One of Charleston’s most crowd-friendly restaurants is switching up its game,
bringing in new players and planting inspiration just steps away from King Street.
There are countless reasons to love living in the Lowcountry, but one of the most rewarding is its long growing season, allowing for green thumbs to harvest a backyard bounty every month of the year. At Basic Kitchen Downtown Charleston, the team takes advantage of South Carolina’s plentiful produce, nourishing and inspiring all who enter.
Since the Basic Kitchen team overhauled the old Andolini’s Pizza building on Wentworth Street downtown and opened their venture in late 2017, Basic Kitchen has been a jewel in the downtown restaurant landscape, and a favorite of foodies everywhere. On any given night, a veritable who’s who of Charleston residents and out-of-town visitors can be found in the swanky space, sipping creative cocktails and sampling dishes from an ever-evolving menu. Conceived by entrepreneurs Kate and Ben Towill, the restaurant is a multi-sensory culmination of their travels, and brings together her experience in movie and television set design and his experience opening popular New York City restaurants including The Fat Radish, Ruschmeyers, The Leadbelly, and The East Pole. The result is a bright, airy restaurant unlike any other found in the Deep South; brimming with healthy options while not feeling at all like a typical healthy restaurant, Basic Kitchen is simply a delight.
Last year, Basic Kitchen experienced a bit of a refresh, becoming incorporated under The Fat Radish banner and gaining the expertise of Fat Radish partners such as Natalie Freihon. Executive Chef of the New York City restaurant, Nicholas Wilber, also joined the team down South, bringing with him well over a decade of experience in renowned restaurants all over the world. The chef’s outside perspective benefits diners in at least two ways: Wilber has a strong and palpable appreciation for the traditional dishes of the South, and he is skilled and experienced enough to present them in novel ways.
“Our motto here at Basic Kitchen is ‘cleaner food, longer adventures,’” explains Wilber. “I like to think of it as during the day, during our lunch service, we offer the clean fuel, and in the evening, during our dinner service, we share what we brought back from our adventures, both locally and globally. With that, we have a whole new dinner menu that features a lot of southern-inspired, international elements and an amazing wine list to accompany it.”
With the refresh came an overhaul of the menu, expanding the options for diners of any dietary persuasion: whether you are a vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, carnivore, eat gluten-free, or anywhere in between, there is something for you on the menu at Basic Kitchen. A solid cocktail menu accompanies the selections, and the dessert options never disappoint. The most notable change, however, came from a collaboration with Rita’s Roots Backyard Harvest, who installed four 4×5 raised beds in the restaurant’s courtyard dining space, as well as fruit trees in planters around the outdoor gathering area, and assisted the team in learning how to maintain and cultivate their own crops for use in the kitchen.
“Having the gardens on site empowers the cooks in the kitchen to get creative and be inspired,” says Natalie Freihon. “It also creates this ambiance where guests interact with the ingredients that make up their meals on a different level. Working with Rita’s Roots, as well as other local growers such as Fresh Future Farm, enables us to provide really fresh seasonal dishes while supporting our community and supporting our environment. That’s what our core values are all about.”
Rita Bachmann, owner of Rita’s Roots, is thrilled to be a part of the endeavor. “It is such a wonderful thing to connect the growing process of the produce with what is happening in the kitchen,” she says. “It is something really special that is beneficial for the chefs, the menu, the customers—really, for everyone!”
For Chef Nick Wilber, the opportunity to be inspired by his new home is one he approaches with respect and care. As he gathers greens for the night’s dinner service, he offers a word of advice for home cooks looking to branch out.
“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect,” Wilber suggests. “Go to a farmer’s market, get a couple of things you’re familiar with, and then choose something that is unfamiliar. Then, Google is your best friend. You may make mistakes as you’re learning, but if you have fun with it, that’s all that matters.”
by JANA RILEY photos by STEVEN FREIHON & DOTTIE AND WILL RIZZO