When I first heard the plan for the Granary, the new restaurant that just moved into the old Hubee D's space in the Belle Hall shopping center, I was skeptical. A farm-to-table joint with an in-house charcuterie program, plus pickling and craft cocktails, too? Lardcore sneaking its way across the Ravenel and into Mt. Pleasant? Could this really work?
The skepticism went in two directions. First, toward the concept itself. We've been plagued lately with shopping plaza bistros that are long on ambition and short on execution. Then there's the market. Even if the Granary managed to pull off the format, is Mt. Pleasant ready for snout-to-tail house-cured meats and unusual small plates? Would enough diners be willing to step out of the comfort zone of hefty chicken, salmon, and steak entrees and embrace such cooking?
Intrigued, I checked it out.
It seems only appropriate to start with a few of the Granary's cocktails, since they are quite impressive. No fancy pants martinis with fruit flavors and neon colors here. The Sochi Fizz — created in honor of the Winter Olympics — has balanced flavors inspired by all five participating continents: Russian vodka gets flavored with grapefruit, lemongrass, and vanilla and then topped with a delightful white blanket of elderflower-tinged foam that looks more snow-like than anything found on the Sochi slopes.
The rye whiskey punch ($10) is designed to serve two, and it comes in a sleek glass bottle topped with a wire stopper. You pour your own into an ice-filled glass with a waiting lemon twist, and into your dining companion's too, if you're inclined to share, which after the first sip you may not be. The blend of citrus and pineapple juices offsets the rye's bite, and hints of vanilla and clove round out a fresh, flavorful cocktail.
Next, the charcuterie, some of which is displayed front and center in a glass cooler just inside the front door. Every other week, the kitchen gets in a whole animal from heirloom producers and carves it into cuts for entrees and appetizers, the remaining bits making their way into sausages and pâtés and rillettes.
The charcuterie platter ($16) offers a rotating and generous selection atop a wooden cutting board. It might include pistachio-laced mortadella, well-marbled coppa, creamy duck pâté, and pork rillettes, all accompanied by housemade pickled okra and tomatillos, plus an excellent grainy mustard. The best bites I sampled were the thin slices of duck prosciutto, which have a dark, rich flavor beneath a sheen of glistening fat, and the bread and butter pickles, which perfectly balance tangy and sweet.
For me, the heart of the Granary's menu is the slate of small plates. It's one of those selections that puts you on your heels because there are too many tempting things to choose from. There's pork belly with grits and an over-easy egg ($10), and duck confit on a Charleston Gold Rice cake with crowder peas ($12). Heck, when served with white anchovy, lardons, and a hard-boiled farm egg, even kale ($9) can sound appealing.
The finished plates follow through on the promise of the menu verbiage, and one or two extra elements take the dish from good to great. Tender chunks of braised lamb ($12) are tossed among pappardelle with a perfectly taut texture, and little bits of white cheese and wilted greens add unexpected but very welcome accents.
The clams ($12) are braised in beer, and the resulting broth, laced with chorizo and fennel, is delightful. But the capping touch comes from the sweet segments of blood orange scattered across the shells — a novel but spot-on match for the rest of the dish's flavors.
The entree plates are not particularly elegant: meat and veg tossed atop some sort of supporting bed of purees, grits, or lentils on heavy white plates and in sturdy bowls, chaotic blobs of sauces adding splashes of color. Tweezer food it ain't.
The focus, instead, is on the flavor. I intentionally ordered the smoked pork chop ($24) because most strip mall bistros have some variation of a thick-cut chop, and in far too many cases they are artlessly cooked and utterly insipid. The first bite of the Granary's, though, is a stunner: a huge blast of smoky, salty crispness. The creamy white turnip puree is a worthy base, and a folded mound of collards infused with a sweet apple bacon gastrique works quite nicely. Big wedges of roasted carrots jar with the ensemble, and the finely diced apple cubes seem like an afterthought, but they fade into the background as one carves down closer to the bone of the chop, the pork's smoky flavor growing even richer and more intense.
The duo of duck ($20) is a mixed bag, too. Perfectly seared slices of rare duck breast outshine an unremarkable bed of lentils laced with confit. But the first taste of the brilliantly orange-colored shallot-kumquat marmalade, which is layered in a long row down one side of the plate, elicits an audible "wow." It's a creative departure from the standard orange or cherry sauces that normally adorn duck.
The Granary is the handiwork of co-owner and executive chef Brannon Florie, who has floated around the Charleston culinary scene for the past few years, seemingly in search of the right venue for his restless ambition.
For a while, he was working the northern reaches of Mt. Pleasant at 17 North, where he followed in the wake of founding chef Brett McKee and never quite got in synch with the owners. Next, he turned to some consulting gigs and created a few solid menus for restaurants like the Rarebit and the newly-reformulated Big John's Tavern.
But the Granary is his first chance to step up and launch something that is truly his own, which Florie confirmed for me when I caught up with him for a few follow-up questions. "This is definitely a dream come true for me," he said. "This is the first one I've done from the ground up. I was able to help with the [overall] design and design the entire kitchen."
That overall design captures a lot of the now-requisite features of farm-to-table dining rooms: lots of brown, industrial piping, and food as decoration, with big glass jars of pickled eggs and carrots resting atop the low dividing walls of the dining room.
Florie had big ambitions for his menu, and he reports that, unlike in some of his previous gigs, he didn't get much resistance from his business partners to his selections. It will be interesting to see whether the Belle Hall location will prove to be a lasting platform on which he can let his promising star shine.
If I was a little disappointed by a few elements on the entrees, it's only because the brilliant execution of the small plates and the charcuterie plainly shows that this kitchen is capable of something special. The Granary is already evolving, launching this week a Monday-only fried chicken platter featuring local birds that are beer-brined, cooked sous vide, then finished in hot fat, and Florie says he's about to get in some whole goats to use for both menu dishes and also be incorporated into charcuterie.
I expect I'll soon remove my asterisk for the Granary. Instead of qualifying things by saying, this is a great place to get farm-to-table cooking if you're east of the Cooper, we can just say, this is one Lowcountry restaurant you can't afford to miss. I think it's in its grasp.
And, as for those concerns about the market, I visited on two weekend nights and both times the dining room and bar were filled and buzzing. I've already had several of my neighbors volunteer that they dined at the Granary recently and absolutely loved it. It seems like we Mt. Pleasanters are getting downright sophisticated in our tastes, and we're long overdue for a place like the Granary.