After 2 visits to this Lowcountry-inspired joint on Pearl St., I confess bemusement. Though a Jan. review by Westword’s Gretchen Kurtz sheds some light on the obviously well-meaning but somewhat amateurish operation, one would think that after 9 months in business, it would no longer “feel like it’s in the soft-opening stage.” It still does, starting with the lack of a host stand—you just hang out rather vulnerably in the dining room until someone comes to get you—& the somewhat awkward approach of the admittedly very sweet servers, one of whom explained to me that though soup portions were very large, “they just go right through you,” the other of whom scratched her neck a lot while alluding to the restaurant’s pair of 5-star reviews. On Yelp? Otherwise I can’t fathom.
But it also has its fair share of charms. Occupying an old renovated 2-story with umbrella-lined patios both upstairs & down, all cozy brick & wood on the inside, it’s unusually comfy & relaxing compared to its often headache-inducingly packed neighbors. On the broadly coastal-Southern menu, much appeals & even surprises: gourd soup with brown-butter crema & almonds? bison-lamb meatloaf in vindaloo-style curry with bourbon-&-cinnamon-buttered sweet potatoes? a full-on seafood boil? Sure thing. There are even a couple of wines you don’t generally see outside of enocentric hangs, like a Hungarian Furmint BTG.
Execution is nonetheless erratic, right down to the fact that some of the most potentially disastrous items are actually the most fun. The “roll of Monte Cristo” makes no sense on paper: while egg rolls & their ilk have been receiving the fusion treatment for years—filled to evoke Philly cheesesteaks or burritos, say—I’ve never seen an example that stuffed 3 cuisines into a single wrapper. This one advertises not only its Asian influences, with sesame seeds & wasabi as well as rice paper, but also French (well, sort of—the variation on a croque monsieur that is the namesake Monte Cristo usually still contains Swiss cheese along with the ham, not white cheddar as this does) & Southern in the form of pulled pork & chicken. I mean, that’s ridiculous. But a bunch of meat & cheese mixed together & fried is a bunch of meat & cheese mixed together & fried—finger-licking! (Granted, said wasabi was undetectable in what seemed to be just a glob of mayo alongside some indifferent sweet-chili sauce.)
Curiously, the barbecued pork-&-slaw sandwich pal A got did come loaded with ham & gruyère, making the choice of cheddar in the spring rolls an even bigger mystery (if not one I intend to overthink).
I assume they call this “Lowcountry ceviche” to indicate that it’s not really ceviche; the fish is entirely raw, not marinated in citrus. Why they didn’t therefore just call it “Lowcountry tartare” is beyond me—other than the use of corn, which is indeed traditionally Peruvian. Whatever—though the chunks of tuna & avocado are almost obscenely large, the whole thing comes together lusciously.
Topped with cheddar, the grit cakes needed far more crunch on the outside, but they were good on the inside: slightly creamy, robustly flavored.
Likewise, the patty on the veggie burger I got to go was downright mushy—it needed something in there for structure. But the intensely mushroomy pieces it crumbled into otherwise stood up to the strong savor of feta, roasted red pepper, red onion & green goddess dressing, & smashed potatoes made for a nice change of pace from fries.
I didn’t try Mantonat’s burger, but the serious pile of ground beef & venison, tasso-ham gravy, caramelized onions, gruyère & fried-green tomatoes he got means it’s on my list.
By contrast, the Director’s half-rack of wild-boar spareribs in chipotle-maple sauce were as slapdash as they looked over slaw in the to-go box—overcooked, ketchupy-sweet.
Finally, about that soup: I indeed received what appeared to be nearly a whole batch of Manhattan-style conch chowder. A little heavy on the tomato-soupy flavor at the expense of everything else, & the conch was a tad chewy—though it wasn’t skimped on, & generally speaking the bowl hit the spot as refreshing & nourishing on a roster of dishes that doesn’t make eating light easy.
Overall, one senses that these guys are really trying to do right by their neighbors, & they’ve succeeded in creating an attractive, stress-free environment to hang out in. Just a little more detail orientation & precision in the kitchen could go a long way.