Elis Table is setting the scene for breakfast, lunch and dinner
By Deidre Schipani | Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Joseph’s Restaurant on Meeting Street closed in October. The property was acquired by the Charleston Hospitality Group, which includes Market Street Saloon, Tabbuli Grill, Toast and Whisk Bakery.
Owner Sam Mustafa named the new restaurant for his son Eli, and Eli’s Table continued the legacy of Joseph’s with a strong breakfast and lunch menu and following.
The footprint of the restaurant has not changed. But removing the awning has cleared the view for diners sitting near the street-side windows and presented the property with a new perspective on Meeting Street.
A simple sign featuring a solitary fork surrounded by okra blossoms clearly identifies the restaurant’s location.
The narrow entry entertains a host station and small bar. The walls are painted the color of squash, and in the evening, the space is transformed for dinner with the addition of tablecloths, white paper toppers and fresh flower blooms in bud vases.
An outdoor courtyard is attractive. It is warmed by heaters and is the location of live jazz on the weekends. Visit the restaurant’s Facebook page to view the performers’ schedule.
A narrow, open kitchen flanks one side of the restaurant, providing the live act that is restaurant cooking. This space flows into a larger prep area behind the tight grill line.
Industry veteran Brett McKee was brought into the organization of the Charleston Hospitality Group as a corporate chef and consultant to their restaurant and catering operations. Working with chefs Eric Gaffin and Steven Jankowski, the trio launched dinner service at Eli’s Table in January.
The menu reflects much of McKee’s culinary heritage: the gorgonzola fondue ($8) served with bacon, fried potato wedges, crostini and apple slices; lobster macaroni and cheese ($24); both chicken and eggplant parmesan ($16); and an 18-ounce bone-in rib eye ($36). McKee continues the use of social media to develop his menus, and the six-layer chocolate cake with mocha buttercream and a shooter of ice cold milk ($11) bear witness to a menu design by Facebook.
The appetizer menu is diverse and offers a balance of meat, seafood and vegetables. Grilled calamari appealed ($10). It was nice to see humble squid prepared without a veil of fried batter, and the thoughts of garlic- and lemon-infused oil with Parmigiano shavings resonated. The dish, however, was underseasoned and unevenly grilled. The crostini needed a little more lubrication from oil and more time on the grill to make its description accurate: “grilled crostini.”
The flavors of a panzanella salad ($9) bore witness to another hand in the kitchen: a balanced vinaigrette, crunchy cucumbers, red and yellow tomato wedges and fresh basil anointed the not-quite dried enough bread chunks with flavor and sass.
Vegetarians will appreciate a menu of eggplant parmesan ($16), grilled portobello “steak” with a cannellini bean fricassee and braised greens ($14) and the latest darling of the restaurant vegetable cycle: cauliflower “steak” ($14), in which thick slices of the vegetable are grilled or roasted. Eli’s Table presents the seared and browned cauliflower slice over a bed of roasted tomato and basil sauce with an eggplant caponata garnish. Even carnivores will enjoy this as a shared side.
With McKee in the kitchen, osso bucco ($24) seemed like a good entree choice even though it was partnered with polenta rather than risotto. (Osso bucco is one of the few Italian dishes that do pair the protein and carbohydrate together). The polenta, seasoned with Asiago cheese and sage, was mild in flavor and uneven in texture. The veal shanks, usually a succulent morsel of braised meat, were on the dry side, but the addition of a marrow spoon was a nice touch.
A sign of the season, soft shell crabs ($17.95) were available as an appetizer or entree portion. The dish was presented over a bed of spinach, grapefruit sections, paper-thin onions and fennel shavings with a beurre blanc sauce. The salad was haphazard at best, the fennel was missing and the dish was underseasoned, but the crab was fresh and the beurre blanc spot on. That kind of unevenness characterized much of what was coming from the kitchen.
The servers were professional, patient and polite as preparations and presentations self-destructed.
There also was a bit of the “Brett affect” going on, as this popular Charleston chef has many friends and former customers, and they were all so happy to see him. That may have played with the kitchen’s rhythm.
Setting the “table” is the easy part; “serving” the table is the challenge. Here’s hoping that the success that Eli’s Table experiences at breakfast and lunch will translate to efficiencies on the dinner side.