With hotel construction booming, Charleston, it seems, is caught amidst an arms race for the tallest, trendiest, booziest roof with the best sunset views. Guests are taking it all in, flocking to snap sky-high selfies, impress dates, and, perhaps most importantly, mange. Rooftop hotel dining isn’t new in town—the Market Pavillion’s Pavillion Bar has been around for more than a decade—yet following the Vendue’s facelift in 2014, more sites are following suit, including Élevé on the fourth floor of the Grand Bohemian and The Watch Rooftop Kitchen & Spirits at the Restoration, known formerly as Restoration on King.
Tucked down an open-air corridor on Wentworth Street, The Watch’s entrance is hard to spy from the main road. Those in the know (or those staying in one of the hotel’s 54 suites) will head down the tree-lined pathway, climb a few stairs, and ride the elevator to the seventh floor. Yet one step into the natural-light-filled, indigo-hued dining room, and you’ll realize you weren’t the only Charlestonian with the idea to dine in the sky: outdoor tables on two sides of the building are regularly snapped up by early evening.
So what sets The Watch apart? For one, options abound for a wide range of palates; it offers such diverse dishes as Lebanese-inspired falafel and what’s curiously labeled “Mexican shrimp ‘cocktail.’” (As it turns out: it’s several butterflied shrimp swimming in a pico de gallo-meets-cocktail-sauce of cilantro, avocados, tomatoes, onions, and green olives.) Dinner service for two, for example, might include a delicate hamachi crudo punctuated with a tangy marinade, salty trout roe, apple cubes, and slivers of hot red peppers and radishes scattered like loose petals served across from a hulking cheeseburger with a side of fries.
Yet executive chef Chad Anderson manages to create a sense of harmony among the chaos, transitioning through courses and flavor profiles using visual cues and contemporary Southern touches to tie it all together. A recent Indigo Road restaurant group veteran, Anderson comes to The Watch by way of Oak Steakhouse and The Macintosh, working primarily under Jeremiah Bacon before helming Oak’s Atlanta kitchen. It was from Bacon that Anderson garnered a true appreciation for seasonality and locality; The Watch’s menu shifts depending on what’s readily available in the Lowcountry. There are exceptions, of course: the lobster in the heaping bowl of mac and cheese or on the lunch roll isn’t likely to be found in our warm waters.
Anderson has a knack for presentation, smartly elevating items sometimes seen as a bit uncouth. Take, for instance, his chicken wings: Crispy fried chicken skins twist and intertwine with mild crumbled blue cheese and thin ribbons of cucumber and carrots. There’s house-made hot sauce on the side for dipping—your date’s fingers can remain un-sauced. The shaved vegetable curls are echoed in other dishes, appearing not only in the seasonal salad, but also atop the delightfully moist falafel. White truffle oil dresses up the frites (served alone or with the burger) as well as a healthy dollop of crème floating in chilled pea soup.
If the menu seems too far-flung (there’s also an Italian-inflected ratatouille with a San Marzano tomato broth), perhaps it can be chalked up to the nature of hotel business: pleasing guests. And please Anderson does, considering customers’ desires before his own culinary interests. A roasted chicken or a grilled rib eye can feel safe, but they’re part of Anderson’s plan to give guests what they want. Which, if they’re from out of town, might just be shrimp and grits, oysters, hush puppies, and pimiento cheese—all on the menu. Most often, though, it’s the burger, comprised of a Wagyu-brisket blend served on a Butcher & Bee-made brioche bun. By far, Anderson admits, it’s the most popular item of all.
Those who stay for dessert will find comfort there, too. Lemon icebox pie is a sure choice for a sweet finish; a Mason jar of banana pudding is another congenial option. Yet the end-of meal stars are the strawberry hand pies, served in pairs and gussied up with strawberry goat cheese ice cream, pretzel crumbles, and a balsamic drizzle—a hint of flair without too much mystique. Really, they’re just tasty. And that’s the key to Anderson’s kitchen: making good food people will want to eat.
THE DRAW: A varied menu means there’s something everyone can enjoy.
THE DRAWBACK: The safer dishes can taste a bit uninspired.
DON'T MISS: Artful, flavor-packed hamachi crudo