by Jeff Allen
I had the chance to sneak over to Mt. Pleasant Tuesday night and sample the newest offering from the team at Ben Berryhill’s Red Drum Gastropub. Berryhill and his partner Charlie Chance have moved a crew into the old Samos space. It's called Next Door and little has changed with the décor — a couple of walls have shifted, but the kitchen received a complete overhaul.
Berryhill certainly deserves respect for the success of Red Drum, but it seems that (for whatever reason) the Southwestern concept keeps him from receiving the accolades due such an astute culinarian. The guy puts out extraordinary food, as creative and satisfying as any place downtown, but never seems to get the critical acclaim. Hell, his former pastry chef, Lauren Mitterer, routinely gets more mention about town (all deserved, as well). But I have a feeling that this predicament is about to change for Berryhill.
If you expected Next Door to be anything like Red Drum, then you will be sorely disappointed. It has the potential to be much, much better. Mostly, this is due to the open palette from which Berryhill can now operate, but he’s also amassed some pretty solid talent on the kitchen’s line. His sous chef at Next Door spent long stints with Wolfgang Puck opening various establishments of his across the country, and others in the kitchen cut their teeth at Red Drum before shuffling off to formal training at the Culinary Institute of America. That infusion brings a kitchen with interesting wrinkles. I spotted a sous vide setup alongside one wall, which is not so novel unless you know Berryhill’s predilection for old-school method (his “grill” at Red Drum burns whole logs). Clearly he is stretching his comfort zone.
All of this is of little import, though, without good food, and if the first couple of nights can be any indication, then Berryhill is hitting all the right notes. Almost everything is locally sourced, the ricotta cheese steaming inside a plate-sized raviolo with a barely poached farm-fresh egg, the scamp grouper that sits atop fresh field peas, and handmade pappardelle interlaced with fresh porcini mushrooms foraged in Summerville. There was an impressive array of craft beer on the list. But none of it is the slightest bit Southwestern in flavor or flair.
We enjoyed cold blue point oysters on the half-shell and a local heirloom tomato salad as good as any in town. It came with a luscious ball of burrata imported from Italy. The Cornish hen was perfectly cooked, as was the grouper, and outside of the normal quirks of a new opening, all signs point towards an unqualified success.
In fact, Next Door reminds me much more of Mike Lata’s FIG than Red Drum. The menu is eclectic, seeks fresh seasonality over trendy kitsch, and displays an ample pile of pure soul. He plans to have a full menu in place by the weekend and will make weekly changes thereafter. Some may think it a stretch, but if his young talent in the kitchen truly embrace the creative possibilities, Next Door could rightfully become the next big thing in greater Charleston, and Berryhill just might get that praise that he already deserves.