Poogan’s Porch is so firmly associated with pan-Southern cooking that guests even on Christmas Day ask for fried chicken, which is one of the reasons the downtown restaurant no longer imposes a set holiday menu. But chef Daniel Doyle says research he did in preparation for a dinner tonight at the James Beard House persuaded him that Poogan’s ought to serve more identifiably Charleston dishes.
“There’s a gap there. People talk about doing 'true' Charleston food, but I don’t know if anyone is doing that,” he says. “I talked about doing it, too. But when I looked at the books I realized there are pieces of a puzzle here, but it’s not a clear vision.”
Asked to serve a Charleston-style Christmas dinner at New York City’s Beard House, Doyle struggled to find regionally distinct recipes. All of the supposed Lowcountry dishes he found listed online and in cookbooks were identical to dishes he’d encountered in Virginia, where he was born, and North Carolina, where he grew up.
Then another Poogan’s Porch employee suggested that Doyle walk down the block and consult with cookbook author Nathalie Dupree.
Following an introduction by Southern Fork podcast host Stephanie Burt, Doyle spent hours talking to Dupree about the differences between a generic Christmas dinner in the American South and one specifically reflective of coastal South Carolina. They conjured an array of potential dishes, including rice cakes, shrimp paste, and quail with oyster cream and bacon.
Eventually, Doyle scaled back the menu in deference to guest preferences and sponsorship obligations. The quail, for example, was reworked as fried chicken on a biscuit with hot honey and garlic pickles. But the oyster stew with cream and sherry survived as a first course, heralding the beet salad with benne seeds and boiled peanuts scheduled to precede a crab perloo.
Doyle says both the stew and salad are likely to make their way on to Poogan’s permanent menu in January.
“I feel like we do good job of representing, but that we could do a better job,” Doyle says. “Our classics should be more like Charleston classics.”
Still, he guarantees the fried chicken isn’t going anywhere.