When Sunrise Bistro owners Jessica Welenteichick and Brian Appelt worked at Hege's Kiawah restaurant back in 2009, they pondered opening a place of their own. Both Welenteichick, a Johns Island resident and graduate of the Culinary Institute of Charleston, and Appelt, a Seabrook resident and self-trained chef who previously had a restaurant in Costa Rica, had driven across Johns Island's lazy macro grid of two-lane oak-draped roads and pondered its limited restaurant options. Sure, you had your barbecue, Mexican, Chinese, McDonald's, and Subway. You had upscale options, too, with Fat Hen and Wild Olive, but they were only open for dinner (and Fat Hen for Sunday brunch). But there wasn't much in the way of quality breakfast and lunch options.
So, they thought, what if they opened an easygoing place that served breakfast and lunch daily, along with fresh specials and the occasional Friday night dinner? There's a need for breakfast and lunch options on Johns Island, plus they'd have nights off — a nice perk. The food would be satisfying and indulgent but also fresh and varied, with daily-made breads, biscuits, bagels, pizza dough, soups, salads, sandwiches, and more, all made with high quality, often local ingredients, fresh herbs, fragrant olive oil, and good cheeses. Welenteichick would make the restaurant's pastries, desserts, biscuits, and salad dressings. Appelt would make most everything else. They'd call it a bistro so they'd feel free to change the menu according to their, and customers', whims.
When they noticed a vacancy at the corner of the island's main intersection at Maybank and Main, they could see it. The former nightclub space had plenty of parking, great visibility, both a captive local and tourist population at Seabrook and Kiawah, plenty of potential patrons living on Johns and Wadmalaw islands, and in West Ashley, plus a constant stream of people from all over passing through for whatever reason. Nearby you have the Tea Plantation, Angel Oak, and Firefly Vodka, which couldn't hurt either. After all, there are only so many roads on Johns Island, and these are the main drags. So they opened Sunrise Bistro in September 2009, and people have been stopping in hungry and leaving well-fed ever since.
My guess is there's no better breakfast value on the island, and locals seem to agree. Welenteichick estimates that 60 percent of their patrons are from Kiawah and Seabrook and, judging by the age of the patrons, that seems about right.
Appelt is there at 4 a.m. every morning. There's the standard two-egg style breakfast with sides, sandwiches for under $4, light and fluffy open-faced omelets teeming with fillings (also under $4), french toast ($4.75), and breakfast quiches and burritos ($3-$5). The copious breakfast pizzas are built with fresh dough, a base of sausage gravy, and an omelet on top — a lot of food for $4.95. Lunch-wise, I especially like the Bistro turkey sandwich (6.95). Like all Sunrise sandwiches it comes with a choice of sides like fresh fruit (seasonal and local when possible), pasta salad, potato salad, soup of the day, coleslaw, and Sunrise's hummus. The sandwich itself is smoked turkey, fresh mixed greens, red onion, pepper jack or cheddar, tomato, and a fresh herb mayo, packed between two thick pieces of housemade rosemary focaccia bread.
Another sandwich, the roast beef melt, was a satisfying recent lunch special: thinly sliced meat, sautéed onions and mushrooms, and cheddar and pepper jack cheeses melted within two thick slices of Texas toast. That, and a few more melts and hot sandwiches, are about to become permanent menu fixtures, along with more whole grain bread options.
The Sunrise signature chicken salad wrap (or plate — both $5.95) is one of the most popular sandwiches.
"Everybody loves it," says Welenteichick. "It's probably one of our top sellers."
Chunks of chicken are combined with bacon, pine nuts, celery, fresh onions, mayonnaise, mustard, and honey. It's a bold chicken salad with the onions and bacon, and the wrap went well on a recent visit with a side of tomato basil soup ($3.95), another Sunrise favorite. Like the pizza, it's made with fresh Johns Island tomatoes when possible, along with thinly sliced basil leaves. The Cajun shrimp sandwich ($7.95) is another big seller, and the Veggie Delight sandwich ($6.95), made with hummus, greens, red onion, cucumbers, olives, tomato, and herb mayo, and the Hummus Platter ($5.95) are lighter lunch options. The salads are good too, whether standing alone or as a side. Paired with my roast beef melt, the spinach salad, tossed with pecans, balsamic dressing, and clumps of Johns Island goat cheese from Burden Creek Dairy, offered a pleasing contrast. The dressing, like all of Sunrise's dressings, is made in-house with care; balsamic vinegar is reduced on the stove to enhance its sweetness, and then emulsified with basil-infused olive oil.
Welenteichick also makes a mean citrus lemon vinaigrette with fresh thyme, lemon juice, and minced garlic, plus a little olive oil and honey. That focus on ingredients is key. I'm hoping Sunrise incorporates more local produce into the sandwiches and salads, things like radishes, carrots, and a wide variety of greens.
Still, Appelt is always looking for something different, and the specials often incorporate those.
"Today we found some really good mahi," Welenteichick says. "So our special was a mahi quesadilla. Or we might find some good chorizo and do an omelet with it. That's where [Appelt] gets most creative outside the menu."
Sunrise's lunch pizzas are a good combination of European and American styles. The thin housemade crust is baked until charred and shatteringly crisp, yet there's enough cheese to make you moan. The Rita is Sunrise's take on the Margherita, topped with fresh mozzarella, fresh tomatoes (soon to be local), and thin slices of basil leaves. There's also a Meatza Pizza with sausage, bacon, and ham, and a Veggie Delight with seasonal vegetables.
So far Sunrise has served dinner the second Friday of every month, and Welenteichick says they'll add another Friday each month soon (check their website and follow them on Facebook). Dinners are a three-course prix-fixe meal ($29.95/person), and they try to cover all the bases — vegetarian, fish, chicken, something hearty (pork or steak), plus a range of desserts from fruity to chocolate to cream-based.
All in all, I'd say that Sunrise's combination of food and value, given its location, can't be beat — and I'd bet it'll get better and better. Welenteichick says they love helpful suggestions, too, so let them know what you think.