When celebrated chef Sean Brock left Neighborhood Dining Group in August, the culinary world pondered what a post-Brock Charleston would look like. The quick conclusion from Eater was that Minero, McCrady’s, McCrady’s Tavern, and Husk would forge ahead — Brock was well past the stage of his career where he rolled the burritos at Minero or sauced the plates at McCrady’s.
With new executive chefs Orlando Pagán at McCrady’s Tavern and Jim Stein at McCrady’s, changes were inevitable (Husk and Minero were already set with leadership and menus before Brock’s departure). Pastry chef Katy Keefe remained, but has also changed the desserts for both restaurants. The focus for everyone always remains on local though.
The rock-and-roll soundtrack and tater tot caviar service remain at McCrady’s Tavern, but everything else is different from Brock’s original vision of a Gilded Age bacchanalia.
Executive chef Orlando Pagán’s menu concentrates on seasonal, local products, like pork tenderloin with braised apples and Ciopollini onions or grilled swordfish with eggplant and a tomato marmalade, whereas Brock’s original menu concentrated on pre-Depression American cooking, like calf’s head soup and escargot-stuffed marrow bone. Pagán describes the updated menu as “seasonal progressive American cuisine.” That means if it’s not in season, he doesn’t want to see it on a plate, which is why the offerings change every other week. Being in the Lowcountry offers him a chance to build a more intimate relationship with the growers and producers.
Before coming to Charleston, Pagán led as executive chef at Michelin-starred, San Francisco-based restaurant The Village Pub. He’s classically trained, but he still incorporates a bit of the molecular gastronomy that played a big role in the original McCrady’s Tavern. Pagán says he only uses those techniques if it doesn’t change the quality of the food — he wants the product to shine, not the science.
The tasting menu format stayed at McCrady’s, but bonsai trees are gone. While Brock was inspired by the Japanese way of dining, executive chef Jim Stein looks at McCrady’s as “Lowcountry mixed with a traditional tasting menu.” It was still very Southern when it opened, but the menu now is even more concentrated with Charleston flavors. “We use all local, says Stein, “except for a few ingredients like the truffle and caviar.” The original Brock menu had uni and foie gras, but now there’s Barrier Island oysters and local garlic crab prepared to tasting menu standards.
“McCrady’s is a fusion of my background with what Brock taught me,” say Stein
The restaurant also has a fun, more lighthearted service now. The staff still performs all the fine dining points of service, but there’s more conversation between waitstaff, patrons, and chefs. Previously, the meal felt like a church-like experience with every minute planned, but now it feels more like a lively dinner party with spectacularly prepared food and pairings.
In the Middle
While the two restaurants are separate, and the chefs know about each other’s menus, pastry chef Katy Keefe is a bit of a go-between that connects the two. Keefe has been in charge of the pastries at McCrady’s and McCrady’s Tavern since the original openings in 2016. She uses her immense talent to steer the desserts, but always works with the chefs.
“Pastry is always collaborative with the chef, because a high percentage of guests are not coming for dessert — they’re coming for the total experience,” says Keefe, “I think it’s important for me to match the chef, because we’re creating that experience for the guest. I try to match Orlando and Jim’s focuses, just like I matched Sean’s focuses, but I also have my own focuses. I’m always working to make it a more holistic experience .
Because Pagán is so classically trained, she wanted to add more layers of components to the desserts at McCrady’s Tavern — more flourishes, more flavors, and more modern than Brock’s menu. Now, patrons can try a chocolate tart, with banana semifreddo, and nougatine, instead of the classic chocolate souffle found on the original menu.
“With Jim,” says Keefe,” he’s so talented. He focuses a ton on the products. That’s where he finds inspiration, so I do the same.” The updated McCrady’s desserts include a frozen ice cream bar made with local milk, dipped in a white chocolate, sprinkled with crushed African runner peanuts, and drizzled with fresh sorghum, while the original included uni ice cream and paw paw sorbet. “With Sean, it was products and experience,” she says, “because he was so inspired by the Japanese way of eating when we first opened. It’s changed a bit, but pastry has always been pretty independent and Charleston-focused.”
Going forward the restaurants will both keep the focus on the Lowcountry, which is what Brock wanted — it’s just through new lenses, ideas, and hands now.