It's not nice to dance on graves, but when the departed is an Applebee's, a single outpost in a chain of more than 2,000 restaurants, and the replacement is a locally owned joint serving bang-up regional food — well, that's cause for celebration. Such is the case with Lucky's Southern Grille, whose appearance has enhanced the James Island dining scene.
The exterior has gotten a nice facelift, and they've painted the inside and made some slight modifications to the bar, but the place still looks and feels like an Applebee's. Fortunately, the menu quickly pushes any qualms aside as it offers a solid slate of comfort food at very comfortable price points.
There's an interesting selection of appetizers, all priced at $7. Options include whole fried pickled okra on a bed of greens dressed in bacon vinaigrette and oysters on the half-shell topped with creamy, nacho-like pimento cheese, a fried oyster, and a drizzle of barbecue sauce. The black-eyed pea and ham hock fritters are crispy doughnut hole-sized spheres presented on a plate of mesclun greens with chopped cucumber and tomato salad. The whole dish is crunchy, savory, and quite good.
At Lucky's, sandwiches are big, and they all have some form of Southern charm (and probably a dollop of pimento cheese too). Selections include a Po' Boy ($8), a burger with pimento cheese and bacon ($9), and house-smoked pulled pork with pimento cheese slaw ($8). The salmon BLT ($9) shows up with two large slices of fried green tomatoes, greens, and whole grain mustard on half of the whole wheat bun; the other half is stacked with a huge grilled salmon filet and three thick slices of applewood-smoked bacon. This makes an enormous sandwich — it's almost impossible to eat out of hand, but it's still tasty. The salmon was full of flavor, and the fried green tomatoes added a nice tangy depth.
Every Southern-style restaurant in Charleston offers their own version of shrimp and grits, with varying degrees of success. At Lucky's, the dish ($12) is a triumph. The bowl of mouth-watering goodness is huge, filled with cheesy yellow hominy grits, succulent local shrimp, andouille sausage, and slices of okra. The best part of the dish is the creamy blue crab gravy. It's savory but sweet and adds to the overall flavor of the dish, creating a pleasing balance.
The fried catfish entrée ($11) consists of two large filets, breaded and fried to a nice golden brown, resting on top of stewed tomatoes, black-eyed peas, and cheesy hominy grits. The breading is crisp and flavorful, and the fish is moist and tender. Lumps of crab meat on top add new notes to the flavor. It's an outstanding take on a local staple.
But no dish is more Southern than a plate of crispy fried chicken with mashed potatoes and collard greens ($10). At Lucky's, you get a wing, thigh, breast, and a leg, all fried to textbook perfection. It's a lot of food, but it's so good it's hard not to eat it all in one sitting, then lick your fingers until they prune. Chicken aside, the hot onion gravy that comes with the dish is good enough to eat with a spoon: creamy, sweet, and savory all at the same time.
You can mix and match sides or add an additional one to any meal for $2, possibilities range from sliced heirloom tomatoes to sweet potato fries. The mac and cheese is casserole-like with a crunchy layer of golden cheese crust on top holding a thick slab of cheesy macaroni together, a good choice with any entrée.
The service at Lucky's has been top-notch during each and every visit — true Southern hospitality. Servers have been attentive, eager to offer menu suggestions, and always on top of the drink refills. In addition to soft drinks, there are six beers on tap, including a few macro domestics and local Holy City craft brews. There's also a full bar and small list of interesting cocktail offerings.
Throughout my several visits to Lucky's, I found myself exploring the menu for an extended period of time trying to decide what to order — not necessarily a bad thing for a place that aims to be a regular weeknight stop for James Islanders. Smoky pulled pork, savory shrimp and grits, and a comforting dose of Southern sides make you feel right at home. It's nice to see a locally owned joint making use of what was once a worldwide chain and giving its neighborhood just what it needs — regional food straight from the heart. I bid farewell to the riblet basket and welcome Southern fried chicken and dreamy onion gravy because it's honestly finger-licking good.