Until July 2005, driving from Charleston to Mount Pleasant meant a drive across the rickety Cooper River Bridge. Thankfully, that anxiety-inducing arc of steel is now a memory, serving as a fishing reef off the coast of Charleston. The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is a modern replacement that’s symbolic of Mount Pleasant’s rise in stature. The increasingly affluent suburb now hosts a number of ambitious restaurants, perhaps none better than Red Drum Gastropub.
Culinary Institute of America grad Ben Berryhill opened Red Drum Gastropub in May 2005 after rocketing up the ranks at Café Annie, Robert Del Grande’s highly lauded Southwestern restaurant in Houston. Red Drum is named for a variety of Atlantic fish also known as redfish, which was noticeably absent from the menu.
We bypassed the raucous bar and sat in the high-ceilinged dining room, where the tables were dressed in white linen. In warmer months, the outdoor patio is popular, but it was much too cool, so the patio was only the province of jonesing smokers.
Our oddball waiter with the Joker-like grin brought us a basket with two kinds of sliced bread. When asked to identify the breads, he said, “I think there’s wheat in it.” Nice. I guess they were probably country loaf and wheat, and they came with a dish of whipped butter.
Since Berryhill found success with Southwestern cuisine at Cafe Annie, he’s retained offerings like quesadillas, ceviche and these Thick Hand-Cut Tortilla Chips & Two Salsas ($12). The fresh-fried chips were thick, great for gripping the silky tomatillo and fiery red salsas.
BBQ Spiced Shrimp ($12) were outstanding, a quartet of crustaceans plated with roasted garlic cloves on garlic butter and centered by a crisp-crusted grit cake studded with smoked sausage.
Tortilla Soup ($9) included a dramatic presentation. The white bowl was strewn with cubes of smoked chicken, farmer’s cheese and thin strips of fried corn tortilla. In the center of the plate was a mound of “avocado garnish,” which could easily qualify as guacamole. The soup is supposedly “Lyle Lovett’s favorite,” a distinction that must date to Chef Berryhill’s days cooking in Texas, where Lyle resides.
Living in California, where fish tacos are cheap and plentiful, I was suspicious of Seared Yellow Fin Tuna Tacos that cost $18…until I tasted them. Juicy tuna loin was topped with crunchy cabbage slaw and sweet mango salsa, encased in flour tortillas. They were served with a dish of cowboy beans, mixed with bacon and sprinkled with grated white cheddar. The tacos came with a small dish of red salsa and two lime wedges, not that the tacos or beans needed any boosts.
Catch of the Day Fish Sandwich ($16) combined two juicy grilled mahi mahi fillets and finely chopped cole slaw. The plate included a large pile of thin-cut fries and dishes of spicy remoulade and ketchup.
My plate of Wood Grilled Quail & Venison Sausage ($25) was insanely good. The two marinated birds were remarkable, marinated and succulent, each quarter-bird boneless except for a single bone, which I used to lift the delectable birds to my mouth. Each pile of wood-grilled quail carcass was topped with a “spicy pepper hash.” The burgundy-colored venison sausage had good flavor, but were a little too dense texturally. Skillet cheddar cheese grits were bubbly and probably the best grits I’ve tasted, blended and topped with white cheddar. The cheese’s browned crust sent this dish into the stratosphere.
Smoked Lamb Quesadilla ($11) wedges contained goat cheese, caramelized onion and almond mole.
Flan del Mes ($8) means “Flan of the Month.” For December, that meant pumpkin spice, which was delicious, bordered on three sides by molasses crisps and crowned with a dollop of whipped cream and candied ginger.
Peanut Butter Cup ($8) was served chilled, a rich but fluffy mousse topped with a dark chocolate disc and littered with crumbled cookie. As with the flan, this dessert was finished with whipped cream.
These Godiva double chocolate cookies were supposed to accompany the pot de crème, but since the person who ordered them was allergic to gluten, the cookies were served with the check instead, for the rest of us. They were served warm, and contained melting Godiva chocolate chips.
Red Drum Gastropub’s food was excellent, but the noise level was deafening. The poor acoustics created by wood walls and bare floors literally gave me a headache. Of course it didn’t help that we were seated next to a table of women whose self-appointed leader thought it was necessary to scream to be heard. I would never return on the weekend again, but I definitely plan to return.