Central Grille
American/Eclectic – Casual
Entrées: $10-$15
Lunch and Dinner, Mon.-Sat.
114 Central Ave.

You have to hand it to the citizens of Dorchester County. Even if they regularly make the front page for inadequately funding their schools amid astronomical growth, Summerville has actively engaged the downtown revitalization trend, transforming the end of Central Street, now called “short” Central by the local townsfolk, into a lavishly appointed pedestrian mall with a quasi-Irish pub, a few bric-a-brac shops, and a promising new bistro, among other offerings.

Central Grille fits well into these surroundings. The restaurant reflects the same relaxed, carefree demeanor of the idyllic streetscape. It is not terribly interesting or innovative, the hit-and-miss menu sprawling like the town itself across a diverse collection of themes, but it reflects the people it serves and it does so in fine fashion. The bright spots outshine the shortcomings, and Summerville should consider itself lucky to add such an establishment to its new “downtown.”

The interior of the space reflects a cool modern palate, something not often found in the ornately Victorian sensibilities of the area. Cold tile and an icy wall of glass blocks set off the white tablecloths and wooden seats in the small dining area, exuding a comfortable, relaxing vibe. Fresh flowers spill from stainless steel vases at each table. The menu is no less inviting, working through a tremendous range of styles and preparations, enough to satisfy even the largest group of persnickety diners. In downtown Charleston, this might be detracting, but with the lack of diverse offerings in the Summerville area, perhaps a “catch-all” approach allows creative exploration while still paying the bills.

The $7 appetizer menu fills the space with mountains of crispy black-eyed pea fritters, fried plantains, and deep-fried coconut shrimp. The corn fritters, a delicious kernel-filled take on the hushpuppy, come served with a delicious Cajun remoulade, which offsets the cornmeal crunch. Baked brie is less satisfying, a clumpy, poorly melted amalgamation sporting an uninspired pool of sugar, walnuts, and bourbon. It is difficult to get a chunk of it on the supplied Carr crackers or slices of Granny Smith apple, and victory presents an underwhelming result. The avocado soup special should perhaps replace it. A smooth, sexy blend of avocado and cream coats the tongue with a demure, sultry elegance, only later revealing the pungent scream of green chilis cutting through the richness of the cream.

One of the more interesting starters, the Caribbean Jerk-marinated grilled chicken, sounds innocuous enough but reveals a weird, if strangely engaging blend of texture, temperature, and flavor. Perfectly cooked, spicy chicken tenders come steaming and perched atop a tepid bed of noodles, cool and spicy with the sharpness of wasabi and coconut cream. It juxtaposes the elements of flavor well, even if presenting somewhat ordinary and simple ingredients like chicken tenders.

Entrées deliver good quality at a reasonable price. The obligatory shrimp and grits offering ($14) creatively pairs shrimp, tasso ham, spinach, and tomatoes into a nontraditional mélange of parmesan gravy that successfully exhibits a nouveau take on the regional stalwart. The grits are top-notch and stone-ground, exhibiting good texture, and the shrimp not overcooked, as so often is the case. Equally satisfying, the “Gorgonzola and Green Onion crusted Ribeye” ($18) is a nice piece of meat, so tender and juicy that perhaps the crusty covering adds too little to be justified. It comes saddled between a huge portion of mashed potatoes (which we found overloaded in the salt department) and a lackluster roasted garlic “demi,” which I assume means “demi-glace,” but bore little resemblance to a stock reduction. I scraped the crust off of the steak, added a bit of seasoning, and enjoyed a delicious slab of well prepared, perfectly rare meat, confirming that Central Grille is an affordable, convenient, and pretty tasty combination in downtown Summerville. With a little experience and modification it might become an even better addition to the Short Central area.

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