"Like I said, we're really sorry, but there's not much we can do for you," says a stout man with a handlebar mustache protruding nearly an inch outside both sides of his face. He did seem genuine.
Just a few minutes earlier we were beyond thrilled that a trip to the Carolinas would provide the food experience of a lifetime. But a roadblock was pitched right infront of the Charleston favorite, Husk Restaurant.
It was Memorial Day Weekend and reservations were completely booked. Walk-ins were accommodated outside on the front porch and scattered about a few other tables, and we were told we'd be seated.
And then we were told we would not.
View of Husk from Queen Street.
The frustration boiled as we were essentially turned down from renowned chef Sean Brock's establishment. The manager said he could add us to the list, and a table should free up by 10:15 p.m. It was 7 p.m. when we walked up to the hostess counter.
Ready to give up, one of the guests in our party of three said, "Why should they care? We're three nobodies. They're completely booked, and the wait is over three hours. The restaurant's life will go on if we don't get seated."
He had a point. But then it occurred to us that, while Husk would've managed just fine without three nobodies dining that night, this is the service industry -- and in the service industry, you do what you must to make the customer happy.
After the apologetic manager nearly gave up on us, he considered that we were misinformed when we called ahead and spoke to a hostess by phone. "Why don't you have a seat at our bar, have a couple cocktails, and we'll get you in as soon as we can?"
"At 10:15 p.m.?" we asked. "It won't be three hours," he said.
At the adjacent bar, we nibbled on a cheese plate, sipped a Woodford Reserve on the rocks, and waited anxiously. For an hour and a half. As an apology for the ordeal, the waitress brought us a block of house-cured ham.
At 9:30 p.m., grumbling bellies and anxiety took the back seat. Our table on the upstairs patio opened up, and we sat down to one of the best meals any of us had ever had.
Heritage pork with a tomato broth and kale ($30); Texas wagyu sirloin with pole beans ($30); Pheasant with yellow squash ($28); Spring lettuces with crispy chicken skins ($12); Caper's Blade oysters ($15); skillet cornbread with honey bacon butter ($7); Buttermilk custard ($6); Mint chocolate parfait ($5). The offerings were lightyears above what we're accustomed to eating in Miami. But our praise for the food isn't necessary (obvious, given its reputation, and absolutely merited, but certainly not necessary from us). And while the food stood out, it was Husk's service that stole the show that night, especially after a chaotic misunderstanding.
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It may very well have been a shot of Southern hospitality. Perhaps if the same incident happened here, a guest would be turned away and not even given a second thought. But in Charleston, we were given a second thought. Maybe Husk just employs people with a genuine desire to please its paying customers. Miami can learn from that.
Follow Alex on Twitter @ARodWrites.