Some scoff that Cannonborough-Elliotborough is more of a trendy enclave feeding off the Upper King madness than a standout among Charleston’s dining neighborhoods, or that everything west of Coming Street closes too early. But the pop-up dinner series at Elliotborough Mini Bar wants to change that — and help the neighborhood boast that it has a culinary lab for working chefs, a place where line cooks and catering journeymen can produce menus that reflect their own creativity and choice of ingredients.
On a recent Tuesday, Chef BJ Dennis offered comfort food with a hint of his Gullah heritage. Jalapeño cheddar grilled cheese, kale salad with creamy herb dressing, and cream of turnip soup comprised the $12 menu. The star of the meal was the turnip soup. Thick, creamy and slightly earthy, it was topped with a pesto of turnip greens and peanuts.
“Mini Bar feels like someone’s home when you walk in the door,” says Dennis. “The pop-ups allow you to socially interact with the customers, not just cook for them.”
Customer feedback is often more lucrative to chefs than the dinners themselves, which are typically priced between $15 and $30. The small space on the corner of Bogard and Percy streets demands that chefs prep their meals offsite, yet the logistical challenge hasn’t scared off potential collaborators.
Owner Anna Faenza has been hosting guest chefs at Elliotborough Mini Bar since July 2012. “I love the concept of bringing small businesses, entrepreneurs, and the arts together in one place,” says Faenza. “We have live music every Tuesday, and there is always art adorning the walls by some local artist.”
Past events have featured 82 Queen chef de cuisine Jacob Shor, RiverDogs food and beverage director John Schumacher, and Closed For Business executive chefs Tito Marino and Leila Schardt. The spontaneous nature of the dinners has made social media a major factor in getting the word out. “Chefs make their own menu, and we try to post it on Facebook and email it a few days before the event,” says Faenza.
They also recently hosted The Ciao Hounds, an Italophile food blogging couple that includes Wild Olive line cook Steve Seguin and wine distributor Lara Camozzo. Elliotborough Mini Bar has also planned a special dinner for the Friday night of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, bringing together Chef Alex Lira of The Lot and cookbook author Mark Andrew Gravel (Kill the Recipe) for a charcuterie-focused meal. While the menu and price have not yet been announced, chances are it will be more affordable than the $175 dine-arounds taking place at the festival.
But the culinary interests of Elliotborough Mini Bar, which serves beer and wine only, goes beyond the occasional pop-up dinner. The bar boasts a multi-roaster coffee program and eventually hopes to merge their coffee prowess and penchant for guest chef events into a ticketed Saturday brunch. They also host larger participatory events, like the upcoming Jerky Off, in which local chefs and home cooks are invited to battle it out with their best version of the venerated beef jerky snack.
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