A tradition born in the kitchen of Grill 225—Market Pavilion Hotel’s luxe destination restaurant—sums up the ethos of the Charleston landmark: a hand-rolled cookie called koulourakia is left at every bedside during turndown service, replacing the ubiquitous chocolate or mint candy. The sweet Greek pastry is shaped like a key, the ancient Greek symbol of hospitality.
“It’s a gesture to our guests,” explains executive pastry chef Gerry Elliot, who created the concept after joining the restaurant group over a decade ago. “We want to show our guests how much we appreciate them. We like to think it’s as if we’re giving everyone keys to our house.”
The gesture is also a nod to the Greek heritage of the Palassis family, multigenerational Charlestonians and the hospitality professionals behind the development of the exclusive property. In the short time since its 2002 premiere on historic East Bay Street adjacent to the City Market, both restaurant and boutique hotel have garnered numerous accolades and earned a reputation for the highest level of cuisine and accommodations.
“Our goal was, and is, to be one of the best steakhouses in the world,” says Nick Palassis, president and managing director of the entire property. “Many guests say they have stopped trying to find a better steak here and even abroad.”
Just this year, Grill 225 made the Gayot Top 10 Steakhouses in the United States list, and Market Pavilion was dubbed No. 1 Top Small City Hotel in the Continental United States by the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine.
Grill 225 is also among the few restaurants designated as a “Great Steakhouse of North America” by the Independent Retail Cattleman’s Association, a highly selective organization that celebrates the independent spirit of America’s most creative and dedicated restaurant owners. “You have to meet the highest quality in beef and service standards set by fellow members to remain on the list.” says executive chef Demetre Castanas, who has overseen kitchen operations with cousin Nick Palassis since its planning stages.
“Whether dining at Grill 225 or staying on the concierge level in the hotel, every guest experience is unique,” says Peter Wright, Market Pavilion Hotel general manager. “Determining how they will have the best possible experience is our goal. We have a very high repeat-guest ratio—we like to welcome everyone as if they were home.”
Wright came to Market Pavilion in 2012 from the prestigious Leading Hotels of the World, a curator of luxury-level hotels, where he was responsible for the performance of all member hotels in North America and the Dominican Republic.
“I would go to each hotel and review their adherence to LHW standards,” explains Wright, “so they can maximize their overall performance. It gave me the perfect insight to come to the Market Pavilion, and in a short time period we were able to achieve No. 1 status.”
On the grand scale of the classic hotel/restaurant concepts of Europe, rich hardwoods, lofty tray ceilings and vast windows on the bustling world outside set the stage for the AAA Four Diamond Award-winning menu.
The standard for excellence at Grill 225 revolves around an entire steak menu driven by 100 Percent Prime USDA beef, wet aged 42-50 days and hand-cut in house by Castanas. The USDA Prime filet mignon is one of the restaurant’s top sellers. A dressed-up version features preparations with foie gras, truffled Bearnaise sauce and fig demiglace.
That quality is matched through the discriminating sourcing of all of its premium products, such as the pristine tuna used to build a tartare tower combining lump crab meat, avocado and lemon chili oil. The upscale starter is one of Castanas’ signature dishes.
Entree offerings include other steakhouse favorites such as a selection of lamb and veal chops. Dishes such as Indonesian colossal lump crab cakes and grilled swordfish with citrus basil cream showcase fresh fish harvested from both international and local waters. Whole Maine lobster is removed from the shell and elegantly served table-side. Meatless dishes, such as a comforting tofu cassoulet, are happily prepared with advance notice.
An abundant list of New and Old World wines represents the restaurant’s classic steakhouse ethic well, with a good showing of California cabernets and big pinot noirs.
All of the establishment’s breads, pastries and desserts are crafted in house by Elliot’s kitchen staff. “Every morning, I make European-style pastries for our complimentary breakfast service that we provide for all of our hotel residents,” says Elliot, who stands out among the relatively few executive pastry chefs in the city.
His over-the-top desserts include a decadent chocolate mousse cake on macadamia nut fudge with strawberries and warm ganache. Elliot says he built his dessert menu to stand up to the restaurant’s prime beef steakhouse concept. “I’m very structural and regimented, so I construct desserts that are unique, intricate and sizeable. We boast the largest and most diverse dessert menu in the city. My goal is for our desserts to be truly outstanding and memorable.”
Other contenders include a rich banana bread pudding topped with caramel ice cream and warm caramel sauce, and a walnut-y baklava “purse” served with cinnamon ice cream and local honey. Elliot gives a Carolina twist to the traditional baked Alaska by layering strawberry ice cream and raspberry sorbet onto a candied peanut cake. The meringue crust is flambéed table-side.
Another must-have: the trademarked Nitrotini—an exotic martini infused with liquid nitrogen that arrives super-chilled to -320 degrees fahrenheit. “Nick created the Nitrotini for Grill 225,” notes Castanas. “The cocktails have been an extremely popular signature for the entire operation.” The bar produces over 30 different Nitrotinis featuring a variety of fruits, liqueurs, and other specialty ingredients.
“At the Market Pavilion, Pavilion Bar and Grill 225, we’ve put together a strong core of loyal staff members that I consider to be very much like brothers and sisters,” Elliot notes. “We are all very dedicated, and we all work very well together. We’re not all Palassises, but there’s not much of a difference—we’re all a close family.”
Wendy Swat Snyder is a freelance writer and public relations consultant based in Charleston. E-mail Wendy at email@example.com.