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RESTAURANT REVIEW: Blind Tiger

A new chef takes over the kitchen

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Blind Tiger
Pubs/Taverns
Entrées: $10-$15
36-38 Broad St.
577-0088

In a city that sports dozens of quaint watering holes attached to competent bistros, The Blind Tiger stands out as an interesting opposite. Long a venerable old bar, the place has been mixing liquor and slinging suds for almost a century. A former speakeasy, institution of seersucker, and arbiter of indiscriminate local flavor, it resounds with the diversity of clientele that makes modern Charleston so different a place within steps of the old aristocratic society. They come from all stripes here: rednecks, politicos, and trustafarians bellying up together for the nightly brew. A bar that has been around as long as this undoubtedly goes through change, but it's the people who flock there that provide the backbone, a continuity of place. The Blind Tiger may change, but the people keep coming back to fill it with the cheer and charm of a cultural institution, and rightfully so.

Over the years, it has become a tad more generic, the ubiquitous television tubes flicker in the bar, the Upper King explosion has stolen some of the interesting characters, and fame continues to displace local greenbacks with tourist dollars. The little bistro next door, originally accessed only for the use of its toilets in the evening, was incorporated into the scene, opened to the old space, and retrofitted with a large efficient bar, to the detriment of its original charm. It ain't what it used to be, but additions like the landscape of brick ruins out back always wore well and added much more than they ever took away.

The remodeling included a small kitchen behind the new bar and the management has leveraged that space to offer a unique opportunity — they lease the kitchen out to Chef Mitch Wyman, who freelances in the open space. His cuisine, as unpretentious as the place itself, proffers classic French bistro fare, a small but excellent menu that obviously borrows heavily from his experience at 39 Rue de Jean. Like the perfume slogans of old, if you like the taste of Rue, you're going to love eating at the Tiger.

Appetizer offerings make for great bar grub on a weeknight jaunt. Spicy cilantro corn fritters ($5.10) are glorified hushpuppies, little orbs of maize fried up with a piquant bite and served alongside a cool, competent dipping sauce. They crackle and burst, hot from the grease — and you know this because Chef Wyman slings them out of the fryer mere feet from your barside perch. The shrimp salad ($8.00) makes for a great light lunch; there are no wimpy shrimp here. Big fatties roll out bathed in a thin dressing, swaddled in mesclun, a perfect accompaniment to cold glasses of white wine.

More substantial fare is also on tap, from burgers to a nice slab of beef. Mussels come in two preparations, "garlic" or "shallot" ($7.87). Again, the dish flawlessly showcases quality ingredients. They're big, fresh, and hot — lolling around in your chosen broth all buttery and plump — decadent morsels dumped straight from the flame to an awaiting fork. The "Butcher Steak" ($12.50), perhaps the best dish on the menu (and the most expensive), chars up beautifully rare, its crispy crust juxtaposed against the soft richness of a good cut. Caramelized onions napped with a decadent demi-glace underlie the plate, topped off with a pile of steak frites to die for. An excellent value for Broad Street itself; you couldn't get a haircut for that price down here, let alone a decent cut of meat.

Wine service lacks any snobbish professionalism, but it's the Blind Tiger, of course, and who really cares? My red wine came hot and in a crappy glass, but perhaps that personal pet peeve is a bit too judgmental for such an establishment. Next time I'll get a beer, or a glass of scotch, and while away the dusk with a great meal until the barflies run me out.

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