Plenty of people are desperate to eat inside restaurants: The mayor of Philadelphia last month incited a minor online melee after he crossed state lines to dine at his friend’s restaurant in Maryland where it’s legal to seat customers indoors. His frustrated constituents didn’t take kindly to him skirting a municipal rule that’s literally put them out on the street.
Other people, though, would not eat in an enclosed space right now if their lives depended on it (because in many cases, it does.)
Fortunately, the latter group can still enjoy restaurant-quality meals. In addition to the Charleston area’s extensive takeout and outdoor dining options, they can, with apologies to Dr. Seuss, eat great food from a truck; they can eat it with their old friend Buck. They can eat great food by the laptop screen; they can eat great food from a car that’s green.
Let’s get to the details.
Dine in a parking lot
Bertha’s Kitchen in North Charleston is known nationally for its stellar food and proud history as a woman-owned business. Albertha Grant’s granddaughter is now picking up on both legacies with B’s Soul Creations — a food truck parked in the Bertha’s lot several nights a week.
“With most restaurants closing early since the virus, we decided it’s best to come out late at night,” says Kabiera Singleton, who until 2018 worked at Bertha’s alongside her mother, Linda Grant Pinckney, and aunts, Julia and Sharon Grant.
Starting at 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Singleton serves chicken-and-waffles, sautéed shrimp and grits, crab rice, shark steak and B’Singleton Punch from the window of her shiny black mobile unit, detailed with her late uncle’s name above the ordering window. David Grant, Jr. died from the coronavirus just before B’s Soul Creations debuted.
“It’s not easy working the late-night hours, but all the love, support and spirits from good customers, family and friends keep us going,” says Singleton, who also makes sure to keep a radio playing so the tented outdoor dining area’s energy never flags.
Family is never far away at B’s Soul Creations: Singleton’s daughter, Culinary Institute of Charleston student Taniya Boone Nelson, makes the pastries, including cheesecake, shortcake and monkey bread cookies. Singleton also benefited from the financial backing of her husband, who owns a pressure washing company.
Still, after responding at length to a fact-checking e-mail from The Post and Courier, Singleton sent one more message, short but urgent: “Please add that it was all God’s merciful grace.” Done.
For more information, search “B’s Soul Creations” on Facebook, or call 843-568-7457.
Dine at your desk
OK, it doesn’t have to be your desk. But you’ll need somewhere to set up your laptop if you want to dial in to Commander’s Palace’s weekly Wednesday night cocktail parties.
Although the legendary New Orleans restaurant hasn’t reopened for on-premise dining, this summer it launched its “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” series, featuring commentary from wine director Dan Davis and sporadic cutaways to a live band, as well as cameo appearances by the restaurant’s owners and chef. Each Zoomed evening has a theme intended to inspire participants’ costumes and at-home décor, such as The Great Gatsby, Jurassic Park or Spain.
If you live in New Orleans, you can buy various packages which include delivery of the event’s featured wines and cheeses. But if you’re reading this, you probably live closer to Charleston, so your only option is a $30.03 ticket, good for admission and none of the extras.
(At least for now: Commander’s, which already ships its garlic bread and turtle soup through Goldbelly, reportedly has plans to take the program nationwide).
In any case, a bon temps was had by all in my household when we joined in the virtual fun. Maybe it helped that it was Mardi Gras night, but the hour of goings-on, including a cheese tutorial by a Louisiana cheese maker, was an impressively polished production.
Possibly the best part came at the close of the event, when the screen was given over for a few seconds to each group, which had turned its computer camera on, allowing everyone else to peek at some of New Orleans’ nicest homes and the hedonists living in them: Think TikTok by the bayou.
For more information, visit commanderspalace.com/about/upcoming-events.
Dine in your friend’s backyard
Even restaurants that co-opt parking lots and sidewalks often don’t have enough al fresco square footage to space out tables at more than the required 6-foot distance. Yet, if you’re lucky enough to have a roomy backyard or know someone with the same, you can set up a very safe dining situation.
And in the Charleston area, you have your pick of talented private chefs. The Post and Courier recently published a directory of them. One chef who didn’t appear in that guide, though, is Sean Park, who has a day job as owner of Kanpai in Mount Pleasant.
Kanpai this summer started offering curbside pickup. According to the restaurant’s Facebook page, one recent customer was fellow chef Mike Lata of FIG and The Ordinary, who ordered a platter for his wife’s first postpartum feast. That’s a considerable endorsement.
For special occasions which don’t involve recuperation, sushi fans with big budgets (as in $300-per-person big) can hire Park to cook in their homes.
Like all personal chefs, Park makes a point of working closely with clients to accommodate their allergies, aversions and special requests. For instance, the host of the multi-course dinner I attended had asked Park to include lots of dishes drawing on his Korean heritage. The payout included a magnificent seafood pancake and cooling cucumber soup, slashed with soy.
Unlike many other personal chefs, though, Park has longstanding relationships with top-notch seafood suppliers, so he has the quality fish he needs to produce a trio of salmon from different parts of the globe, each prepared in the same fashion.
It also facilitates the creation of showstopping sashimi display that looks like what a Vegas casino would concoct if its highest rollers had a weakness for nori. Park constructs the spectacle so guests can help themselves to all the raw fish they want. Even in less austere times, the presentation would beam luxury.
For more information, text 843-901-7777.
Dine in your driveway
Right before the latest dining era ended with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, hospitality professionals had the public pretty well convinced that restaurants were complicated.
At Angler, which Esquire in 2018 named the nation’s best restaurant, guests were treated to views of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and bowls of caviar with their Parker House rolls. When the restaurant the following year opened a location in Los Angeles, its servers draped white bibs on silver chains around customers’ necks and heated delicate banana pancakes over a tableside contraption.
Each of those touches was surely memorable. Ultimately, though, what makes a great restaurant experience is exceptional food and thoughtful service. The formula is as simple as a freshly shucked oyster, which is the centerpiece of Bar George’s on-demand raw bar service. Conducted out of the back of an old Dodge Rampage with a pickup bed, it’s the best restaurant experience going in the Charleston area right now. Never mind about roofs and windows.
Once again, the whole shebang isn’t cheap. To schedule a visit from the oyster operation, clients have to commit to buying at least two dozen Island Creek oysters, priced at $31 a tray. The menu also includes skewered shrimp and scaled-down lobster rolls.
When chef Alex Lira or another member of his team arrives, he sets up a shucking station in the driveway or, in my case, on the sidewalk in front of a driveway-less house. The station consists of a vintage white tub, brimming with crushed ice, a wooden worktable and small Bluetooth speaker if guests are in the mood for music. It’s important to note, too, that the Bar Georgers are punctilious about wearing masks and attentive to social distancing.
My first thought upon tasting one of the oysters was that it’s awfully sad that some people still adhere to the “no oyster in r-months” myth for tradition’s sake. There is no better antidote to a hot muggy day than something that fresh, that cold and that salty.
Oyster aficionados seeking fancy can consent to the upsell of an itty-bitty jar of caviar, just like the kind that graced tables at restaurants of old. Here, though, it feels less like theater, and more like fun. Uncomplicated fun at that.
For more information, message @bargeorgechs on Instagram.