It's intriguing to see chefs open a second restaurant. Will it be different than the first or share the same qualities? I've examined that question a lot at Next Door, a restaurant I've visited again and again over the course of the last several weeks, making my way through a fresh and elegant fall menu. Buttery salmon belly ($14), dressed with lemon vinaigrette and garnished with microgreens, served with plantain-like toasted artichokes, stands no chance of staying on the plate for more than a few minutes. Ginger and lemongrass play prominent roles in the creamy, aromatic Thai coconut soup ($4/$8) — a wonderful starter to savor while enjoying the chic white patio on a nice fall day.
As Hurricane Irene tiptoed past Charleston this August, Next Door opened in Mt. Pleasant, giving chef/owner Ben Berryhill an opportunity to explore a different aspect of food — and, man, is it good.
A large, plate-sized raviolo ($14), carefully filled with velvety housemade ricotta, a delicately poached farm-fresh egg, and savory ham, comes to the table deftly dressed in nut-brown butter. Sea scallops, local shrimp, and tomatoes swim through a sea of creamy, citrusy risotto ($13) with a consistency so perfect that it spreads evenly across the plate with the slightest nudge. Juicy, vibrantly flavored heirloom tomatoes ($12) are garnished with buttery croutons and lemon oil and come with a seasoned ball of sinfully creamy buratta.
The food, in so many ways, shows the passion and soul of a great chef. Berryhill has stayed out of the fray by establishing himself in Mt. Pleasant, but his food is every bit as inspired as what you'd find downtown. Six years ago, he opened Red Drum, showcasing the smoky flavors of "South by Southwest." But as Jeff Allen mentioned in the City Paper's Eat blog not long ago, it seems that the Southwestern concept has kept Berryhill from receiving the accolades he deserves. At Next Door, he's branching out, going past the wood-fired grill to explore new cooking techniques, while still focusing on locally sourced food. Stone oven pizzas, handcrafted pastas, and even dishes cooked sous vide bring a lot of fresh, creative ideas to the table. He's able to express himself in ways he hasn't before.
The menu is currently full of seasonal fall dishes that will make you feel all warm and cozy inside. Duck breast ($28) is rendered down and then cooked sous vide to textbook tenderness. The breast is finished off in a pan to create a crispy outer layer and then plated with parsnips and turnips; the autumnal flavors are underscored by lacinato kale and contrasted by sweet, juicy pears. Handmade pappardelle is jumbled with fresh porcini mushrooms from Summerville, accompanying the succulent Cornish hen ($26). Brushed with mustard before being roasted, it's a juicy little bird.
As at Red Drum, the bar is run by a talented crew, with Andy Bates and Brad Cline devising some remarkably original cocktails. Grapes and lime are muddled with Turbinado sugar before being shaken with Leblon Cachaçca (a spirit from Brazil similar to rum, yet sweeter) and served on the rocks ($9). The Hemingway Daiquiri ($11) is a bold take on the popular cocktail, which is made with 10 Cane rum, fresh lime, grapefruit juice, and maraschino liqueur. A fall favorite is the refreshing Ginger Smash ($9), which muddles up fresh ginger and pear with Plymouth gin, apple liqueur, and allspice dram (an allspice-flavored liqueur).
The patio hasn't changed much from the days of Samos, except a wall has been removed so you can now see from one end of the dining room to the other, and a window now opens up for direct service from the bar. On one side you might find a couple sharing a bottle of wine next to the cozy fireplace, while on the other you might see a group of old high school classmates swapping stories from the past. Inside, another wall has been removed, opening up the bar area and making space for a large table situated in the heart of the action. Large cubbyholes behind the bar are filled with candles and a mix of spirits and wine. The dark wooden floor is played up with painted rugs, and the walls have a fresh coat of paint. Large distressed mirrors, elegant white curtains, and plush leather booths add character to the softly lit dining room.
It's worth noting the amount of talent in the kitchen of Next Door. Berryhill has put together a top-notch staff with an impressive range of experience. Nathan Hood is the mastermind behind the handcrafted pasta, having worked at the highly regarded Quince in San Francisco, and Chef de Cuisine Kyle Christy brings experience from the Wolfgang Puck Group. Working together in a small kitchen, the team clearly meshes well, and the end result is a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
Veteran pastry chef Lauren Mitterer of WildFlour Pastry supplies the sweets for both Red Drum and Next Door, and her pumpkin goat cheese cheesecake ($8) is fluffy, creamy, and not overly sweet. Finished with a drizzle of honey, this dessert validates Mitterer's talents and tastes like the essence of October.
I have now visited Next Door enough to get through the entire menu, making it a point to get the savory braised pork cheeks and rich polenta more than once. This place has felt special from the very start. Berryhill could've rested on his laurels at Red Drum, but he seems to be up for the challenge, pushing himself to create new dishes and use new techniques. There's something to be said about the passion and dedication required to craft an ever-changing seasonal menu. Alongside the impeccable service and surroundings, we finally get to see what else this talented chef can do. We no longer need to say that Next Door could become the next big thing in greater Charleston — it already is the next big thing.