The Review: Leaf
When the doors closed at Vickery’s on Beaufain Street a few years ago, there were sighs for the loss of this warm, well-worn gathering place for all ages at all hours.
The Cuban sandwich and the black bean burger were favorites, along with smashed potatoes loaded with scallions, cheese, and bacon with a fresh, crisp side salad—the ultimate comfort food that never got old. So when word got out that new owners were about to unveil a replacement, the natives couldn’t wait to check it out.
Leaf’s opening in April 2011 brought some immediate good news, beginning with the reviving of the outdoor courtyard beneath the branches of the huge sheltering elm at the entrance. Twinkling lights and protective shrubs frame the space. Needless to say, there’s seldom an empty seat available when the weather is good—and in Charleston, that’s most of the time. Once inside, a glance reveals that proprietors Tim May and Pierre Estoppey have worked magic with the space, replacing tired rooms and stale air with lightened finishes and fresh breezes now blowing through grand French doors.
The main dining room is virtually unrecognizable from its Vickery’s days, with towering ivory-curtained doors that sweep from light wood floors to dark ceilings. A few steps above the main dining room, comfortable tables and booths are arranged in a more private loft area brightened by artist Kevin Morrissey’s depictions of people and animals descending through deep blue skies. The bar area—anchored by festive prints of Southern delicacies and a prominent, copper-topped central bar—remains headquarters for multi-generational professionals, college students, and families, with bustling spirit and camaraderie alive seven days a week.
It’s all good—and in addition to the scenery, Leaf is also about the steady menu of every-person’s American food with global influence developed by chef Ross Webb. The ample collection of standards includes grilled asparagus and a delicate soft-poached egg splashed with lemon vinaigrette and classic mussels marinière in a white wine, garlic, shallot, and herb-butter broth. The Caesar salad is a pleasant departure —though perhaps the expertly grilled romaine, Parmesan crisp, and standard dressing would be enhanced by anchovy. Soups are flavorful; wild mushroom is a classic. The duck nachos—crispy wontons bearing duck confit, Asian slaw, and cotija cheese finished with cilantro vinaigrette and sauces delivering a sweet hot kick—would have been delicious if served hot.
Sandwiches shine with sides of Parmesan truffle or sweet potato fries, slaw, roasted beets, or frickles (fried pickles). The boccadillo pairing of Serrano ham and manchego on grilled sourdough, as well as a smoked salmon BLT with boursin, pecan-smoked bacon, and tomato are faves. A grilled portobello, mozzarella, and avocado sandwich is a tasty vegetarian option, while Leaf’s burger with cheese and bacon is popular among meat-lovers. The marriage of tender burgundy-braised short-rib and grilled Gruyère was an excellent idea, but a little short on flavor in sandwich form. Grained mustard or a stronger-flavored cheese might take it over the top.
Entrées offer market seafood and beef butcherblock selections daily. The fish is fresh, well-cooked, and healthily paired with vegetables, grains, and pastas, while the heartier certified Angus beef packs a punch with a Gruyère potato soufflé and red wine butter. The chef’s mother’s recipe for meatloaf is also superb with potato purée and creamed succotash. Nice alternatives for a lighter but satisfying meal include daily risotto and eggplant roulade. The basil leaf capellini with brie and vine-ripened tomato rounds out the list. Desserts include bread pudding, chocolate lava cake, and other seasonal sweets. A memorable Sunday brunch menu offers Bloody Marys and mimosas with French toast stuffed with cream cheese mousse, strawberry compote, and South Carolina honey.
Years later, the energy and menu have returned life to this familiar destination. We look forward to the continued evolution of this neighborhood reprieve.
15 Beaufain St.
The Draw: Attractive space with al fresco dining; diverse menu with universal appeal and friendly, capable service
The Drawbacks: Timing issues can cloud the experience; occasional rapid-fire delivery of courses may result in service lags.
Don’t Miss: Fresh catch, grilled Caesar, mom’s meatloaf, daily risotto, and for brunch, the French toast and Leaf benedict
Price: $8 to $18