Get Away From It All
Top-notch cuisine doesn’t always have to come from East Bay Street
By Patrick Graham
In the 1989 movie "Field Of Dreams", a voice whispers to Kevin Costner's character Ray Kinsella that "If you build it, he will come." In this quote, the antecedent of "it" is a baseball diamond in the middle of a corn field in rural Iowa. Later in the film, a James Earl Jones character named Terence Mann indicates that if he builds the baseball field, his financial needs would be satisfied because people will gladly give their hard-earned money, if not their eyeteeth, to experience such a ponderous sensation of witnessing the old greats playing a child's game that was once known as "America's Pastime".
Even though the crux of the film was Ray Kinsella's reunification with his father, in terms of a practical, financial success, if Ray built the "field of dreams", people would bring their money in from all over to support his dreams (and at the same time, theirs). If you built it, and only "he" would come, that'd be kind of a bad business model.
While taking in the scene at Angel Oak Restaurant, I was told by a neighboring table that folks from the downtown culinary scene need to seek out this quaint little bistro near the Main Road intersection of Savannah Highway. Think of all of the time, energy, and money that we readily spend clamoring for a table at one of Charleston’s premier dining spots. Take some of that time, use some of that energy (and money), and head down U.S. 17 a few miles. Let us show you.
A scratch kitchen with a lot of skill that serves local produce can always come up with a solid caprese salad, and this one was no exception. If you’ve read anything I have written in the past year, I love a good caprese salad, especially when it’s local cherry tomatoes and greens anchoring the dish. No disappointment here.
Moving on to the second half of the appetizer course, I was especially taken with a crab cake
that says it’s baked Maryland style. Ordinarily, the downfall here is way too much breading. I barely detected any of that pesky (however necessary) breading, so this crab cake wins by defying the laws of physics, holding itself together through sheer willpower? Well, it’s the chef’s willpower, not the lump crab’s—well played. Note: I don’t usually do crab cakes. I liked this one a lot.
That day, the daily fish presentation was sheepshead. I was asked by my dining companion if that was something that she would like. She being a fan of snapper and grouper, sheepshead was a safe bet. What she didn’t count on was the rest of the dish, which included pimento cheese grits, broccoli, and maybe some sautéed shrimp over the top just for good measure. How about some candied Brussels sprouts to shatter the myth that they are just for punishing small children in a dietary manner? Yes, please.
But for me, the runaway star of the show was their buttermilk fried chicken. It is brined before preparation, thereby sealing in (and causing the explosion of) the juices of the bird’s components. Drizzled with local honey, it’s accompanied by a non-greasy macaroni and cheese gratin and local collards. When it’s really good, fried chicken is given the perfunctory “smack yo momma” grade. This is “put yo momma in the hospital with an epidural hematoma” territory. Seriously.
The proprietors, Jay and Nicole Kees, ask you to “save room for dessert, where the chef reflects on traditional southern style sweets that would cure any sweet tooth.” This polite understatement came to us in the form of true New Orleans beignets with the obligatory chocolate dipping sauce. It had been thirty years since I had gotten a hold of these deep fried delights, and my wife was a rookie in the beignet department. They came to us right out of the fryer, so we suffered a bit from unbearable anticipation.
The ridiculously fantastic beignets, complete with a giant poof of confectioner’s sugar smoke and the “cute casual” dining room, right down to the smallest workable oil lamp ever, the gingham-print napkins, and mini mason jar water glasses, made for a really kind and sweet atmosphere that really lends itself to the rustic nature of the location. Do yourself a favor and make the small drive to Angel Oak. Remember “if you build it…”? Well, they built a great menu and locale, all you have to do is show up.
Angel Oak Restaurant
3669 Savannah Highway Johns Island, SC 29455
Phone: (843) 556-7525