It's a Soulful Experience
1271 Folly Road, James Island
I have to say that up until this spring, I had only set foot in this building once before. Its previous incarnation was a certain chain restaurant that Ricky Bobby and his family vowed to get kicked out of at the end of a favorite movie of mine, and my experience consisted of a few watery draft beers, a few James Islanders, and a severely corrupt trivia game that told me I needn’t return anytime soon.
After laying fallow for an extended period, this location was renovated and deconstructed to the point where all of the garish Applebee’s “wall flair” was conspicuously absent. In fact, the only thing that really gave away this establishment’s previous identity was the dozen or so seats surrounding the bar area, which, without the familiar speed racks for the glassware and the overhead cabinetry, appeared to be a Lazy Susan of people. We’re all just hoping those particular patrons don’t spin when they end their barstool tenure.
Upon looking over the menu, I was interested in two things: 1) getting something that I knew I had to have in order to capture the essence of what the kitchen hierarchy wanted first-timers to try, and 2) something I knew had better be good if that hierarchy wanted to have any credibility in the comfort food department. So here we go: 1) Pimiento Cheese Broiled Oysters on the Half Shell Topped with BBQ Fried Oysters, and 2) Southern Style Fried Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, Onion Gravy, and Collard Greens. Those two items just screamed Charleston, South Carolina. Really, oysters and chicken? Yup.
Okay, here’s where I let the cat out of the bag. I’m from Ohio. Spare me the collective gasps, readers, I know the drill, have heard it all, and yes, I do own the T-shirt. It says, “I’m Stayin’.” One of the rites of passage for Yankees with a new home here in Charleston is to get acclimated in a hurry to the oyster culture down here, and this Lowcountry take on Oysters Rockefeller caught my attention. If you can’t get into pimiento cheese, barbecue sauce, and fried oysters, then your citizenship in these parts will be called into question. It is the flagship of the $7 appetizer fleet here at the Grill.
If you doubt my repudiation of all lifestyle choices that are Ohio-riffic in nature, I don’t care, because short of the Reds and the Bengals, I gave up on the state long ago. You are officially absolved of having to take my oyster analysis seriously if you are a child of the South. However, we have had fried chicken for some time in Ohio, and I know what I’m talking about here. The crispy poultry dish($10) gets an 8 on the 1-10 scale. One of the reasons it’s an 8 and not a 9 is because the drumstick was bouncy and a little gummy right off the rip. All of the other three pieces of the half-chicken plate were hot and juicy, the way they oughta be. The mashed potatoes were chunky and moist, as if the side was a potato salad without any form of dressing, a welcome change from the wallpaper paste that KFC somehow rendered spellbound a nation of the gastronomically clueless. The onion gravy was the sidecar that complimented the bird and the mashers, and if I wasn’t so pleased with the seasoning of either, it could have been inundated with black pepper to augment the flavor quite easily; it didn’t need it. Then came the collards. Luckily, I had my wife with me, my Southern food translator. I was all set to substitute the greens for coleslaw, but if I was going to give this the old college try, it had better be a college from around here. She told me to throw on some Texas Pete’s and go for it, and it was a nice exclamation point. I married a smart lady, and if I like collards, they’re really good.
Now for a beverage. If you require some of the good stuff from the bar area, top-shelf Woodford Reserve bourbon and Grey Goose vodka indicates an attention to fine spirits, and there’s a list of decent wines on which twenty of them go for an incredible twenty dollars a bottle (I had a wonderfully receptive glass of Columbia Crest Merlot for six bucks). A wonderful addition to the usual trove of domestic suds, the craft beer selections, including the almighty Sweetwater 420 and Holy City Pilsner, satisfy the needs of those who crave the brews of a certain intensity.
Just when I thought I would be able to walk out of this restaurant, the dessert menu arrived, and the transitive verb associated with my moving out of this place was no longer “walk”, but “roll”. Caramel pie with whipped cream and chocolate chips. Seriously. It won out over sweet potato pecan pie, and the special, a fried Oreo sundae. I couldn’t have the fried Oreos, because at that point, my cholesterol level would have needed a fourth digit.
It’s comforting that Lucky’s isn’t trying to be something it isn’t, as the realization of overly lofty mission statements have proven extremely elusive here on the island. The local populace has had difficulty embracing fine dining on any real scale, and Lucky’s is subtly imploring you to accomplish one simple mission: enjoy good food.
Starting in April, the newly-tweaked menu rolled off the presses with some new items to complement the old favorites.
Patrick Graham came to Charleston in the Spring of 1999.
"Writing about food and drink is a wonderful marriage of journalism and controlled gluttony."
by Patrick Graham