Food brings people together. Even on a professional level, the F&B community collaborates in ways not seen in other industries—it’s commonplace for chefs, beverage pros, and producers to work together on everything from intimate dinners to large-scale trade festivals, and hosting one another in your restaurant is always considered an honor. So when Shuai and Corrie Wang of Charleston, South Carolina’s wildly popular Short Grain food truck were plotting out the details of their forthcoming brick and mortar, they did what any reasonable food professionals would do: They visited other restaurants. At Jackrabbit Filly, slated to open this fall in North Charleston’s Park Circle neighborhood and named for their Chinese zodiac signs, the couple will serve food that’s grounded in Shuai’s Chinese heritage and embracing of Southern ingredients. To prepare for it, they’ve learned from their friends and peers from their hometown all the way to Tokyo. We asked them to share some of the highlights.
How’d the two of you meet?
Corrie Wang [CW]: We met in traditional kitchen style. Shuai was [chef de cuisine] at a restaurant in the West Village, and I was a server. We had this little spark right from the beginning. It became a whole staff thing too—he would even get tickets that said “Shuai and Corrie sitting in a tree…” Pretty soon I took a job at a different restaurant!
What brought you to Charleston?
Shuai Wang [SW]: Mainly me. I was raised in Queens, New York. And I went to culinary school in New York. The first half of my career was in New York. And toward the end, I was so overworked. Our friend who was opening a restaurant in Mount Pleasant had mentioned he might need some help. So we came down to visit and fell in love with the city.
There must have been some challenges.
SW: I didn’t drive in New York at all—there’s no reason to. I learned to drive when I came down to Charleston. So right away I was driving a Toyota Tundra with a seventeen-foot trailer behind me.
CW: I really wanted to be the kind of woman who drove her own food truck, but I had no patience for it.
How did you know it was time for a brick and mortar?
SW: Our initial plan was to open a brick and mortar right off the bat. But we didn’t know where, and we didn’t have the money. So we started the truck and were having so much fun. But during the second year, we started looking again. We were both getting a little tired of working out of the truck—I felt like a lunch lady sometimes.
Tell us about the food at Jackrabbit Filly.
SW: I’ve started to turn away a bit from the Japanese-inspired cooking [of Short Grain] to what I grew up eating, what my mom and my grandma cooked for me. Over the past years we’ve also been traveling all around, so it will be a melting pot of ingredients and flavors. And we still want to celebrate everything that’s local here, keeping it as sustainable as possible.
CW: That’s the long answer! The way I’ve started looking at it is it’s just Shuai’s food.
What vibe are you going for?
CW: I think the places we find ourselves the most comfortable in are more on the casual side; they don’t take themselves too seriously. The mom-and-pop places where you get that “regulars” vibe. We don’t want to make a place where you feel like you need to dress up to walk into.
SW: When you come to our restaurant, you should feel like you’re coming to our house for dinner.
Queens, New York
Not only does this Flushing Cantonese restaurant serve the best dim sum in New York City, according to the couple, “it’s the best Chinese food we’ve had outside of China and Shuai’s mom’s home cooking,” Corrie says. Arrive to beat the crowds and take your pick of bamboo baskets filled with steamed dumplings, bao buns, and more, all served from roving carts.
Charleston, South Carolina
Recognized as one of the restaurants that helped transform Charleston’s dining scene in the early aughts, FIG is a standard bearer that the Wangs admire for its consistency in churning out impeccable plates. The hyper-seasonal menu changes daily, save for one item: the ricotta gnocchi.
Asheville, North Carolina
Like Shuai, Meherwan Irani—the chef behind Indian street food-centric Chai Pani (and Atlanta sister concept Botiwalla)—celebrates the food traditions of his homeland while simultaneously embracing the South. An order of crispy-thin okra fries is always a good way to start a meal here.
Davidson, North Carolina
This charming small-town spot is beloved for its milk bread; the warm tin pans of pull-apart loaf are the first thing to grace your table. For Shuai and Corrie, Kindred’s hospitality and service place it in a league of its own. “The meal was stunning start to finish, yet they sent us home with a thank you card. (And extra milk bread),” she says.
Brooklyn, New York
“The menu is creative and delicious and the atmosphere feels like a party,” says Corrie of Maison Yaki. (That might have something to do with the on-tap cocktails, each a twist on a classic. There’s a sake negroni, tarragon margarita, and yuzu gin and tonic, to name a few.)
Charleston, South Carolina
In a red-hot food city with enough openings and closings to induce whiplash, Bertha’s is a still point of the turning restaurant world. The bright blue soul food institution has been plating up pork chops, fried chicken, lima beans, and cornbread since 1981. It’s a local staple for the couple, and Corrie says it’s taught them some important business lessons: “Keep it simple. Make delicious food that’s close to your heart, and keep it affordable.”
State Bird Provisions
Untraditional dim sum is the name of the game at the hip State Bird Provisions, where Stuart Brioza spins staples modern (guinea hen dumplings in broth, heart of palm spring roll with pistachios). Perched atop bar seats, he and Corrie had the chance to watch the kitchen at work. “Figuring out how we’re going to do dim sum in a tiny restaurant space gives us even more admiration for people who have figured out how to do it,” Corrie says.
This postage stamp of a bistro took Shuai back to his culinary training in classic French techniques. The plates are small like the space—“three bites at most,” he says—but big in the way of flavor. He and Corrie really dug a toast topped with ’nduja and anchovies and fiddlehead ferns sautéed in white wine butter sauce. “Everything is really simple, but so delicious.”
Stems & Skins
North Charleston, South Carolina
“This is what a power couple can do,” says Corrie. Helmed by Angie and Matt Tunstall—partners in Jackrabbit Filly—Stems & Skins has brought tapas and a killer wine list to Park Circle, she says. “Before you know it, you’re as obsessed with vermouth and sherry as they are.”
Tokyo and New York City
The couple had their minds blown by the Tokyo location of this popular Japanese ramen chain. (Its second stateside branch opened in NYC last year.) The experience is whimsically automated with a system of order forms and cubicle-like solo dining booths—perfect for slurping in solitude. “It’s the best ramen I’ve ever had,” says Shuai.
Xiao Bao Biscuit
Charleston, South Carolina
A hometown favorite for Shuai and Corrie, Xiao Bao serves pan-Asian plates with punched-up flavor from a former downtown service station. A few must-orders: the okonomiyaki (bonus points for adding a fried egg and pork “candy”); fish curry with flaky roti; and, for the heat fanatics, the mapo dou fu.
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