Fortuna did not favor the folks at Lucky’s Southern Grill, which took over the space of a former Applebee’s on Folly Road. Lucky’s, like the summer season, came quickly to an end in the fall of 2012.
Kit Thrash, owner of the building, and her brother-in-law Herbie Gimmel, an experienced food-and-beverage operator, took a chance on 1271’s convenient location and easy access to the beach and put into play plans for Screen Door, James Island.
Reggie Gibson Architects designed the site with the practiced eye of creative visualization and a seasoned approach to architectural detail. Iconic Charleston muralist David Boatwright installed local fauna into a pattern of filigree on Screen Door’s planked walls.
The screen door is viscerally emblematic to the Southern summer experience: keeping out the ’skeeters and making both the indoors and outdoors readily accessible. Gibson and his team utilized this hallmark to craft functional, whimsical space. Brightly painted screen doors are the pattern repeat from your framed point of entry to the actual siding of the porch with a collage of screen doors. And to get you there is a playful hopscotch course drawn on the pavement.
The Screen Door team also hired chef Blake Joyal to helm their new eatery.
With perfect summertime synchronicity Joyal fired up his wood-burning hearth in time for Memorial Day weekend. But just after you put away your flags and fireworks from Fourth of July, fellow reviewer Hanna Raskin reported on July 13 in The Post and Courier that Joyal and Screen Door had parted company.
The menu that promised Modern American cooking with an “unpretentious menu, simple but intelligent dishes” has been recast. Gone is the pommes puree pillow on which a swordfish loin rested; alici (anchovies) no longer top pizza; chermoula and taro root have been 86’d.
But Joyal’s influence remains with Thai-leaning chicken wings, chimichurri sauce, turmeric-rubbed chicken, flavored aiolis, pistachios over peanuts and well-constructed salads.
The menu is casual and accessible with an eclectic mix of choices. The Joyal influence can be seen in the composition of plates and the choice of ingredients: aged Vermont cheddar, Tillamook and raclette cheeses; cornichons ruffling stuffed eggs; cava vinegar and soy-ginger syrups sparking dishes to attention.
Small plates are ample for sharing, including fried Brussels sprouts; wings; the grassy darlings of izakaya menus, shishito peppers; fried okra; Canadian poutine; and classic shrimp cocktail shore up the menu for finger foods.
Entrees are zoned for culinary comfort and the menu takes few risks with your appetite or your budget. Burger and fries, pizza and wings, pulled pork and ribs, Screen Door’s got your back.
Risk takers can step into the waters of house-cured duck breast with raisin verjus, charred tomatillo and toasted almond salsa over red-chili seared sea scallops and Blue Hill Bay mussels steamed in Freehouse Saison and finished with a knob of blue cheese.
Salads are Screen Door’s strong suit and the composed salad of diced golden and red beets with musky pomegranate molasses and tart yogurt glaze is first-rate.
Much of the menu suffers from “did-the-cook-read-the-menu syndrome.”
Charred tomatoes on the shishitos, no; seared pineapple skewer in The Islander cocktail, absent; smoked corn with the pork chop, not a whisper; and those cherry tomatoes on most every plate had little in common with Black Plum, Coyote, Chocolate Cherry, or Yellow Pear heritage varieties.
That was the culinary whiplash we experienced, what was on the menu did not appear on the plate as described and the integration of the ingredients, whether into a sauce or as a vegetable, were hesitant. No faint coffee notes in the redeye gravy pooled under the shrimp and grit cake; no pungent astringency in the “citrus brined” pork chop; crowder peas a bit chalky though tender.
The pizzaiolo pulls this beloved staple from the wood-fueled pizza oven with skill and the “pizza of the week” grants permission to “fancy pants” the pizza with the likes of figs, gastriques and Gorgonzola. Purists will find a simple Margherita showered in basil and topped with creamy mozzarella.
Screen Door is in the re-entry mode. The kitchen staff straddles the “remains of the day” when the menu was chef-driven and idiosyncratic and now mines their culinary universe to satisfy the demands of a dining public with affordability and approachability top of mind. Troubleshooting will be Screen Door’s salvo. The location is prime, and the patio and porch are a welcome oasis from the asphalt of Folly Road. The staff is a friendly cadre of hospitality novices.
Screen Door can easily swing the direction of the kitchen with mindful attention to its own stated goals: “Screen Door will serve high-quality food and drinks at affordable prices in a comfortable and energetic neighborhood restaurant setting.” We all have nostalgia for that.