For those of you who remember the early days of the Charleston “food scene,” you’ll recall that fine dining options were few and far between. I am thinking of the mid-1980s, moments before Hurricane Hugo slammed into this coastal city and changed its landscape forever. Only a handful of establishments— most offering standard Southern fare—serviced hungry locals and tourists, and few from that period remain. Poogan’s Porch is one that has prevailed, holding fast to its culinary legacy in what has become a vibrant, competitive field.
On the eve of its 40th year, this veteran restaurant comes to the game well equipped. A new guard has emerged over recent years to guide the direction of Poogan’s Porch, which has been described, simply, as “staying true to tradition while embracing the contemporary.”
From the outside, little of the graceful two-story Victorian property located on historic Queen Street seems changed. Quintessentially Southern, the eatery charms guests with old brick and wallpaper, an original fireplace mantel and thick, tied-back drapes. The former residence is bedecked on both floors with piazzas for the alfresco crowd.
Behind the scenes, Poogan’s Porch managing partner Brad Ball, who now oversees daily operations inherited from the founding owners—his parents—has brought a fresh perspective since moving into that role in 2007.
“Our vision is to create a timeless restaurant that not only endures but evolves,” says Ball. “We want to be true to ourselves, while continuing to push forward and be in accordance with the times.”
Having earned an advanced sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers, Ball directs the Poogan’s Porch wine program as well. A College of Charleston graduate with a degree in philosophy, he spent his post-baccalaureate years learning the hospitality ropes in New York City. There he attended the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center), an intensive, total-immersion culinary arts program. While earning his degree, he had the opportunity to work in top city restaurants such as four star-rated Jean-Georges, Momofuko and Aquavit— extraordinary experiences that have served him well.
“It was the intensity of [Momofuko chef/ owner] David Chang that really amazed me,” recalls Ball. “The restaurant had only been open a few months, and he was working the line pretty much every day—before it became insanely popular—so I had the chance to witness this guy with so much passion and drive. His need to have everything executed perfectly was amazing.”
Ball brings this experience to his work with executive chef/managing partner Daniel Doyle, creating a marriage of food and wine that is both accessible and unique. Thrice invited to cook at the James Beard House in New York, Doyle says he enjoys using fresh ingredients and allowing them to stand out in a dish.
Finding local sources for the kitchen’s pantry was a major change, which Doyle introduced when he joined the Poogan’s Porch team in 2007. “We work with Lowcountry Local First, Blackbird Farms, Joseph Fields Farm, St Jude’s Farm Fishery, and Storey Farms on Johns Island for our eggs,” says Doyle. “We are using more local grains, like grits from Adluh Flour Mills in Columbia, [South Carolina]. We also work with Crosby’s Seafood and Limehouse Produce.”
Charleston Style & Design asked the Poogan’s Porch wine-centric food and beverage team to weigh in on their favorite dishes and wine pairings. Chef Doyle and general manager Luis Rodriguez both gave the nod to the roasted duck breast paired with a Côtes du Rhône (Doyle) or Mira Winery Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir (Rodriguez). Partner Brad Ball had a tough time choosing just one. He suggests shrimp ‘n’ grits with Vouvray, fried chicken with Alsatian Pinot Gris, roasted duck with Cru Beaujolais … and Champagne with anything.
“I like to take classic Lowcountry cuisine and use modern techniques,” explains Doyle. “I am also inspired by different cuisines and draw from those to make the classics newer.” He points to menu items such as red rice risotto, shrimp demi-glace and sweet potato gnocchi as examples of this approach.
Doyle’s appreciation of the restaurant goes back to his childhood years. The Johnson and Wales graduate grew up eating at Poogan’s Porch during family visits to the Lowcountry. As executive chef, he’s chosen the dishes he knows to be strong and familiar to the clientele and has built on them.
He credits Ball for broadening his perspective as a chef, challenging him to grow and to try new styles and philosophies. “Brad has had the opportunity to dine all over the world, and he brings those culinary experiences to our menu experimentation,” notes Doyle. “The menu now changes seasonally and is divided into ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ entrée sections so we can have a little more room to be creative and fun while still staying true to what Poogan’s is and continues to be.”
“With Chef Doyle and myself,” adds Ball, “it’s about staying true to the dish and then working to find the wine that pairs best with it, which often can be surprising. Southern food is always a bit tricky, but wines with a little lower alcohol tend to pair better due to the inherent spice of the regional cuisine.”
Lending a long tenure of hospitality experience to this mix of industry pros is general manager and certified sommelier Luis Rodriguez, who became acquainted with Ball while managing sister Charleston restaurants Blossom and Magnolia. In addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations of the front of house, Rodriquez says he and Ball spend time evaluating new wines to introduce to their guests.
All agree that both food and wine programs are continually evolving to showcase novel dishes and wines from a collection that now boasts 1,500 bottles, housed in a wine cellar built during a 2010 renovation.
“It has allowed us to cellar more wines. You need the proper space to lay them down and rotate them,” notes Rodriguez. “They are living, breathing organisms.”
With a solid combination of young talent and long-standing reputation, Poogan’s Porch seems well poised to play the gracious host for many years to come. And when you go, don’t be surprised if your server strides forward with hand outstretched for a shake. That is the high-energy style of Rosa Quintana-Hill, who just celebrated her 25th year at the restaurant. Her expert recommendations are followed by the refrain, “I am here for you!” You sense she is speaking for the entire establishment.
Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer and marketing consultant.