Irony is not wasted on the fact that Robert Carter and Rutledge Cab Co. share the same initials: RC.
This Wagener Terrace neighborhood restaurant was initially called Rutledge Grill, but as the concept for a local dining spot was fleshed out by Carter and Co., it adopted the moniker of a Charleston cab company, and the 1950s-era filling station assumed the trappings of a retro neighborhood dive.
Salvaged barn wood and reclaimed lighting set the tone for texture and atmosphere. Design company Splurge by Robert Nicholas transformed the ambience with iconic repurposed chandeliers and lighting “screws.” A marble bar, faux reptile-covered door, concrete-stained flooring and industrial chic stools lend to the vibe.
Exposed bricks, plush booths the color of dark chocolate with butterscotch cording, an actual taxicab door panel suspended over the host station and a monster “Rutledge Cab Company” print cement the imagery of “good ol’ yellow.”
The address also was home to D’s Grocery, and homage is paid to this business with “D’s Liquor Bar” lettered over the bar.
Carter has partnered with industry veterans to assure the success of this, his second Robert Carter Restaurant, following the opening of Carter’s Kitchen in I’On. Managing partner Brad Creger, executive chef Brian Lindsey and general manager Andy Fallon bring savvy hospitality, food and beverage skills to Rutledge Cab Co.
The restaurant includes a spacious patio with a community table and a bar ledge that runs around the perimeter of the enclosed space, a bar/lounge area with booths and a dining room with C-shaped booths and a few tables. The wraparound bar punctuates the patio and flanks both the bar side and patio side of the room.
Servers wear shirts the same brown color of the booths finished with yellow trim. In the style of bowling team uniforms, they add that “Mad Men” era to the restaurant’s look.
Carter and Lindsey have crafted a menu of canny integration: smoked aioli, pulled corned beef, tempura fried peppers and ginger remoulade keeping company with grits, hoop cheese, fried bologna, pepper jelly and red velvet cake.
They have addressed your appetite for breakfast and serve it all day: Benedicts ($10-$12), omelets ($11-$12.50), hash ($12) and waffles ($9.50) as well as the “cab company classic” ($6.50): two eggs, grits and toast.
We began with chicken fried sweetbreads ($11), and glands never had it so good: well-seasoned, veiled in a crisp batter, plucked into an Alabama white barbecue sauce worthy of a private label. Flecked between the nuggets were tender celery leaves that gave herbal balance to the richness of the meat.
A flatbread pizza ($8-$9) was equally as well-done and delicious. Its crisp, thin bread “carpet” was blanketed with grilled vegetables, smoked onion aioli, salty olive tapenade, fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.
The hoop cheese appears in a beer fondue ($11) served with pretzels and apples. Gently poached shrimp ($10.50) pair well with the craft beers, and the “fillin’ station charcuterie” ($12) puts on no airs with saltines, peppery jelly, fried bologna, potted meat and country ham. House-made vegetable pickles accompanied this platter and most dishes.
If the dinner mood is top of mind, the restaurant offers fillets of fish, charcoal-grilled steaks and roasted chicken ($15-$18.50). A simple kebab menu plates wild rice and seasonal vegetables with beef, lamb or shrimp ($15-$16).
Vegetarians will find a lentil, mushroom and rice burger ($9.50) as well as entree-size salads and vegetable sides.
We ordered the roasted lamb sandwich ($11.50) with Havarti cheese and pickled cabbage. The pickled cabbage topping was bland, but the hoagie roll compensated for the cabbage’s deficiency.
The catch of the day was cod loin ($11), and it served as a reminder of how good cod could be. The raw onion topping, however, was out of place and out of taste on this sandwich.
The food quality we tasted was quite good, from simple, well-seasoned and hot French fries to a side of tender spinach and a classic tartar sauce that flows, sauce-like and not congealed like mayonnaise.
This kitchen competence is a tribute to the talents in the kitchen and the legacy of Chef Carter, who has groomed quite a stable of young chefs in our community. But the pacing of service struggled, especially as the crowds grew, which they did.
Our server also was tending bar. He did an admirable job shaking, pouring, stirring and then dodging over to the bar area tables in his care. He knew the menu and was quick to offer a tasting of wine and race into the kitchen to check on our orders.
A thoughtful dessert menu partners well with the spiked milkshakes ($14). Offerings include chocolate fondue prepared in two sizes ($14, $18); Mexican-inspired churros ($7); warm house-baked chocolate-chip cookies that can be topped with ice cream; and a deep dish, individual pecan pie that is not overly sweet.
As we were leaving, we saw that a Rolls-Royce was parked in the lot. That must be grease monkey heaven for a former filling station.