In the summer, Culinary Institute of America graduate and Mississippi native Jay Kees and his wife, Nicole, opened Angel Oak Restaurant. The location, on Savannah Highway near Red Top, formerly housed Caliente, Mia’s Cafe and Charles Towne General Store at different times.
Angel Oak Restaurant
Cuisine: American EclecticCategory: Neighborhood FavoriteLocation: 3669 Savannah Highway near Red TopPhone: 556-7525Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; dinner, 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Sunday brunch, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.Food: 2 ½Atmosphere: 3 ½Service: 3 ½ Price: $-$$$Costs: Snacks $3, appetizers $6-$12; salads $6-9; sides $3; supper entrees $16-$22; sandwiches $8-$15. Lunch menu $7-$14; salads $6-$10; Blue Plate Specials $9; Sunday brunch $7-$12.Vegetarian Options: Limited to seafood and sides.Bar: Beer and wine onlyDecibel Level: ModerateWheelchair Access: Yes Other: Blue plate specials Tuesdays-Fridays; Tuesdays, half off appetizers; Wednesdays, half off wines by the glass $10 or less and all bottles; Thursdays, half off beer. Lunch buffet. Patio seating. Gift certificates, private events. Facebook, Twitter, www.angeloakrestaurant.com, info@AngelOakRestaurant.com.
The space has nothing in common with Paris, but step into the studied renovation of banquettes, the beadboard and toile, and you can be in any Parisian arrondissement. Nicole Kees’ artistic talents quickly dispatched a soulless structure into bistro-chic.
A simple farm table stages the greeting area with fresh flowers and seasonal produce. Salvaged doors and shutters screen the detritus of restaurant cleanup and busing. The photographs of Lowcountry artist Susan Budnick bring a sense of place to the walls. Harmony and balance are created through the use of mirrors and light. Mason jars, mismatched china, chairs contoured for seating, upended jar-like lighting and paper-topped tables marry the rustic with the restored.
Jay Kees adheres to a plow-to-plate philosophy, and the farms of Johns Island and other local sources provide ample ingredients for his menu. Beef from Legare Farms, mushrooms from Mepkin Abbey, vegetables from Limehouse Produce, baked goods from Saffron, Geechie Boy grits and Cherry Point seafood anchor the menu with the ubiquity of local and seasonal.
Kees is proud that his restaurant has neither a microwave nor a freezer. As an accomplished personal and pastry chef, he brings those experiences to the menu at Angel Oak. Bacon is cured in house, Legare beef is ground for burgers, and all salad dressings, pastas, ricotta cheese, pickles and sauces are made from scratch.
The menu will change with the seasons and already has witnessed the introduction of escargot, pastry-wrapped brie and squash-filled ravioli to welcome fall.
A snack menu ($3) of pimiento cheese, ricotta cheese with honey, deviled eggs and fried green tomatoes provide simple options if you stopped in for a glass of wine or craft-brewed beer.
Appetizers are more fat-bombs than “teasers” for your dinner. Hickory smoked bacon ($8) gets the Buffalo wing treatment with hot sauce, blue cheese drizzle and scallions; mac and cheese ($12) is gilded in rich Mornay sauce further amended with Gruyere cheese and pulled pork; pork tacos ($6) are misnamed as they feature Asian-spiked hoisin sauce with pulled pork and pickled onions on steamed buns — more pork bun than taco shell. Stick with a half-dozen oysters ($7) with a pucker-powered mignonette sauce and a chilled stout.
Salads of leafy greens ($6), iceberg wedge ($7), and pear and arugula ($9) are nicely composed, but the creamy sherry dressing for the pear and arugula combination had no sherry flavor and the salad was underdressed,
The menu proper speaks with the language of Southern comfort foods — foods “that hug you” as defined by celebrity chef Carla Hall of “Top Chef” fame.
Buttermilk fried chicken ($17) with five-spice herbed honey, meatloaf and smashed potatoes ($16) and country-fried steak ($16) with sawmill gravy demonstrate Kees’ devotion to the Southern canon of good eats.
We found the braised short rib ($22) to be fatty and not quite collapsed on itself by a slow braise. Yet its thyme demi glace bore witness to a slow, stratified sauce, resulting in a lush lacquer of meaty goodness cradling the grits and beef.
Shrimp carbonara ($16) should be embraced as a noodle dish and not pasta as the soft ribbons of tagliatelle nestled fresh shrimp, salty lardons and a creamy herb sauce. I liked the dish but not its name because expectation was for al dente pasta in a peppery emulsified sauce.
Kees travels the globe with his spices and staples: mirin, hoisin, five-spice powder and bang-bang sauce pucker and slather his entrees. Bacon worship is transferred to the lardon and ambition is channeled to the Lowcountry.
Desserts will vary: brulee, red velvet whoopie pies and chocolate mousse have been featured. We went with the beignets (Kees spent some time in New Orleans), and it was a very good choice. Hot, tender dough puffs, crusted with cinnamon and sugar, ready to be plunged into a high-quality chocolate sauce — finger-licking good.
Prices are accessible and servers are well-trained. Nicole Kees spends time at each table and this cheerful space makes it easy to be a regular.
Angel Oak Restaurant is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
Like many dishes that require marination or maceration to birth their best flavors — well, Angel Oak Restaurant is “that dish” now.
Tooled with a quality chef, fueled by a hospitable staff and having standards that meet ambitions, Jay Kees may want to scale back the menu or hire a sous chef as the demands of his menu may break the boughs of Angel Oak Restaurant.
Cutting some slack in the back of the house will allow the restaurant to flourish just like its namesake tree.