“Kitchen” seems to be the search engine optimizaton word for 2015 in Mount Pleasant. Although Carter’s Kitchen has closed, a “kitchen” search will get you to Crave Kitchen and Cocktails, Kitchen and Company, Shelter Kitchen and Bar, Stack’s Coastal Kitchen, Zoe’s Kitchen and now the rebranded Bricco Bracco Cucina as The Kitchen. Oh, and cucina is Italian for, you guessed it, kitchen.
For many businesses in Mount Pleasant, a Google “kitchen” search assured visibility for their endeavors. The folks at The Kitchen on Chuck Dawley Boulevard surely hope so.
The building was the longtime home to the Italian restaurant Capriccio that closed in 2011 after a 16-year run — all the more remarkable because its owner Jacques Bouguyon was French.
It was followed by Puree Organic Cafe (2012) that sought to cater to a market for organic and healthy from-scratch meals. After 18 months, it, too, shuttered its doors.
Partners George Sarkis and Joe Spiotta of Bricco Bracco Italiano saw an opportunity there and opened Bricco Bracco Cucina in 2014.
This property, under the same ownership, became The Kitchen in August of this year.
The integrated Southern-Cajun-Creole menu mash-up came from chef Jesse McMurdo and his sous chef Billy Pitchers. This culinary posse of two wrangled the menu to reflect the food culture of the Lowcountry and the Cajun and Creole vibes of New Orleans. This is not a stretch by any means. Think of all we share in common: access to waterways, marshes and river banks; high tides and full moons that can spell disaster; a respect for culinary traditions; and grits, rice, okra, shrimp, oysters, alligators, drum fish and quail. The plain in banana pudding and the fancy in Bananas Foster. A Gullah Sunday red rice and a New Orleans Monday of red beans and rice.
Legacy cuts us slack as well: a little French Acadian there, a little French Huguenot here; and shared African influences in rice cultivation and foodways along with European roots in culture and cuisine.
The “this and that” of Bricco Bracco Cucina easily makes the culinary slide into a little of this and that of Cajun, Creole and Carolina local.
The restaurant is a one-room schoolhouse of dining. The dining room proper and a few tables tucked into its narrow hall comprise the eating space. A small bar, girdled in corrugated metal, is still “shaded” by the canopy from the former Puree Cafe.
The interior is bereft of any decor style or engaging expression of the culinary cultures of either the Lowcountry or N’Awlins. It feels a bit underdressed for its new mission splicing the food cultures of Charleston and The Big Easy.
An outdoor patio, where you can easily sip a cocktail, a cold brew or sweet tea, is a welcome repository for the dinner rush crowd as a pleasant place to wait for a table or even have your meal.
The Kitchen takes its name seriously and makes from scratch most of what you will eat. Housemade pickles, breading, salad dressings, sauces and complimentary spiced potato chips are the works of chefs McMurdo and Pitchers.
Pimento cheese has a “melt-down” into a warm dip and other than being short on the advertised crawfish and mild Andouille sausage, it was an easy appetizer to share with crisp sails of seasoned tortilla triangles.
The fried pickles with their companion cool Ranch dipping sauce will not disappoint: Crisp and tart, they rank strong on the snackability factor.
McMurdo is having fun with the menu: wrapping sushi in collard leaves, topping nachos with sauced pimento cheese and scattering crawfish or alligator over this Southwest snack staple.
Frying skills are well executed and flounder, shrimp and country fried steak were credible witnesses to timing and turning and oil temperature.
What was puzzling was the spike of cayenne pepper blocked in every dish that required its lift. A jambalaya, painstakingly prepped with the holy trinity of celery, bell peppers and onions, made Creole style with tomatoes, had no soul. Whether the kitchen elected tasso, Andouille or ham, few and far between were the smoky flavors notes of this key ingredient in this dish, and the underbelly of heat failed to express itself.
The seasoning missteps were apparent in the slaw as well. This traditional companion to fried or rich foods was a lackluster side to a crisped flounder fillet.
A po’ boy, served “dressed’ as they say in NOLA, overflowed its sweet cradle of a bun with lettuce, tomato and Cajun remoulade but failed to hit the sweet spot of heat.
“Peppa” sauce and hot sauce is readily available so you can easily adjust the heat of any dish but it was a prevailing flatness to the layered flavors of dishes like the jambalaya that was surprising.
Simple preparations of steak, salmon, tuna and kebabs are available and etouffee, gumbo, country-fried steak, crawfish, gator and their classic fried chicken serve up traditions with sides of mashed potatoes, collards, gravy, grits or mac and cheese.
Southern dessert classics are served up sweet and topped with whipped cream. Huguenot Torte was thickened with oats and strawberry shortcake bedded down a strawberry compote on pound cake studded with fruit. Both offered the endearing sweet ending of a Southern surcee.
Servers are friendly and have an enthusiastic respect for the menu. They can reliably steer you in the direction of your appetite. The sandwich menu entices and the brunch menu offers broad choices.
What remains for the kitchen is to pick up a few tips from the revered Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme, an advocate for bringing a “roundness” to his food, “hitting all the taste buds” through ample seasoning and adjusting texture by timing the additions of onions, celery and bell peppers.
Easy steps for the committed team at The Kitchen to master.