IF YOU ARE AMONG THE IN-THE-KNOW CROWD, you’re probably privy to the sizzling scene at one of Charleston’s top upscale eateries. Burwell’s Stonefire Grill takes the concept of the classic American steakhouse and zhuzhes it up a bit to give it 21st-century pizzazz. Both the look and fare are lighter and more approachable. And its showstopping signature dish—the hot rock appetizer—is seared at the table on your own personal black lava cooking stone. The lava rocks are heated up to 700 degrees in a special oven, and then the surface is dusted with kosher salt before sending it out with a protein. It’s the restaurant’s most popular appetizer.
Burwell’s brings added value to the table by practicing conservation in the kitchen and throughout the restaurant. “We have nice pieces trimmed from our great filets that are not the proper shape for utilization on the grill, but are perfect for searing on the rock,” explains John Thomas, Burwell’s co-owner with Kenneth Emery. “We make every effort not to waste product, adding value to our ranches and keeping our carbon footprint down.”
Those filets are sourced from award-winning Brasstown Beef, which features humanely treated, pasture-centered animals, free of hormones and antibiotics, and raised in North Carolina hill country. The Wagyu beef is brought in from Idaho-based Snake River Farms, which also embraces environmentally conscious, sustainable practices. Emery developed these “conscious” farmer relationships specifically for launching this modern steakhouse back in 2012—long before it became the buzzword it is today.
For cuts well above Prime, Burwell’s offers a Wagyu option that sets it apart from all other steakhouses. “We use Snake River Farms Wagyu,” notes Thomas. “It’s a fantastic product—we exclusively use Snake River Farms for our above prime beef. Their American Wagyu bloodlines descend from the Kobe cows that came over from Japan in the 1960s.”
Burwell’s eco-friendly approach extends beyond beef through consciously curated partners, including Tarvin Seafood, Oyster Point Seafood and Cahaba Clubs Herbal Outpost.
“There’s so much great fish here,” says Emery. “We try to get all of it locally, except for Northern shellfish, like scallops. We source local crab, when it’s available—and everything we use we make sure it’s commercially viable in the Southern Atlantic region.”
General manager Don Goodemote spearheads the restaurant’s green program beyond the kitchen by eschewing plastics as much as possible, using biodegradable products, like paper straws, and recycling refuse.
Burwell’s is very much a steakhouse for the 21st century. From its uber-modern white exterior to the open floor plan interior, Burwell’s design is a radical departure from steakhouse form. Clean lines define the dining room, exhibition kitchen and bar area, in contrast with a few historical elements, such as original cypress woodwork salvaged during the renovation of the 19th-century building prior to the 2012 launch.
The late fall evening I dropped by with a friend, we found ourselves cozily ensconced in a booth with a view of the iconic U.S. Customs House anchoring Market and East Bay streets.
Our server, Lauren Bernard, was upbeat and professional—and extremely well versed in the intricacies of the menu.
At her urging, we started with the free-range deviled eggs—light and luscious, they stood out from the conventional with sweet and sour notes: smoky, candied bacon, pickled root vegetables, a red wine gastrique and hints of truffle oil.
We tried, to no avail, to resist the house-made dinner rolls, which arrived hot from the oven. The soft, plump pillows were infused with caramelized onions and garnished with aged Parmesan.
I love the sweet richness of duck, so we indulged ourselves with the seared duck breast, served perfectly medium rare with tasty gnocchi and fresh mesclun greens.
The star of the show was the Wagyu hanger steak, grilled to a perfect medium rare and lightly charred—it was an explosion of flavor and simply melted in the mouth. We opted to gild the lily with an add-on of a decadent crab cake Oscar.
The evening’s fresh catch was flounder, and it was a winner as well. Pan-seared and basted with thyme butter, it had a crisp exterior and was tender and well seasoned. Accompaniments rounded out the dish with earthy and briny flavors: a rich field pea side braised in duck stock, and the acidic notes of pickled ramps and pole beans.
According to Thomas, the team continues to feature daily specials, ensuring lots of fresh, local seafood—just another sign of the commitment to elevate the experience beyond exceptional beef and continue the mission to be a next-generation steakhouse.
For good reason, many steakhouses are following suit and developing more thoughtfully curated menus. Burwell’s is a fine steward of its “Eat good, do good” mission.
Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer.