A sunny corner front in Charleston’s Elliotborough neighborhood gets new life with Vern’s, scheduled to open July 14. In the former space of Italian mainstay Trattoria Lucca, the cozy, neighborhood bistro is the first restaurant from Bethany and Dano Heinze.
The husband-wife duo met at McCrady’s, where they worked for nine years. Dano climbed the kitchen ranks and ultimately served as the chef de cuisine. Bethany ran the beverage program. Life took the Heinzes to Los Angeles in 2016. There, they worked with venerable company including restaurateurs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo and wine professional Helen Johannesen.
The pair dreamed of opening their own restaurant. “We had always envisioned this corner spot with windows and light flooding into the dining room,” Bethany says. They kept their eyes on the markets in both LA and Charleston, waiting for the perfect space to present itself.
Thanks to Charleston’s closely knit food and bev community, the Heinzes were among the first to hear that esteemed chef Ken Vendriski had put Trattoria Lucca on the market. “The space really sang to it,” Dano says. “We called Ken in November, and in about 10 minutes we’d figured out all the details.”
Vern’s joins the Elliotborough’s quiet, residential community alongside other local-favorite spots, including Chubby Fish, Elliotborough Mini Bar, D’Allesandro’s. The 46-seater space is humble yet undeniably charming—the sort that lends itself to intimate get-togethers.
McCrady’s-style elements shine through on Vern’s menu. Dishes put sophisticated spins on simple, locally available ingredients, such as heirloom tomato with yuzu kosho, wasabi arugula from King Tide Farms, and ricotta salata or triggerfish with clams and charred sea beans. “We want to grow with purveyors in Charleston and celebrate this region of the country,” Dano says.
The menu itself features three sections: The first is for starters and small plates, like chargrilled sourdough with allium butter and escargot with pickled ramps. The second skews vegetarian. Produce-forward plates and handmade pasta entail trumpet royal mushrooms with ginger and spring onions and gnocchetti sardi with walnut pesto. Meaty mains make up the third section. Go for the crispy pork collar with saffron mustard, celery, and parsley, or the roast poussin with brown butter jus and dandelion. Beyond the dinner menu, the chalkboard over the fireplace shares the nightly specials.
Dessert is equally thoughtful. Chef Dano mentions ice cream spun to order, seasonal fruit sundaes, and a flourless chocolate torte.
Similar to the food’s from-the-source, minimalist style, the wine list celebrates biodynamic and natural wines, a focus Bethany developed in LA. “The world of low-intervention wine methods really spoke to a lot of themes I discovered at McCrady’s,” Bethany says. “When I was thinking about building a list of my own, I was thinking of an exciting and adventurous wine list specific to one type of farming, as opposed to a specific region or grape.”
More than anything, returning to Charleston’s restaurant community excites the Heinzes most. “We missed the sense of community here,” they say. “Everyone’s extended their arms to welcome us. This city is so packed with independent owner-operators, and everyone’s been overly willing to help us with any single part.”
After it opened in 2008, Trattoria Lucca served as a gathering spot within the historic neighborhood. The Heinzes look forward to preserving its legacy. “We want Vern’s to truly be a neighborhood restaurant. It’s not a once-a-year style place. We want it to feel warm and familiar, yet exciting.”