After 15 years as the executive chef of FIG, Jason Stanhope will open the doors of his new concept, Lowland Tavern, on Thursday, November 16, just off King Street in downtown Charleston. In developing the menu, Stanhope said he had fun building on his experience at FIG and his deep respect for their classic, structured, deeply rooted food program, which he says “gave me the knowledge to break away from that structure and push boundaries in the tavern.”
When Method Co. development group approached him about reimagining the dining offerings on the Pinch hotel property, Stanhope said he was happy where he was but realized it was “probably time to pass on the leadership because we were set up for that; I had a lot of people in place who were doing great things.” In addition to the entire concept at Lowland Tavern, he reimagined both the space and the menu at the Quinte oyster bar and, in the coming months, will open Upstairs at the Tavern, which he describes as “my love letter to everything that’s inspired me.”
Lowland Tavern opened after just two months of Stanhope joining the team, and in developing the menu, he was strongly influenced by the space: “You walk into Lowland and you’re like, this is the tavernest tavern ever tavenered,” he says. “So I said, let’s write a tavern menu. Once that box was checked, that’s when the real work began.” At first he lay awake at night writing menus in his head and discarding them. “I wrote 100 menus, and every time I’m like, ‘That is a FIG menu.’ It was pumping through my veins.”
To bring Lowland to life, he had to think not only outside the box of FIG but also outside of his narrower definition of what constitutes tavern food. In considering various cultural versions of the tavern—the English pub, the Japanese izakaya, and his favorite American taverns in New York—he says, “I realized the tavern box was much wider than I thought.”
The result is a menu that offers a Tavern burger, crispy quail done in the style of fried chicken with a lighter-than-air toum dipping sauce, a big green salad with Greek yogurt, benne, and dill, and a bavette steak with sauce stroganoff.
Then there are elements of what Stanhope wants to eat but can’t find when he goes out: namely, vegetables. “I’ve got celery all over the menu,” he says. “I love celery right now.” It’s a component in the vermillion snapper crudo, creating a crunchy snap in a tartar sauce so delicate it can hardly be called by the name. There’s also a celery salad with dates, walnuts, mint, and cheddar, and the slightly misleadingly titled “cocktail pickles,” a fresh, crisp, low-acid giardiniera ferment, which Stanhope says are what he would want with a martini—and he’s had to fend off the bar staff angling for just that purpose.
Speaking of the bar, celery even makes an appearance on the cocktail menu in the refreshing East Wind, paired with blanco tequila, coconut, and lime, and the Mama Roux, a nonalcoholic tonic concoction. Stanhope describes the cocktail program as “tidy,” “crisp and clean,” and “approachable,” exemplified by classics like the Tavern martini with herb oil to the simple Kyoto featuring Japanese whiskey, amontillado sherry, ginger, and apricot. As for wines, the same familiar-but-explorative concept applies to the by-the-glass list.
Stanhope says his overall goal is to not only be rooted in classic tavern dishes but also to celebrate them: “I want to create dishes that can excite the food writer or also your pickiest cousin at the same time.”
Download Lowland’s Opening Menu
- by Amber Chase
- by Erin Byers Murray