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Daniel Island's brewpub Dockery's has ambitious goals to prove size matters

Less is More

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After opening in early December of last year, Dockery's — a mammoth, 10,000 square foot restaurant, brewery, and music venue on Daniel Island — brought in a new chef this spring. With stints all over the place, including The Macintosh and Obstinate Daughter, chef Chad Anderson's resume is unquestionably impressive. So is the restaurant's beer menu, with a house-made list of standards, rotating options, and even limited "delicious experiments," not to mention a single cask-conditioned offering. The choices range from approachable to trendy, with everything from an American IPA ($6.00) and an organic lager ($5.50) to a Belgian Tripel ($8.00) and bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout ($10), some of which are available in cans. If you're not into beer, there are also ciders, wines of every hue, and even a handful of fruity cocktails.

Grandeur seems to be a theme at Dockery's. The space itself is ginormous, with high ceilings, copious bar and table seating, and a large stage with regular live music. There are also outdoor tables, including a badass communal high top with a firepit in the middle, and even a modular greenhouse from Vertical Roots located in a shipping container outside. But if you think that's overwhelming, wait until you take a gander at the menu.

With an 'everything but the kitchen sink' approach, there are selections from cuisines and cultures the world over. We got started in familiar bar food territory with the calamari ($12). Cornmeal crusted and extremely crisp, this is the kind of coating that still has some crunch two hours later. Unfortunately, cornmeal can also be a bit dry and flavorless, which is the case here as well. Some salt might have helped, but in a ballsy move rarely seen outside of fine dining, there is none to be found on any of the tables. The crunchy squid comes plated on a pool of rich romesco and is drizzled with a generous portion of black garlic aioli. Normally I prefer to do my own sauce application, but in this case the dual dressings provide some much-needed help with both the dryness and flavor.

The soba noodles ($10) are too unorthodox to pass up. Tiny but powerful, a small serving of the Japanese buckwheat pasta is tossed with Korean kimchi, shreds of bitter radish, and some anise-flavored (perhaps basil licorice?) microgreens. Topped with sesame seeds, it's spicy, sour, strange ... And skillful. It's the kind of dish that maybe shouldn't work, but does, showcasing the obvious talent in the kitchen.

Similarly, the prosciutto and arugula flatbread ($15) took a minute to grow on me, but then took hold. At first bite, the stiff crust comes across as far too brittle, yet toothy. Perhaps thinking that 'flatbread' meant 'thin-crust pizza', I wasn't expecting what's more like a slightly chewy cracker. However, the combined garnishes — paper thin Asian pears, crisp prosciutto, and globs of creamy mascarpone, finished with fresh, peppery arugula possessed of a light, lemony finish — are lovely together. Yes, the toppings fall all over the place and the consistency of the crust takes a minute to get used to, but it's an undoubtedly worthwhile companion to whatever you happen to be sipping.

The 10,000 square foot restaurant boasts high ceilings, copious bar and table seating, and a large stage with regular live music - RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith
  • The 10,000 square foot restaurant boasts high ceilings, copious bar and table seating, and a large stage with regular live music

The duck fries poutine ($15), however, don't quite meet the mark. Although the duck itself is plentiful and perfectly cooked (not an easy feat), the 'cheddar cheese curds' lack the trademark squeak and arrive in six long clumps, reminiscent of individually wrapped cheese sticks. While the hand-cut fries are crisp and craveable, the watery red eye gravy serves as an unwelcome substitute for the traditional beef and chicken version usually served with the Québécois classic. Likewise, the chow chow, a chutney-ish relish made with vinegary cabbage and loaded with turmeric, is too sour and undermines what should be a simple, comforting dish. Also, be sure to eat this with a fork or risk staining everything you come into contact with a vibrant sunshiney yellow.

Service is friendly and helpful, with a clear "take hot food to the table immediately, even if it isn't your table" policy. The staff shows some real hustle, yet is ever-present and cheerfully available, a welcome touch at such a large establishment.

The menu, as noted, is massive, also offering five types of salads, such as roasted beet ($9) or watermelon and feta ($9), plus two different burgers ($14) and even a dinner-only menu with seared scallops ($26) and filet mignon ($27).

It's hard to imagine getting so many varied dishes right, which is maybe what happened to the oyster po boy ($14). Here, six cornmeal-coated oysters harken back to the calamari in their crisp, bland dryness. Served on a small hoagie prepared in the buttered-and-griddle-seared fashion of a lobster roll, it's then garnished with two small slices of tomato and some iceberg lettuce. Overall unremarkable and also in need of some salt, the promised spicy remoulade is powerless to help, as it had already soaked deep into the thirsty bun. Here, the highlight is once again the superior fries, beautifully crisp and sprinkled with fresh parsley.

The herb rotisserie half chicken ($18) is inadvertently comical. The wee bird — barely the size of a Cornish hen — is so petite, they could bill it as pocket-sized. A bit plain Jane in flavor, the breast meat is also overcooked, although it's probably hard to gauge how long to roast a pygmy chicken. Ten minutes? Seven? It's accompanied by a funky black garlic au jus, in what I can only assume is a bid to add some moisture to the otherwise parched meat. Also on the plate are 13 crisp, green haricots verts and a half-ear of yellow "street corn," which in this case means a single, thin smear of thick, chili powder-flavored crema. Meh.

The house smoked brisket ($21) was also disappointing, as the generous portion (three thick slices) of beef are incredibly dry, despite the thick fat layer on each. Seeing as they looked the part in every other way, one can only imagine the meat was given inadequate time to rest, leaving what might have otherwise been a superlative effort notably dehydrated. It's accompanied by a sweet corn cream that I pray, if nothing else, they expunge immediately. Imagine canned cream corn placed in a blender and puréed to a smooth, unnerving texture. Alas, the unexpected highlight of the dish is a garlicky, vibrant violet scallion slaw. A welcome break from the typical mayonnaise-based offerings, the purple cabbage-based slaw is probably not a good choice for those on a first date. Or anyone planning to speak in the next 12 hours. With a garlic level of relationship-testing intensity, if you have a partner, you should both agree to eat it. Or to not eat it and have a long discussion about what you both want out of life, because kimchi and garlic breath should probably figure in there somewhere.

Seemingly needing to prove size matters, Dockery's does it all, from environment to menu, on a grand scale. However, at least where the food is concerned, they might benefit from scaling back and focusing on their strengths. With a globe-trotting reach ranging from Mexican street corn, Cuban sandwiches, and Middle Eastern hummus, to Canadian poutine and Korean kimchi, sometimes less really is more.

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