Rainbow carrots, mascarpone, local honey and pistachios, and grilled pork chop with Carolina Gold rice, Castelvetrano olives, and cherry tomatoes; (inset) chef Alexandra Eaton (left) and owner Alec Bradford (right).
“If you want,” the server said, “we can even tell you the name of the cow your steak came from.” This table-side proposition, which had followed a thorough soliloquy regarding the beef’s origins (Ancient White Park cattle—an exquisite, rare breed prized by British Royals for the superior quality meat), required clarification: He could relay the name of the cow who gave birth to the bovid I’d eat, which had been raised on Leaping Waters Farm’s 600-acre pasture in Alleghany Springs, Virginia; slaughtered and couriered via refrigerated truck for a six-hour drive to Charleston; then butchered in-house and served at Herd Provisions, a new restaurant in Wagener Terrace. The staff is eager to share such punctilious details, which might seem excessive, if borderline unsettling, but the spiel echoes the restaurant’s ethos on an existential level; which is to say: It took a lot to get here.
Four years to be exact. Alec Bradford, a farmer who owns Leaping Waters and Herd, aimed to open his brick-and-mortar in 2015, but a litany of pre-construction complications delayed him until this past July. Now, the 3,500-square-foot, two-story space welcomes guests for lunch, brunch, and dinner—though you might not know that immediately from the sidewalk on Grove Street. A retail butcher’s counter that occupies the foyer has not yet caught on, giving the property a vacant aura. Wander beyond the deli case, pass the butcher room where lab coat-clad men and women can be spotted flaying flanks through a display window, and you’ll arrive. Garnet-colored banquettes, reclaimed and lacquered pecan tables, and a handsome bar dot a roomy interior that leans modern farmhouse, down to the repurposed barn wood walls.
(Left to right) Roasted cauliflower in pea beurre blanc; Denver steak with pomme purée and grilled fairy-tale eggplants; seasonal corn succotash
I never found out that mama cow’s name— which is for the best, since the most memorable dishes featured vibrant vegetables instead. Yellow wax beans grown on Bradford’s farm, bathed in a fragrant, garlicky bagna cauda and dappled with ringlets of fluorescent lunch box peppers, conveyed the kind of deep respect farm-to-fork food is all about: a freshness so flavorful it requires scant adornment.
The same could be said for the delightful corn and Sea Island red pea succotash (heartened by a meatless umami corn milk) and the rainbow carrots (nestled atop mascarpone and stippled with pistachios). Your server will likely suggest you order the whole roasted cauliflower, which is brined then rotisseried to a light char and ensconced in a pool of piquant pea beurre. Do it. The dish is impressive, but like most items at Herd, hearty and butter-emphatic, best enjoyed with your party in smaller, shared portions.
What exemplifies the finest of Leaping Waters’ thoughtful husbandry though is not the beef, but pork. Tender and pan seared, the chop is exuberant with floral and woodsy notes, likely due to the hog’s Appalachian diet of foraged turnips and small-grain rye. A Mediterranean sauce of stewed tomatoes, soft herbs, and slivered Castelvetrano olives is offset by a hefty embankment of Carolina Gold rice (described puzzlingly by a bartender, during a different menu soliloquy, as “a great carbohydrate”). The chop outshined the Denver steak, which had been touted as a vastly underappreciated cut. Our table did not leave converted, preferring its accompaniments (satiny potatoes and earthy fairy-tale eggplants) instead. Similarly, the carne cruda was imbued with aromatic chimichurri but cubed to a cumbersome size, rescued only by Tiller Baking Co.’s greater carbohydrate: an outstanding, toasted, toothsome Carolina Gold rice bread.
(Left) Reclaimed wood adorns much of the Herd Provisions dining room; (right) Herd offers a meat CSA as well as a drop-in butcher shop retail space.
Inconsistencies may be due to kitchen changes. Executive chef and head butcher Aaron Swersky, who helmed the Herd Provisions food truck throughout the Grove Street build-out, departed (amicably, one chatty server readily disclosed) a few weeks after the restaurant opened its doors. Former sous chef Alexandra Eaton now leads. Perhaps she will thrive come cooler weather, when the menu’s rib-sticking selections, such as osso buco and chicken pot pie, are best suited.
Though Charleston restaurants largely champion locally sourced food, it’s worth noting that a farm-to-table sensibility has not always stood as standard practice. The movement in America can be traced as far back as the 1970s, when health-conscious consumption pivoted away from processed foods, ushering in the likes of Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse and an entire culinary shift toward fresh, local, directly acquired vegetables, seafood, and meat. Aside from exceptional quality, a core principle of this philosophy is proximity. Certainly there are other, more sustainable beef sources closer than Virginia (of the five local chefs I asked, none had ever heard of Ancient White Park cattle, anyway). But Bradford’s tireless devotion, providing direct-to-diner quality, is admirable. He believes in his farm, and so do his servers. Perhaps those walking by Grove Street will venture inside to eat and listen.
The Draw: A true farm-to-table experience
The Drawback: Sometimes overly chatty service
Don’t Miss: Grilled pork chop, roasted cauliflower, succotash, yellow wax beans (seasonal), fries, Uivo Renegado (chilled Portuguese red wine)