The art of 'wichcraft' conjures up a spell of good eating at The Southern General on Johns Island
Deidre Schipani – Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Cuisine: Sandwiches and burgersRepresentative Dish: Southern pot roast, chicken schnitzelAddress: 3157 Maybank Highway, Johns IslandPhone: 640-3778Web: thesoutherngeneral.com, FacebookBar: Beer and wineHours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Tuesday; 11 a.m.-11 a.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday; 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday; closed SundayFood: 3 Service: 3Atmosphere: 3 Price: $Costs: Sandwiches $7-$9; burgers $8, create your own with toppings $.75-$1.50; soups and salads $4-$6.50; house specialties $7-$10.50; sides $2.50-$3; children's menu $6.50; daily specialsVegetarian Options: Yes, but limitedWheelchair Accessible: YesParking: YesOther: Carry-out; Happy Hour specials Monday-Friday 4-7 p.m., late night weekend Happy Hour 10 p.m.-close; local artists' work for purchase; house specialties available for purchase along with old-timey candies, beverages, clothing. Board games for entertainment, Wednesday Facebook friends get 10 percent discount; outdoor counter.
If you are planning a visit to The Southern General, a Johns Island craft sandwich shop and bar, do not expect sandwiches honoring Lee or Beauregard, Marion or Bragg because this diminutive eatery is all about the "general" in store, not military rank.
It is located in the former Mama Q's spot in a small strip of food and beverage real estate on Maybank Highway. Look for Sweeney's Restaurant on highway end, followed by Seanachai Irish Social Club in the middle and the General bringing up the rear.
Its look is rustic with a wall of nostalgic sweets keeping company with a larder of Chef Tim Erwin's homemade condiments, pickled vegetables, and sweet tea-based BBQ sauce.
There is no potbelly stove to gather round; the magnetic media of modern flat-screen TVs replaces the warmth of burning wood. The 12th Man Flag, representing fans of the Seahawks, has a place of honor behind the short run of the bar.
Poke around the refrigerated case filled with containers of house-made onion dip, sweet potato cream cheese spread, cucumber salad, salad dressings, tartar sauce and more, all at the ready to extend the pleasures of the SG.
Stashed in a corner is a library of board and card games: Parcheesi, Monopoly, Uno, checkers and more. Though the space is small, you get the idea that they want you to linger.
Attention was spent on SG's renovation: wainscoted paneled walls, pickled bar stools, the gallery of local artists anchored to the Lowcountry life, displaying images of shrimp, sailboats, Gyotaku fish print rubbings and local celebrity Bill Murray. These investments make it clear this is no low-rent sandwich shop.
The small kitchen leaves little room for error and even less room for a freezer, so Erwin and his staff are keeping it fresh and keeping it seasonal. Righteous ingredients upgrade the flavor profiles of their simple or complex sandwich offerings. The core menu is grounded in traditional sandwich constructions along with a burger menu that provides 31 topping choices for customization. The craft side of the menu relies on vivid combinations and the textural interplay of relishes, spreads and breads. These are sandwiches that are smeared, sauced, sopped and seasoned. All the best ones are.
The "hand-held" menu is augmented with house specialties, including a classic onion dip (flavor notes of Lipton onion soup mix made with fresh ingredients) served with thinly shaved potato chips; dry-brined sweet tea wings who's skin is held taut by evaporation and made juicy by a tea- and tomato-based BBQ sauce, and Johns Island corn fritters "maque choux," a classic Louisiana tryst of corn, peppers, onions and tomatoes.
The menu travels to the far north with Quebec classic poutine (peu-tin), a dish recently celebrated in Montreal during La Poutine Week Feb. 1-8. Take homemade French fries, top them with "good gravy," garnish with fried cheese curds and tuck into a hot mess. Cheese curds are the by-product of the cheese-making industry and have a short shelf life during which time they "squeak." SG uses mozzarella and their veiled batter is the perfect shroud for this mild cheese. My only objection is the heavy hand with dill that seems to be the kitchen's default herb. It showed up on the fries, in the tartar sauce, and in the Ranch dressing. Those are places where it is not an unexpected seasoning, but it was just repetitive in many of the SG dishes.
The burger has a bit of the Shake Shack crust, a testament to patience on the flat top or skillet. The meat smacks with the balanced mineral tang of a well-fed steer.
A side of green beans under a canopy of caramelized onions continue to demonstrate the cook's sense of timing: as thin haricot verts tangled with sweet mahogany onion strings.
There is no stodginess on the menu. Inventive, playful comfort foods bed down with bread, rolls or baguettes and provide a benevolent exchange to the diner, especially for the price.
The only misfires we experienced were a "house specialty" fish and chips in which the panko crumbed cod was dry and flavorless; the repetitive use of dill in a significant number of dishes we ordered; and wide shards of sweet potato in a Korean "kimchi" slaw that would have been better served shredded.
Explore their chicken schnitzel, bratwurst patty, pineapple/green chili macaroni and cheese and any of their daily specials.
The beer menu is shackled by what is available in bottles and cans. That being said, there is balance in style and economy in price.
There is one school of thought that holds that craft sandwich shops are the outgrowth of economic uncertainty. Others believe that the Breville and sandwich press brought innovation into the category and creative chefs saw opportunity.
At the Southern General, you can rest assured that John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, Wimpy, Dagwood, Rachael Ray, Scooby and Shaggy would all find hand-held pleasure between two slices of bread providing primal comfort with a Southern side of reminiscence.