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True Southern ingredients and those who produce them star at Husk, where executive chef Sean Brock spins a fresh daily menu using the finest heirloom products gleaned from all points south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Led by Neighborhood Dining Group president David Howard and assisted by chef de cuisine Travis Grimes, Brock makes it easy to see why the James Beard Foundation named him 2010’s Best Chef: Southeast for his work at Husk’s sister restaurant, McCrady’s. Each course here is a resounding ode to the farmers (including Brock himself), fishermen, butchers, and breeders who provided the ingredients, as well as to the legacies they’ve tendered by preserving heritage practices and products.
Since Husk opened in November 2010, quick discovery among the public and early high praise has generated standard waiting lists. The restaurant’s setting serves as a worthy canvas for the menu. The late-1800s building and neighboring bar blend historic bones with natural hues and impressionist-inspired watercolors. Wooden tables are adorned with casual mats and dried okra centerpieces, creating a sense of warm comfort that’s echoed by well-informed servers who seem to enjoy themselves as much as the guests.
With its upscale-country look; bow-tied master mixologists; and crisp, easy style; the separately housed bar produces creative cocktails such as Husk Herbal Tea—an elixir of chamomile- and herb-infused vodka with fresh lemon juice, a bright berry base, and hibiscus. A crafted-to-order cocktail of Hendrick’s gin, Artisan Tonic Syrup from local Jack Rudy Cocktail Company, and cucumber will slow anyone’s clock. A wine list organized by terroir and exquisite microbrews can be enjoyed with pimiento cheese or country ham carved right at the bar.
The menu is divided into first courses, supper, and sides, with specials so well-described by servers you’d think they’d been working alongside the chefs in the kitchen. A recent meal began with Green Grocer Farm’s golden-yolked eggs, soft-cooked and poised beside a salad of their spring pea shoots and Thornhill Farm’s baby arugula, shaved onion, and radishes in pickled peach vinaigrette. Cool Alabama crab salad comprised of pure jumbo lump crab was paired with strawberry soup made from fruit grown at Joseph Fields Farm and drizzled with Tennessee’s Cruze Farm buttermilk for the perfect creamy texture.
Both salads were elegantly presented in hand-tooled wooden bowls and accompanied by buttermilk yeast rolls topped with benne seeds and served with a signature mixture of South Carolina creamery butter and rendered pork fat sweetened with Wadmalaw Island honey. Next up were bowls of silken bisque layered with flavors of South Carolina shrimp, preserved lemon, shaved asparagus, and sherry.
As for entrées, Virginia’s Border Springs Farm lamb terrine delivered the wild, wonderful flavor of the farm in boned, tenderized, pressed layers of lamb leg, seared to order and served with braised turnips, Thornhill Farm’s bok choy and pickled sunchoke relish—delicious with super-Tuscan 2006 Morellino di Scansano. Cornmeal-dusted North Carolina catfish with a succotash of field peas, smoked onions, and Glenn Roberts’ Anson Mills hominy was even more special with rich tomato gravy made from Brock’s mother’s recipe using preserved Tennessee tomatoes. And once you’ve tried it, supper seems unimaginable without a side skillet of cornbread made with Benton’s bacon, also from Tennessee.
For dessert, we enjoyed pastry chef Nathan Richard’s dense chocolate cake with basil- flavored chocolate ganache, strawberry syrup, and Kentucky vanilla cream alongside the suggested pairing of Old Weller Antique Bourbon.
Thoughtfully presented on every level, the Husk experience is exciting and provocative. The carefully sourced food and drink expand Charleston’s dining palate, informing patrons of rich Southern foodways far beyond our fair city while honoring the area farms that have sustained our tables for years.