Almost certainly everyone in the room knew the scoop by Tuesday afternoon's mandatory staff meeting at Husk restaurant. The news had gone viral by 10 that morning.
David Howard made it seem suspenseful anyway. He stood before an assembly clad in blue shirts and brown aprons, the pitch rising in his voice until the climax: 'You are the No. 1 restaurant in America! Look at the person next to you and give them a hug.'
And they did.
It was a great day to be a Husk employee — Bon Appetit's September issue had just declared Husk as No. 1 on its list of 'Top 10 Best New Restaurants in America.' The magazine is one of the country's largest and best known food publications with a circulation of 1.5 million.
There was icing on the cake too. Husk's signature skillet-roasted chicken is splashed across the cover.
It is the second major national recognition for Sean Brock, who was named Best Chef Southeast in the 2010 James Beard awards as executive chef of McCrady's. Both restaurants are owned by the Neighborhood Dining Group, of which Howard is president.
Brock said he felt a full range of emotion when he heard the Bon Appetit news a few days ago. He realized there would be even more pressure and more work, 'and we work really hard now.'
'You feel proud of your team, you feel excited, at the same time you feel equally scared. That really raises the bar for us on a daily basis.'
Helen Hill, executive director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, also was understandably excited Tuesday. She said that while people still name history as the area's top asset in annual surveys, 'food came in a very, very close second' in the most recent one. 'It's been fun to watch how food has marched right up the list.'
Charleston's reputation as a foodie city has been steadily transitioning from word-of-mouth endorsements to more public forms of recognition.
The BB&T Wine + Food Festival is ranked as one of the nation's top five such festivals by Forbes Traveler. Food Network magazine recently named EVO pizza in North Charleston as one of the 50 best pies in the country.
Southern Living also chose Husk, at 76 Queen St., as Best New Restaurant in the South this year and will be a partner in October's Taste of Charleston for the first time.
Local restaurants and chefs now appear regularly on food and network television shows and have gotten prominent coverage in major publications such as The New York Times.
'These kind of distinctions help to solidify Charleston's place as the most interesting culinary destination in the South,' Hill said.
Southern Living Editor-In-Chief Lindsay Bierman also said Charleston is one of the most beloved and iconic cities for the magazine and its readers.
'We have enjoyed the food scene in Charleston and closely watched it for a very long time,' he said Tuesday. Indeed, the magazine's September issue also has a feature story on Stehling, Lata and Brock, calling them 'culinary superstars' of the South.
As for the Taste of Charleston, Bierman said Southern Living had been looking for a signature event, and 'it aligned beautifully with us.'
Andrew Knowlton, Bon Appetit's restaurant and drinks editor and author of 'The BA Foodist,' said Husk was his top national pick based on traveling across the country and eating out at least 250 days of the year.
He visited Husk twice, once last fall about a month after the restaurant opened, and again in early July.
'I think what Sean is doing is rediscovering Southern food, not reinventing it. He's just sourcing those ingredients and making the food that his grandmother made. For me that was quite personal,' Knowlton said.
Leaving the restaurant Tuesday afternoon after eating lunch with three friends, Barry Keane of Sullivan's Island wasn't too surprised to hear of the honor. It was the 22-year-old's third time eating at Husk.
Local restaurants 'have a lot of Southern food but not quite like this,' he said.
Husk created an industry buzz when its concept was unveiled a year ago, followed by the restaurant's opening in November. It was Brock's idea to change the menus twice daily based on ingredients obtained solely in the South.
He and Chef de Cuisine Travis Grimes pushed the boundaries of farm-to-table dining by highlighting individual farmers and producers and telling their stories.
Knowlton said he has been following Brock's career since he was executive chef of the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville before coming to McCrady's in 2005.
What he sees now in Brock, who was raised in a Virginia coal-mining town, is a mature and confident chef doing the restaurant he always wanted to do.
'Sean certainly embraced the molecular part, foams and all that. ... At McCrady's he said he was cooking from his head, and at Husk he's cooking from his heart.'
Howard said he was thrilled by the news, especially considering the large-scale talent found from coast to coast.
'To get this kind of recognition from the national media is like a lifetime achievement award.'
Howard said the investors group took a risk buying and restoring two dilapidated buildings on Queen Street to house Husk. They and the restaurant's staff also gambled on the edgy concept, he said.
'Not everybody was convinced about the location, and the economy was tough,' he said.
Brock said the whole city deserves recognition.
'The more I think about it, the more I realize how great it is for Charleston. It just proves to everybody that we're not just messing around down here.'
Rhett knew, a long time ago
Charleston is distinguishing itself from other cities in South Carolina culturally and economically. In addition to Husk, here are other recent rankings representing the accolades to our city. While reading, remember Rhett Butler's words before that famous last line of 'Gone With the Wind,' 'I'm going back to Charleston, back where I belong.' To which Scarlett O'Hara replied, 'Please, please take me with you!'
Food Network magazine
Evo Pizzeria, One of the top 50 pizzas in the U.S.
50 Best Places to Live: The Next Great Adventure Towns (2008)
No. 23 — City of North Charleston in America's Most Fun, Affordable Cities (2011)
Coolest Small Cities in America (2010)
Travel + Leisure
America's Favorite Cities Survey (2010, out of 35 cities):
No. 1 Friendly city
No. 1 Bed and Breakfasts/Inns
No. 1 Noteworthy neighborhoods
No. 1 Antique stores
No. 1 Stylish boutique hotels
No. 1 Attractive people
World's Best Awards (2011):
No. 2 Best Cities in U.S. and Canada
U.S. News and World Report
No. 20 Best U.S. Vacations (2010)
No. 4 Top Arts Destinations, midsize cities (2011)
No. 10 Top 10 Cities (2010)
Conde Nast Traveler
No. 2 Travel Destination in the U.S. (2010)
TripAdvisor Readers' Choice Awards
No. 17 Best Romantic Vacations, anywhere (2011)
No. 7 Best Romantic Vacations, U.S. and Canada (2011)
No. 14 Best History and Culture Vacations, U.S. and Canada (2011)
No. 20 Top Destinations, U.S. and Canada (2010)
No. 2 Great Food & Wine, U.S. and Canada (2010)
No. 4 Culture and Sightseeing, U.S. and Canada (2010)
No. 3 Top Girlfriend Getaways in the U.S. (2010)
United States Tennis Association
Best Tennis Town in the U.S. (2010)
Best Towns (2010)
No. 1 Best Southern City (2009)
No. 2 Best Neighborhood for Shopping — King Street (2009)
No. 10 Best Family Destination (2009)
Five Great American Cities
Best Romantic Getaway (2011)
Best Romantic Getaway (2010)
Best One-tank Getaway (2010)
No. 40 Best Places for Business and Careers (2011)
No. 19 Best Performing Cities (2010)
No. 4 Small Business Vitality (2010)
- Ryan Quinn
Teresa Taylor is the food editor. Reach her at 937-4886.
Chef Sean Brock still finds it hard to believe that Husk Restaurant was named the best new restaurant in the nation by Bon Appetit magazine.×