Written by Maggie White
It’s no secret that S.N.O.B., in downtown Charleston, enjoys consistently bustling business for both lunch and dinner. The restaurant’s prime location in the heart of the peninsula certainly makes it an appealing option for locals and tourists alike. The lively atmosphere of the large open room also no doubt contributes to its popularity. The arguably legendary shrimp and grits surely abet the cause. The catchy name (S.N.O.B. stands for “Slightly North of Broad”—a bit of local lore that can be explained easily on your next visit here) likely helps too. But what really makes S.N.O.B. such a venerable stalwart of a restaurant is the man leading the kitchen.
The number of Southern chefs, true talents, who have cited Chef Frank Lee as a mentor, a former boss, or colleague is astounding. In virtually every Southern city TLP visits, some hotshot young chef quickly sheds ego as he or she earnestly credits Lee as the person who cultivated or inspired his talent. Lee is surely a gifted chef—as his food will tell you on your first bite of crispy confit duck leg or fried chicken and watermelon salad with spicy pecans and local feta (a summer favorite of TLP staffers). He’s also someone who is devoid of pretense. Best of all, he’s just a lot of fun.
TLP was in Atlanta for their fantastic Food & Wine festival last month. While there, we had the good fortune of attending a dinner dubbed “About South”. For this magical evening, we were greeted by a cocktail from local legend Greg Best upon arrival to the expansive lawn outside The Swan House mansion at Atlanta’s history center. As we marveled at the beauty of the grounds at this mini Versailles, we sampled dishes from some of our most favorite Southern talents like Chris Hastings of Birmingham, John Currence of Oxford, Tyler Brown of Nashville, Linton Hopkins of Atlanta, one of our hometown heroes, Mike Lata, and others. All the dishes were downright delicious. To pit them against one another in an attempt to identify the “best” dish in terms of flavor and how well they imparted that “I am glad I am alive right now” feeling would be a ridiculous exercise in futility.
There was, however, one dish that stood out from the rest, due to the context of the moment. It was hot as blazes on that particular evening. We were handed a stem-lessmartini glass filled with stone crab meat sitting on basil sprouts, with black cherry tomatoes, and orange segments, drizzled with citrus olive oil and sprinkled with crunchy salt. It was both fresh and refreshing, a welcome tangle of sweet and savory, and the perfect complement to the evening.
We asked the server which chef was responsible for this dish and felt an immediate sense of hometown pride upon hearing her response: “This is from Chef Frank Lee of Charleston.” And the man himself was just then mingling about, the twinkle in his eye as we expressed our appreciation served as the only indication that he knew it as well as we did: he nailed this one. But then, it’s Chef Lee, and he always does.