Celebrating the holidays can be more delicious than ever this year. Charleston’s traditional celebratory restaurants, such as Circa 1886, Charleston Grill and Peninsula Grill, have been joined by Tradd’s.
Most new restaurants in Charleston tend to focus on national trends such as burgers and pizza. Not Tradd’s. Owners Weesie and Tradd Newton grew up in Charleston and have a deep respect for Charleston traditions. Both the food and the ambience reflect that.
Dining out itself is not a Charleston tradition. Residents pride themselves as serving the best food at home. Dining out was mostly for special celebrations before Charleston’s culinary renaissance. When we moved here in 1994, Charleston’s culinary renaissance was beginning to gather steam. The dining scene was expanding to serve the many visitors who come to Charleston for the Spoleto festival. We were advised that some of the best food was at the Charleston Grill in Charleston Place.
Louis Osteen was the executive chef. Yes, the food was delicious and the ambience was formal but not pretentious. Louis has said, “The best part of food service is making a little money and a lot of people happy.” His relaxed style of formality and delicious classic dishes inspired many chefs who joined him in Charleston culinary renaissance.
One of the best restaurants to open recently is Tradd’s.
Weesie and Tradd Newton, who own Tradd’s, have watched Charleston’s culinary renaissance blossom and are well aware that many new restaurants just want to cash in on Charleston’s global popularity. Not so at Tradd’s.
The restaurant is a timely celebration of Charleston as a dining mecca. It celebrates Charleston as well as the holidays. The gracious dining room has been designed to make you feel as comfortable as if in your own home.
The seating is comfortable. There is a sea of white tablecloths. There is no blasting music. Tables are far enough apart so one can enjoy civilized conversation. It is time to raise a glass of champagne!
The sumptuous restaurant is a dream that has come true for Tradd. In 1988, the building that is now the restaurant was in serious disrepair. Tradd told his mother then that one day he would restore that building and put something in it.
The menu is friendly. It does not try to startle or confuse with unusual flavor combinations. Chef Drew Hedlund is an experienced talent as chef of Fleet Landing, another restaurant owned by the Newtons.
A good example of Drew’s savvy is the chicken dish on Tradd’s menu. Julia Child has pointed out that some of the most glorious dishes of the French cuisine have been created for chicken. She says that, “You can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by roast chicken.”
The chicken at Tradd’s is indeed glorious! It is a poulet rouge, a roasted split chicken breast served with pureed cauliflower, fingerling potatoes, tomato and root veggies. Poulet rouge chickens are grown in just a few Southern states by Joyce Farms. Alvin Joyce discovered this breed of chicken in France. It is considered to be the best tasting chicken in the world by many elite chefs.
Another interesting and addictive dish at Tradd’s is the fava toast. It promises to upstage the popular avocado toast. Definitely begin a meal with this. The appetizer listing includes other hard-to-resist dishes, such as panzanella salad, potato leek soup, escargot, lump crab cocktail and foie gras.
The fava bean toast reminded me that upscale restaurants do not regularly feature special bean dishes. I found myself reminiscing about a restaurant that was located a block from my home in New York, the Coach House.
On a whim I Googled, “Coach House Black Bean Soup.” To my delight it popped up on my computer. There were comments from other site viewers saying how much they enjoyed this soup 25 years ago.
Tradd’s exudes a sense of timelessness, which reminds me of another New York restaurant where I was a regular during the 1960s — Le Veau d’Or. It opened about 1937. The ambience was Parisian, comforting, prices reasonable. Classic French food was served. There were no weird flavors. No noise. One can have good conversation. No wonder Le Veau d’Or has survived so many decades.
Timelessness is especially important in a city like Charleston where tradition and preservation are so highly respected. Another popular local restaurant beloved by residents for both food and ambience is Circa 1886.
For 33 years, the Charming Inns group has hosted and developed a popular Charleston tradition — the progressive dinner; this year Circa 1886 will be a key part of this opportunity.
It is featured on several evenings in December. Courses are served at different locations. Diners are transported by horse-drawn carriages. These dinners are so popular that, by March of this year, they were nearly sold out.
The menu this December includes such temptations as beef Wellington, mulled cider and bourbon eggnog, toasted popcorn with white truffle oil, Mediterranean cous cous salad, beef tenderloin and cherry snapper,