The Oak Table opened this past September with all the buzz of an A-list celebrity. Situated on the ground level of the lofty Main & Gervais Office Tower, it is adjacent to the historic South Carolina State Capitol. The tower’s urban-chic glass façade belies the restaurant’s warm interior – a yin-yang balance of mid-century modern juxtaposed with rustic-traditional design.
Under the direction of Executive Chef Joseph Jacobson, the culinary team serves contemporary American fare, with a nod to Southern products and flavors. Committed to the strong traditions of the region’s agricultural heritage, The Oak Table supports farmers and local fishermen by using natural, sustainable ingredients. Contemporary American cuisine also embraces ethnic flavors and traditions, so expect to see innovative dishes with accents and surprise twists from across the globe.
The Oak Table is the first Columbia venture for the Charleston-based hospitality group, The Indigo Road, founded in 2009 under managing partner Steve Palmer. Currently, there are four restaurant brands under The Indigo Road umbrella: Oak Steakhouse, The Macintosh, O-Ku and The Cocktail Club – a stylish spot designed to showcase the growing craft-cocktail revival. The Macintosh received recognition as a 2012 James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best New Restaurant and was awarded coveted recognition on Bon Appetit’s annual 50 Best New Restaurants list in August 2012. Asian inspired O-Ku was one of Esquire magazine’s 20 Best New Restaurants in 2010.
Edens & Avant, The Oak Table’s neighboring tenant, first recommended the Main and Gervais site. The space’s prime location and unparalleled views inspired Steve to develop a concept based on his favorite dining spot, the iconic Gramercy Tavern in New York City. He envisioned bringing an upscale tavern to the Midlands, delivering a trifecta of great American cooking, solid consistent service and gracious Southern hospitality.
Steve loves the creative process of opening restaurants – there have been 26 so far – and he values the close bonds that develop among the staff. “I believe in our service culture and in providing new opportunities for staff to learn and grow within the company.”
Green By Design
The Oak Table delivers a range of dining experiences. The south-facing, 18-foot wall is entirely glass. The panes are insulated and maximize the natural daylight, both key elements in sustainable design. From the vantage point of the handsome oak bar, guests enjoy a soupçon of high-octane drama as they gaze out over the outdoor dining patio and State House.
Those who favor craft cocktails will appreciate the exclusive craft cocktail program, created by Jasmine Beck of The Cocktail Club and Jackson Holland of The Macintosh. The program embraces the restaurant’s culinary philosophy with fresh, bright seasonal flavors and accents.
The Oak Table’s name pays homage to its focal point – an aged wooden table in the center of the dining room. It is the symbol of a place where people connect and reminds them of the integrity of time-honored American cuisine.
Furnishing With History
Glass, gleaming stainless and warm wood intersect in the cozy space to create a harmonizing effect. Reclaimed and restored wood is a main design ingredient, balancing the contemporary sleekness.
Solid oak planks, burnished with the rich patina of age, were recovered from a mid-19th century log cabin in the Upcountry. They found new life transformed into the bar, tables, doors, mouldings and accent walls. In addition to adding beauty, they incorporate green values that are environmentally friendly.
Framed black and white photos of South Carolina scenes, like the majestic oak tree on display in the dining room, enhance the décor.
Cushy banquette seating near the entrance feels very relaxed and offers diners a measure of intimacy. A small private dining room seats 20, with the same scenic views.
Meet the Chef
Chef Joseph Jacobson relocated from Charleston last year to lead The Oak Table culinary team. Prior to the opening, he served as chef de cuisine at Charleston’s acclaimed Oak Steakhouse for the past six years.
Growing up in a family that held a great appreciation for good food, Joseph cultivated a genuine love for cooking and Southern hospitality. His grandmother’s inspiring home cooking was a significant influence in his career, especially her large family dinners and oyster roasts. “For Shabbat – the Jewish Sabbath – she would cook for 10 to 35 people.”
Joseph explains that his grandmother taught him to put love and respect into food preparation. This trait, plus a strong work ethic and desire to pursue the highest standards, formed a work ethos that paved the road for him to travel to New York City to cook at the James Beard House on four occasions. A coveted invitation to cook there brings national recognition that is akin to receiving a culinary Oscar.
Joseph and The Oak Table share a food philosophy that is in line with sustainable food practices: to support nutritional and environmental well-being; local/regional family farms; the local economy; and humane treatment for farm animals.
In conventional systems, food can travel 3,000 miles from “field to fork.” Local food systems are increasingly described as “the distance one can go in a day’s leisurely drive.” Joseph says living in the central area of the state, between the mountains and the ocean, allows accessibility of abundant resources in every direction.
