Gorgeous new digs are turning heads at one of Charleston’s latest entrants to the downtown restaurant scene, and the menu is getting its share of attention, too. SOL Southwest Kitchen & Tequila Bar draws enthusiastic nods from customers for its own brand of South by Southwest fare—a marriage made in heaven and sealed with a smoky kiss from the SOL wood-fired grill.
With the summer 2017 opening of this spacious property adjacent to the Charleston Visitor Center on Meeting and Ann streets SOL expanded its portfolio of owned-andoperated eateries, from its first location in Mount Pleasant and a recent addition in the town of Summerville to a total of three—and more are on the horizon.
Owners David Clark, Andy Palmer and Joe Sciortino share a long history in hospitality that includes almost two decades with Hilton Head Island-based Wild Wing Cafe. “We helped them grow from two to 37 restaurants,” says Clark, who has a business degree from Appalachian State University with a major in hospitality management. “We’re used to opening restaurants.”
The three left when Wild Wing Cafe was sold and decided the timing was right to open an eatery of their own.
“We wanted to do something fun with a lively bar atmosphere and food we could make from scratch,” says Clark. “Tequila has been popular for several years—we love it—and tacos have become so hot in the last decade that we decided to open a Southwest restaurant with a bar.”
An enormous bar of reclaimed wood, the centerpiece of the open and airy space, serves craft cocktails both inside the restaurant and outside on a wide, covered patio. Light pours into the expansive restaurant through an oversized bay window on Meeting Street. The interior design blends clean lines and Southwestern earthiness. A patchwork of dark wood panels suspended from the industrial-style ceiling defines the main dining area and adds a warm, rustic element. Artwork featuring longhorn steer heads plays against neutral stucco tones above roomy banquettes. Starburst chandeliers and other upbeat light fixtures add bright pops of color throughout.
At the heart of the SOL concept is a one-page menu that changes frequently based on the season and sales. The partners have expanded to include a popular Sunday brunch.
“We like variety and strive to introduce new items every month,” notes Clark, adding that they tweak the menus at each of the three SOL locations to appeal to individual markets.
The SOL kitchen sources products locally as much as possible, using vendors such as Limehouse Produce for greens and vegetables, Mepkin Abbey for mushrooms and shrimp from North Carolina waters. The beverage program follows the same philosophy, sourcing fresh fruit for mixed drinks that is juiced daily—a “very labor intensive” process.
“You won’t get a strawberry margarita in November,” says Clark.
The full bar showcases nearly 70 premium 100 percent agave tequilas, representing silver, añejo (aged), reposado (rested) and reserves, with artisanal brands such as Herradura, Platinum, and Milagro Barrel Select. “What’s great about our menu is there really is something for everyone,” says Clark. “We offer a lot of shareable appetizers, tacos, our SOL plates with Southwest-inspired dishes, and the wood-fired grill section.” The all-day menu also includes a sandwich section with standouts like a green chile bison burger and a carne asada torta.
The evening we visited my guest and I were struck by SOL’s polished Southwest vibe and welcoming staff, led by assistant manager Gabrielle Bodison. We started with a trio of dips and chips. Blue and yellow corn tortilla chips are made daily, and the guacamole is prepared to order with a hint of jalapeño and lime.
We were wowed by the beautifully presented adobo seared tuna and avocado salad and its sashimi-like preparation—lightly seared, super fresh slices of tuna served on a clean-tasting salad dressed with light lime vinaigrette.
Adobo scallops seared to crusty perfection were also a hit; their sweetness contrasted with crumbled bits of spicy chorizo.
Airline chicken breast hot off a 500-degree grill had an intense wood-fired flavor and a light crust of herbs complemented by a fresh Southwest succotash of zucchini, squash, corn and organic black beans topped with a poblano cream sauce.
The kitchen’s tasty take on classic Lowcountry shrimp and grits showcased fresh regional shrimp served over a panko-encrusted gouda grit cake with a chipotle cream sauce.
We ordered our enchiladas “Christmas” style—decorated with a duo of red and green chile sauces. Flavorful corn tortillas wrapped around meaty chunks of roasted chicken and vegetables combined nicely with Chihuahua cheese and poblano cream.
Dinner ended on a sweet note with a tender crusted empanada stuffed with a delicious apple filling; it was lightly flavored with cinnamon and topped with heavy whipped cream.
The SOL team garners as much praise for its partnership with the community as for its top-quality Southwest fare, paying it forward with a monetary donation to a local nonprofit organization when guests order a dish designated “Kitchen Karma.” Over three years SOL has raised over $43,000 for local charities and nonprofits.
Olé, olé, olé!
Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer and marketing consultant.