Huck's Lowcountry Table
1130 Ocean Blvd.
Isle of Palms
Entrée Prices: Moderate ($10-$19)
Serving: Lunch (Wed.-Sun.), Dinner (Tue.-Sat.)
You've got to give Huck's Lowcountry Table credit: they aren't playing it safe. Their offerings aren't exactly what you would expect to find at a restaurant that just opened in the second-story space above the Banana Cabana, Isle of Palms' old-school beachfront bar. The spot was formerly occupied by the One-Eyed Parrot, a Caribbean-themed seafood and steak restaurant — exactly the kind of place you'd expect to find in this kind of space. The old stained-glass parrot window still adorns the front door, but Huck's has taken the food in a decidedly different direction.
As the "Lowcountry Table" part of the name suggests, Huck's features traditional regional specialties like shrimp, blue crab, and Carolina Gold rice along with fresh produce from local farms. These are served up with some fusion twists, including tropical fruits, mint, and savory chutneys.
The appetizers offer intriguing combinations that range from gussied-up country dishes — like ham and cheese biscuits ($7) with country ham, pimiento cheese, and smoked corn aioli — to Asian-fusion items like the spring rolls ($6) with pickled cabbage and mango ginger sauce. The cheese ravioli ($6) seem ordinary enough at first, but the smooth cheese filling has a spicy edge, and the bed of basil leaves tucked beneath the ravioli and the rose peppercorns sprinkled over the top add surprising bursts of flavor that really elevate the dish.
The blackened mahi-mahi tacos ($10) come on pillowy fresh-made flour tortillas and have a winning blend of crispy pickled cabbage with spicy-sweet peach jalapeño relish and cool avocado crema. The only downside was that of the two big chunks of mahi that came on each taco, one was a darker piece with a rather unpleasant oily flavor, making one half of the taco far better than the other. But, the good half was really, really good.
The crispy seared Caw Caw Farms pork belly ($19) is an entrée that just dares you to try it, and even in these days of relaxing fat phobias, this one's a bold challenge. The 3-inch-by-5-inch slab of pork belly is from the pastured, heirloom pigs raised just up the road at Caw Caw Creek Farms in St. Matthew's. The slab is seared to a crispy brown on top and served alongside a pile of thin-sliced fingerling potato chips drizzled with buttermilk blue cheese and roasted figs. The pork belly, as you would expect, is extremely fatty, but hidden away inside are shreds of white meat that are every bit as tender and moist as well-barbecued pork shoulder.
Ultimately, the pork belly seems better suited for serving in a smaller appetizer portion, since there's only so much fat one eater can stand, and the plate doesn't quite come together as a whole. The blue cheese and roasted figs are a classically delightful combination, and the fingerling potato chips are quite delicious, but they don't really complement the pork belly nor each other well enough to be a unified entrée.
A safer bet is the griddled Carolina crab cakes ($18). The two hockey puck-sized cakes are just gooey enough to contrast nicely with the crispy brown sear on the outside, and there's enough hot pepper tingle to keep things interesting. The accompanying creamed plantation rice, however, steals the show. Soft, creamy, and salty, it has a strong, aromatic rice flavor that shines through and makes for a luxuriously rich plate.
Chef and owner J. J. Kern formerly worked the kitchen at Long Point Grill in Mt. Pleasant, and LPG fans will find Huck's blend of fruit and savory flavors to be familiar. If, like me, you've eaten at Long Point Grill recently and found their old standby Rockefeller Pasta to be not nearly as good as it used to be, you'll be relieved to know that "The Original Rockefeller Pasta" ($10) can now be found at Huck's Lowcountry Table with all the classic decadence of spinach, bacon, and onions in a Pernod cream sauce.
Huck's also has something else going for it that few Charleston restaurants can claim: an ocean view. It's not panoramic, due to the surrounding buildings, but if you get a seat at one of the window tables you can look out over the gray Atlantic while enjoying Lowcountry classics prepared with a modern fusion sensibility.
Huck's still seems to be working out a few operational kinks. There have been some upward adjustments in entrée prices lately, and we had a few glitches with the service during our meals, but they were quickly and cheerfully corrected. It will be interesting to see whether the more adventurous selections like the pork belly and the pancetta gnocchi with mustard greens, almonds, and maple brown butter ($14) will make the cut with the IOP vacation crowd. For now, though, it's encouraging to see another local chef strike out on his own and take not only some financial risks but some culinary ones as well.