Sermet Aslan reveals direction for James Island restaurant

Sermet Aslan. (GRACE BEAHM/STAFF)

Sermet Aslan’s new James Island restaurant started out as a joke.

As Aslan tells it, one hungry night, a cook at Sermet’s Courtyard on Daniel Island whimsically chargrilled a raviolo. “All of a sudden I said, ‘What a great item!’,” Aslan recalls. “It had a nice smoky flavor.” He and his kitchen crew continued to experiment, eventually presenting a vinaigrette-sauced version of the pasta to customers. An especially appreciative eater, confounded by the combination of Italian technique and local vegetables, described the dish as “southiterranean.”

The customer was kidding. But Aslan took the phrase and ran with it, developing a series of new dishes worthy of the name. Those items, offered at Sermet’s Courtyard as occasional specials, will form the core of the menu at Aslan’s as-yet unnamed restaurant, located in the former Heart Woodfire Kitchen.

“We do bouillabaisse with country ham; we do skirt steak with potato salad with za’atar,” Aslan says. “Pimento cheese, which I’m not a fan of, we torch it like butter: People go insane over it. They don’t need a French education; they don’t need a French vocabulary.”

Aslan purchased the James Island restaurant as a way to showcase both “southiterranean” cuisine and the cooks who helped create it. With only one restaurant, he says, there weren’t sufficient promotional opportunities for loyal staff members.

“The kitchen crew has been with me five years,” he says. “They want to do something.”

Heart Woodfire Kitchen last month quietly closed after a four-year stay off Folly Road. Owner Glenn Christiansen didn’t respond to messages seeking comment, but in February told The Post and Courier that he was on the hunt for an interested buyer.

“I only ate there once, but people who liked it, they really loved it,” Aslan acknowledges. “The spot has very good potential: It has great parking and everything else.”

According to Aslan, James Islanders who dine at Sermet’s Courtyard frequently say they need a similar restaurant closer to home. “There’s a lot of fried fish, barbecue and sandwiches on the island,” Aslan says. “People want to take their wife or girlfriend out.”

Prior to opening this summer, Aslan is redoing the bar; extending the patio; making room for live jazz and painting the walls, among other projects.

“We’re going to do damn bestest that our vision and end results are matching,” he says.