4 Restaurants I Was Thrilled to See Open in 2017, and 1 Was Sad to See Go
Kairos: Confession, even through the great Chipotle scare of 2016, I remained a dedicated fan. Truth be told my love for the fast-casual eatery, has less to do with the food and more to do with the concept. The ‘build your own’ approach to cuisine is a healthy-ish eater’s dream. When I heard about Kairos a Chipotle-esque format serving Mediterranean flavors, I could not wait to try it and through many combinations, I have not been disappointed. The selection begins with an option to choose a pita, bowl or salad, followed by choices in protein including falafel, chicken, meatballs, and lamb, and finishes with a topping selection with about 20 to choose from including veggies, cucumber and tomato salad, tzatziki, hummus, baba ganoush and red feta spread. I usually go back and forth between a salad and bowl (again, healthy-ish) and have tried all of the proteins with a variety of combinations of toppings. I am personally a fan of the lamb and meatballs and literally die for their red pepper feta spread, seriously, it’s heaven. A huge bonus is that even with a line it never takes more than 5-8 minutes to get your food and even when you double up on meat, the meal comes to about 10 dollars (with no drink) which is hard to find in Charleston.
Wood and Grain: If there was one food item that represented the new restaurant scene in Charleston in 2017 it would be pizza. In the span of about three months Juliet, Ember and Coastal Crust all opened touting wood-fire pizzas. Wood and Grain’s concept comes as a bit of a surprise as the menu is quite small and its offerings are centered on pizza and raw bar items an unusual combination, with a small selection of appetizers and salads to compliment them. Located just two doors down from its sister restaurant Langdon’s, Wood and Grain provides a completely different vibe, with minimalistic decor and casual high-top seating with several of the tables being communal. In about ten visits, I have to say that there has not been a single item I have disliked, some standouts for me are their ceviche with a fish selection that changes regularly, the opal pizza which features smoked duck ham with goat cheese, arugula and peppers and surprisingly one of the most simple items on the menu the kale and mushroom salad, it only has a few ingredients, but the dressing has the perfect about of acidity and well it’s just a really good way to eat your vegetables. Wood and Grain also has a good selection of craft beers, wines and cocktails, although the basic white girl in me has stuck to rose and margaritas only. The only downside, in my opinion, is that for pizza, salads and raw selections it is quite pricey, but hey, that’s Charleston.
The Workshop: The Workshop is not technically a restaurant as it a food court with 5-6 rotating food stalls. The fact that there is nothing else like it in Charleston and that I’m horribly indecisive are what makes this one of my favorite openings of 2017. In the three times, I have been, I’ve had different, but equally enjoyable experiences. Bad Wolf Coffee has a permanent home in The Workshop, although, I cannot say that I’ve had the opportunity to experience it as I have a strict no caffeine after noon policy, however, I have heard incredible things about their coffee and pastries. Slice has also had a permanent home there since it’s opening, however again I have not personally experienced it. Pink Bellies has been a staple since opening and is the one vendor I have visited on all three visits. The first two times I had their garlic noodle, which was incredibly flavorful with a twist on other Asian noodles with the addition of parmesan which adds richness to the dish. Pink Bellies also boasts an Animal Style Burger that rivals In-n-Outs, which as an avid fan of the fast-food chain I could not not try. I tried their version with pork patties that have a slightly sweet flavor (can’t remember the name for it) and for me, the imitation actually improved on the original as the patties had amazing flavor on their own. I have also tried the bibimbap from Kite Noodle which is not currently there. For me personally, I would say that the sampler from Juan Luis was the one item there that did not blow me away, but was still very good. Slider Gold has a very unique menu of Asian inspired sliders, The Szechuan Chicken Slider was very good, although having grown up on Szechuan cuisine I could have used a little more peppercorn flavor. I really loved the Golden Croquette Curry Slider though. The concept of The Workshop really is fun for trying new things without having to fully immerse in a full meal and is ideal when one person in a group wants Mexican and another wants pizza.
Sorghum and Salt: I guess there may be a tiny bit of bias with this selection as Sorghum and Salt is a client, but I promise it’s good. While the culinary scene in Charleston has certainly grown leaps in bounds in recent years, I would have to say there is still very little diversity in the food scene with spins on southern cuisine being the staple and variations of shrimp and grits being on almost every menu. I think its departure from the norm is what makes Sorghum and Salt a standout for me. Chef Tres Jackson is playful and creative with his dishes and does not take the dining experience too seriously adding fun details to his dishes like miniature popcorn made from popped sorghum or pairing dishes with the champagne of beers Miller High Life but make no mistake, he has some serious chops in the kitchen. The menu features constantly shifting small plates that are vegetable and seafood-centric. I love the idea of small plates because you can try more dishes and with the menu being different every day, being able to try more is definitely a good thing. Some personal favorites on the menu are the local shrimp with yuzu and crispy brussel leaves, the marinated trout with avocado puree and seriously no bias at all, but Chef Jackson’s beet cremeux with espresso and pistachios is my favorite bite of 2017. Sorghum and Salt also has a great selection of wine and beer, but I do sometimes wish they served cocktails, only because Chef is so adept at mixing unusual ingredients I’d be interested to see what he could come up with.
Artisan Meat Share: I have to say, one of my biggest regrets in 2017 was not visiting AMS more often when I had the chance because it sadly closed in June. To say that people were shocked would be an understatement. There are actually very few sandwiches that excite me and I would say that AMS and 167 Raw are the two places where I actually order a sandwich. AMS’s Banh Mi and Shaved Pork Sandwich, were outrageously delicious and I could cry thinking about how I may never have them again, but that would be weird and over the top. All I can say is if they ever reopen or have a pop-up somewhere, run, don’t walk and wear stretchy pants.