Stepping from the narrow alley, through the arched brick doorway, a feeling begins to creep over you: the feeling that you are closing in on a hidden treasure, tucked just out of sight, but waiting. The truth is that, despite its location, McCrady’s is far from a secret, but it is a genuine treasure.
Entering the former 18th century Charleston, S. C. public house, one of the oldest eating establishments in the country, feels like stepping into a gorgeous old wine cellar. The atmosphere is dark, but comfortably so, and beautifully appointed. Care is taken to highlight the charms of the historic building. Rough brick and dark wood beams are left exposed, playing off heavy, metal chandeliers, lantern sconces and chairs chosen as much for their comfort as an eye toward design. Moving into the bar, you start to move from a wine cellar into a speak-easy. Seating is broken up into nooks, filled with exposed wood table tops and tobacco-leather chairs, creating a feeling of intimacy tucked away inside this gorgeous old building. The dining room, by contrast, feels surprisingly open and spacious, the lighting just a little brighter, with a touch of color on the walls. There is real room between the tables – the trappings of fine dining (taking it even further, the private dining room is the picture of Southern splendor, appointed with the elegance of a formal dining room.) The effect is to offer a nod to the history of the space while also creating the impression of exclusivity.
If the location can make this space feel like a hidden gem, the food has made sure the secret will never be well kept. Helmed by Chef Sean Brock, McCrady’s is continuing to define what seasonal, local, fine dining can be in the low country. The passion for seasonal local, sustainable ingredients, and a pride in the providence of those ingredients is written all over the menu. But, where many chefs are willing to sit back and let those ingredients speak for themselves, Brock is willing to push the envelope further, applying inventive new techniques in an attempt to bring something unique and superlative out of the incredible products he has sourced. It is a testament to his skill and creativity that ordering from his menus is a genuine challenge.
Whether choosing the Chef’s Tasting menu, the three course Market Menu, or ordering A La Carte, the choices are both numerous and enticing. For the most part, they manage to live up to their promise. An appetizer of grilled octopus, golden beets, orange puree and fennel immediately stands out. The octopus is braised in sous-vide for 25 hours before being lightly grilled, taking on just a touch of char that adds a soft smokiness to the incredibly tender meat that is complimented by the sweetness of the golden beets and balanced by the slight acidity of the orange puree. The sweet breads are a harmony of textures, crusty on the outside, but creamy when you bite into them. Rounded out by capers and rye that bring the dish back from the edge of being too rich, the result is something both decadent and elegant at the same time. And a duo of butter-poached Maine lobster with seared bay scallop was perfectly prepared, the sweet lobster contrasting the heartier scallop. If there is any failing, it is that some of the pairings can become too busy for the plate. The duo of pork from Eco-friendly Foods was rich and succulent, making the touch of banana puree that accompanied it felt extraneous. But the trio of Kathadin Lamb was right back on track, complimented by earthy kale and oyster mushrooms with just a touch of sweetness from caramelized florets of cauliflower and fragrant pine nuts. Despite his use of the kind of techniques so often labeled molecular gastronomy, there is soul to Brock’s cooking that clearly rings through the best of his dishes, making them more than just an intellectual exercise, but a pleasure to eat.
Setting the tone for the meal, the service at McCrady’s is warm and knowledgeable, built around a staff that has a genuine interest in what they do. From the moment you call to make a reservation, a genuine effort is put into the little details many restaurants let slip through the cracks, whether it is asking if your visit is part of a celebration, checking on allergies, or taking the time to find out what you are looking for before making recommendation. From the General Manager, Kellie Holmes, to the servers, to the hostess who greets you at the door, everyone you speak to will be warm and friendly, intent on not only making you feel at home, but also making your night feel like something special.
At its core, that's what McCrady’s is... It is a special occasion restaurant, designed to make you feel like royalty for a night. But the food has balance and depth. It doesn’t overpower or create that sense of fatigue that can plague the special occasion restaurant. Instead McCrady’s beckons you back with the promise that there is still more left for you to experience.