Not all good ideas hatch over beers on Folly Beach, but this one did. Roughly eight years ago, three young chefs sat with their toes in the sand, trying to choose a name for the restaurant they planned to open together. Chris Stewart, Sarah O’Kelley, and Charles Vincent had considered multiple monikers, with no consensus. This much they agreed on: their fledgling eatery would interpret soulful Southern food through the lens of the finest, freshest, all natural, as-local-as-possible ingredients. But the name, the name....
As a novel approach, Stewart suggested they consider Beatles songs. Mean Mister Mustard? No. Savoy Truffle? Nope. Glass Onion? Vincent nodded his head in approval. O’Kelley concurred. Stewart smiled. The Glass Onion was born.
By now, most of us are regulars—or at least occasional patrons—of this beloved neighborhood eatery. We flock there for po’boys and seasonal salads (summertime’s butterbean falafel over watermelon-mint-feta is the bomb), plus Tuesday night fried-chicken platters, indulgent weekend brunches, or grab-and-go items like house-made pimiento cheese, local eggs, and fresh milk. The Glass Onion is a known entity. So why revisit it now? What has changed?
Well, a lot actually, though so gradually and smoothly as to seem barely perceptible to loyal customers. First, Vincent returned to his native New Orleans. Then came the liquor license, adding small-footprint wines and spirits to craft brew offerings. About two years ago, O’Kelley departed to focus on wine studies. That left Stewart happily wielding the spatula, free to tweak the kitchen as he saw fit. Since then, The Glass Onion expanded its hours and started catering. Stewart’s wife, Suzanne, who bakes under the handle Flying Tricycle, now contributes jaw-dropping desserts.
Still, much has remained the same. Customers vie for coveted parking spaces, then line up at the lunchtime counter, rubbernecking the ever-changing chalkboard of daily specials. By the time you’ve placed your order, helped yourself to sweet tea with a squeeze of house-made mint simple syrup, and found a seat, Stewart and his team are already cooking your food.
Most folks begin with inexpensive small bites, like Jennie Ruth’s deviled eggs (named for Stewart’s Alabama grandmother), which pack a little zing from the incorporation of yellow mustard and pickled relish, just the way she made them. Perhaps most popular is Stewart’s shrimp toast. Inspired by Chinese dim sum, the chef creates a dense shrimp mousseline, spoons it generously onto a wedge of French bread, and drops the whole thing into the fryer for a buttery crunch with a meltingly smooth explosion of creamy, shrimpy umami.
For lunch, po’boys reign supreme; the baguettes are shipped twice weekly from the Crescent City. Their contents revolve at the whim of the chef, from slender fried clam strips tossed in a garlicky aioli; to ruby-red tri-tip Alabama roast beef rubbed with herbs, slow-cooked, and thinly shaved to perfection; to juicy fried chicken drizzled in local honey and buttermilk. You can even get a veggie po’boy, with seasonal additions like fava shoots and Upstate goat cheese.
Perhaps the most surprisingly delicious item to surface is fried pig ear, served either in a po’boy or over a salad. It’s not a menu staple, but this dish alone lends testament to Stewart’s
arduous creative process (hats off to any chef who can render a pig ear so tasty). His multi-stage, multi-day process, from boiling to slow cooking to drying to cooling, infuses the ears with hints of garlic, celery, onions, and carrot and renders them fall-apart tender. Once cooled, finger-wide strips are cut to order, battered, and fried. The result is shatteringly crisp, with a savory, super-porky, liquid gelatin within. Pure genius.
Considering that The Glass Onion’s menu changes twice daily, it’s somewhat impossible to encapsulate the offerings in quick review. So, make the trip. Maybe you’ll find seared rudderfish over creamy hoppin’ John alongside gorgeous, nutty red watercress. Or maybe you’ll opt for delicate, braised rabbit in a mildly sweet ragout over freshly cut pappardelle pasta—or butterflied local shrimp over toothsome stone-ground grits.
Then loosen your belt for dessert. As you bite into honey-drizzled peanut butter pie, buttermilk custard topped with Meyer lemon curd, or Suzanne’s delicious take on the iconic moon pie, you might just catch a Beatles tune streaming over the airwaves. But of course.
The Draw: Soulful Southern cooking with all-natural ingredients
The Drawback: Expect a bit of a wait for weekend brunch.
Don’t Miss: Stewart’s shrimp toast