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September 2012

The Review:
The Grocery
Written By: 
Patricia Agnew
Photographs By: 
Christopher Shane

With lofty spaces, abundant light, and the radiant urban agrarian menu offered by executive chef and owner Kevin Johnson, The Grocery is a breath of fresh air in Charleston’s culinary world.


With lofty spaces, abundant light, and the radiant urban agrarian menu offered by executive chef and owner Kevin Johnson, The Grocery is a breath of fresh air in Charleston’s culinary world. This attractive redesign of the former Altman’s Furniture Company space, a collaborative effort between the owners and architect David Thompson, created a modern rendition of the classic grocery, with a primary dining room and open bar spanned by expansive glass windows overlooking Cannon Street. The handsome interior blends a neutral decor with a fiesta of color provided by displays of Le Creuset service pieces and jars of vegetables and condiments produced by the in-house canning program, affirming the restaurant’s mission to celebrate artisanal local producers year-round.


Right away, one gets the impression that Johnson has been planning The Grocery throughout his entire culinary journey, collecting the best of seasons and spices to create a special experience at each level. Lively specialty cocktails include the Dirty Green Tomato Martini brightened with juices from the green tomato pickle. Engine #6, a playful nod to the nearby fire station, features fiery cinnamon and sorghum-flavored bourbon handcrafted by bartender Hallie Arnold. Deftly organized wine and beer menus provide ample possibilities for great pairings with each course from the Lowcountry- and Mediterranean-influenced menu.

Food offerings are arranged in five tiers. At the lightest level, “snacks” include small bites such as the “Piggy Plate” with house-produced charcuterie and accompaniments, as well as chicken liver mousse with delicious persimmon jam. “Bites” include more generous servings of cured “lam ham,” a unique take on the Greek gyro flavored with spice and smoke, as well as fennel sausage flatbread topped with wilted greens and soft ricotta. Our choice—tender wood-roasted Bull’s Bay clams—was seasoned with fresh chiles, garlic, and a highly spiced house-made Merguez sausage and served with dense bread for gleaning the last divine spoonful of broth.

Progressing to the “tastes” section, we found fresh catch of the day alongside seasonal wood roasted vegetables and seared scallops paired with pork belly and sweet and sour sauce. Incredibly succulent Moroccan-inspired lamb shoulder—slow-cooked and served with dried fig and lemon compote, chickpeas, spring garlic, and harissa yogurt—was amazing when enjoyed with La Cartuja Priorat from Spain.

Slightly more hearty “plates” included grouper with roasted turnips, greens, bacon, and Marcona almond relish, as well as Painted Hills hanger steak with onion soubise and red wine sauce. From the “table” selections of platters, meant to be shared, we savored every morsel of whole roasted yellowtail snapper seasoned with charred lemon, fennel, herbs, and vivid salsa verde. Scrumptious sides included roasted cauliflower gratin flavored with pecorino and whole grain mustard, along with city greens—The Grocery’s version of stewed country greens seasoned with irresistible crisped pork ends.

Seasonal desserts—including fresh sweet corn ice cream topped with blackberry compote, candied bacon, and delightful cornmeal doughnuts drizzled with salted caramel—should not be missed here. Creamy Carolina Gold rice pudding was perfection with preserved strawberry and delicate lemon rosemary shortbread.  

Flavors lingered pleasantly as each course progressed to the next, affirming the tremendous joy of dining well in this memorable restaurant where the chef completes each dish himself from his station at the front of the line. Resonating with originality, The Grocery offers an experience in which a commitment to whole food integrity and the celebration of natural flavor are reflected in each bite.
 




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