This happily unassuming café with a brick oven pulse is tucked into the lush green patch at the site of predecessor Daily Dose not far from Hyam’s Garden Center. Chef Glenn Christiansen is master of the hearth here, layering his rustic preparations with flavor and integrity in a seasonal food and beverage menu that inspires frequent return visits to check out the next round of tasteful options.
Walking past the outside terrace, guests are greeted by a slender counter and cozy bar bounded by the small open kitchen and blazing wood-fired oven set into its cheery saffron-colored wall. The primary dining room, a large open space, meanders into private corners, with sage and lemon walls decorated with framed mirrors and rustic watercolors of carrots, garlic, and radishes. Snug Hoosier cabinets and lightweight silver chairs that are a bit industrial in design complete the simple, clean look lit with natural light lent by broad windows framing a lush foliage border outside.
The spirited sommelier and bartender offer a short yet interesting list of wines available by the glass or bottle and handcrafted cocktails made with fresh juices. The Dixie Whistle will delight bourbonites with Old Weller, lime, and mint, while the Carolina Cup refreshes with Pimm’s No. 1 made with basil and cucumber (but where was the lovely garnish?). Sazerac and Aperol negroni will keep the conversation buzzing, while brew fans won’t be disappointed with drafts and crafts including several local beauties.
As for the food, the chef’s New York heritage appears in luscious grilled Spiedie skewers (a classic upstate New York dish) offered in four combinations. We were delighted with our selection, which blended the textures of hot, melted fontina with crisp prosciutto. It was accompanied by excellent three-grain salad made with quinoa, bulgur, and wheat berry. The grains were beautifully cooked and expertly flavored with red onion, herbs, cucumber, and radish. A generous beet salad included romaine and arugula lettuces with cucumbers and toasted pecans, all tossed in sheer green goddess dressing showcasing the crisp texture of the greens and garden-fresh ingredients.
Heart flatbreads are also special, and our hands-down favorite was the grilled shrimp with fresh ricotta; broccoli; Kalamata olives; spicy chili oil; and a tender, deftly blistered wood-fired crust that reflected the art of timing and skill. This satisfying flatbread could make an ample meal for two with a couple of sides.
Side dishes are masterpieces here, with gentle preparations that allow vegetables to shine with their own natural goodness. In season, plump butter beans shimmer with fresh pesto, a splash of lemon, and grape tomatoes. Mustard greens are mildly seasoned and tender, braised in cream, and topped with delicately crisped bread crumbs.
Sandwiches include a dynamite house-made veggie burger with beans, grains, and sweet chili sauce. Daily plates and specials feature home food at its finest, such as blackened local catfish served with black-eyed pea salad with radishes and celery—a beautifully satisfying dish perfectly portioned for a lighter appetite. To complete the meal, dessert specials, such as simple vanilla pudding served with fat blackberries and cream, offer just the right amount to soothe the sweet tooth without over-doing.
With down-to-earth appeal, this neighborhood bistro is a welcome option for enjoying the season’s bounty prepared by respectful chefs and served by knowledgeable (yet occasionally elusive) staff. Pleasant music is a plus when kept at a conversational level. And the steady parade of diners, including groups, families, and singles, lends a jovial air.
Heart Woodfire Kitchen
1622 Highland Ave., (843) 718-1539, www.heartkitchenji.com
Daily, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Average daily entrée: $12