ON THE MENU: Carolina’s Charleston, S.C.

ON THE MENU: Carolina’s Charleston, S.C.

Carolina’s restaurant is located in a historic landmark building that once was home to Perdita’s, a restaurant that was known as the only “gourmet” restaurant in Charleston when it opened in 1969.

Keeping with the idea of paying homage to the history of Charleston and local cuisine, Carolina’s [3] continues to operate a separate dining area called “Perdita’s Room,” which is decorated in the style of the former restaurant. Diners in that room are offered just a four-course tasting menu of signature dishes for $45 per person.

General manager Jamie Waby describes the restaurant as the most upscale of Crew Carolina’s restaurant group, which also operates Boathouse Restaurants in three locations and a catering division. While Carolina’s food focuses on Southern regional style, Waby adds, “I always like to use the words ‘American melting pot.’ ”

There are influences from South Carolina’s Low Country region and the Gullah people who live there. Their style of Southern cooking incorporates the use of fresh seafood, such as oysters and shrimp, and other international flavors that landed in the historic port city.

“Local oysters are quite salty, but with a clean flavor, and the local shrimp is nice, especially with the difference of having it fresh,” says executive chef Jeremiah Bacon, who joined Carolina’s in February. A Charleston native, Bacon moved to Hyde Park, New York, in 1996 to study at The Culinary Institute of America [4]. Later he worked in top New York City kitchens such as Le Bernardin and Per Se [5].

“What I never saw up in New York was fresh shrimp. It was always frozen,” Bacon says. When he was working in the Northeast he saw fresh prawns from Spain, fresh langoustines from Scotland, he adds, “but never any local shrimp.”

At Carolina’s, however, fresh shrimp and grits, priced at $22, is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. For the entrée, Bacon serves the shrimp with “upstate” stone-ground yellow grits and a tasso-ham gravy.

The crispy fried whole flounder, $26, is served with house-made peach jam and with such spring vegetables as asparagus and beets. Besides taking advantage of its proximity to Charleston Harbor for seafood, Carolina’s also uses local providers for items such as game and fowl.

Carolina’s practices a “garden-to-plate” initiative with vegetable and spice gardens north of the city at a plantation that the restaurant group owns. This newly planted garden is expected to supply the restaurant with a lot of its ingredients and has begun with late-winter crops.

AT A GLANCE

Location: 10 Exchange Street

Phone: (843) 724-3800

Seats: 120

Average per-person check: $45-$55, including beverages

Signature dishes: shrimp and crab won tons, Carolina’s shrimp and grits, crispy fried whole flounder, sautéed crab cakes

Menu makers: executive chef Jeremiah Bacon and sous chef Josh Wool

Owners: principal owner, Richard Stoney; operated and managed by Crew Carolina [6], LLC

The restaurant group’s owner, Richard Stoney, worked with the plantation’s master gardener, Clay Howard, to develop the gardens, which are free of herbicides or pesticides. Bacon is looking forward to bringing some changes to his menu and is working closely with Howard to coordinate the crops.

“We talk and see what we can come up with,” Bacon says. “I had a list for him of a few things I wanted. Some things won’t be available until next spring.”

Besides the signature items on the menu that have to always be available in some form, Bacon changes recipes and presentation of the dishes as he sees fit.

“I pretty much have room to expand on all the other things besides the restaurant’s most popular dishes,” he says.

For example Bacon introduced pan-roasted grouper, $24, teamed with celeriac mashed potato and spring vegetables with a port broth. The dish has been “flying out the window,” the chef says. “Grouper is always a big winner down here. It’s a favorite fish for a lot of folks here.”

Still, the menu will be going through some changes based on the new garden.

“Southern ingredients will be the backbone of it,” Bacon says. “But we’re doing more of a contemporary, cosmopolitan feel to some of the dishes now.”