“Poor Blake Joyal,” I wrote in the first line of a Palace Hotel review last summer, referring to the talented chef’s disappointment at missing one of my visits to the restaurant. I hadn’t wanted to use that phrase again, but a recent shakeup at Screen Door, the two-month old James Island restaurant where Joyal now serves as chef, calls for a reprise.
Screen Door made a big deal of Joyal’s hire, devoting the bulk of its website to his bio. (By contrast, its hours and menu aren’t posted.) But his cooking, described as “creative, bold and push(ing) the boundaries,” apparently didn’t resonate with locals who missed the Applebee’s that once owned the restaurant’s Folly Road address. The restaurant this weekend issued a brand new menu, mostly shorn of Joyal’s distinctive touches.
The pork schnitzel is gone, as is the burrata; ricotta and scallops with eggplant. But it’s hard to draw a menu-to-menu comparison, since most of Joyal’s dishes were composed on a daily basis according to available ingredients. Perhaps the clearest evidence of the change comes via pizza: Joyal served a pie topped with an egg and white anchovies. Now the pizza choices are margherita, pepperoni, pork and chicken pesto.
Other new items include a pulled pork sandwich; grilled chicken sandwich; pimento cheese; hot wings and shrimp-and-grits. As for which menu addition is likely to be considered the greatest affront to eaters who admired Joyal’s culinary sensibilities, it’s a toss-up between the dessert section consisting of chocolate lava cake and crème brulee, and the seared cod, a Northeast Atlantic fish that Seafood Watch recommends Southeastern eaters avoid altogether.
According to Joyal, ingredients for items retained from his opening menu will henceforth be sourced from different purveyors.
Herbie Gimmel, Screen’s Door’s general manager and co-owner, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Joyal, who has indicated he’ll remain at the restaurant in a consulting capacity until a new chef is hired, on Saturday posted a photo of a stewing pig’s head to Instagram. He captioned it, “#nevergiveup.”
From a critic’s perspective, it’s a shame the Screen Door’s owners didn’t share Joyal’s attitude. While the tension between Joyal’s sophisticated style and the restaurant’s generic vibe was painfully apparent on my review visits, I hoped it would resolve itself in favor of the area’s dining scene. Here’s what I wrote in my review, which won’t run this week because there’s no point in telling readers about a restaurant they can no longer experience:
“My guess is folks drawn to down a few beers at the bar during the big game are going to be totally flummoxed by burrata and watermelon with pickled daikon (No shade: I’m not messing with forks when my team’s on the screen either.) Meanwhile, the culinary nerds who make the pilgrimage to Screen Door are likely to wonder why they don’t have the option of sitting in a dimly-lit, contemplative corner, where they can parse Joyal’s use of turmeric in peace. Ambiance, I fear, is what will block Screen Door’s spirited leap into the echelon of restaurants that locals talk up when friends plan their visits here. There’s nothing else standing in its way.”
Or, to quantify my impressions, I gave the food at Screen Door four stars. Atmosphere rated two.
It feels all too soon to be writing a eulogy for “the blocks of jiggly soft tofu (that) have just enough crust to give them structure and glow, like the perfectly-toasted marshmallow that a parent always has to step in to make.” Or the whole porgy, “cooked as well as any restaurant whole fish in town. Porgy is often described as mild, which strikes me as faint praise: When expertly prepared with nuoc cham, the flesh beneath the crisped skin tastes shimmery white and clean and delicate, which is not the same as not having any taste at all.”
I’ll also miss the steak, which I described in my concluding paragraph. The new menu features hanger steak accompanied by mashed potatoes and broccoli. The old menu had “a great steak, so secure in its meatiness that a single serving seems like a lifetime anemia vaccine. Although the menu doesn’t indicate it, the steak’s sliced and tossed with a black bean-inflected jumble of red radish and daikon discs, all of which is flattered by an earthy taro root puree. Perhaps this is the dish that will persuade eaters who come to watch a baseball game to stay for the culinary fireworks. Because if Screen Door can ultimately succeed in pleasing two different constituencies, it’s not so generic after all.”
Too bad it didn’t work out that way.