RESTAURANT REVIEW: Parson Jack's Cafe 

Preaching to the converted, whether you're naughty or nice


Parson Jack's Café
American/Eclectic -- Casual
Entrées: $5-$10
West Ashley
3417 Shelby Ray Ct.
843-769-7775
Lunch, Dinner, Sunday Brunch

Anyone who has ever grown up around a dirt-floor, back-country bar and grill knows that salvation is truly found in the distinctive aroma of hot wings, cigarette smoke, and High Karate cologne swirling together among a line of hunched backs nursing their beers. And why shouldn't such scenes be dear to the Southern ethos? Places like that dot the state of South Carolina, permanent fixtures of almost every two-bit crossroads, and their postmodern equivalents -- suburban strip malls. No wonder Parson Jack's brings such a homey feel. Small beer joints proliferate about the fringes of the metro area like weeds in a freshly green spring lawn.

Like any good populist joint, Parson Jack's comes with an expressive story -- something about a lost dog and a shipwrecked preacher long ago meeting up and entertaining Lowcountry crowds with fire and brimstone, hence the name Parson Jack -- a compelling, if altogether superfluous, tale. The short "Daisy Duke" britches on the waitresses and suggestive slogan, "Will you be really good ... or just a little evil?" obviously owe much more to the proprietor's former gig running a Hooters than any concocted tale about sermonizing at the side of a mischievous dog.

More importantly, they also sport some excellent food and drink -- as far as suburban "bar and grills" go. Sure, the waitresses are supposed to be "preachers' daughters" in their knee socks and tight pants, patrons recline in old church pews, and the dollar bills tacked to the acoustic tile ceiling represent donations to the SPCA, rewarding store merchandise purchases, but the concept is clear -- pack them in for cold beer and bar food.

Orders seem to take awhile, but while you wait, you can peruse an extensive selection of brews -- I counted 66 by the bottle, three on tap, and a promise to stock any other flavor requested (a nice way to cultivate a loyal clientele). From a Mickey's "Big Mouth" to a tall, shiny Sapporo, these guys cover it pretty well. Judging from the raucous banter at the bar, they seem to be selling a river of the stuff and cultivating a colorful local following in the process.

The real reason to veer into Parson Jack's comes in the form of some of the tastiest bar grub to be had from Awendaw to Edisto. The smell of deep-fried chicken wings alone could pull your car off the Glenn McConnell Parkway. They steam with the perfect amount of heat, not too hot (and we ordered them "hot"), but no sissy affair, either. They crunch with the authenticity of a true Buffalo sear and bring on that lip-smacking tang that only a judicious blend of butter and vinegared peppers can create.

The fries are equally potent -- fresh blobs of pure starch, crispy and pillowy soft in the center, the whole beautiful pile begging for a slather of ketchup. Pizzas hit the hot stone with a wide selection of accoutrements. Mozzarella, garlic butters, and tangy marinara adorn the thin crusts with the perfect amount of sloppy ooze dripping from the thin, shattering dough onto the plate. For $6.99 a pop, the kitchen offers a variety of custom designs, and unusual items like fried chicken, yellow squash, zucchini, and avocado for the adventurous.

They also serve acceptable cheesesteaks, technically a "Philly French Dip" ($7.99) served with fries and an onion soup dipping sauce, which on its own would constitute a satisfying meal, but pales in comparison to the burger ($7.39) -- a thick slab of beef oozing with the richness that only the best burgers seem to have. They cook it the way you want it, from rare to fully dead, and a medium rare specimen seems just about perfect, just pink with a trickle of juice that threatens to run down your arms and inevitably end up in your lap. Each bite is a brilliant little morsel, glistening and grand, three-quarters of an inch thick, perhaps the best burger you will find in town (if only they offered bacon and pimento cheese). Great burgers such as these must be eaten with the same precaution as lobster, leaning over the plate with a large napkin tucked tightly against your chin, lest the dribble catch your collar. Or you could simply forget about that starched white shirt and let caution fly, belly up to the bar among the locals, lean into the plate, and revel in the simple beauty of really good food, regular Joes, and an ice-cold beer.

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