They just have big, hard wooden benches at The Lot, but they’re roomy enough unless you bring a crowd—in that case, call to make a reservation so they can slide a couple of tables together and lay down a big sheet of white craft paper ripped from a roll beside the bar. That’s where your server will write down the daily menu in crayon. But on a bustling Friday night even those tables were taken, so we sat at the bar next to a little chalkboard where the bartender scrawled the kitchen’s daily offering. Scribbled below the soup and the charcuterie were a dozen dishes, tersely enumerated: roasted beets, farro falafel, chicken leg, and “crustini.” I leaned toward the beets until the bartender began her description; then I went for the kale, which she said “was puréed into the soup just before serving, raw, just cooked in the hot broth, because everything is local.”
The Lot is attached to James Island’s The Pour House music venue, known currently for jam bands and bluegrass troupes but soon to be known as the home of legendary house-stuffed hot dogs and crispy chicharrones served throughout both establishments by the communal kitchen. It’s the kind of place where kale might be imagined as a dull brown, deeply braised before being served up next to tofu and tamari. Except The Lot is not that kind of place at all. It’s a place where vegetables are indeed superb, meat is hand-raised at MiBek Farms in Barnwell, and chef Alex Lira—who honed his skills at Tom Collichio’s New York mecca Craft and went whole hog at Brooklyn’s artisan butcher, Marlow & Daughters—churns out food that surely makes some downtown chefs rather envious.
The dishes are seasonal and fleeting; some are beyond creative. In another week, they’ll probably change again. But I caught chef Lira in a bean frenzy. They were fresh beans, “shelly beans” if you’re from the country, “white eyes,” and sweet little butter beans bathed in pork broth, topped with a big, soft, spicy porcine meatball and octopus tentacles—fat charred octopus tentacles, so soft and lovingly braised that they seemed to almost dissolve in the mouth. The flavors melded in an improbable, perfect union of opposites, and I was struck.
He followed that with house-made cavatelli tossed in olive oil, garlic, and pan-seared broccoli straight from the field. Then there was barrelfish—an underappreciated species, much like grouper but cheaper—crusted a deep brown and served over half-moon pastas filled with creamed kale, darkly caramelized cauliflower, pickled celery, and a whisper of cauliflower purée splayed across the plate.
These were excellent, but the revelation was the “Farmer’s Pick,” ostensibly a mélange of the produce in a kitchen that sources only the freshest local produce. On this night, it was sautéed broccoli and pickled watermelon radishes, gently steamed asparagus and toothsome heirloom green beans. A luscious aioli on the side for dipping and a bit of oil dressed the whole thing up. The genius of the plate, much like the rest of The Lot, lay in the utter simplicity of it all.
Despite the serviceable wine list, I paired it with a Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boy, which fit right in. They also had good craft beer and music on tap, even if the sound system could use an update. We caught the end of a football game on the lone television hanging over the worn wooden bar. And I realized I had the best seat in the house at The Lot, because the booth benches are hard, but the bartenders are warm, and they mix a mean rye whiskey old fashioned.
The Draw: “Everything is local”
The Drawbacks: For food this good, comfortable seats are a must.
Don’t Miss: The daily “Farmer’s Pick”
1977 Maybank Hwy.