Perfectly Paired Food and Drink

03 Jan 2024

Honeysuckle Rose celebrates the best of both worlds of food and drink

By Wendy Swat Snyder

Photos by Aleece Sophia

      

It's one thing to design an entire restaurant concept around a high-end eight-course prixe fixe menu with wine pairings—an ambitious undertaking for even the most seasoned restaurateur.

It's that much more impressive when the concept is taken to the next level. Honeysuckle Rose flips the script on its highly-curated dinner and wine pairing by offering an alternative list of artisanal mocktails individually designed to complement each of the eight dishes. Proprietors Ryan and Kelleanne Jones have a history of pushing the culinary envelope—an inventive style that put the husband-wife team on the map early in their hospitality partnership.

“We never expected the high level of interest in non-alcoholic pairings,” says Honeysuckle Rose chef/owner Ryan. “We thought there would be one or two requests per week, but it's sometimes nine per night.”

Catering to the increasing numbers of sober-curious diners is not the team's only forward-thinking accommodation. Reserving a table at one of the eatery's twice-weekly dinner seatings prompts a private message to guests from Honeysuckle Rose staff to establish preferences like flat water or sparkling, dietary restrictions and any meat-free requests or substitutions for vegetarians and pescatarians. Pastry chef Heather Hutton also produces desserts that are both decadent and gluten free.

For example, the friend who joined me for a late fall dinner was able to modify a menu  showcasing La Belle Farms duck, New Zealand venison and Plains Breed bison. The kitchen subbed Lightship scallops, Spanish octopus and Atlantic halibut for the meat dishes. She also opted for the alcohol-free program: Her pairings were mindfully crafted with herbs, spices and fresh juices from seasonal fruits to highlight each dish: For instance, a blend of pomegranate, raspberry tea and orange balanced the sweetness of the scallops with zesty citrus notes.

The Joneses met in Connecticut where Kelleanne operated a catering service. She'd hired Ryan, a Culinary Institute of America alum, to handle the kitchen. They went on to their first restaurant venture, The Mill at 2t, which opened around 2009. Set in a restored brick mill in a rural area near Hartford, the concept was a harbinger of Honeysuckle Rose.

“We had seating for 38. Ryan cooked in a tiny open kitchen,” says Kelleanne, who managed the front of house. “We served dinner four nights per week. The menu changed 100 percent every day.”

Their ambitious endeavor drew the attention of a New York Times critic whose review lauded their inventive cuisine, excellent execution and charm of both the locale and couple.

The Joneses acknowledge that their approach to a start-up is not the norm.

“When we see a space that speaks to us, we actually work backwards,” explains Kelleanne, who also manages the interior design of their restaurants. “We evaluate what could fit in it, what does the area need. When we saw this fun space in the Westside neighborhood, a lightbulb went off. We knew a tasting menu restaurant would work there.”

“We've marketed Honeysuckle as a destination restaurant through our agency and established properties,” adds Ryan. “We're seeing a surprising number of visitors planning ahead to dine with us.”

Since relocating to Charleston, the team has built a portfolio of properties including Community Table, Southbound and Honeysuckle Rose under the umbrella of Free Reign Restaurants. Allora, a coastal Italian eatery, is slated to open in 2024.

“We've wanted to have multiple concepts under our group,” notes Kelleyanne. “We have the support to do it—we have a great team.”

The Honeysuckle Rose pairing menu is a collaborative effort involving Ryan, chef Italo Tito Marino and director of beverage and hospitality operations Shane Meszaros. Marino has a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and trained under Daniel Boulud at his flagship restaurant, Daniel, in New York City. He also worked under chef Michael White at the world-renowned Ai Fiori. The Connecticut native connected with the Joneses through The Mill at 2t, and, as director of culinary, assists in the kitchens of all the Free Reign properties.

Twice weekly, Ryan and Marino review products coming from local purveyors such as GrowFood Carolina, Limehouse Produce, Storey Farms, Abundant Seafood, and “the best of the best—whatever excites us” from all over the world. They cook and tweak together, with new dishes evolving sometimes on a daily basis.

“The New Zealand venison dish is a case in point,” says Marino. “The product is not local, but fresh and hormone free—in fact, the dish involves my favorite wine pairing. I love the way the fruit notes in the dish—huckleberry, pomegranate—and the vadouvan spice we use play off the sweet, red-fruit spiciness of the Le Cupole Super Tuscan.”

The presentation of each course is an intimate, choreographed experience driven as much by personality as expertise. Kelleanne ushers in dishes, all smiles, with Free Reign director of operational assets Andrew Malandro. Shane Meszaros does the pouring while providing tableside analysis of each wine/ beverage pairing. His credentials include assistant general manager of the New Orleans landmark fine dining institution, Arnaud's, which garnered a James Beard award for outstanding bar program. There, he learned to create cocktails from some of the best in the world.

A champion of obscure varietals of wine, Meszaros also enjoys repairing the reputations of wines deemed “forgettable.”

Meszaros points to a housemade pasta dish featuring dry aged Spanish ham in a cream sauce that was paired with a rare French Cot instead of a white wine.

“The savoriness of the ham needed something red and tannic and bold to play off,” he explains. “What we endeavor to show through Honeysuckle Rose is, these wines that you typically wouldn't gravitate to, have a place in the home when paired correctly with food, and with thought and intention and love.”

With a sophisticated yet unpretentious culinary concept and expert staff, Honeysuckle Rose is another good reason to make Charleston your next destination for an outstanding dinner experience.

 

Honeysuckle Rose

237 Fishburne Street

Charleston

843-641-0750

www.honeysucklerosechs.com

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