appetizers include Mini Lamb Burgers ($8.95) made with ground lamb and topped with onion chutney and tzatziki sauce. Popcorn is a common bar munchie, but at the Coleman Public House, it's tossed with rosemary-infused oil ($2.95). The french fries ($3.95 a basket) are hand-cut, and you can get them dressed with truffle and parmesan or with garlic.
A house specialty is the flatbread ($9.95), a pizza-like concoction made from fresh dough that's rolled out flat and cooked on a grill. The toppings are hardly run of the mill. The Godfather combines sopressata, fresh mozzarella, arugula, and olive oil, while the Woodland is topped with mushrooms, asparagus, caramelized onions, parmesan, and white truffle oil. I have to admit that the flatbreads look better on paper than they turn out on the plate. The San Franciscan, with chunks of grilled chicken, applewood bacon, blue cheese, tomato, avocado, and scallions, sounds delightful, but the combination just doesn't work for some reason. The grilled flatbread is chewy and with nice crispy edges, but the toppings just seem scattered on and don't quite come together. Perhaps it needs more cheese or some sort of sauce to bring it all together, but the finished whole seems dry and incomplete.
The burgers, however, are definitely worth noticing. They're built with half-pound patties of sirloin that's ground right there on the premises, and they're served with hand-cut french fries for good measure. The toppings range from the standard, like the CPH Classic with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and onion, to the exotic, like the Fungi Burger with gruyere, roasted mushrooms, and white truffle oil.
The dinner features tend toward the substantial, like Fish and Chips ($12.95) made from beer-battered haddock and the Brat n' Chop ($14.95), which pairs bratwurst with a six-ounce pork chop plus sauerkraut and mustard. The braised short rib ($16.95) is particularly impressive. It's a single massive short rib that has the tender, moist texture that you get from long, slow braising. As an extra wrinkle, the short rib gets a quick pass over the grill, too, which gives it a subtle but delicious lingering smokiness that totally makes the dish. The big hunk of beef is served over a layer of creamy horseradish potato gratin and topped with a veal jus reduction. The accompanying grilled asparagus has a pleasant smoky char from the grill, too.
This isn't the kind of dish that you have to grade on a curve and say, "Well, it's pretty good for bar food." It's really good for any restaurant, and that puts Coleman Public House a step ahead of other burger-and-brew spots.
Palmetto Ale House
951 Folly Road
Entrée Prices: Moderate ($7 - $15)
Serving: Lunch and Dinner
The Palmetto Ale House has taken over the spot on Folly Road formerly occupied by Necter Bar & Grill. Despite the "Ale House" name, it's really more of a family restaurant with a full bar offering. There's a big dining area with tables and booths, complete with a kids' menu and an open view into the kitchen. A large bar area stretches out into the back and includes a pool table and lots of tables for dining. There's also a big outside patio complete with a tiki bar.
The "Palmetto" part of the name is appropriate. All four of the basic brews from Charleston's local Palmetto Brewing Co. are on tap. The rest of the beer list might not be deep enough to impress the serious enthusiast, but there's more than enough options — from $2 PBR drafts to higher-end stuff like Widmer's Drifter Pale Ale and Brooklyn Brown Ale — to satisfy most fans.
And there's lots of food to go along with the ale. The starters menu has the requisite bar-and-grill fare, including sliders, buffalo shrimp, and stuffed jalapeños. The fried mozzarella ($6.49) is typical, served with a small bowl of marinara, and the artichoke-spinach dip ($5.99) is thin and a little light on the cheese. The wings (10 for $7.49) are respectable spicy specimens, while the conch fritters ($7.49) are a stand out. They are served piping hot, their crispy, well-browned batter filled with bits of red pepper and strips of firm conch that give the fritters a satisfying chewiness.
A couple of mounted game fish and a big shark decorate the walls of the dining room, and, as these suggest, seafood entrees anchor the menu. The kitchen crew makes their own breading and, as a nice touch, dunk the seafood in Palmetto Ale before frying it. The result is some excellent fried shrimp that's crispy and light, and you can get a generous 20 of them on a platter for $9.99, along with coleslaw and fries. The same batter is well suited for fried oysters and fried flounder, too, and the Seafood Combo plate ($13.49) is a great way to try all three. All in all, it's a first-rate fried seafood platter, though I do have to deduct a point for the accompanying coleslaw, which swims in way too much soupy mayo-laden sauce.
The Ale House grills up some respectable burgers, too. They're thick and meaty but most notable for the upscale bun, which is one of those soft, thick, irregularly shaped sort of things that's a vast improvement over the more common kaiser or onion roll. Layer on an oozing mound of housemade pimiento cheese and you get the Palmetto Burger ($8.59) — a big, gooey concoction that goes down nicely with a cold glass of Palmetto Pale Ale.
The rest of the menu is pretty straightforward: a selection of steaks that range in price from $12.79 for a 10-ounce sirloin to $14.99 for a seven-ounce filet, a couple of chicken breast dishes served with pasta or potatoes, and a slate of salads and sandwiches, too. The Palmetto Ale House won't blow anyone's doors off with their menu, but it's solid, reasonably priced casual family dining with a good beer selection, and we can certainly use more places like that.
In their first few months in business, both the Coleman Public House and Palmetto Ale House have lured local beer enthusiasts with sizeable tap selections and impressive drink specials. While neither attempt to replicate a genuine British pub in their bar rooms, both feature a handful of tasty European imports in addition to American craft beer options.
But they're aiming for different kinds of beer drinkers. The team at the Coleman Public House are beer geeks who get excited when describing a new high-gravity pale ale from Washington state, authentic Kölschbier from the Rhineland, or a rare Saison from Belgium to their customers. The barkeeps at the Palmetto Ale House seem more enthusiastic about the venue's "all-day happy hour" deals in general than specific ales or lagers.
Oftentimes, the marquee along Coleman Boulevard boasts craft beer samplers for eight bucks (four four-ounce glasses of anything currently on tap — including the really strong stuff). The sign in front of the Ale House on Folly Road recently listed a $1.50 Pabst Blue Ribbon can special and the "Kegs & Eggs" World Cup early-hour special.
The Coleman Public House emphasizes an ever-changing selection of specialty ales and lagers. Some are classic, traditional styles, and others are bold new twists. They maintain 16 taps and a crowded cooler of bottles. A large chalkboard menu on the back wall lists each draught beer with the percentage of alcohol (by volume) next to the price (which ranges from $4 to $8 per pint). They recently added Ommegang Rare Vos, Victory Hop Devil, and Bitburger Pilsner to the menu. They carefully serve each beer in glassware specific to the style or brewery — from tulip-shaped glasses and goblets to vase-like wheat beer vessels.
The scene at the bar in the middle dining room at Palmetto Ale House is geared to the more casual beer drinker. They pour a range of imports and microbrews into standard pint glasses from a handsome row of 20 tap handles. An alliance must have been struck with local micro Palmetto Brewing Co., as every one of their offerings is featured on the draught menu (the Espresso Porter is great out of the keg).
Craft beer is present, but far less prominent at Palmetto Ale House. It's billed equally with the frozen drinks, cocktails, and fried apps. Ask a specific question about the Drifter Pale Ale from Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. or the latest Sierra Nevada seasonal, and you might simply get a friendly shrug from the bartender. —T. Ballard Lesemann