Mt. Pleasant. 1036 Chuck Dawley Blvd. 849-0050
James Island. 1978 Maybank Hwy. 762-0072
Summerville. 101 N. Main St. 821-7101
Twelve years ago, when Sal Parco first opened The Mustard Seed, he actually considered making a go of an all-vegetarian restaurant. Concerned that the market for a veggie-exclusive eatery might be a bit too small, he opted instead for a health-conscious mix of vegetarian dishes as well as entrées with chicken, fish, and shrimp.
The result, of course, was mesmerizing. Educated at the prestigious Hyde Park Culinary Institute of America and having honed his talents in restaurants from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, Parco is a master of the art of succulence and sustenance. His dishes are beloved not only for their artistic mix of flavors but also for being rather easy on both the waistline and the wallet.
Sowing that first grain of a mustard seed in the field (or rather, Mt. Pleasant) long ago has yielded a total of seven restaurants today, including three Mustard Seed locations. Parco is also the guiding hand behind Long Point Grill, Boulevard Diner, Sette, and Village Bakery. He is hoping to add a Southwestern eatery to the mix very soon.
Not bad for a gentleman who came to Charleston with very few local contacts, just looking for a change of pace and a bit of better weather. He had been living in Detroit and took a brief driving tour of the American South just to see what he could find. Myrtle Beach didn't catch his eye at the time, but Charleston did. He loved the people, the weather, and the abundance of fresh, local seafood. The Lowcountry was a place that struck him as custom-made for "going out on the water, away from cellphones and the city."
Parco liked what he saw and accepted the risk of starting fresh in a new part of the country. "I didn't really know many people here when I started," he says. But he understood how to follow his strengths. "Now I work with some of the best chefs in the area -- passionate, creative people who just seem to be getting better all the time."
His timing was spot-on. The yummy veggie and heart-healthy plates he was serving coincided with both a public interest in exactly that and a creative blossoming of the local culinary scene in general.
The biggest change he has witnessed over the last decade in the local culinary scene is the increase in diversity. "It's good to see more ethnic restaurants opening up around the area," he says. "I give credit for that to the chefs who are out there educating people and preparing the way."
A brief selection of some of the most vegetarian-friendly items on the menu of the Mustard Seed
• Housemade sweet potato, gorgonzola, walnut, and parsley ravioli served with balsamic brown butter sauce and sautéed spinach
• Housemade artichokes, spinach, and parmesan ravioli served with tomato basil sauce and fresh vegetables
• Warm portobello, cremini, and shiitake mushrooms over mesclun greens with feta cheese, tomatoes, and walnut vinaigrette
• Pan-roasted asparagus with red onions, walnuts, tomatoes, gorgonzola, and lemon over baby spinach
• Stir-fried vegetables with black beans, ginger-soy sauce and peanuts over brown rice
• Black bean cakes with smoked tomato salsa, fresh vegetables, and cilantro sour cream