I’m dishing up a major Charleston restaurant scoop this week! The former manager of Lola's is opening a new place right next door in South Hills.
There’s a new contemporary tavern meets farm-to-table bistro meets mid-scale bar and grill coming to South Hills this spring that I predict will immediately become one of the hottest tables in town from the day it opens its doors.
Why is that? Just take a look at all it has going for it.
One, it will offer a modern menu of apps, salads, house-ground gourmet burgers and more.
Two, those dishes will feature ingredients sourced from local farmers and food producers whenever possible.
Three, it will be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, and will offer both Saturday and Sunday brunch.
Four, it’s got an awesome location right across the street from Lola’s near the tony Bridge Road Shops, in a building that has been almost completely gutted and remodeled.
Five, it has Old Charleston nostalgia.
Its name is Fernbank Public House, or just “Fernbank” – in honor of the old grade school that used to be just down the street – and it will feature a light and airy décor accented by plants inside and out, including herbs and eventually produce that will star in the restaurant’s dishes.
And finally, it’s the brainchild of two veteran Charleston food and bar pros who know a thing or two about the restaurant and bar business: Mike Medley, the former longtime manager of Lola’s, and Brian Henderson, a longtime bartender at Sam’s Uptown Café.
That, my friends, is a recipe for success. If all goes well, they hope to be open for business by mid-April.
They’ve already secured most permits and permissions, including a parking variance from the city, and next up is the Health Department. That should be fairly smooth sailing, though, since they’re using most of the shiny stainless-steel kitchen left behind by Meticulous Catering, which formerly operated there.
The rest of the building, however, is being transformed into a new contemporary-style restaurant with large windows, a 10-seat bar, tables to accommodate some 30-plus guests and a new back patio that will offer outdoor dining and, possibly, another bar.
So who’s doing all of this demolition and new construction, I asked Medley, during a tour of the soon-to-be new restaurant this past week?
“You’re looking at him,” he said, with a laugh.
With a little help from his friends, of course, Medley has gutted and rebuilt the bones on the first floor and removed a couple tons (yes, tons) of wood on the back deck to replace it with a new concrete patio.
It’s a labor of love, to be sure, but also one that’s been a long time coming.
“I’ve been looking around town for years for a nice spot to open my own place,” Medley told me. “We were close to getting the former location of Noah’s downtown, I tried to get the old Chin’s location on the East End, I missed out on getting the old Chase Bank building right up the street here. For one reason or another, they all fell through.”
So when this current building on Bridge Road became available, right next to the restaurant he ran for years, he and Henderson jumped at the chance to get it. They signed a lease-to-own agreement and the building should be theirs in three years.
In the meantime, Fernbank will soon open its doors with a nod to the neighborhood’s old school because, at the end of the day, Medley says he wants to create a true neighborhood hangout. He’s spoken to a few local residents who were students and the old school and hopes to snag some memorabilia to display around the restaurant.
And true to its name, Fernbank will feature several plants to green up the place, creating a welcoming “bright and airy tavern” space to kick back with good food and drinks. That food will appear on a creative menu of made-from-scratch dishes featuring fresh, local ingredients and house-made sauces.
Items will also be offered for special diets and allergy considerations.
“I have a son with a pretty severe food allergy,” Henderson said, “so I know how hard it can be for families who face that to eat out. We’ll definitely have some good options for them.”
There will be a full-blown cocktail menu as well, Medley added, getting visibly excited as he kept sharing more details.
“We’re pumped, man. We’re so lucky this finally all worked out and we’re ready to start cooking!”
Stay tuned to The Food Guy in the coming weeks for more information on the restaurant’s progress, menu and grand opening date.
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Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at www.wvfoodguy.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at email@example.com.