HUSK, THE 10-YEAR-OLD LOVE LETTER to Southern cuisine, is ready to recapture the hearts of Charlestonians as it opens its doors and safely welcomes back friends and family to its embrace.
The restaurant that came to life in 2010 in a hist-oric, refurbished house on Queen Street has been experimenting with a thing or two over these months of sheltering in place. One, how to keep the romance alive? And two, is it time to start a take-out program that brings the best of Husk to your own table without sacrificing the experience?
The answer to both those questions is a decided yes, and in reopening the restaurant late last month, a few delectable changes have arrived, says Kenny Lyons, vice president of operations of Neighborhood Dining Group, which operates and manages Husk, as well as five other restaurants across the Southeast. “We’ve spent a lot of time thinking during this time that we haven’t been open,” he says. The restaurant has reopened with safety measures in place that include spaced-out tables and service from Wednesday through Sunday nights, with brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
And about that curbside takeout: It’s a go from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays. Cue the cheeseburgers and fried chicken, as well as more than a dozen other items that translate well from the main menu. “We want to make sure that people who get a to-go meal still feel that it is the Husk experience,” Lyons says.
That experience was etched into the restaurant’s DNA from day one, with the mantra: “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door.” It worked. In its rookie year, Husk was named Bon Appetit’s best new restaurant in America. Executive chef Travis Grimes, who has been with the restaurant since its inception, started as chef de cuisine under Sean Brock and was promoted to his current position in 2015. His résumé also includes stints at now-shuttered fine dining spots McCrady’s and Cypress Lowcountry Grill.
A native of the South Carolina Low-country, Grimes has developed the menu with a look back at antique cookbooks, as well as an ever-forward eye that gives local, indigenous ingredients the spotlight. He’s a stickler for authenticity, overseeing the restaurant’s in-house recipes, such as hot sauce, pasta, bitters for cocktails and sarsaparilla.
These homemade elements, along with ingredients from local purveyors, find their way onto a constantly changing menu of regional dishes. A sample menu, for example, features starters with different expressions of Southern cuisine, from cheddar crackers and whipped pimento cheese to an Asian-influenced heritage pork lettuce wrap with sweet vinegar cucumber and red onion, and togarashi.
The supper course romps through the Southern artisan food canon with dishes featuring Jimmy Red heirloom corn skillet-fried catfish, and Carolina Gold rice with shrimp, collards and Louisiana hot sauce. A steak offering includes strip steak with new potatoes, Brussels sprouts and accents of Virginia peanuts, red curry and shiitake mushrooms from Mepkin Abbey, the community of Trappist monks outside Charleston.
Pace yourself; the dessert course is its own multi-flavor dance. Choices from strawberry shortcake to brownie sundae are presented with a spirit or dessert wine of your choice.
Husk, which encompasses two 1894 buildings restored and remodeled by the Neighborhood Dining Group in historic downtown Charleston, is the first of four restaurants of the same name, with locations in Nashville, Tennessee; Savannah, Georgia; and Greenville, South Carolina.
The main restaurant at 76 Queen St. is a house with Victorian influences and a Queen Anne-style facade that was built by the large Graham family of parents and nine children. The adjacent structure, 74 Queen St., houses The Bar & Patio at Husk and includes a first-floor bar, a second-floor cocktail lounge and a secluded patio. With exposed brick and large picture windows, it’s a great place to sip classic cocktails and artisanal microbrews, sample a wine list based on terroir or enjoy a casual dinner of house favorites.
The restaurant décor, designed by Michael Shewan of Michael David & Associates of Charleston, exudes modern elegance and historical charm, with reclaimed hardwood floors, cushy leather seating and soothing neutral colorways. There’s plenty of natural light through original windows, and porches and a courtyard help patrons take full advantage of lazy afternoons or energy-charged weekends.
As its name suggests, Husk is both a protective layer around its community and a coating of goodness that reveals the essence inside.
“We were based on the foundational discipline and principle to celebrate Southern ingredients,” says Lyons. “I don’t think we could have fulfilled that principle if it weren’t for our community and our mindset. We’ve made a genuine effort to develop relationships and create those bonds, and it has provided us with a great advantage.”
In addition to the restaurant’s commitment to Southern cuisine, it also participates in making Charleston a strong community outside the kitchen through partnerships with local nonprofit organizations, such as Feed the Need (feedtheneedcharleston.org), Bread and Butter (breadandbutterchs.org) and Turning Leaf (turningleafproject.com). All of these organizations help cultivate culinary talent and business savvy by connecting with members of the community, from students working in the culinary industry to residents who may have been recently homeless or incarcerated.
“If we can all look at each other as someone who matters, then we can all have a more empathetic way forward,” says Lyons. “That’s what hospitality is all about, and Charleston thrives and specializes in that.” *
Freelance writer and editor Connie Dufner is a proud Texan transplant living in Washington, D.C. She is a former editor for Modern Luxury Dallas and The Dallas Morning News who has been covering interiors journalism since 2001.