A CULINARY LEGACY

BY WENDY SWAT SNYDER | PHOTOGRAPHY BY HOLGER OBENAUS

Like many major cities on the culinary map, Charleston enjoys an increasingly well-rounded assortment of cuisines and trendy restaurant motifs to match. But how many food-forward towns can boast an eatery quite like 82 Queen, where history and cuisine meet in the intimacy of a Southern antebellum home? Here, a pair of 18thcentury properties, linked by ancient brick paths, lend genteel profiles to a restaurant that has served loyal guests for over 30 years.

“The present buildings are about 150 years old,” says Queen Street Hospitality Group owner Steve Kish. “The property has been many things over the years—it was an Italian restaurant before we bought it.” That was in 1982, shortly after he relocated to Charleston from Pittsburgh to be near his wife’s family.

A graduate of the American Culinary Association, Kish says he had always worked in the restaurant business. So when he moved south and found a dearth of eateries in the area, he partnered with Joe Sliker and Harvey Poole to purchase the property and open a restaurant offering classic Lowcountry cuisine. “We were all restaurant people,” explains Kish. “I was a chef and my partners were front-of-house guys. Harvey Poole was a wine expert back when no one here knew about wine. Joe was a local guy, a big college football star.”

The combined interiors and exteriors of the property offer 10,000 square feet of space—making 82 Queen one of the larger restaurants in town. Nine different dining areas, each with its own personality, provide diners a variety of experiences. “Regular customers have their favorite rooms,” says Kish. Among the challenges of operating within a footprint this size is maintaining the old Charleston look. “Meaning there’s something to repair every day,” he adds with a laugh.

Dining rooms with names like The Garret, Library and Cooper are bathed in varying palettes of pastels and warm earth tones. Antique sideboards, gilded mirrors, chandeliers and wide heart pine floorboards set the stage for an experience that truly is a step back in time.

Outside, old brick and wrought iron frame a lush courtyard in a warm patina. Here guests dine alfresco beneath a centuriesold magnolia on the Queen’s Terrace. Other seating choices include a fanciful gazebo and the partially enclosed Green House—all charmingly embellished with plantings that reflect Charleston’s subtropical landscape.

Executive chef Steve Stone returned to the restaurant this year following a 10-year hiatus during which he directed catering events for Boone Hall Plantation and managed their produce market, working hand in hand with local farmers, and chartered offshore fishing trips, among other things. “It was nice, I still was involved with food,” he recalls with a smile. “Steve actually recommended me to Boone Hall. After a while, though, I knew I had to get serious again.”

Kish and Stone remained friends over those years, and the timing turned out to be serendipitous for both. 82 Queen was vetting chefs for the executive role and Stone was ready to return to the business. “Once you get it in your blood it’s hard to get it out,” muses Stone, adding, “I never wanted to work for any other restaurant— I always have enjoyed working with Steve.”

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Stone started his initial stint with the team in 1988 as a line cook, working his way up to the top position. He brought to the mix a skill set that was a good match for the 82 Queen concept: a Johnson & Wales degree and a homegrown appreciation for regional food that comes from being a local. Stone says he was brought up in an old Southern family, always outdoors, hunting, fishing and camping. “That’s what everybody does here in the Lowcountry, with all the woods, marshes and lakes. It’s a way of life, and for my two boys it’s the same way.”

Stone recalls Sunday lunch—a really big affair, with all his family members enjoying a “big spread of food at Grandpa’s house.” He credits the family’s annual tradition of cooking a whole hog overnight in a pit for sparking his interest in the hospitality business. And he recalls how, even as a West Ashley teenager, he knew 82 Queen was a special place—the place to go for a high school prom. “Today, it is an integral part of the culinary scene in Charleston,” says Stone. “The kitchen staff strives to keep things exciting and fresh while staying true to the Southern style we’re known for.”

The kitchen rotates local products into a seasonal menu anchored by Lowcountry classics such as she-crab soup and crab cakes. Both are signature dishes that have been on the menu since 1982. Other top sellers include 82 Queen’s barbeque shrimp ‘n’ grits, and jambalaya, a spicy medley of shrimp, crawfish, tasso ham and red rice.

“Most of our seafood is sourced from Crosby’s,” notes Stone, adding that the restaurant has cultivated a lot of local relationships—a practice that has gotten it a “Fresh on the Menu” designation by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. The wine program at 82 Queen is a five-time recipient of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

Queen Street Hospitality Group CEO Jonathan Kish, Steve’s son, brings a finance background to the company, working alongside his father and brother/COO, Patrick Kish, on the group’s many projects, including two other restaurant concepts, Lowcountry Bistro and Swig & Swine.

Jonathan Kish was willing to share some of the group’s near-term plans currently on the drawing board. In addition to opening a Swig & Swine in Summerville, S.C., he says they are looking forward to a grand reopening of 82 Queen in conjunction with an extensive remodeling. “Our vision is to make the dining experience more interactive,” he says. “We’re looking at creating an exhibition-style station, or perhaps bringing back an oyster shucking station to the courtyard.” He adds that their original station, managed by renowned Lowcountry bi-valve shucker “Big Al,” was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo more than 25 years ago.

Dining rooms in the front and back buildings of the grand Southern dame will be getting a facelift. Expansion is planned for The Green House and the bar area, which will be opened up by reworking a passageway to create a lounge. “We want to expand on craft cocktails and beers,” he explains, “and offer more locally produced liquors. We have five taps now, mostly dedicated to local beers—we want to grow that.”

Staying in step with culinary trends and brainstorming new concepts to bring to a food-savvy public keeps the group busy. But the main focus, says Steve Kish, is on 82 Queen. “When we first opened, there were only about five restaurants in the city—it’s our flagship.”

Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer and marketing consultant.