Wood-fired ovens seem to be getting a lot of attention among foodies these days, and it's not without good reason. These spartan furnaces not only offer up convenience — with their intense heat providing speedy prep time — but also impart a delicious and natural smoky flavor to any items prepared near the flames. This week, we're featuring some of our favorite haunts to go and grab a wood-fired bite, whether it's veggies, pizzas, or steak.
With a wood-fired grill that head chef Ben Berryhill calls "the heart and soul of the restaurant," Red Drum is grilling just about everything, lending each dish a hint of pecan flavor and heat from the oak wood. Boasting an entire "wood fired" section to their menu, this South-by-Southwest restaurant offers wood grilled steaks, burgers, shrimp, chicken, and salmon. Need help choosing? Try the wood-grilled shrimp with green chili garlic butter and sweet corn pudding to douse the heat ($26). Meat lovers can relish in the wood-grilled quail with Texan venison sausage and chili cheddar grits with pepper hash ($29). For a more Texan feel, try the wood-grilled chicken served with Mexican cheeses, avocados, garlic cream, and warm, crisp tortillas ($24). Get there early for happy hourwhere you'll find drinks specials and a $10 wood grilled burgers and fries, "a great deal on the best burger in town," according to Berryhill.
New kid on the block (by which we mean Cannon Street) The Grocery is dedicated to offering ingredient-driven cuisine through chef and owner Kevin Johnson's relationship with local and regional farmers. Walk into this newly renovated space and the first thing you see is the kitchen's enormous wood-fired oven, the centerpiece of the kitchen and the cuisine. "We put so much into that oven: oysters, beets, almost all our vegetables," Johnson says. Start with a small plate from the menu's "Bites" section, like the flatbread with fennel sausage, sautéed greens, and soft ricotta melted in the giant oven ($9). A whole roasted snapper with salsa verde, fennel, and fresh lemon is featured in the menu's "Table" section, perfect for two or just you if you're not down with sharing ($38). And there's definitely no shortage of great side choices expertly roasted in the wood-fired oven. Try the brussel sprouts with bacon, apples, and pecans ($8) or a mix of roasted root vegetables with agrodolce and faro ($8).
With a name like Heart Woodfire Kitchen, you can expect this James Island gem is committed to their grill. “We have a very unique piece — to Charleston and to most restaurants — of kitchen equipment from Texas,” explains general manager Devin Marquardt. From the baked pasta with four cheeses, tomato cream, and bread crumbs ($11) to the wood-fired vegetable stew with rice pilaf, lemon yogurt, toasted almonds, and apricots ($12), “everything, or at least an element in every dish, is cooked over wood” says Marquardt. While the menu changes daily to accommodate seasonal availability, the woodfire oven flatbreads are a consistent staple of the restaurant. All baked until warm and crisp in the oven, you can choose from offerings like the BBQ chicken and sweet potato with onions and gooey fontina cheese ($10) or the savory roasted tomato, blue cheese, and arugula flatbread with pecans and red onions, all drizzled with balsamic ($10).
At Monza, Executive Chef Will Fincher and company feature rotating specialty pies and salads. This weekend's pizza ($12) is loaded with mozzarella, goat cheese, red onion, and topped with collards from the Green Heart Project that are cooked with bacon and ham. The best part of the pie, though, is the addition of fire-roasted acorn squash that's peeled, chopped, and cooked in the 1,000-degree oven in olive oil, chili flakes, garlic, and salt and pepper. If you really want to get your roasted veggie fix, though, go for this weekend's salad ($9). Besides the base of spinach sourced from Ambrose Farms, all the vegetables on top are quickly cooked in the oven, then served cold. "We roast the Brussels sprouts, rainbow carrots, pine nuts, sunchokes, and tomatoes, which we use to make the tomato vinaigrette dressing," says Fincher. No idea what sunchokes are? We didn't either. "They're a root vegetable, similar to Jerusalem artichokes," Fincher says. "Although sunchokes are a little more starchy and sweet."
North Charleston's EVO is yet another pizzeria with a wood-fired oven. "Our oven is our main source of heat," says Executive Chef Matthew Russell. "We don't have any stoves or other ovens here." Since the restaurant is dedicated to sourcing locally, their menu is constantly changing. "We've used the oven for everything from mussels, clams, and pork belly." says Russell. The obvious choice at EVO, though, would be their award-winning pizza. Two of their pizzas that are always available are the Pork Trifecta ($12 for 8", $14 for 12") and the Pistachio Pesto ($11 for 8", $13 for 12"), which won the award for the No. 1 pie in South Carolina by Food Network magazine. "We also make our own focaccia bread every morning when the oven is coolest," says Russell. "You can control the heat in a wood-fired oven, and it's just a more natural way to cook."