Southern star Sean Brock’s latest gets raves from James Beard Award–winning journalist Matt Goulding, a chief editor of the influential Roads & Kingdoms and the author of Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture. The new revamp of Brock’s legendary Charleston institution, set in a 1778 Georgian town house, includes a high-end tasting-menu restaurant upstairs and a “more relaxed but no-less-astounding tavern below,” he says. “You’ll find Brock’s obsession with historical cooking filtered through a mixture of familiar flavors and innovative technique—tater tots with sour cream and caviar, Thomas Jefferson’s macaroni (given an umami lift from kombu), bone marrow stuffed with escargot. The new McCrady’s reaffirms Brock’s status as one of the most talented and soulful chefs cooking in the U.S.”
After making his name with whiskey and country ham, chef Sean Brock turned his focus to a different kind of Americana: the heady, over-the-top flavors of the Gold Rush, the Gilded Age, and the Roaring Twenties. At McCrady’s Tavern, you can scoop caviar with a mother-of-pearl spoon, slurp nineteenth-century calf’s head soup, and slice into a plate-sized slab of veal blanquette dressed with peas and ham. Brock is leading the pack once again, with help from chef de cuisine Justin Cherry and pastry chef Katy Keefe, whose black walnut–perfumed Lady Baltimore cake is a fitting end to an extravagant all-American meal.
DINNER: McCrady’s Tavern
It’s not a Charleston trip if you don’t brush up against a Sean Brock restaurant. And they don’t come more fun or accomplished than the Tavern, a merry revival of Gilded Age dishes plucked from Brock’s cookbook collection and wedged into a modern context. The caviar is served with tater tots, and escargot arrives in a marrow bone.
Long-standing institution McCrady’s announced in May that the restaurant would shut down for a few weeks to transition into two concepts, McCrady’s Tavern and an updated version of McCrady’s.
“In late summer 2016, McCrady’s will move to an adjacent space and offer an evolution of the McCrady’s tasting menu experience. The current McCrady’s space will honor it rich history by transitioning back to its original purpose as a lively, everyday gathering place, and it will once again be known as McCrady’s Tavern.”
Concerned that patrons believed McCrady’s was going away, chef Sean Brock explained the changes to Eater as, “McCrady’s is taking a little nap, getting a new set of clothes, a little makeover, and is coming back stronger and cooler than ever.” Brock emphasized that the new, 22-seat space would be the McCrady’s he’d always wanted, with “the most intense food” he’s ever created and superb service that would leave guests in a state of revitalization.
Last week Sean Brock told Eater he was taking his new McCrady’s Tavern (2 Unity Alley) inspiration from the Gilded Age. Yes, my eyes got big at that quote too, but, as he’s revealed today with the release of his menu, the era’s notable excess will apparently begin and end on the plate. Thankfully, McCrady’s Tavern prices are nowhere near Rockefeller levels. In fact, the average entree price — $24 — is well below those at other recently opened spots such as Le Farfalle ($27) and Henrietta’s ($35). But that doesn’t mean his food won’t be decadent.
Brock says his idea with McCrady’s Tavern was to harness the creative spirit of the Gilded Age in so much as it allowed chefs to be wildly imaginative in order to meet the demands of their patrons’ outrageous diets. With that in mind, Brock says he’s tested and tested and tested again the items that make up McCrady’s Tavern menu. And what you see is a list of dishes that were only deemed worthy of inclusion after passing one final exam: “My theory is that a dish is only done when you can’t stop eating it, when you literally can’t control yourself. When it’s that addictive, when you wake up thinking about it and craving it, then the dish is done.”
In case you missed it yesterday, chef Sean Brock unveiled his vision for the updates to the 2 Unity Alley address as McCrady’s Tavern. In addition to his overall idea for the restaurant as an affordable, lively nod to the Gilded Age, he also teased at some menu items.
The Tavern is an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for a few years now. I’ve always been obsessed with Pre-Depression American cooking. The food after the Civil War, and before the Great Depression, the Gilded Age, was a really, really cool moment for American cooking. This is when people were inventing things like baked Alaska, oysters Rockefeller, and lobster newburg and thermidor.