Nathan Davenport has been unchained from the restaurant stove. To prove it, he’s created an innovative seafood menu at the soon-to-launch Balao, which is taking over the second floor dining room and patio at Burwell’s Stone Fire Grill.
Before taking the job as corporate chef for Human Element Hospitality, where he will oversee Burwell’s, Balao, and a new restaurant in Tampa, Davenport most recently worked in the kitchen at Anson, but he was supposed to become the executive chef of Farmers & Exchange, the restaurant from Anson's owners that was slated to open in the 1800s-era Moorish building at 141 East Bay Street. Davenport says he worked in Anson for two years waiting for the new restaurant to open but it never did, and working at Anson was like “being chained to a stove,” because they want the same dishes cooked the same way as always. “There are some people who do this as a job and some who do it as a profession,” he says.
Having worked on Sean Brock’s team at Husk for five years, Davenport is firmly in the latter category and is thankful for the opportunity to create a menu that is all about local seafood. A Mt. Pleasant native and Bishop England graduate, he will be using Mark Marhefka’s Abundant Seafood to source fresh fish along with Crosby’s. “We’re going to showcase the quality of the seafood that we have at home in small, approachable plates that can be shared and are affordable.”
Essentially, he says, he’s giving diners an opportunity to eat a chef-driven meal without having to pinch pennies. “I’d love to get industry folks in here where they can enjoy good food without the high prices of fine dining.”
To access the upstairs restaurant, diners will have to enter through Burwell’s, so it has a secret speakeasy feel to it. In the next few weeks, they will be updating furniture and putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls with hopes of being open in early March, when the weather warms.
At a recent photo shoot of menu items at the restaurant, we got a glimpse (and a few tastes) of some dishes that Davenport and Balao chef Matthew Leboeuf have been working on. A tuna dish featured ahi perched on a bright green wasabi puff with olive dirt and puddles of leche de tigre, a spicy Peruvian sauce with cilantro, garlic and lime. The shrimp cocktail is modeled after the flavors in the Coctel de Camarones you’d get at a Mexican restaurant — more citrusy and clamato-ey than the classic horseradish version. A smoked trout dip came out on a crispy and perfectly round potato cake. And parmesan foam garnished a steak dish. (I’m seeing those Sean Brock influences.)
Other dishes on the menu include a filet o’ fish sandwich with tilefish, Korean slaw, quick pickles, remoulade for $14 (with fries) along with shrimp scampi on fresh made fettucine noodles, shrimp butter, bottarga, bread crumbs, and pecorino for $15.
If all this talk of fresh seafood has you hankering for a bite, you can currently order Balao dishes at the Burwell’s bar.