On the back wall of the Green Door, names of small-scale local producers are scrawled in colorful chalk: MiBek Farms, Chucktown Chicken, Rebellion Farms, and more. The kitchen shelves and dining room tables bear a psychedelic array of colorful cans and jars of sauces and condiments shipped in from around the world. It's a strange blend of the hyper-local and the far-off exotic, and one that seems particularly representative of our current culinary mode.
Roti Rolls was among the first food trucks to roam Charleston's streets, but now its proprietors, Cory and Becky Burke, have settled into a non-mobile location that adjoins Big John's Tavern on East Bay Street.
The result is the Green Door, but technically speaking, it should be "The Green Doors." The front ones are painted a bright neon-green that stands out starkly from Big John's garnet walls. Inside the small dining room, tables are fashioned from more old doors, painted the same bright green and overlaid with thick sheets of clear plastic to make smooth tops.
Those tables and the bright red cinderblock walls lined with rustic shelving give the place a definite did-it-ourselves vibe. The iced tea, lightly sweetened with pineapple juice, is served in Mason jars, and basic flatware and paper-sleeved chopsticks await in repurposed Chinese tea tins on each table. The Stones' "Gimme Shelter" booms from the sound system at late-night volume, even though it's lunchtime.
On a high shelf on the wall, a small sign nestled among a row of sriracha bottles advises "keep calm and slurp noodles." Sensible advice, and you can do just that with a Lotus Bowl with rice noodles and kombu broth ($10) or a Buddha Bowl ($12), an old favorite from the food truck, that swirls rice noodles, braised short ribs, and kimchi into a rich bone marrow broth with triangular slices of roti ready for sopping. Or you can shake up your own mason jar salad ($6), with fish sauce vinaigrette, pickled radishes, goat cheese, and greens layered in a glass jar and ready for tossing.
These days it seems like every new casual restaurant has to make a big deal about their big, fat signature house burger, but the Green Door's GD Burger ($12) is actually worth making a fuss about. It's piled high with Thai chili pimento cheese, kimchi, and arugula, which doesn't do it any harm, but the real key is the beef. Chef Cory Burke grinds his own, starting with 60 percent MiBek farms short rib and adding in chuck and brisket. From the first bite you get a big beefy blast, and the patty is bright pink and silky smooth.
The sambal fried chicken ($9) is nicely executed, too. It's a play on the omnipresent Buffalo chicken sandwich, and comes on a hoagie roll that's soft, sweet, and toasted to a lovely caramel-brown color before being loaded with bits of fried chicken tossed with fiery Southeast Asian chili paste, "blue" cheese dressing made with goat cheese, and a couple of thick-sliced housemade pickles. These strike a great balance — crisp but chewy chicken, a spicy zip from the sambal, the tart pickle bite, the sweet hoagie roll — and make for a superlative sandwich.
Sandwiches come with either fries or tater tots. The super-skinny fries are okay, the flat tots round and unremarkable. Neither rises close to the level of the sandwich they accompany.
Not every fusion experiment comes off, either. The pimento fritters ($6) are golf-ball sized and encased in a very fine, almost powdery batter and fried until golden. One expects an explosion of gooey yellow cheese when you bite into the crisp orb, and maybe a big blast of spice, too, since it's Thai chili pimento cheese. Instead, there's just an odd slightly-brownish mild cheese inside along with some inexplicable strips of soft pasta that really don't amount to much.
But one should expect a few stumbles in a restaurant that's launching bold experiments with little concern for playing it safe. A parade of risky specials vary day to day, like braised pig trotters with ricotta gnudi and beef tongue cheese steak topped with pickled green tomatoes. Burke is diving into some serious head-to-fin-to-tail whole fish cookery, too, with specials like fish head curry (complete with eyeballs) and fish heart purée.
Not everything is an Andrew Zimmern-style thrill ride. One recent appetizer special, golden tilefish ceviche, was particularly delicate and impressive: chunks of fresh pink and white fish dressed with tangy citrus, with a little mintiness from cilantro and heat from sliced green chiles. It was served with triangles of toasted roti paratha, which proved the perfect crisp, savory utensils for scooping up the delicious fish.
On Sunday, the restaurant shifts to a brunch menu with eggs benedict and short rib ($10) or sweet potato curry ($8) and a waffle taco topped with sambol fried chicken and goat cheese ($7). On "Tantric Taco Tuesday," the menu is given over to a rotating slate of tacos and burritos filled with edgy things like seared jackfish with salsa verde or pork belly with daikon slaw.
And here's a local first (or, at least, I think it is). Taking a lead from the food truck model, the Green Door uses Square for payment, and that means instead of a little faux-leather checkholder the waitress brings an iPod Touch to your table. You review your bill onscreen, swipe your credit card through the little white cube attachment, and scribble your signature with a fingertip. It fits into the whole vibe perfectly: a restaurant without frills that's not too worried about old tropes, cobbling together a range of influences from near and far, old and new. Dare we call it futuristic dining?
I think I'm going to be a big fan of the Green Door. They're marching to the beat of their own drum and creating food that's novel and delicious. They're already becoming the forward-thinking crowd's go-to spot for lunch or some spicy late-night munchies. Behind those green double doors, there's some serious cooking going on.