If necessity is the mother of invention, then perhaps dreams are the mothers of reinvention. In Sean Brock’s case, his dream of a restaurant is what spurred the acclaimed chef and the Neighborhood Dining Group to reinvent McCrady’s restaurant in Charleston last summer. For the restaurant’s tenth anniversary in 2016, the team cooked up a plan to carve two restaurants out of the existing space.
McCrady’s has waffled over the years between à la carte and tasting menus. Brock is drawn to the latter, which is why he envisioned a tasting-menu-only restaurant in the narrow adjoining space formerly occupied by his Mexican concept Minero (now relocated two doors down).
Refined Line // The black walnut counter at McCrady’s (above) sets the stage for Chef Brock’s tasting-menu-only courses prepared in his exhibition induction kitchen (dishes 1, 4, and 7 are examples). Instead of reservations, dinner tickets are sold online in advance, a different approach than next-door-neighbor McCrady’s Tavern.
“We wanted to develop a concept with a more relaxed atmosphere and a menu with more options and diverse pricing in the larger space (McCrady’s Tavern),” explains David Howard, president of the Neighborhood Dining Group. “We took McCrady’s back to its original use as a tavern and added an intimate space (McCrady’s) to create a platform for Sean’s finest work.”
As a result, the original McCrady’s has tossed off its white tablecloths and special-occasion mantle to honor its colonial roots. Bare-wood tables now merge with beige banquettes that line the low stained-glass-and-wood partition bisecting the room, but the historical bones—graceful brick arches, exposed brick walls, thick wood beams—remain. Set off the tourist track of East Bay Street on brick-paved Unity Alley, the structure dates back to 1778, the year Edward McCrady built a Georgian house on this spot and opened his eponymous tavern. (And, yes, George Washington did eat here.)
Colonial Reprise // McCrady’s Tavern, a more casual, à la carte retune of the former larger McCrady’s restaurant, pays homage to the Lowcountry’s historical roots. A few recipes harken back to the nineteenth century’s Gilded Age, such as Broiled Flounder, Confit of Tomato and Eggplant, Sauce Vin Blanc, and Calf’s Head Soup, c. 1885.
At McCrady’s Tavern, Brock’s vision of French-inspired Gilded Age dishes takes the form of escargot-stuffed marrow bone and fois gras and chicken liver parfait, while modernized versions of roasted chicken and a tavern burger do justice to American classics.
Next door, the 22-seat McCrady’s centers on a custom-made, U-shaped, black walnut counter. It’s here that Brock’s laser-sharp focus zeros in on 15 or so intricate courses, served from the exhibition induction kitchen (no open flames) at one end of the room. Instead of reservations, tickets for dinner here are sold online in advance.
With the advent of the reimagined McCrady’s Tavern and McCrady’s, diners have the choice of sophisticated tavern fare one day and a meticulously executed dégustation menu the next. These dual stages also allow Sean Brock the freedom to indulge his constant pursuit of excellence and passion for fine ingredients. A dream come true.
McCrady’s. 155 E Bay St, Charleston, SC;
McCrady’s Tavern. 2 Unity Alley, Charleston, SC.
McCrady’s Tavern Best Bites:
You’d swear Beet au Poivre was a steak when it comes to the table: a thick rectangular slab spiced with a variety of peppercorns alongside a fluff of watercress. It tastes meaty, too, thanks to being partially dehydrated and then rehydrated in beef fat.
Pan-fried Crispy Veal Blanquette resembles Weiner Schnitzel rather than the French stew (blanquette de veau) that its name calls to mind. “Blanquette” refers to the velvety sauce made from veal stock and cream that blankets the meltingly tender veal.
A Pie Called Macaroni is Brock’s take on a recipe he uncovered from Thomas Jefferson, c.1802. House-made sprouted-wheat radiatore pasta gives this mac and cheese a contemporary edge.