Monday, January 14, 2013
Well, this column was initially going to be about my birthday night downtown Charleston. Within a half hour of entering 474 King Street, I realized that I could not combine the experience that we had at Halls Chophouse with any other topic. The evening overshadowed every minute of the day and was the best experience of any kind that I have had in Charleston. Even my birthday became secondary.
Halls Chophouse is everything wonderful about the Holy City nestled into one establishment. To fellow residents who have not had the pleasure yet, you are missing out. To my friends from out of state who plan to visit Charleston, put this on your itinerary.
My birthday was coming up and I wanted to go downtown for dinner and a play. When we discussed where it would be, Halls Chophouse was my choice. We arrived early, 5:00 pm to be exact, from the minute we walked in, we were welcomed and patted on like we had been favorite customers for eons. An 18 inch butchers block sat on the corner of the bar filled with Prosciutto Ham, heirloom tomatoes, mushrooms, healthy wedges of Bleu Cheese and Brie with various other soft and hard cheeses cuddled alongside crisp bacon plunged into bowls of incredible dips.
A couple at the bar could hardly contain their excitement about their upcoming meal. They explained to us that they were visiting from Texas and had cancelled events so that they could dine here all 3 nights before returning. They said that they rarely ate out back in Texas anymore and never ate seafood of any kind anywhere else since eating here. They promised many pleasures to come to our night.
How many places can you say you have supped that by the end of the night you knew all of their names? This is the order of how we met the Family.
Carrie was our dream weaver. She presented a platter with steaks that had Don positively trembling in his seat. Carrie explained all of the cuts and the cooking processes of each. For instance, did you know that the prime strip of meat on the rib eye is called the deckle? It is the cap of the rib eye and favored by chefs and critics alike as one of the most flavorful and tender pieces of the steak. Carrie described all of the chef's creations with a zeal that would make Julia Child proud. She loves her job, says so and it is evident.
Frank a GM, was a joy to talk to, he gave us tidbits of history and information about the restaurant and food preparation as well as ordering hints. Namely, not to eat too much. My birthday cake would be a grand finale.
Tommy Hall GM & Proprietor is all that and a bag of chips. Fun, professional and debonair. He welcomed us warmly as he did soul after hungry searching soul from the sidewalk to the entry. In a casual yet professional way, Tommy assured us that the night was ours to enjoy and that he and the rest of the staff were there to insure just that. I hesitate to call them staff. Every warm body that wasn't sitting down appeared to be family and by the end of the night, so were we.
The sun dipped behind King Street and the lamp lights were glowing outside the picture window. We watched the parade of locals and tourist. The dishes we ordered arrived perfectly timed, perfectly cooked and I will tell you that Don and I both concur that we have never had a more delicious meal.
Chef Matthew Niessner came out after the first dinner wave, he was a charming man with a passion for his food quality, taste and presentation, all which was evident in each bite. Course by course, bite by bite, we exclaimed every adjective in our vocabulary. I believe at one point I went into social media jargon "OMG" and then spilling into a little jersey girl with "Shut the front door" followed by guttural sighs, ooohs and ahhhs. Finally we chewed silently with satisfied pleasure that had us just shaking our heads in awe.
Billy Hall Sr. and his beautiful wife Jeanne arrived, completing the concerto. Each made their way around the restaurant, greeting and conversing with everyone. We proclaimed all of the wonderful things above to Billy, he positively beamed as if it was the first time he had ever heard the accolades. He took me upstairs to show me the other dining halls. Billy Sr. designed the restaurant.
Jeanne was genuine, warm and hospitable. She also came over to chat with us. Even though we talked with all of these people, there was an absence of presence that assured us that we were alone to enjoy our evening. I watched as every single person that entered the restaurant was greeted warmly with handshakes and hugs. Even though the restaurant was full by now, there was never a push to rush a single soul. I didn't get to meet Billy Hall Jr, which means we have to go back!
My Birthday Meal
December 7th, 2012 • Oysters Rockefeller w/Bulls Bay Oysters, 1/2 fresh jacketed lemon. • Fried Green Tomatoes topped with a Shrimp Remoulade • Halls Chopped Salad • Petit Filet Mignon for myself, 16 oz Rib eye for Don. Cooked to perfection is an understatement. I literally could not believe it wasn't cream centered with butter. It was the most delectable piece of meat I have ever eaten. Don agreed unanimously. • Creamy Sautéed Brussels Sprouts w/pork. I have long sat on the fence waffling to and fro with the tiny little cabbages. Not any more. Absolutely incredible. • Loaded Baked Potato • Dessert: Frank asked me if I trusted him to choose for me. At that point, I would have trusted him with passwords for my offshore bank accounts. Frank and Carrie arrived with two dessert dishes. A flaming plate with a generous serving of 15 layer Caramel Cake w/Banana's Foster and candle for me. Frank explained to me that a lady in Georgetown makes these cakes layer by layer in her spring form pan for them. Don had the Whiskey Bread Pudding, New Orleans style warm bread, sun dried cherries, pecans & bourbon crème anglaise. It was equally as sinful as mine. To conclude. Don and I both have discussed this experience for days. We are still rendered speechless. Don finally helped me put the feeling into words today. He reminded me of a story I told him years ago about renowned violinist Nichola Paganini, circa 1813. Nichola was so incredibly good that acclaimed violinist were known to smash their own violins to bits after attending a concert of his. Few believed that it was possible to exceed the perfection they had witnessed. That pretty much sums it up for us. Coming from a gal who loves to cook and does so for over 300 days a year, I totally experienced that feeling. I didn't want to cook anything the next day. Anything and everything that I thought of paled in comparison. I leave you with this website and encourage you to experience what we did in Charleston on my birthday night. Halls Chophouse, Dock Street Theatre (story coming) Conde' Nast. You were dead on right. Charleston, SC. Best US city!