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McCrady’s is the oldest restaurant in Charleston, S.C., which in a pre-colonial coastal city means this establishment, on the National Register of Historic Places, can trace its lineage back more than 200 years and count George Washington as a past customer.
The restaurant’s history is reflected in its discreet alley location in the heart of downtown Charleston, just a few blocks from the harbor, and by a magnificent colonial-era cooking hearth set into the brick wall that runs the length of the main dining room. The appointments of the restaurant are luxurious but understated. Three large brick arches separating the dining room and bar are the only grand flourishes.
But if the building evokes the restaurant’s heritage, McCrady’s cuisine is anything but old-fashioned. In fact, after Sean Brock took charge of the kitchen in 2006, the restaurant soon became known for offering some of the most avant-garde, forward-looking cooking to be found in the Southeast.
Since then Brock has embraced an ingredient-focused menu driven by his fascination with the bolder flavors of heirloom varieties of vegetables, grains and livestock that once flourished in the South — and were nearly rendered extinct in the homogenizing rush to mass-
Along with the intellectual dish composition, which the restaurant describes as “postmodern,” has evolved a mature and inventive sense of balance and novelty that would fit comfortably in the finest dining rooms in Copenhagen, Denmark; Yountville, Calif.; or Roses, Spain. In 2010 Brock won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best : Southeast, and he has been profiled in The New Yorker, Vogue and Food & Wine magazines.
McCrady’s is consistently ranked among the top restaurants in Charleston, and The New York Times’ Sam Sifton wrote, “It is marvelous, well worth a two-hour drive from Columbia, the state capital, or the flight from New York.”
The opening of acclaimed sister restaurant Husk in Charleston two years ago has brought the kitchen at McCrady’s increasingly into the hands of chef de cuisine Jeremiah Langhorne, a Virginia-born culinarian who did stage at Thomas Keller’s renowned The French Laundry in Yountville. However, the ethos at McCrady’s, a kind of nerds’ collaborative — “Metallica is blasting, but everyone’s serious about the food,” said Langhorne — has remained consistent, with the goal of encouraging experimentation within a high-expectations environment.
Since at least the early 1980s, the restaurants that have occupied McCrady’s space — including Philippe Million, The Long Room and several McCrady’s iterations under other owners — have stood for the most formal of fine dining in Charleston, with a level of professional service to match.
The current owners, The Neighborhood Dining Group, purchased the restaurant from a group tied to the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain in 2006 and made minor tweaks to the place, most in the back of the house, equipping the kitchen with the tools and ingredients Brock and Langhorne required for contemporary success. For example, a roof garden planted with herbs and annuals was added in recent years.
The wine program at McCrady’s has been strong over the last decade, especially in Burgundies and classic appellations, winning a Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator in 2006 and 2007. In recent years it has diversified and modernized to suit a cosmopolitan clientele under the guidance of sommeliers Clint Sloan and Cappie Peete.
Langhorne said “the team works twice as hard since Husk [opened],” citing efforts to showcase the kitchen’s expertise by emphasizing tasting menus, including a four-course version for $60, which is intended to shake the restaurant’s reputation as a special-occasion destination.
“I would love for people to see McCrady’s as a place they would come to dinner for any day of the week, no matter what — not just on their birthdays,” Langhorne said.
Opened: 2006 under current ownership
Average check: $90
Seats: main dining room, 78; bar, 26
Average weekly covers: 800
Square feet: 4,000 in main dining room and bar
Menu sampler: Capers Blade Oysters cooked in embers with country ham fat and elderberry capers; Grilled Matsutake with turnip dashi, egg yolk, Chestnut and shiso; Duck Aged and Roasted on the Bone, with fermented walnut and creamed farro
Chefs: Sean Brock, executive chef; Jeremiah Langhorne, chef de cuisine
Owner: The Neighborhood Dining Group