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December 2008

The Review:
The Glass Onion
Written By: 
Patricia Agnew
Photographs By: 
Paul Cheney & Jason Kaumeyer

Nature’s finest is rich, hearty, and quickly finding its way into the hearts and bellies of Charlestonians at The Glass Onion café in West Ashley.

In this unpretentious space that once housed a book exchange, young chefs Charles Vincent, Chris Stewart, and Sarah O’Kelley blend their regional tastes

In this unpretentious space that once housed a book exchange, young chefs Charles Vincent, Chris Stewart, and Sarah O’Kelley blend their regional tastes, farm-fresh ingredients, and mutual commitment to the pure and natural into sparklingly simple, homegrown goodness that is addictive, enlivening, and holistically appealing.

Offered each weekday as well as for Saturday brunch, the menu is a study in local agricultural foodways, utilizing farm-basket vegetables, natural meats, local shrimp, and day-boat fish as well as the freshest Sea Island eggs and dairy products, Anson Mills grits, and South Carolina cornmeal. As much of their produce as possible is obtained from local growers, including the Albers, Limehouse, Fields, Kennerty, and Legare family farms. Hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken, beef, and pork are sourced locally and regionally as necessary from producers such as Keegan-Filion, Springer Mountain, and Manchester Farms. As a result, the chefs are busy each day creating not only spectacular food but also menus based on what’s currently available.

Inside the glass-front dining area, the look is festive and the feeling casual, with comfortable booths and tables set amidst farm signs, a jukebox, and a “food on the fly” to-go area. The background music is barely audible over lively guest chatter. Orders are placed at the counter, where the chock-full daily board lists specials in organized combinations of soups and salads, plates, overstuffed sandwiches, and sides. Slowly but surely, decisions get made and the line moves into the dining room, where seating is first-come, first-served.

The menu is engagingly versatile. The tender crunch of Manchester Farms fried quail goes well with a wedge of fresh Bibb lettuce and buttermilk black pepper dressing—its perfect partner a dense piece of cornbread with a sweet touch from a side of local honey. Crisp mustard-fried catfish fillets feature tart house-made red pepper relish fondly known as “Thunder Sauce” (Stewart’s specialty) and Rosebank Farms smashed sweet potatoes lightened with cream, butter, and hints of rosemary and thyme. Fried or grilled po’ boys are full of fresh local shrimp, and Vincent’s chicken and sausage gumbo is loaded with country greens, a healthy dose of spicy sausage, and, as a surprise, a perfectly poached Celeste Albers Sea Island Farm egg.

Piglicious Jambalaya, a specialty of New Orleans native Vincent, is The Glass Onion’s own rendition of this Louisiana favorite loaded with smoked pork butt, andouille sausage, tender rice, and, as a lagniappe, a fried chicken wing on top. It’s a huge hit served with the Bibb salad, slow-cooked Alamo greens enriched with vinegar, or simple cabbage coleslaw. The braised pork belly is a celebration of decadent layers, from crispy seared top to lusty strati of braised fat and pork in between. Rely on the chefs to pair these for you or get creative with the endless list of sides, such as grits, greens, relishes, and pickles.

For dessert, if you’re lucky enough to dine when it’s on the menu, O’Kelley’s real banana pudding is worth the trip in and of itself. Balancing familiar vanilla wafers with delicate banana custard, it soars to ethereal levels with Sea Island Farm eggs, fresh cream, and swirls of chocolate sauce prepared and served in an individual deep crock—definitely swoon-worthy. Her bread pudding is also worthy, getting better and better with each bite.

The Glass Onion is pure joy, with a healthy spirit and comforting nonchalance that reminds that you’re there for the food, not the fuss. On your way out, check out the takeout cooler for house-made specialties including buttermilk dressing, pimento cheese, pickles, and hot sauce.

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