Chowing with the Dead at Cha Cha's
By: Antonia M. Krenza
I am going on a much anticipated girls weekend trip in mid-July and decided to go on a bit of a 6 week pre-diet for the festivities. Yesterday was day one. It started out with a lot of gusto! I woke up, did a couple things around the house, and then off I went to kayak with some friends. With exercise in check, I planned out the rest of the afternoon and evening. I would meet some of the gang at Pearlz for happy hour and a little oyster nosh...and yes, just ONE vodka martini. To my delight, things were going just as planned. After Pearlz I would go home, watch a movie, drink WATER, and get a good night’s sleep.
That all changed when I logged on to my FaceBook. There it was, an invite to Cha Cha's. For those of you that aren't familiar with James Island, let me explain. About 2 and a half years ago a couple of guys decided to open up a BBQ joint serving from scratch sides, various sauce condiments, over 45 draft beer selections, and huge portions of succulent, smoked meat. This wonderful venue is Smoky Oak Taproom, located on the corner of Camp Road and Dills Bluff. I'm sure these fellows were told they were nuts to open in the unassuming strip center in the middle of J.I., but hell its just like they say, build it and they shall come. The place is always packed. The reason? Its just plain good. The draft beer list changes weekly, if not daily...always including some local brews and various beers from around the country. They offer a different special every night of the week, such as, kids eat for free on Sundays and adults can enjoy a $3 bloody mary bar, ladies receive half off appetizers of Monday nights, and there is a fried chicken dinner on Tuesday nights that is massive! All these things combined with the fact that the atmosphere and the BBQ is spot on, really make this a great place for the James Island locals to congregate and grub out. And did I mention I can throw a rock at this gem from my house?
But getting back to Cha Cha's. Back a few months ago, the same guys from Smoky Oak announced that they would be opening their next venture over here on J.I. It would be a tequila/taco/sports bar. Originally, they had planned to open late March, but for any of you in the F&B biz, you know how that goes. So I patiently waited. I scoped out the locale a couple times, again, thinking they could be a little nutty for choosing this particular spot. Anyone know that horrible looking strip mall on Folly Rd. past the Food Lion that housed a place named Charlie's with some goofy looking fish logo in it? Well, that is Cha Cha's Tequila Bar.
A few weeks back I had popped into Smoky Oak for a quick beverage on the way home and Rick, one of the owners, chatted with me about the progress of his new baby. He mentioned that the FB fans would get an invite to sort of a soft opening/trial run of the spot "soon".
So, here I sat, deciding on a movie and happy with the fact that I didn't gorge myself on day one of the diet...only to realize that this was the night of the soft opening. I always take pride in the fact that my self restraint is so good when I really put my mind to something, but between my curiosity and those damn tacos calling my name off I went to see the scene.
Once inside, I was pleased to see some of the familiar faces of my beloved Smoky Oak. When you walk through the front door, there is a large wrap around bar straight ahead. I grabbed a couple bar chairs for my roommate and I and began to take in the space. Things were very casual, with about 20 some odd T.V.s hanging on the walls. To the right of the bar were 6 pool tables and a couple arcade games. The coolest part of the decor had to be the skull theme they chose to go with. Almost every inch of the wall space was covered with murals of corpses that had drank too much tequila out in the desert. LOVE IT.
In the midst of my "Day of the Dead" intake, the young, and might I add, cute bartender swung by to greet us. He started out by telling us the drinks that they were offering "on the house". A few draft beers and samples of their house frozen margaritas were on the menu for the evening. I sprung for a Dos Equis Amber and he graciously brought a margarita as well, claiming that I just had to try it.
Things were a little chaotic, as I know any opening can be. Service was a bit sporadic, with multiple people swinging by to see if you needed something, but no one really seeming to know who was taking care of whom. Cute boy disappeared for a bit, but reappeared with chips and guacamole some time later. One other hitch...soft opening are a first impression, right? A lot of the waitstaff seemed to be lacking in energy. Almost as if they couldn't wait for the night to be over. I guess slinging free food to guests can be a bit daunting, but a smile goes a long way.
The owner, Rick, however was sure to come by and speak to each guest...which is a nice touch. He welcomed all opinions and made sure all were having a good time.
Now it was taco time. We were told our options, which included the Pork Belly with banana puree and the Smoked Pork with cilantro and a spicy salsa. We ordered one of each to share. The pork belly and banana combination was undoubtedbly the most interesting taco I have experienced. What an amazing pair these two ingredients made- buttery and tender belly hugged by a brightness of sweet banana. I would order this over and over. As for the pork, any of you that have enjoyed the BBQ at Smoky Oak, will recognize the same dedication brought to the slow cooked pork that melts in your mouth, here at Cha Cha's.
I did not see the full menu, but I look forward to seeing what other crazy taco combinations they have come up with. I did however ask for a tequila menu, which was brought to me as more of a rough draft. The scribbles of, who I am assuming was, an owner's liberally marked the pages. I found it endearing that they still chose to share with me. There had to have been at least 40 different varieties, classified by style - Blanco, Reposado, and Anejo.
I woke up this morning thinking about my next pork belly taco and eventual tequila flight and wondering whether I would be able to hold off until the 6 week diet was complete. Oh yea...the diet. I guess its time for me to go steam some damn vegetables and pray that I don't receive any more invites to random taco/margarita feasts.
Cha Cha's official grand opening is Today - Wednesday, June 6th. Located at 1409 Folly Road.