The Charleston Cafe opened a year ago serving morning coffee and teas and lunch items like panini and salads.
This summer, I expect The Charleston's lunch selection of four entrée-size salads like the staple Caesar ($8.50) and caprese ($8.50) or the more intriguing almond spinach salad ($8.50) with Granny Smith apples, bacon, dried cranberries and candied pecans or the cilantro lime prawn salad ($11.50) will be popular orders.
A Reuben panini ($8.50) delivered plenty of corned beef with a touch of sauerkraut and Russian dressing plus Swiss cheese. Panini typically come with your choice of a side salad or chips, but we upgraded to the soup de jour ($3 cup, $6.50 bowl), which was French onion. It was on the saltier side and the strings of shredded cheese were an odd presentation, but the soup made good use of bread in the form of toasted croutons.
More impressive was the side salad ($3) with house vinaigrette that accompanied the grilled cheese panini ($8). And while the individual ingredients on this menu item were good — the focaccia bread was airy and fresh and the cheddar and provolone were a good combination — the 2-inch-thick slices of focaccia soaked up all the cheese, and the roasted tomato dipping sauce, while filled with tangy tomato flavor, wasn't liquid enough to moisten the bread. The results of my meal were an open-faced sandwich spread with the sauce and a mostly untouched second slice of bread.
Recently, the restaurant was approved for a liquor license and opened for dinner service five nights a week — and this is where The Charleston really shines.
With just 10 items on the dinner menu, our server explained that they are designed to be shared family style and that selections change quarterly to reflect the seasons. From the heavier spring menu, we started with the arancini ($14) — five balls of mushroom risotto rolled in breadcrumbs and fried, presented on a bed of creamy cauliflower puree and then topped with a dollop of roasted garlic aioli, fresh microgreens and a sliver of housemade frico. I was ready to be impressed by dinner.
And the honey-smoked chicken ($17) did not disappoint. Two legs and two thighs, with a pink smoke ring nearly 1/3 inch thick, were neatly arranged atop sautéed Brussels sprouts dotted with smoked bacon lardons and a honey glaze.
Given the smoking prowess of the chef, I'll put the pork spare ribs ($16) high on my list to try next.
For greens, we shared the blood orange salad ($13) with blood orange segments, toasted goat cheese and granola, which added crunch and sweetness that countered the blood orange vinaigrette perfectly. A kale and quinoa salad ($14) is also available.
White wine steamed mussels ($16) with a corn broth, sweet potato gnocchi in a brown butter sauce ($14) and steak frites ($18) round out the dinner options.
In addition to its new selection of wine and cocktails, Charleston Cafe offers nonalcoholic Italian sodas ($4) served in a hefty glass mug and topped with whipped cream if desired. Flavors include coconut, raspberry, cherry, lime, mango, orange or lemon.
Intent on delivering Southern charm and hospitality, Charleston Cafe quickly rises to the top of the dining list for locally owned and thoughtful cuisine in the southern part of the valley.
Heather L. King also writes for www.slclunches.com and can be found on social media @slclunches.