With Langdon’s and Opal under his belt, the Mount Pleasant restaurateur talks about his new pizzeria-raw bar, Wood & Grain, and why he’s loyal to East of the Cooper
CM: Are you from Mount Pleasant?
PO: Yep, I was born and raised here. I went to Wando High School, then Clemson for college, and when I was about 30, I bought my parents’ house in Mount Pleasant. I wouldn’t mind living somewhere else for a couple of years, but it’s pretty hard to leave now!
CM: You’re busy with two successful restaurants and now a third, Wood & Grain. How do you manage it all?
PO: I’m lucky to work with really great people who run a tight ship. I have chef Jeff Brookhart and manager Matt Davis over at Langdon’s, and they’ve been steady with me since the beginning. Chef Ryan Camp runs Opal—he calls me when he needs something, which is very rare. Without them, opening a third restaurant wouldn’t have been possible.
CM: How has Mount Pleasant’s food scene changed through the years?
PO: When we opened Langdon’s in 2003, there was J. Bistro [now closed], and not much else. We have a lot of restaurants today, but frankly, I only visit a handful of them, like Red Drum. And I think there’s still a much greater variety over the bridge.
CM: What inspired Wood & Grain?
PO: I’m a big fan of pizza, and there wasn’t really anything like this in Mount Pleasant. To get a good slice, I’d drive to Monza or EVO. Then after I decided to focus the restaurant on pizza, I thought about raw seafood. At Langdon’s and Opal, we get our hands on some of the best fish on the planet—local shrimp and oysters, big-eye tuna from Hawaii, live lobster—but we haven’t served any of it raw, until now. It pairs surprisingly well with pizza.
CM: Have you always made pizza?
PO: Honestly, I’d probably made it about 10 times before this. Once we had the oven installed, we spent a month playing with dough varieties and temperatures, testing 40 different recipes. We finally landed on a crust that’s the best of both worlds: a cross between Roman and Neapolitan styles. Not too bready, not too thin.
CM: What’s the most memorable pizza experience you’ve had?
PO: On a trip to New York City, a couple of friends and I went to Roberta’s, this little shack in Brooklyn where you stand in a three-hour line before ordering. The pizza was good—it would’ve been better if I’d had five or six courses beforehand, because it was such a long wait.
CM: Do you have any special holiday traditions?
PO: Every December, I throw a big party at my house for Christmas Eve. My grandmother’s sister, whom we called Aunt Polly, used to host these great holiday get-togethers when we were kids. She’s passed on now, but I try to keep it going—we roast oysters and have a good time.
CM: What are you most excited about in the New Year?
PO: Relaxing! I want to get on the ski slopes again. Last year, I couldn’t go on my yearly trip out west since we were building Wood & Grain.
CM: Have you ever considered opening a place on the peninsula?
PO: I’ve gotten offers, but it’s all about quality of life. Driving around for 20 minutes trying to find a parking spot’s not really my thing. I like to be able to hit a ball to my house from the restaurant. It’s all about keeping it close, man.