The current tasting menu at McCrady's Restaurant wends its way through yuzu buttermilk, carrot jerky, foie gras tart and about 10 other dishes before landing on the final bite, simply listed as Folly Beach Amaro.
At this point in the meal, pastry chef Katy Keefe's work has made many appearances. There's the pastry in that foie gras dish, there's the "yogurt, African runner peanut" treat, which she describes as a riff on Dairy Queen's classic Dilly Bar, except that's it definitely not a Dilly Bar since it uses the heirloom African runner peanut grown by Nat Bradford and milk from farmer Celeste Albers.
The next bite is a warm vegetable cake made from parsnips and topped with celeriac cream, sweetened with orange-blossom honey. The third dessert course is a double-layer chocolate and sweet potato bonbon with benne seeds.
"It's like a Ferrero Rocher candy," said Keefe. But instead of hazelnut it's benne seeds providing the nutty flavor.
"(The dessert courses) take you from sweet and sour of the yogurt pop to the warmth of the earthy cake and then you go deep into the dark chocolate," explained Keefe. "And then you finish with (Folly Beach Amaro) as a palate cleanser."
You might be expecting Folly Beach Amaro to show up as a liquid, in a glass, the way Italian bitters normally do. But this is McCrady's, and instead what arrives is a gelatinized square of amaro about the size of a sugar cube. Officially called a pâte de fruit in pastry chef terms, the amaro cube is rolled in a light dusting of sugar and Sichuan peppercorn, the Chinese pepper that makes your mouth tingle.
"It's not crazy tingly," said Keefe. "It's like menthol, it makes you a little more sensitive to the air."
Keefe collaborated with her colleagues to make some amaro in-house and see if it would work.
Sous chef Bryan O'Kelly lent his foraging skills to the project, gathering red bay leaves, laurel bark and passion flower from Folly Beach while maitre d' and sommelier Myres McDougal weighed in with his expertise of alcohol and flavors.
For Keefe, Folly Beach Amaro represents more than just a final perfect bite to an ambitious tasting menu.
"It's a huge representation of the kind of kitchen we are: collaborative," she said. "We work well as a team. This dish especially is such a meeting of the minds."
Pleased with the results from their first amaro experiment, Keefe has started steeping a new amaro, adding red bay leaves, laurel bark, juniper berries and other wintry herbs, wood and bark to a base of High Wire Gin.
She expects what they create from the new batch will be a perfect bite during the holidays.