There’s a stack of Charleston Restaurant Week fliers near the front door of Carter’s Kitchen, and guests often stuff one into their pockets or slip one into a purse before leaving.
If you go
WHAT: Charleston Restaurant Week
WHEN: Sept. 4-15
WHERE: More than 100 Greater Charleston Restaurant Association member restaurants are participating.
COST: $20-$40 for a three-course dinner. Selected restaurants also are offering lunch menus.
MORE INFO: www.charleston restaurantassociation.com
Perhaps a day or two later, they unfold the flier and scan chef c’s $40 event menu. There’s an apple-pumpkin bisque, a pepper-bacon-stuffed quail and a pan-roasted snapper served with sauteed collard greens. But Carter says it’s the third course that leads customers to pick up the phone.
“They’re reading it and calling back and saying ‘Coconut cake? You’re doing the coconut cake?’,” Carter says. “They’re making their reservations.”
Carter is offering only one dessert during Restaurant Week, knowing full well that nobody would order anything else. Carter was executive chef at the Peninsula Grill when the restaurant gained national acclaim for its 12-pound layer cake.
“I grew up with this cake; it was a fact of our family life,” Carter was quoted as saying in a fact sheet issued by Peninsula Grill before he left the restaurant in 2011. “So when I first started cooking professionally, I purposefully kept it out of my repertoire because it was just too familiar ... until I realized it was the best darn layer cake I had ever tasted.”
During Carter’s tenure, Peninsula Grill’s coconut cake was hailed by Bobby Flay, Martha Stewart, the New York Times and Southern Living, which described the cake as “one of the South’s grand desserts.”
The cake about to debut at Carter’s Kitchen is not the same cake that Peninsula Grill still sells for $100. Peninsula Grill in 2012 obtained a trademark for its coconut cake, demonstrating to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s satisfaction that the cake had been “well known as a high quality gourmet item” since 1997.
The Carter’s Kitchen cake, by contrast, has no gourmet aspirations.
“I’m making my grandmother’s cake,” Carter clarifies. “It’s lighter, lower-calorie, and the size of what she made. I’m doing the original recipe, using regular butter, not European butter. I’m not gilding lilies with vanilla bean. I’m doing it the way grandma did it.”
Coconut cake, in the generic, not-trademarked sense, has become “a calling card for Charleston,” Carter adds. While he’s developed popular cakes at his current restaurants, including the peanut butter and salted caramel cake on Carter’s Kitchen’s menu and the white chocolate red velvet cake offered at Rutledge Cab Co., coconut has a unique local cachet.
“I’m introducing Carter’s original coconut cake,” Carter says.
The cake will remain available at Carter’s Kitchen following Restaurant Week, and Carter promises it will soon be sold at Rutledge Cab. Co.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.