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The Draw: Epic modern take on farm-to-table in a historic setting
The Drawback: The dish you loved today may be gone tomorrow.
Don’t Miss: Charleston Ice Cream
In the twilight I find myself walking a cobblestone street toward a place that makes me feel as if I’m coming home. A flickering gas lamp beckons as I make my way up the thin pass known as Unity Alley towards a familiar door, which when opened leads to a place where a state of culinary grace awaits, seemingly suspended in time.
From the foyer I survey the space. I am relieved to see understated elegance still rules the front of the house; a crackling fire gives the old brick walls and heart pine floors a warm glow in the dining room. In the bar, the intimate banquettes reside under weathered brick arches. The wine cellar is in place, soaring two stories above the long, solid bar bathed in soft lamplight.
Greeted by the polished host, I feel like an old friend who has been away and who they have been patiently waiting for. That is part of the magic at McCrady’s.
Taking a place at the bar, I find the other part of that magic is still intact, and with a few new twists. Sipping a State Street Pearl—a delicious concoction of gin, Aperol, pineapple vinegar, lime, and St. Germain—selected from an impressive specialty cocktail list, I notice there is an ever-evolving snack menu now offered in the bar. Duck confit, lamb belly, and pork rinds are a few of the day’s highlights.
A restaurant that offers a new menu every day embraces change, and chef Sean Brock’s recently appointed chef de cuisine, Daniel Heinze, a.k.a. “Dano,” is the newest embodiment of that philosophy. On the beverage side, Cappie Peete is settling in to her role as the beverage director and sommelier. Both McCrady’s veterans were promoted because of their passion; the transitions are seamless.
The menu is created from what ingredients are in peak season; a rooftop garden, the restaurant’s own farm, and a network of local farms and fishermen provide the inspiration. You can order à la carte, opt for the four-course menu, or sample a wide variety through the multi-coursed tasting menu with or without wine pairings.
I choose the latter and get blown away by a parade of local ingredients ingeniously conceived, masterfully executed, and artfully plated. The flawless wine pairings arrive with perfect timing as the evening unfolds. Nothing is rushed, there are no lapses between courses, things just flow.
A bright salad of intense beets with nasturtium flowers and leaves pairs with a rosé from Provence that bridges the two with a light pepper note. Sweet South Carolina clams with flavor-packed vegetables are accented and contrasted by aromatic wild bay leaf and the lemony sour note of wood sorrel; a Willamette Valley white blend of perfumed vinifera holds up and completes the dish. There is an impeccable, lightly smoked trout with Meyer lemon, thyme, and brassicas next, along with a Vouvray with enough weight and fruit to balance the acidity.
What comes next blows my mind in its simplicity and depth of flavor. Described on the menu as Charleston Ice Cream is a scoop of perfectly cooked Anson Mills heirloom rice infused with laurel, enriched with local butter, and simply garnished with mustard leaves and nasturtiums, served with a palate-cleansing Russian River Chardonnay—simply off the chart.
At this point, I stop trying to analyze what comes before me and just submit to it. There is a golden breast of squab with sunchokes and huckleberries served with a Sicilian red blend, then there is heritage breed lamb with celery root, apple, and rye paired with a Bordeaux blend from Lebanon.
Dessert courses follow: cocoa nib brioche with vanilla bourbon bavarois, a frozen pear parfait with crème fraiche and farro, a German riesling from the Rheinhessen that’s lightly sweet with nice acidity, and savarin oat cake with Mutsu apple provided a little extra sweetness by a rich Recioto di Soave from the Veneto. The parade is over, but I don’t want to go.
The gaslight fades as I turn the corner, cobblestones under my feet and a little box of sweets in my hand from the restaurant. I smile knowing I can always come home to McCrady’s, and it will be as if they were waiting for me.