Harold's Cabin Serves Novel Dishes, Historical Vibe

By:Libby Wiersema

Date:9/20/2016

Don’t come to Harold’s Cabin in hopes of a Bill Murray sighting. Just don’t. Chances are slim to none you’ll spy Charleston’s favorite local, who is one-third of the trio responsible for opening this decidedly different restaurant. (But if you do, it’s gravy!) Instead, let a burning desire for novelty drive your trip to the corner of Congress and President. Claim the nearest on-street parking place in this low-key Westside neighborhood, then stroll on in. A warm welcome awaits you as well as a few happy surprises.

The opening of Harold’s Cabin in spring 2016 was actually a re-opening of sorts, given the storied past of the humble quarters. While quaffing the area’s most creative java drinks, take a moment to consider the history of the place, home to a bustling 20th century mercantile run by Harold Jacobs, purveyor of fine cheeses, soft drinks, soaps, kerosene and, perhaps most famously, shaved ice snow balls. Harold’s Cabin was, indeed, a hub of neighborhood commerce back in the day, before Jacobs moved the growing operation to larger digs in the 1950s.

Along with Murray, fellow co-owners Mike Veeck, Charleston RiverDogs baseball team president, and John Schumacher, former Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park food and beverage director (who you’re very likely to spot hustling in the dining rooms), set a vision for the restaurant that honored its roots. Keeping the original name was one of the most obvious ways they did this, in addition to playing up Jacob’s impressions of the building, which he likened to a deep-woods lodge.

Upon entry, you’ll find yourself in a small grab-and-go market and bar area. There are dining rooms on the first and second floors of the boxy corner store-cafe, and a modest, but robust rooftop garden that helps supply the kitchen. The decor mixes tradition and whimsy with lots of reclaimed wood, industrial iron accents, Edison lights, furnishings in moose print, plaid and leather, general store bric-a-brac, an old pot belly stove and, for good mythical measure, a mural-size jackalope looming from the first to second floor on the staircase wall.

Harold’s Cabin serves breakfast, lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday (Saturday includes a brunch menu, too), with breakfast and brunch only on Sunday. No matter the meal, things get even more interesting when presented with the veggie-forward menu cooked up by chef Justin Pfau and his capable team. Because many of the dishes are built upon the simple goodness of a single vegetable, the complexity is surprising once the dish is actually in front of you. This is food that must be experienced in order to understand the concepts behind it.

The most conventional offerings are fist-size, crumbly biscuits for breakfast. But for weekend brunch, you can get one layered with an edgy mix of beets, peppers, mushrooms, Gruyere fondue and fluffy scrambled eggs. There is a daily grits dish, usually a local heirloom variety such as Jimmy Red, that may come topped with available fresh vegetables, field peas and shrimp or chicken.

The lunch and dinner menus begin with “Kickshaw,” a shortlist of tasty trinkets with names that tout the star ingredient. For example, there’s “Corn,” hot, crusty hush puppies with pepper jam, and “Romaine,” grilled leaves accompanied by fresh fruit, Clemson blue cheese, black walnuts and red wine vin. The Harold and Lillian, a lox and latke pairing served with apple and crème fraiche, pays homage to the heritage of the former owners, with proceeds benefiting local Jewish foundations.

Any time of day is right for the Forage Board, an artful arrangement of fresh vegetables served with cheese and a scattering of herbs upon a canvas of rustic wood. Share this one with good friends over cocktails and you’re likely to leave as great friends.

Dinner entrees fall under the heading “Vittles,” but don’t harbor the implied carnivorous expectations. Again, meat is largely intended to complement the vegetables here, as in the dinner offering, “Carrot,” in which the root vegetable plays the main role in a casserole of wheatberries and turnips, sided by a single delicately fried rabbit leg. The only entrée where meat takes center stage is the Bison Burger, a lean patty served up on a brioche roll and sided with potentially habit-forming house-made potato chips splashed with vinegar.

If you’re going for something from the coffee bar (and you should!) don’t miss the Jackalope, an ambrosial blend of espresso, ginger beer, basil, raw honey and orange peel. Harold’s Cabin does amazing things with coffee, which can be brewed your way – AeroPress, Chemex or French press – and served hot, iced, smoked, spiced and/or sweetened with delectable syrups. Descriptions don’t adequately convey how well the components work together. Cocktails are just as creatively conceived, with the Salty Raccoon – Espolón tequila, rosemary simple syrup, fresh lime juice and Botany Bay smoked sea salt – quickly establishing itself as a favorite. A Bloody Mary with a blonde beer base swirled into local heirloom tomato juice is another memorable standout.

When it comes to sweets, it’s definitely about quality, not quantity. With just two offerings, there’s no need to narrow down options on a laden dessert tray. The “Nectar and Regale” section of the menu starts with grilled carrot cake. Like a grilled cheese sandwich, there’s a buttery, toasty outside and richness at the core. You’ll wonder why you never thought to grill cake before. The dessert menu ends with beignets, toothsome puffs of fried dough with a sweet cream cheese filling set off by a light basil sauce. Like all things Harold’s Cabin, the result is sublime, yet deliciously quirky.

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