One of Broad Street’s newest addresses is home to a restaurant determined to upend the status quo—not exactly what its name suggests. Just shy of a year ago, The Establishment hung its shingle amid those of lawyers and bankers in Charleston’s traditional business district. It was an unlikely location for an eatery. The focus would be seafood, but in a sprawling setting that reads more like upscale steak house than fish house.
“We wanted to build a restaurant with enough seating so we could accommodate last-minute reservations,” explains The Establishment’s general manager, Brad Mogan. He says the large footprint also enables the management team to host events in a private dining room that shares space with a 3,000-bottle wine collection.
The design plan was led by Atlanta-based The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry. The result is a spacious venue that showcases the property’s historical elements against a modern, “visually stunning” setting. The nearly two-year renovation began with the demolition of the walls that separated the historic James Gregorie House, built circa 1791, and an adjacent building.
The team brought new life to the property while adhering to the Department of Interior Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings. Entry to the restaurant is through an original wrought-iron gate that opens to a slate-floored hallway. Overhead is a stunning arched ceiling that was restored during the buildout. The unique feature greets guests with a sense of warm welcome. Inside, The Establishment exudes a “big city” attitude, with dark wood paneling and soft lighting setting a tone of drama and intimacy throughout the space. Rustic timber-beamed ceilings and exposed old Charleston brick contrast with contemporary elements, such as concrete-covered walls and sleek furnishings. Sophisticated yet approachable, the open floor plan consists of various seating arrangements, each with its own visual personality. In the expansive bar area, a monolithic video wall streams scenic landscapes from around the world. Original art by local artists floats on other walls.
“There’s a view from every seat,” notes Mogan, a graduate of the Johnson & Wales hospitality and tourism management program. “You can enjoy a distinct experience in the bar or in the elegant dining room with a view of Broad Street while our pianist plays in the background.”
With enough seating for a small audience, The Establishment’s open kitchen provides food aficionados with a front row view of the culinary team’s nightly performance. Executive chef Matt Canter says he found the pressure of the kitchen “a natural fit.” He washed dishes as a teen and, after high school, segued into The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
“I thrive in an environment of creativity—making decisions on the fly,” notes the Maryland native, who went on to work in several kitchens of The Ritz-Carlton after completing an externship at the luxury hotel’s Amelia Island, Florida, property. “The company is very professional, really focused on guest satisfaction,” he says, adding that a similar culture at The Sanctuary on Kiawah Island led him to Charleston and eventually to FIG, where he worked under lauded chef-owner Mike Lata.
“I learned to poach shrimp perfectly at FIG,” recalls Canter, “by making a perfect broth and cooking it very gently—until it’s barely cooked through—to bring out the natural sweetness. It’s a technique I’ll hold forever.”
Canter says his ingredient-driven approach is all about using the best technique to pay homage to the product, whether he’s deliberating about a stalk of asparagus or a beautiful piece of fish. “I strive to create balance between ingredients so they complement each other,” he explains. “Simplicity is at the heart of it, keeping the dish clean and pure.”
The evening my guest and I visited The Establishment we caught a glimpse of Canter and his team working with intense focus behind the chef’s table. Among the first dishes that streamed from the kitchen was the aforementioned shrimp dish from the “taste” menu. Locally caught, the chilled crustacean was presented with lightly marinated vegetables and a touch of tarragon. The result was a lovely appetizer so fresh and deftly cooked we wondered if it was a ceviche.
“That’s the idea,” says Canter, with a smile. “For the experience to be a little bit of a surprise—to be a little playful.”
We sampled several more small plates: The beef—a signature dish—was tender, delectable deckle (the outside layer of a rib eye), finely sliced and seared very rare, tataki-style, for an incredibly tender treat, intensely flavored with black vinegar and pickled shiitakes.
The crispy confit duck was also crave-worthy, with a bacony crunch and tender inside. It was plated with a tangy, sweet drizzle of macerated blackberry. Next, generous nuggets of tender lobster arrived atop broad ribbons of perfectly al dente pappardelle in a Nantua sauce with lobster butter, flavored with the right touch of black truffle.
Large plates from the “savor” section followed: lightly crusted scallops were perfectly seasoned and served with a bacon-shallot marmalade that brought a lovely savory, sweet touch.
The coq au vin was a playful twist on the classic chicken preparation, presented off the bone in a richly flavored mushroom puree and topped with chicken skin breadcrumbs.
Innovative kitchen. Superior staff. Remarkable restoration.
The Establishment is shaking up Broad Street in all the right ways.
Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer and marketing consultant.