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One needn’t love beer to fall for Edmund’s Oast. It certainly helps, but to call it a mere brewpub, as the sign outside suggests, is an underestimation. It’d be more fitting to call it the most important restaurant to open in the last year, or maybe the most important culinary establishment to grace the Holy City in the space of a decade—not just because it delivers a diverse number of interesting concepts that now define dining in Charleston, but because it does so with excellence at every turn and lacks complacency in any aspect of execution, as evidenced by details such as the menagerie of cured pork suspended above the open kitchen and the pressurized bursts of water that clean each beer glass just prior to service. This is what a successful Charleston restaurant will feel like from here forward. The beer, the food, and the service are simply the oil in which they paint.
At the helm are Rich Carley and Scott Shor. Also the proprietors of Charleston Beer Exchange, they know their ales and stouts, sours and saisons. They keep 48 beers on tap, some foreign, some domestic, and some made in-house in the small brewery that flanks the entrance. There are multiple focuses at the Oast, but the beer takes center stage with an esoteric daily rotation that includes unique sips such as the Peanut Butter and Jelly, a version of the classic sandwich in liquid form and with 5.5% ABV. Carley and Shor post keg caps to Instagram, so beer lovers can follow the trail of suds from their social media feeds to a perch at one of the eatery’s plush bar stools when they spot a beer of particular interest.
Don’t let on if you don’t like beer or drink Miller High Life. Carley and Shor pace the floor looking for people whose knowledge of hops and malt is limited to the stuff found inside a Budweiser can. They ply newbies with rarities like the rich chocolaty weirdness of Westbrook Mexican Cake, which is to say beer that doesn’t necessarily taste like “beer.”
Chef Andy Henderson took a detour through California after leaving Mike Lata’s tutelage at FIG; his robust grub emerges from the gleaming kitchen beyond the bar with a distinct style of its own. There’s a long wooden slab abutting the open kitchen pass, inviting you to sit below a king’s ransom of cured pork aging in its lofted perch and observe the steady flow of Gin Joint-style jerky (a tribute to the namesake cocktail lounge’s delicious recipe) and silken whey-cooked polenta topped with poached eggs and pickled green tomatoes as it parades by.
Some dislike the colonial nods in Edmund’s menu, as porridges and custards are far from in vogue, but certainly those folks haven’t ventured into the Hernandez sweet potatoes. Where one might expect plump packages hearth-baked beneath old-timey hot ash, Henderson serves a small bowl of caramelized and crusted sweet potatoes, with honey and a sprinkle of mint and hot chili powder. If the rather addictive smoked bar nuts are old-fashioned, then the black bass crudo, currently laced with fresh local radishes and navel oranges, is downright 21st-century modern. Diners seeking contemporary creativity at Edmund’s should lay off the deliciously creamy Carolina Gold rice and chicken porridge and fork out a cheap $25 for the best roasted wreckfish in town, plated above a salad of fennel, bacon, and cowpeas.
The menu changes frequently, but during a recent visit, the tastiest morsel was hidden beneath the roast chicken: a cornbread pudding so sweet and belly warming that I beg it be served straight up in a bowl. It would be heavenly beside the pile of sautéed kale that Henderson drenches in miso butter or nibbled between bites of chicken gizzards and duck hearts that join chopped liver, fennel, and crème fraiche to anoint his beautiful handmade tagliatelle.
You won’t get Edmund’s in one sitting; it takes evenings of guided exploration, and luckily the staff is ready to administer attentive, professional service. The bartenders are as much at ease sloshing together bourbon, Amaro, and hibiscus flowers into a “Red Wedding” as they are pouring a glass of fine mead or a milk stout. Carly and Shor circulate regularly, observant and carefully modeling to their young but well-starched team. The attention is paid, whether you stop by for a simple beer, take in some snacks at the community table, or cozy into a booth for the feast.
Spend a full meal on the charcuterie alone, which in a city inundated with the stuff manages to stand tall. In the spirit of the unexpected that Edmund’s so thoughtfully masters, the dueling fresh and aged charcuterie boards (or charcuterie tower, anyone?) may include animals like the Ossabaw Island hog that Bradley Taylor of Revival Foods custom finished on a steady diet of acorns and a keg of Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break Stout. Nevermind that the pickles are homemade and the mustard is spicy.
If the menu has a weakness, it’s in the lack of fine desserts, which in a space this innovative and diverse should be more than an afterthought. They should garner a formidable pâtissier, who can perhaps craft desserts with beer and mead.
Edmund’s Oast is a brewpub. It says so on the sign outside. Perhaps they should have written that it’s the brewpub, because others lag behind. It competes with the best in fine dining just as well as it serves burgers and fries. You can learn about brewing and savor a dinner of fine heritage-breed pork or a crispy slice of scrapple at Sunday brunch. And whenever you drop in, there’ll be those 48 taps jutting from the back wall. Toss one down and pass it around, there’s plenty more beer for all.