Burwell’s Stone Fire Grill
Cuisine: Modern steakhouse with a Southern accentCategory: Night Out; Neighborhood FavoriteLocation: 14 N. Market St., CharlestonPhone: 737-8700; 737-8707, reservation lineHours: 4 p.m. until close Monday-SundayFood: 3Atmosphere: 3 1/2Price: $$$-$$$$$Vegetarian Options: YesWheelchair Accessible: YesBar: Full-service bar, specialty cocktail menu, wine list on iPad, happy hour 4-7 p.m. Monday-FridayParking: Adjacent lotOther: Special events, banquet menu, private dining, wine tastings, banquet room, wine “cave,” table for two on the mezzanine, community table in bar area, restaurant buyout, outdoor lounge/deck under construction, OpenTable, Facebook, Twitter, www.burwellscharleston.com. Chef will accommodate vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diners. Lunch and brunch coming soon. Rock cookery and wood-fired grill.
Burwell’s Stone Fire Grill is in the former Gilligan’s space on Market Street. The renovation, restoration and repurposing of the building materials found in this 19th-century building is impressive.
Wood paneling, classic window design and cypress walls have given a new life to this modern steakhouse that brands itself “female-friendly.”
Steakhouses designed for women are a fairly new phenomenon. Eva Longoria, yes, that Desperate Housewife and Democratic National Committee speaker, recently opened a steakhouse for women in Las Vegas complete with a catwalk called “SHe.”
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse has been engaged in a program of brand awareness, and the target market is successful women.
STK, a New York-based restaurant that opened in 2006, is branching out and plans to open a female-friendly steakhouse in Washington this year.
What these restaurants have in common is smaller cuts of beef, substantial salads and side dishes not on testosterone and designed to serve a party of four. That and an open floor plan that extends a welcoming embrace to the guests.
Different objectives apply for the folks at Burwell’s. This is a restaurant committed to being a local player with relationships with GrowFood Carolina, Abundant Seafood, Keegan-Filion, Carolina Gold Shrimp, Mepkin Abbey, Rosebank Farm Stand and Joseph Fields Farm.
Beef from Snake River Farms, Niman Ranch products and Certified Angus Beef are just a few of their brand alliances that demonstrate a commitment to quality and sustainability. They even recycle their scraps, sending them back to the farms for composting.
This 1894 restored building is now a bar with a community table, a wine “cellar” lined with inventory and available for VIP dinners, along with a small wine lounge that allows for groups of 10 or so to gather in the environment of a tasting room.
The restaurant itself is an open space, decorated in a warm palette of browns, taupes and creams. Texture plays a big part in their look, from sculpted wood collages on the wall to the woven patterned place mats, and the use of tile to play up color and light. The second floor offers a vista of the streetscape.
The weekday happy hour serves up “Burwell’s Nickel and Dime” program. Translate that to $5 and $10 menu options that are seasonal and served only at the bar and not on holidays or during special events.
Look for daily specials on the menu, a well-curated wine list on an iPad for your swiping pleasure and craft cocktails priced $7.90-$10.90. Our waiter was helpful with wine selections and offered tastings to confirm our choices.
In fact, our waiter contributed to much of the fun we had at Burwell’s. Well-informed, just the right amount of attentiveness and a distinct pride in the property that translated into professionalism and enthusiasm — two key ingredients that are hallmarks of good service.
The starters are staked out in Southern country: pork belly ($14.90), pulled pork hush puppies ($12.90), deviled eggs ($9.90) and lump crab cake with remoulade ($14.90).
Soups ($6.90) will vary with the season. A she-crab soup remains a menu staple ($7.90), and it is overadorned with pickled lump crabmeat, truffled croutons and sherry gastrique — earth, surf and fermentation, all in a bowl of soup.
Salads are balanced, and scallops ($8.90) and shrimp ($7.90) can be added for a well-rounded entree. In a move away from a traditional steakhouse menu model, sides accompany all of the seafood entrees as well as one steak and one daily special that are served with a carb and a green.
Fire it up
Now about that rock cookery. It is, in the words of burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee, a “gimmick” but one that adds a touch of theater to your dining experience. Volcanic (lava) rock is heated to 700 degrees and brought to the table in a ceramic cradle. Your meat is precut and you place it on the rocks, hear the sizzle, see the steam and cook to your degree of doneness.
We did not find the intensity needed to put a char on our beef, which was the stone-seared petite filet ($13.90) with a trio of tasting sauces. But you could get the meat from raw to rare to well-done, minus a crusty char or well-browned edge. This dish is a value as an entree and good to share for two to four diners.
The rib-eye cap (aka the deckle, $15.90) is served in a similar fashion with the meat cut into well-marbled ribbons that generated more hiss.
Chef Eric Huff plays with his menu. In his desire to put a “modern edge” on his cooking style, there are some hits and misses. A bit of overindulging, lily gilding, when the purity of the ingredients can speak in their own voice. Examples were found in swordfish ($27.90) with “beet fluid gel”; vanilla-seared scallops ($27.90) with coconut sweet potatoes; and a Bourbon maple glaze for delicious wild-caught salmon that brought the flavor profile of pancakes and syrup to this fine piece of fish.
Sides are priced at $5.90 and can be shared. The Brussels sprouts are keepers. Five house-made sauces can be yours for $2.90 each. The Bearnaise sauce was on the thin side, as was the house steak sauce with the flavors of tamarind.
The ubiquitous burger is on the menu ($13.90), and it, too, is overdressed with caramelized onions, mushrooms, Brie fondue (take that to mean melted cheese), micro greens and sun-dried tomato caviar; kale chips and sea salt and Parmesan fries!
The house rib-eye ($23.90) was one of the better steaks I have tasted this year. Tender with a mineral tang, seared to a crusty char and cooked medium rare over the 1,400-degree wood-fired grill. It was old-school steak — when a steak brought flavor, fat and texture to the plate. It was equally good the next day, cold, a testament to its pedigree.
Desserts are made by pastry chef Mark Heyward-Washington, and they are creative, nicely portioned and all priced at $6.90. His take on S’Mores with a benne seed crust, peanut butter mousse, chocolate ganache glaze, torched house-made marshmallow and butterscotch sauce was the sweet ending that is the goal of pastry chefs.
Burwell’s was not crowded at the time of our visit. What is the air quality when 20 steaks are “fired” on that grill? And what is at “steak” when you brand your brand to what the Wall Street Journal calls “steaks for the stiletto set”? A new breed is on the butcher’s block, and we have a ringside seat in seeing how long this iron lasts in the fire.
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