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Graze brings fresh local flavors to Summerville's strip-mall thoroughfare

Grazed and Enthused

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Battling through the insane traffic that constitutes the main intersections of Summerville, it was a welcome respite to come out of strip mall hell onto an independently owned restaurant not covered in neon signs offering $4.99 specials. Graze, the second iteration of co-owner Michael Karkut's Mt. Pleasant restaurant, looks like an urban oasis. Outside, a wooden fence surrounds a patio with picnic tables. It's easy to imagine that once the plants grow in, it will be an enticing retreat after work or for lunch on the weekends. 

The interior of Graze is expansive with dark wooden tables and booths painted a light mossy green to match the restaurant's color-scheme. Meanwhile, open cubby boxes store wine, and minimal décor like "antique" wheels hang from the walls. While the main dining room feels somewhat barren and cold, the large bar area brings warmth with cozy booths and ample seating.

Upon arrival, one is greeted by the affable Karkut. He and Derek Lathan, the executive chef and co-owner, met while both were working at Sette in Mt. Pleasant. Never intending to compete with the downtown Charleston restaurant scene, Graze in Mt. Pleasant, and now Summerville, offer creative, affordable cuisine in a casual, family-friendly environment.

And rest assured, you'll be able to find something here even for the pickiest of eaters. The menu is large. Granted it can be a bit cumbersome, but you really can eat here several times a week and not repeat a meal as their tagline professes. The price point is almost too reasonable for the amount of food one receives and quite a value for the quality of food served. Consider that the appetizers are labeled "Tiny Grazing" and range in price from $6 for pomme frites (always a sure bet) to $13 for Spicy Tuna Tataki. "Grazing" entrees and craft sandwiches offer the largest selections, averaging about $9-$10, and nothing listed is over $13 on the lunch menu. The dinner menu is similar, but without the sandwiches, and the price point follows anywhere from $16 blackened salmon to $36 for a bone-in ribeye.

JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek

After some deliberation, we started with the curious combination of green apple and cauliflower soup ($5 at lunch). It was a pleasant surprise, with each spoonful a bite of unctuous, creamy soup topped with shaved pistachios chunks. The green apple served as the necessary acid in the dish to balance out the richness of the cream. A house-made Reuben ($10) with a side green salad, followed and it did not disappoint either. It had all the correct proportions for a perfect sandwich: the corned beef was shredded, making it easy to tear into and ensuring there was meat in every bite, and the cheese was perfectly melted. There was the crunch of the sauerkraut and a hint of Thousand Island, which it could have used a touch more of. Finally, the thinly sliced buttered rye was just the right amount of bread to keep the sandwich intact but not overtake the interior, a critical ratio that is often overlooked. 

From the craft section, the fresh fish taco ($9) of the day was salmon paired with baby bok choy slaw and pickled ginger aioli. While the color of the pink aioli was a little off-putting next to the salmon, making the dish all the same soft-pink color, the fish was cooked well and there was plenty of it for the price. The mild spice and vinegar from the slaw added a thoughtful combination.

Wild Mushroom Pappardelle - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Wild Mushroom Pappardelle

The bar offers incredible deals on snacks throughout the week, including $5 crispy pork belly topped with tomato jam over hominy succotash and $5 fried Brussels tossed in cilantro buffalo sauce over a bleu cheese fondue. Both the pork belly and Brussels were a little over-done and tasted a tad charred, but the hominy succotash and the opulent cheese fondue at the base of the cast iron dish were enjoyable. While the salad description of arugula, roasted beets, fried goat cheese, and a bacon vinaigrette ($9) felt boring as it's a combination about as worn out as a track from salad's greatest hits, the rendition was well executed, lightly dressed with a good peppery bite to the arugula.

There are always a few standard, classic dishes that I'm inclined to order to assess a restaurant: French onion soup, a Reuben, a salad nicoise, and a lump crab cake. Graze already passed the Reuben test, so it was on to the crab cake. Filled with backfin — the more flavorful of the crabmeat ­— it was light and airy topped with a sweet onion marmalade and served over Carolina Gold rice shrimp pirloo and sautéed green beans. The freshness of this dish caught me off-guard, as traditional plates as these are easy to come out overdone with strong flavors. Thankfully, the chef allowed the ingredients to speak for themselves, and they did just that.  

Lump Crabcake - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Lump Crabcake

Now on to the harder test: pasta. Perhaps as a result of the chef having worked at Sette, there are a lot of pasta dishes on the menu which begged the question, is pasta a strength of the chef's repertoire or just an offering to appease the masses? Debating between the papperdelle ($14) and the gnocchi with pork, lamb, pancetta bolognese ($18), I chose the former and was very satisfied. The richness of the wild mushroom papperdelle comes not just through the hearty mushrooms but is enhanced with the truffle oil and tangy goat cheese. The pasta is made in-house, which is admirable considering the extensive menu. Offered as a whole or half entrée size ($18 for whole entrée), the sundried tomatoes, spinach, and pinenuts tossed in with this dish bring color and some acid to balance the rich flavors and would make meat-lovers convert easily for this vegetarian option. 

Having eaten the crab cake, papperdelle, and pork belly in the same seating, I wasn't about to order the chicken and waffles. But when ardently proclaimed as one of the best entrees in house by the bartender and the general manager, it was time to double down. The Tabasco and buttermilk marinated boneless chicken breast over housemade waffles, honey butter, and pure maple syrup ($16) was worth it. The chicken was flavorful and tender with just a bite of the hot sauce to balance the sweet maple syrup. While it appeared to be a panko fried crust — something a Southerner would never do as a substitute for a good flour, cornmeal, and buttermilk dredge — that was easy to overlook with the delicate waffles that were a light and fluffy counterpart.

At this point in the evening, the bar area of the restaurant was energetic with local couples sharing a weekday dinner, gentlemen meeting up after golf games, and women having their weekly book club meeting. The restaurant had a warm buzz, showing that even at this early stage in their introduction to Summerville, Graze is quickly becoming a neighborhood favorite.

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