Félix Cocktails et Cuisine
A Slice of Paris in Charleston
By Wendy Swat Snyder
Photos by James Stefiuk
Chic. Casual. Cuisine. In my search for a place to celebrate with family after months of pandemic-induced separation, one restaurant out of Charleston's many greats checked all the boxes When I visited Félix Cocktails et Cuisine for a review, I found the sleek King Street eatery had it all. Authentic menu, meatless options, relaxing ambiance, good energy—these were at the top of my list of criteria for the long-awaited gathering.
“We're a little different—ours is a Parisian-inspired cocktail bar,” says owner Félix Landrum, the son of Parisian parents. “I created a small menu composed of fresh ingredients, prepared from scratch. We offer classic bistro dishes, mainly small plates and a couple of larger plates, with our little spin.”
He adds that ingredients are delivered daily by local sources such as Limehouse Produce and Crosby's Seafood, and “when they're gone, they're gone.”
“Our place is the kind you'd see in Paris today, a product of the younger French scene,” notes Landrum. “The kids have pushed the demand for lighter ingredients and a fresher look. And our cocktails really set us apart—a lot of the bases for them are French liqueurs.”
Gone are the heavy dark woods and brass trim of the traditional French bistro, in favor of a white palate and open spaces flooded with light.
Landrum’s wife, Leslie, made all the design choices for the interior spaces—striking ones that create a more intimate, uplifting experience for diners. Cherry toned flooring and seating covered in a rich, camel tan leather invite with a warm patina. Thick, tufted banquettes deliver a sense of privacy; a bar and tables topped with white marble deliver the classic bistro vibe; a pair of French farmhouse tables add a vintage feel while peacock blue leather bar seats add a playful pop of color.
Landrum points out an ornate crystal chandelier above a coveted circular banquette, noting, “The poster of a pelican is a copy of a French cigarette ad. A piece of awning from our old family restaurant hangs in the hallway,” he said.
Landrum found his passion for food growing up in the French kitchen of his mother and grandmother, and later in the family-owned French restaurant enjoyed by Michigan diners for 23 years.
“It was tumultuous—the whole family was involved,” he says, smiling. “There was a lot of learning.”
Years later, the Landrums would give up their Cafe Felix in Ann Arbor, Michagan for a startup in South Carolina, after discovering the Holy City during a trip to Hilton Head Island.
“We fell in love,” recalls Landrum. “There's so much in Charleston that reminds me of Europe—people go to restaurants weekly, they socialize, talk politics. To me, it's what it means to be a restaurant town—a community that's really interested in supporting the hospitality business.”
Also impressive to Landrum was the camaraderie among the downtown restaurants. He eventually zeroed in on a property on upper King Street next to The Ordinary, but not before meeting seasoned locals like chef Nathan Thurston of Thurston Southern and David Marconi, former operating partner for Maverick Southern Kitchens restaurant group.
“I've been in the business for 36 years—busing tables, serving, cooking,” explains Landrum. “I really knew what I was doing when I got here, but I solicited some help to see what Charleston wanted. They listened to my ideas, gave me good advice. Those relationships were instrumental to my success. I got to know Mike Lata. He was very gracious as well.”
Félix Cocktails et Cuisine premiered as a Parisian-inspired bar with a few small plates and evolved into a more food-centric eatery showcasing bistro cuisine that people can relate to, like his great-grandmother's onion soup gratinée.
Our excellent server, Forrest Rappaport, filled our table during the course of the evening with bistro classics like steak frites perfectly seasoned and melt-in-your-mouth tender; as well as a short rib-brisket burger dripping with a gooey topping of raclette cheese from the Alps—the Félix twist—sweetened with sauteed onions and served on a local Browns Court Bakery bun.
Learning that deviled eggs are big in Charleston, the restaurateur added to the menu his own version: enhanced with lobster, chives, espelette pepper, dijon and brown butter crumb.
We sampled a flavorful beet salad that was one of executive chef Kayla Rutherford's contributions to the austere Félix menu.
“Beets are one of my favorite vegetables, I love their earthiness and meaty texture,” says Rutherford, a Charleston native and Culinary Institute of America alum. “We roast them gently in water with a little vinegar and olive oil, thyme, rosemary and garlic—I'm a huge fan of herbs—and finish the dish with pistachios, toasted chevre and micro arugula tossed in lemon juice.”
Another crave-worthy Rutherford dish featured beautiful ramp tagliatelle from Rio Bertolini in a wild mushroom sauce.
“We use six to eight different types of mushrooms—I love the variety,” notes Rutherford. “We roast them with garlic, oil and herbs and make a stock from the stems for the cream sauce. My thing is to highlight the vegetable, to bring out more flavor.”
Rutherford says her experience working at JoLe, a farm-to-table restaurant in Napa, California directs her respect for ingredients and seasonality. And her New York City experience working in gastropub-like settings informs her culinary approach today.
“Félix reminds me of Gramercy Tavern,” explains Rutherford. “It's the way I love to eat. When we talk about food, it goes back to that family dinner, the joy of catching up, being present in your life. I want good drinks, good food, good service—it doesn't have to be fancy. Food is not just about something you need in life, it's a ritual you enjoy.”
Indeed, Félix Cocktails et Cuisine raised our spirits—à votre santé!
Félix Cocktails et Cuisine
550 King Street, Charleston