In the six months since opening, Screen Door on James Island has been through more transformations than The Wolfman.
After initial chef Blake Joyal's menu was scrapped a month after opening, the restaurant's fare descended into a worrisome state of evolutionary confusion. What awaits you at a restaurant now on the other side of its metamorphosis?
Well, fried brussels sprouts ($8) for one. Scoring a solid point for the argument "everything is delicious cooked in fat," the thinly sliced sprouts are fried to a crisp brown, liberally tossed with a sweet ginger soy sauce, and accompanied by a sriracha-infused mayonnaise. Nothing that tastes this good can be good for you. It's the vegetable of fat boy dreams,
Similarly, the fried okra ($5) is, well, fried. Whole, fresh okra pods are encrusted in a crisp cornmeal breading and accompanied by a bowl of chipotle Duke's mayo, a concoction so pungently chipotle-ish it should come with a warning. Regardless, if you're remotely a fan of fried okra, Screen Door's rendition is more than worth the money.
A holdover from the original menu, the Thai chili chicken wings ($6/six, $12/dozen) have fallen on hard times. In small print it's noted that you can order them extra crispy, and although we don't necessarily know what that entails, it's got to be better than the flaccid effort we received. To make matters worse, these are sweet chili sauce wings are all sugar, no spice, and absolutely no discernible heat.
The Caesar salad ($9), on the other hand, is available exclusively in extra crispy. Made with an inadvisable amount of raw curly kale, each bite is like a noisy step on a forest floor. The scratchy leaves are wholly impervious to the thick coating of caesar dressing, retaining their stiff, abrasive texture through to the bitter end. The croutons and parmesan are powerless to help. We hope they'll consider a switch to dino kale or at least massage these buoyant bad boys into submission. If all else fails, go full kombucha — phoning it in on a trend that should, at minimum, involve the holy trinity of chia seeds, quinoa, and acai berries.
What used to be a delight of balanced flavors is now just a terrible dessert. Et tu, roasted beets salad ($9)? Plated atop some entirely unnecessary romaine lettuce, the chopped yellow beets, pulverized red beets, sugar bomb dressing, pistachios, and yogurt sauce look as sloppy as they taste. Bring back the thoughtful, composed ring mold version or allow this salad a dignified death.
Disappointing salads aside, Screen Door's ambiance is notably cute. Even if the view is of Folly Road, the festive, multicolored screen door porch is eye candy enough. Inside, you'll find the screen door theme continues in a playful upgrade from the space's original roots as a chain restaurant. Service is friendly, but can be harried. As the minutes tick by, time seems to stop and servers remain at large. I utilized these pregnant pauses to consider my Christmas shopping list, though I should have used it to strengthen my resolve (and jaw) for the challenge ahead.
My opponent arrived in the form of the shrimp po' boy ($11).The six breaded shrimp, iceberg lettuce, onion, remoulade, and the eerie, ghostly pale tomato slices didn't stand a chance. The only flavor was that of bread. So much bread. Granted, the crisp baguette would be delightful with some brie, but it was cumbersome here, rendering the hand-cut fries the best thing on the plate.
However, without a doubt, the margherita pizza ($10) was the most frustrating thing I ate. The pizza was delicious, putting the wood-fired oven to excellent use, the thin, crisp crust of the pie had a light char and was topped by a savory tomato sauce, plops of buffalo mozzarella, and thin strips of basil. But here's the rub: It was entirely too small. An appetizer in size, this pizza deserves a larger role on the menu and its portrait on the wall. This pizza deserves its revenge. Or at least a party.
In other news, the pan-roasted duck breast ($17) felt like a dare. Who has duck on the same menu as Mexicali pizza and gravy fries? Screen Door does and does it surprisingly well. The duck arrived cooked to a juicy medium rare. Although I would have appreciated a little more sear on the skin, the moist, cumin-infused meat still commanded my respect. The accompanying Boursin cheese mashed potatoes were extremely rich; in combination with the duck meat, it's just too heavy. Thankfully, the sour chowchow — made with cabbage, red bell peppers, carrots, and spice — helped to lighten and brighten things up.
In another case of a strong protein with a lackluster side, the moist, buttery, and subtly seasoned pan-seared salmon ($20) was a pleasure, but the accompanying Carolina rice was aggressively salty, yet bland. More compote than pickle, the roasted beet-caper relish's cloying sweetness only added to the disappointment factor.
In a final stroke, the wood-fired chicken ($14) further verified the skills of the person running the oven. As well-executed as the pizza, the roasted leg, thigh, and half-breast pieces arrived with a crisp brown skin and juicy interior. Redolent with the flavor of smoked paprika, it was prepared simply, but beautifully.
Also simple — to the degree of being plain — was the accompanying salad of spring greens and radish sprouts dressed with vinegar and a lot of oil. The side of roasted fingerling potatoes were also nothing special, but, thankfully, not a distraction either.
All told, Screen Door has been a bit of a revolving door since opening last spring and may even go through a few more transformations before completing the spin. For now, only the food emerging from the wood-fired oven is top-notch, but you never know what the next full moon might bring.