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Parcel 32's focus on indigenous cuisine is evocative, even if off-key at times

Food For Thought

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Before it was Fish, the Charleston single that now houses Parcel 32 was apparently the "peninsula's highest volume bakery for 75 years." Named for the original King Street block as noted on an 1888 map, the food, in kind, has an old-fashioned feel, with a focus on local, even indigenous, cuisine.

To start, the chilled corn silk-poached shrimp ($15) finds halved, pickled shrimp in a earthenware bowl along with fresh corn salad, thin radish slices, and chunks of heirloom tomatoes. Topped with delicate pea tendrils, it's like a Southern riff on ceviche. The flavors are also quite nostalgic to the area, inspiring my dining companion to comment that it "reminds me of being young. It's bringing my brain back to better times."

Location Details Parcel 32
442 King St.
Downtown
Charleston, SC
(843) 722-3474
Dinner (Tues.-Sat.)
New Southern

The pecan meal hush puppies ($9) have the same effect. The five, golf ball-sized rounds are fried to a dark chestnut brown and topped with a dollop of pimento cheese and a sprinkle of pickled peppers, which add some nuance to the monochrome pecan meal. There's also a generous, snow-like coating of bacon powder, which imparts an unexpected smoky flavor. Although I found the pups themselves a bit thick and bland, my dining companion was again seized by a happy sentimentality. "This reminds me of how things tasted during my childhood."

The wood-fired local oysters ($17) offers five 'singles' and a halved lemon, which arrive lightly smoking and smelling delightfully like a campfire. Carefully balanced on a bed of small, warm river stones that look uncomfortably like baby potatoes, the delicate shellfish are topped with herbs and a "Cajun butter sauce" that tastes a bit like Tabasco. Three of them were also quite sandy. Still, even a gritty fresh oyster is a delectable fresh oyster.

If you remember the decor at Fish, then you'll be relieved to hear Parcel 32 has brought about a major renovation. No longer resembling someone's self-decorated wedding reception, the broken glass mobiles and Caribbean-themed mosaics are no more. Now, patterned green and white tile floors give way to light wood, dark walls, and moss-colored velvet banquettes, and there's tailored, contemporary lighting where the billowy material formerly covering the ceiling once loomed.

The space is modern and fresh, with acoustics that would inspire envy in Guantanamo Bay. As the volume in the restaurant picked up, the noise level at our corner table became horribly, torturously loud. It's what I imagine I'd hear in my head if I developed a crippling migraine, with 10 painfully loud voices all competing for attention at once. Your best bet might to bring some noise-canceling headphones and start a conference call with your friends.

Nonetheless, service is friendly and helpful, with managers stopping by to make sure everything's all right. Or at least that's what I think their gesturing was meant to imply. There's also an amicable bus boy with a (necessarily) booming voice — "Would you like some water?" — that would be perfect at a murder mystery dinner theater.

Entree options are limited, with locally sourced selections like a vegan, gluten-free farmers plate ($22) and a grilled country pork chop ($26). Fish dishes are split between a pan-roasted sumac day boat catch ($26) and a cast iron-seared filet ($29), with the choices of halibut and swordfish, respectively, during my visit.

Opting for the former, the halibut arrived plated with a small, halved yellow squash and a dollop of sesame-crusted black garlic aioli that looks like mustard but isn't. Over-seasoned and dry, the halibut was ... actually swordfish. Huh.

Similarly, the spice-braised 12-ounce short rib ($31) was over-salted and cooked to the point of stiff blackness on one side. Otherwise tender and flavorful, it's presented on rice grits along with three baby carrots in full "What's up, Doc?" style.

Highly recommended by our waitress, the lightly sautéed heirloom kale ($7) arrived as billed. A bright, brilliant green, the large portion is at once lemony and nutty, topped with a generous portion of benne (sesame) seeds. An unexpected delight, that farmer's plate may be the way to go after all.

Beautifully remodeled, with attentive, hospitable service, Parcel 32's cuisine strengths lie in its apt conjuring of times past. If the flavors of bygone Charleston are what you crave, prepare to be enchanted.

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