The Lot: Taking grassroots to a whole new level
Deidre Schipani – Thursday, December 20, 2012
Cuisine: Southern regional eclectic
Category: Neighborhood Favorite
Location: 1977 Maybank Highway, James Island
Hours: 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 5:30- 11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; bar menu after 11 p.m.; 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday brunch
Costs: Appetizers, soups and salads $8; entrees $12-$18; MP; desserts $6; bar menu: $5-$12; Sunday brunch $8-$13.
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Bar: Full-service bar; six tap beers; happy hour
Decibel Level: Varies; on the grounds of The Pour House
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Other: Outdoor deck; dog-friendly outdoor dining; market- and season-driven menu; Twitter; www.thelotcharleston.com; late-night menu
This summer, Alex and Vanessa Harris closed El Bohio, their popular Cuban-inspired restaurant adjacent to The Pour House, a music venue operated by the couple.
In its stead is The Lot, taking its name, some said, from the “parking lot” of the complex.
A better call would be to change that “lot” into Plot, as in garden, and mow down any reference to asphalt.
Alex Lira was brought on board as chef. Lira, who trained with the former executive chef Damon Wise at Craft (New York), has learned his lessons well at Tom Colicchio’s temple to pristine ingredients.
In fact, his menu could be a poster child for the National Restaurant Association’s Trends of 2011 report:
Locally sourced meat and seafood. Check.
Locally grown produce. Check.
Nutritionally balanced menus for children. Not yet, but with the Harrises, who have three youngsters of their own, The Lot could be getting traction with that one.
Hyper local. Possible.
Smaller portions, smaller prices. Check and amen.
The Harrises and chef Lira have worked closely with local farmers and producers to stock the kitchen at The Lot.
Represented are Johns Island, Rockville, Wadmalaw, Ambrose Farms, Cherry Point Seafood, Keegan-Filion poultry, MiBek Beef, Caw Caw pork and Blackbird Farms, “fresh on the menu,” as they like to say.
Lira has spent time at Marlow and Daughters, Brooklyn’s first butcher shop to feature sustainable meats raised at local farms with on-premise butchering. That makes turning out that head cheese ($8) a breeze, not to mention portioning flounder, red snapper and oxtails.
The space has been brightened with a series of murals, all part of a contest held this past summer with Jason Moore, Maria Carlucci and Patchy Whisky claiming prizes. Their work brings an urban look to The Lot’s landscape where psychedelic meets urban edge tempered with nature’s bounty.
The dining room is small, roughly five booths and a few tables that can easily be rearranged for larger parties. Grasscloth-papered walls now glow a sunflower yellow, and miniature cacti and succulents band the windows along with framed photos of instruments and the heritage of the musical venue that birthed The Pour House.
Your server comes to your table and proceeds to write the menu on the paper-lined tabletop. Asked how they manage on busy nights, she said they prepare a few chalkboard menus that can easily be moved from table to table. The process allows the server to explain and the diner to ask questions. It also keeps the menu brief and the dialogue meaningful.
Lira makes the sausages, hot dogs, sauces, charcuterie and dressings in-house. The menu changes daily, but you can expect a soup, salad, poultry, meat, seafood and pasta dish, each composed of what is seasonal, local and fresh. That is the operative word. Vegetables so fresh you taste their transition from sugar to starch; greens that carry the aroma of the earth; root vegetables taut with sweetness.
Lira’s brandade with scallops ($17) rivals Robuchon’s potato puree. His Farmers Pick platter ($8) married farm and art on the plate. The plate is finished with a smear of Anaheim chili aioli, and you will be licking your fingers.
And if the Red Russian kale soup ($8) remains on the menu, do partake of this dish of kale, potatoes, citrus and paper-thin radish “croutons.”
House-made cotechino, a raw Italian salami traditionally eaten on New Year’s, spins off on a Spanish clams and bean dish with local “peas.” A half-dozen clams, paper-crisp sunchokes, celery leaves and the flavorful cotechino with a trace of cinnamon melded together in a salutation to surf and turf.
Hot dogs ($6), fries and burgers ($12) are available from the bar menu that also offers “poutine” ($9), aka “gravy fries” with its Canadian roots and Midwest popularity. It’s all about the cheese curds. The Lot tops theirs with chicken gravy that I think is preferable over the traditional beef.
Lira makes a fresh cavatelli ($14), serves up a flatiron steak over grits ($18), usually braises some member of the poultry family ($12) and plates up the vegetable of the day ($8).
Desserts are made in-house. A nutella-filled crepe ($6) was classic in its texture with crisped edges and buttery batter, but one crepe seemed a skimpy potion. A neighboring diner’s chocolate-caramel tart ($6) with Maldon flakes looked decadent, rich and rightfully luscious.
If the kitchen had one fault, it was getting the food out hot enough.
If a cinderblock exterior anointed with street-art graphics does not beckon you into a restaurant, reserve your judgment and check out The Lot. Here the kitchen serves food with a higher purpose and the “Love-Live-Music” of The Pour House resounds with “Love-Live-Food” of The Lot.