The Oak Table cultivates its regional farm-to-table connections by establishing relationships on a personal level with farmers, fishermen and purveyors.
The Oak Table menu is divided into Entrées, Small Plates, Sides and Desserts. Signature entrées include a 1 1/2 pound live lobster, split and deep-fried in the Oak Steakhouse style, and a richly flavored Pan Rendered Duck Breast. If you are a true steak aficionado, order the meltingly tender CAB (Certified Angus Beef® brand) Prime Rib-Eye. A CAB bistro steak is served at lunch with roasted mushrooms, poached farm egg and tangy vinaigrette on a brioche bun.
“The Mac” Burger, a signature dish from The Macintosh, is pure Americana and one of the state’s best burgers for 2012, according to Southern Living. Also recommended: lamb New York strip and South Carolina’s Keegan-Filion Farm chicken or pork.
The Oak Table encourages sustainable fishing practices. Whole fish are purchased – never fillets – since it’s easier to check for signs of freshness, like bright clear eyes, dark red gills and ocean-fresh smells. Fish are local, caught in deep waters off South Carolina’s coast: triggerfish, wreckfish, barrel fish, golden tilefish, grouper and red snapper. Fish are carefully and simply prepared to retain their delicious sweet flavors. New fish entrées arrive in the spring, to be paired with tender veggies like Easter egg radishes, asparagus, icicle daikon and kale.
Inspirations for side dishes include a medley of roasted seasonal vegetables; luxurious macaroni with seven kinds of cheese and Truffled Frites (French fries) with shaved smoked Gouda. The Oak Table roasts five types of wild mushrooms in a cast iron pan, bringing nature to the plate.
Small Plates – Big Flavor
On the lighter side, there are nine superb Small Plates selections. Order one as an appetizer, first course or bar snack. Some diners graze their way through the entire meal on Small Plates, often sharing. Risotto comes with South Carolina tempura shrimp and City Roots micro greens. Several salads selections include Freshly Grown Farms hydroponic Bibb with house-made bacon, South Carolina pecans and buttermilk dressing. Tender ricotta dumplings called gnudi (dubbed “pillows of love”) partner with lobster, cherry tomatoes and roasted Tennessee mushrooms. Don’t miss the roasted red pepper pimento cheese – warm and spicy with bacon crumbles.
Eating High On The Hog
Talented chefs are turning to animal butchery as a sustainable meat source. Joseph advises, “It’s a good business model to be able to recycle and transform all the parts.” Quality and skill are associated with the preparation of whole animals and especially charcuterie, which can involve days or weeks of salting, smoking and curing. Bacon and sausage are charcuterie, and yet, it is so much more. The craft enjoys a long rich tradition in Europe.
For charcuterie meats or porcetta – succulent slow-roasted pork with crisp crackling skin – Joseph favors heritage breeds like the Red Wattle and Guinea hogs from Carolina Heritage Farms in Pamplico or heirloom pastured pork from Caw Caw Creek. Charcuterie is typically arranged on a large oak board and is meant for sharing. Options might include chorizo, garlic bratwurst and pork terrine with seasonal add-ins like dried figs, cranberries or pistachios. There is also silky-smooth chicken liver pâté and duck prosciutto. House-made condiments may include tart cornichons, colorful pickled vegetables, brioche toast, fig jam, whole grain and red beet Dijon mustards.
Traditionalists who crave a little of the unexpected can choose one of the playful desserts. Chef Charlie Scruggs has an innovative take on these sweet indulgences. Think black forest cake. Then think dark cherry gastrique and dehydrated raspberry powder. Is he a pastry chef or kitchen wizard?
Charlie begins with nostalgic, pleasing flavors then gives them a little twist. De-constructed S’Mores, with milk chocolate pudding, graham cracker crème and honey roasted marshmallow are so yummy, they have the power to conjure up the inner child. Fresh marshmallows will be a revelation to the taste buds, especially if they’ve only ever tasted store-bought. Giant Sticky Buns, a Sunday brunch special, are sinfully delicious, gooey and chockablock with local pecans. The old-school simplicity of fruity-filled “Pop Tarts” is reminiscent of glazed “hand pies.” Also highly recommended: the butterscotch brioche bread pudding and anything chocolate. Charlie attended the University of South Carolina’s Culinary Institute, honed his skills at Saluda’s, and was assistant pastry chef at Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms before he joined The Oak Table’s culinary team.
The Oak Table offers excellent food at fair value in a spectacular setting. A dinner visit might indicate a special occasion, but don’t wait until then; consider lunchtime and Sunday brunch. The compact menus are an optimal size and their depth makes choosing difficult. There’s a transcendent flavor about The Oak Table experience that keeps bringing people back. It’s all about the best ingredients, simple ideas and the craft.