The Southern General pulls rank on the Johns Island dining scene 

Generally Great

It's hard to resist the super butt, a braised pork sandwich with onion-mustard relish and sweet potato cream cheese on brioche

Jonathan Boncek

It's hard to resist the super butt, a braised pork sandwich with onion-mustard relish and sweet potato cream cheese on brioche

Down the street from the Wild Olive and a quick left after the Fat Hen, the Southern General sits unassumingly at the end of a strip mall. The exterior is modest, with little more than a chalkboard outside boasting daily specials and happy hour deals.

Inside, the space is shared by a bar that spans the left side of the room and a small collection of tables. A large, reclaimed wood table flanked by benches is positioned next to the kitchen. Perhaps it's the de facto chef's table? It's a funny idea in such a low-key place. The rustic wood interior, adorned with local paintings of island life and jars of preserves give the place a faint roadhouse feel, albeit one in which the patrons are more likely to jump into a round of Parcheesi from the collection of games in the back than they are to get into a drunken fistfight.

The menu is where things stop being quaint. The poutine appetizer ($9) marries hand-cut, herb-seasoned french fries drizzled with brown gravy and gently fried mozzarella cheese curds. If frying food is an art, then these curds are a masterpiece: barely golden, the battered exterior delicately melts in your mouth. The sweet tea wings ($10) are dry rubbed and complemented by a sweet tea barbecue sauce that has a hint of sweetness and a tang that's reigned in by the notes of black tea. The smoked sweet onion dip ($7) is well balanced and comes with housemade potato chips and vegetables to suit your dipping preference. The sweet corn fritters ($7.50) are a delicious creole treat. A traditional maque choux of corn, green bell pepper, and onion are combined with the house's spicy sweet potato cream cheese and lightly fried.

The sandwiches are divided into two columns, the General's Sandwiches on the left and a collection of craft sandwiches on the right. The brilliance of the design becomes evident as diners flock to the craft sandwich column. Sure, a pulled pork sandwich sounds nice, but the Super Butt, with braised pork, smoky sweet onion-mustard relish, and spicy sweet potato cream cheese on a brioche bun sounds even better. And it is. The classic Cubano is similarly amped up as the Cu-Bahn-Mi ($8.50) with candied pork belly and sweet potato garlic kimchi on a pressed baguette. It's topped with a guaveñero-banana mustard that deftly fuses habañero peppers with guava fruit. The Chicken Schnitzel ($8.50) combines moist breaded chicken with lemon-dressed kale and roasted tomato on a baguette, while the popular Sesame Shrimp ($9) once again shows off the General's talent at the fryer as crispy tempura shrimp is topped with sweet chili slaw and a spicy red chili-based mayo. Not all of the General's sandwiches are abandoned for their craft counterparts. The Classic Meatball ($8) and Cheese Steak ($8.50) are expertly executed versions of well-known basics.

In addition to classic and inventive sandwiches, the Southern General also offers burgers, including an Angus burger and a black bean vegetarian option. But it was the Brat Burger ($9) that we devoured. The bratwurst patty is housemade and served with spicy beer cheese mustard and broccoli slaw. The patty is denser than most beef burgers but incredibly juicy and full of smoky flavor.

A side of pineapple-green chili macaroni salad ($2.50), possibly the most unassuming dish in an already understated joint, is the thing that made us stop after the initial bite and ponder what our tastebuds were experiencing. The subtle sweetness of so many macaroni salads, usually achieved with sweet pickles or green relish shortcuts, is instead attributed to pineapple, while a hint of green chile holds the tropical fruit in check.

The service is laid back and friendly, deceptively hiding a thorough knowledge of the dishes' ingredients and preparations when asked. The menu also includes a pork green chili ($6.50) and a rotating selection of seasonal soups. Daily sandwich specials are also available, providing a test kitchen to potential menu additions like a patty melt or a black-and-blue sirloin sandwich. A double cooler behind the bar offers guests a wide selection of craft beers, as well as domestics and imports. Wine is also available, and a weekday happy hour offers dollar-off beers and discounted appetizers from 4-7 p.m., if you're able to beat the Maybank Highway traffic.

Chef Tim Erwin and his team at the Southern General have opened a sandwich joint that delivers a dining experience as exciting as some downtown favorites. Erwin's playful riffs on classic German dishes and success at incorporating tropical fruits into savory dishes signal a talent that deserves to be watched. None of this creativity would matter if it weren't built on a strong foundation of fresh breads and ingredients. The caliber of the food and the overall experience of eating at the Southern General makes us wonder if they might actually put that chef's table to use sometime soon.

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