Kiki & Rye is the newest restaurant concept in Mt. Pleasant
By Wendy Swat Snyder
Photos by Aleecee Sophia
How lucky am I—invited to sit in on a menu tasting for Kiki & Rye, a new eatery slated to open mid-summer 2020 in Mount Pleasant.
Definitely a bright spot during a pandemic that's shuttered so many restaurants in Charleston and around the country. And a great addition to our dining out options, if owner/ operators Kelleanne and Ryan Jones first restaurant, Community Table, is any measure.
Just eight months old, it has quickly become a favorite gathering place for the I'on neighborhood, and the rest of the Lowcountry, too.
The Jones's purchased the property for Kiki & Rye, located in the Belle Hall Shopping Center, just before the onset of COVID-19, and optimistically barreled forward with renovation plans.
“It's definitely been a tough time for everyone,” says Kelleanne, whose longtime hospitality experience spans practically every front of house position—from hostess to general manager. “But people are still going out to eat.”
In fact, they informed me that they're also working on a third concept on Cannon Street in downtown Charleston. Progress has been a bit slower, they admit, given the myriad requirements of the Board of Architectural Review.
“The concept at Kiki & Rye is coastal cooking,” says Ryan. “We inherited a wood burning oven from the former place—all the food is going to be focused on that, Lowcountry driven, lighter and fresh. It's a neighborhood place, not fine dining.”
Ryan, a Culinary Institute of America alum, is stepping away from most of his kitchen duties at both restaurants to focus on new property concepts. Matt Clark joined the Kiki & Rye team in January as executive chef, assisting, early on, with menu development.
A participant in the Disney Culinary Program in Orlando, Florida, his last stint there was at The Wave…of American Flavors as sous chef at the Walt Disney Resort.
At Community Table, the bulk of kitchen operations is being handled by executive chef Ryan Shaw, former chef de cuisine at The Greenbriar Inn, Boulder, Colorado.
Since reopening in May, Kelleyanne says the approach there has been more focused on outdoor dining, with fewer tables indoors to accommodate social distancing. Other measures include the addition of an online reservation service.
“We're on Resy now, so guests don't have to wait in a small area to be seated,” explains Kelleyanne. “Everyone's been amazing—we brought back all our furloughed staff except two who'd relocated, and actually increased staff by 15 percent.”
Al fresco dining—and the opportunity for distancing—will be a major component at the new restaurant. Plus, the Belle Hall retail center is an open-air mall, and Kiki & Rye is one of a few eateries fortunate to have a waterside perch.
“The place has a great covered porch—all the outdoor seating is overlooking a pond,” says Ryan. “We're installing an outside bar, and we'll have music on the porch, as well.”
Inside Kiki & Rye, the design motif is what Kelleyanne calls “reclaimed coastal—lots of blues and greens, bright and airy.”
The menu tasting unfolded with chef Clark guiding us through over a dozen dishes from a long list of candidates for the Kiki & Rye menu. First up: a play on the classic steakhouse wedge starred Vertical Roots romaine, smokey blue cheese dressing, pickled onions and a bacon gastrique.
Clark put his own spin on a gazpacho with smoothly blended heirloom tomatoes, peppers, sherry, cucumber and citrus marinated shrimp from Lowcountry Shellfish. A zesty summer cooler and must-have.
Crispy chicken wings were slathered with Gojuchang sauce and roasted until caramelized, kicked up with kimchi, an herb salad, and finished with a sesame ranch dressing. Seriously sticky and crave-worthy.
The kitchen sources as much product as possible from local vendors like Growfood Carolina. Chicken is brought in from Keegan-Filion Farm.
The brick-baked chicken was perfectly charred—a lovely rustic presentation of the halved bird. Crisp, herb poached potatoes, garlic broccolini and a sweet tea chicken jus completed this comforting dish.
“We're pulling a lot from foods that I grew up eating, and bringing that nostalgic aspect to the menu,” explains Clark, a Florida native. “The best food, in my opinion, brings a memory to mind and puts you back in that place.”
The thick, double cut pork chop from North Carolina was enhanced with a champagne vinegar/ mustard glaze and cooked to tender perfection. The classic side of sauerkraut was house-fermented and caramelized—anything but the norm.
The “rye burger” got great flavor from a combination of brisket, short rib and chuck fashioned into two patties—Clark's preferred technique, delivering more flavor, he says, via added surface area—and seared in a cast iron pan. Loaded with cheddar, a house sauce, lettuce, tomato and sweet onion, it's easily a crowd pleaser.
Add to this sampling of beautifully executed dishes a cocktail program featuring freshly juiced fruit. I would say Kiki & Rye are headed for a successful opening—good news for the Charleston food scene.
Kiki & Rye is expected to be open in July at the Belle Hall Shopping Center at 600 Long Point Road. For more information, visit kikiandrye.com