Crispy on the Corner

17 Oct

Courtesy of Joan Concilio

Morris Street: it’s the point I get a little nervous walking at night time in Charleston. I most certainly draw the line at Line Street, but the middle of Morris makes me a little scratchy around the collar.

The border of gentrification is home to one of my favorite Charleston dining landmarks, Dave’s Carry Out and Seafood. With its peeling wallpaper and circa-1996 television permanently set to cable news, Dave’s is always more than just the food. This spot on the corner of Morris and Coming is fit for those late-night strolls. For less than $10, you get a Styrofoam box stuffed with freshly fried shrimp and tartar sauce. And there’s always a story that comes nestled with the fries. The food is pretty average, but I keep craving the experience. In fact, my roommate and I deal not in lead, but in Dave’s. When making a wager, it’s always “I bet you a Dave’s seafood platter you won’t pass your physics exam.”

That’s Dave’s, the least pretentious meal I’ve had in Charleston, even less than cafeteria food.

Right next door is Two Boroughs Larder, which might be on the other side of the map. Gentrification means an interaction of serious yuppies. Cannonborough, spreading its influence to Morris Street, is Charleston’s yuppie haven, and for beer snobs and people with ambitious palates, Two Boroughs Larder might be their new stop. Trendy, hip, and unhealthy: Two Boroughs Larder belongs on the corner of Morris and Coming.

Westbrook Octoberfest ale (locally brewed in Mt. Pleasant), Sweeteeth Chocolate (from Johnny Battles of North Charleston’s EVO kitchen), and Battery Park Brie are more than enough to make any locavore salivate. For the pigcionados (people who love their pork), there’s no shortage on the daily menu. What sets TBL aside is their use of everything from the ingredient. And I mean everything, except for the oink. The squeamish and stingy may be horrified to hear what’s going onto their plate, but for those who pick pork as the four basic food groups, they’re in hog heaven.

My friend joked about the rising blood pressure due to fat content and sodium, their biggest staple. He and I split a Szechuan Ox Tail appetizer ($11), a hot salty mess of pulled ox tail (yes, really an ox tail), red chili flakes, fried egg, lemongrass, cashews, and rice. The lemongrass (very strong citrus) and chili flakes gave a very Thai-influenced taste. My friend and fellow experimenter thought the rice was a bit underdone, and I wished just the pulled tail was available. We both agreed it was one of the saltiest dishes we had ever eaten. Drinking a glass of water between bites was like a palate powerwasher, and I thought it got pretty abstract. A drag of water took the oils and salt content, compressed it all into the center, and then removed some of the direct spices, chasing the acidic and citrus tones away. Really bizarre.

For the “mains,” as TBL calls them, meat in all forms is a must. The country cassoulet ($30) features a butcher’s shopping list of pork belly, duck confit, lamb sausage, and fried pork rinds. You can craft your own bowl-o-noodles ($9), adding mushrooms or kimchi, to a base of filet pork and spicy broth. With more odds and ends than a cryptkeeper and some unexpected prices, the menu was a grotesque listing.

I cornered the breakfast-for-dinner menu. They serve three sandwiches from 10 a.m. to close, and they’ve got everything essential to the place: porks, cheeses, and elevated blood pressure on a hard roll. Like some kind of demon, I went for the TBL Scrapple sandwich ($6), which seems like an operating floor between two buns.

“Are you easily grossed out?”

Scrapple, a car-crash of pig anatomy (skins, brains, noses, and Snowball knows what else), would typically be something that would frighten crowds, but it is one of the house specialties. They grind the meat and bake it into a square before deep-frying it. The result is a mushy meat paste that tastes like breakfast sausage and fares naturally (word choice?) on a bun with aged cheddar and a fried egg.

My friend ordered a pig’s head barbecue sandwich ($15), also topped with wilted local greens, blue cheese, and an egg. Between that and the crispy salt and vinegar pig ears ($3) in a bowl, I have never had such a meat-manic meal. It was an overboard sampling that I chose to ignore the health and biological sides of.  Good thing the menu’s locally sourced-it’s one less thing to consider while scarfing.

When they’re finished with the daily menu, they chop it up and use it as wrapping paper for sandwiches. Between the Viking entrees and the decor of the place, I couldn’t help but wonder: are they just capturing all of the trends, or are they just trying too hard?

Between the simple-yet-labored decorations ($90 step stools, jugs, and exposed brick) and slight condescension, it’s not an experience I’m craving again. I don’t think I’m ready to make this a neighborhood joint to walk to.

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