Just Another Burger? HoM Don’t Play That
on Tuesday, 24 April 2012. Posted in Magazine, LOCAL Bites, Restaurant Spotlight
Happy chefs love to bring it
563 King Street, Downtown Charleston
By Patrick Graham
As all foodies know, a chef’s path on the road to becoming the general of the back of the house takes a little while: culinary school, externships, staging, making one’s way up the ladder working various stations in the kitchen, to sous chef, and then taking the reins as executive chef. And that’s the Reader’s Digest version. My point is that once you get to the top of the mountain, the view can be nice, but it’s not always what is regarded as true happiness. I met Shay MacDonald when he was his brother’s sous chef at one of Kiawah’s many multi-diamond locations. The resort is very nice, but very corporate, which is to say that creativity can be limited by product availability, food cost, and, ultimately, the will of the patrons on the property.
Every chef worth his or her salt dreams to be free of as many of the restrictions that hamper the originality and inspiration that becomes the motivation to show up to work every day. Shay eventually got to hold those aforementioned reins, but the horse they were attached to was, at times, fickle, jaded, stubborn, and content to stay literally on the beaten path. When he had a chance to get together with some like-minded friends that were tired of the corporate slog, the result is a psychological flick of the switch. “I’m having more fun now than I’ve ever had,” he says with a type of gleeful expression that is only fully understood if you have been at this profession for more than just a little while. Now, if you hear this from a 22-year-old line cook who’s still sweating off last night’s multiple GrandMa binge, that’s one thing. When you find a chef who is two decades in having a lot of fun at work, you must run in that direction with all due speed to take part in that happiness.
I had been relishing the idea of heading for HoM on King Street for some time now. Knowing that the reviews that you hear from your friends are obviously more personally relevant than ones you read, I put a lot of stock in the good things I had heard about this gourmet burger joint. As a bonus, the reviews I read were very encouraging as well. Loosely applied, the “hole in the wall” expression fits for this location, with the bar and the seating in front, and the famous ping-pong tables in the back. In a sense, the etiquette of the ping-pong tables reflects the attitude of the entire operation: fun, yet professional. Players bring their own paddles. Competition is taken seriously, but not smash-the-table type seriously. A sign reads, “We Love Beer. We love Pong. We Do Not Love Beer Pong.” Get the picture? No children, please.
My wife and I were greeted with much enthusiasm upon arrival, and it having been a Monday at five o’ clock, we had our run of the floor; naturally, she got the booth seat. Two stunning things happened. One, my wife found a beer she liked, ApriHop from Dogfish Head. Hallelujah! Two, I finally found the revamped Schlitz in a can. If you don’t know the story, Schlitz went back to the future, dusting off the old-school formula to make “the beer that made Milwaukee famous” again. More on that later.
My precognition of a gourmet burger menu was that of some cute presentations of a nice patty that would understandably put your best backyard grilling expertise to a test. I couldn’t have been more wrong. These were badass plates that put my so-called expertise not to a test, but to shame. These masses of meat, made with brisket, beef short rib, and ground chuck, had names like…wait, what? Yes, brisket, beef short rib, and ground chuck…anyway, had names like Godzilla and HoM Wrecker? These two featured arugula pesto-goat cheese-smoked onion slaw, and bacon-jack cheese-fried egg-green tomato chutney, respectively. That’s just two of them.
After our heads stopped spinning, my wife and I took some advice. She got the Bistro Burger with truffle mustard-dressed bacon salad with bacon butter. She sounded like Austin Powers: “Bacon? Yes, please.” I went the route of the specialty Hurricane burger. If the next storm of potential mass destruction here on the Carolina coast has goat cheese and duck confit in the middle, I won’t be evacuating. Of particular interest were the shoestring hand cut fries. The sides of creole tartar sauce and green goddess aioli were no-brainers.
Back to the Schlitz. I ordered it because I wanted to experience it in its original greatness. Paired with the burger, I realized this was the “bohemian style beer” Andy Dufresne ordered up when they were tarring the roof in The Shawshank Redemption. It was a quasi-religious experience. I’m a big fan of beer, but I’m a bigger fan of less expensive beers that represent themselves well when I get my grub on. I’m still trying to figure out where they found this stuff.
Towards the end, there was another potential gastronomical assault from the dessert list, the HoM made Ice Cream Sammie, this time with Bananas Foster ice cream. Please stop. I came in wanting a solid burger and fries. We left, having all of my expectations thoroughly exceeded, humbly waving a white napkin of surrender. I thought about working it all off by playing a lot of brisk games of ping-pong.
I was reminded that the staff would like to go home before four the next morning.