An elderly, lifelong mango farmer once told me a joke: A farmer wins a million dollars in the lottery. His friends all ask, “What are you going to do with the money?” The farmer considers this for a minute and replies, “Farm with it until it’s gone, of course.”
Simply put, farming is hard. And expensive. And maybe even inadvisable. Yet everything about Herd Provisions makes it seem not only easy … but enviable.
The hyper-farm-to-table bistro and butcher shop is (per their website) “owner Alec Bradford’s lifelong dedication to humanely raising heritage Ancient White Park cattle, hogs and poultry.” Stated plainly, the meat served by the restaurant has been raised on the owner’s Virginia farm, Leaping Waters (LWF). Meanwhile, just about everything else — from fruits and veggies to the beans, breads, and desserts — are locally sourced.
Occupying a bright, modern new building on Grove Street, the restaurant’s entrance is actually a butcher shop. After walking past the beef, pork, and poultry-filled display in front, there’s a glass-encased meat locker filled with hanging carcasses. Despite the potentially gruesome start to the experience and the fact that “herd” is in the name, the menu features a number of thoughtful vegan and vegetarian options, such as the roasted cauliflower ($17) and roasted delicata squash ($17) entrees.
Similarly, the fritto misto ($8) is the stuff of a veg-lover’s dreams, with cauliflower, zucchini, butternut squash, and maitake mushrooms coated in a super light, crispy crust. Paired with a vibrant lemon aioli and dusted with lemon zest, it’s at once totally addictive and a gentle reminder that there is still good in the world.
The carne cruda ($14) made with LWF top round is less successful. Explained by the warmly attentive and well-informed waitress as a “replacement for the carpaccio because watercress is out of season,” the cruda is served topped with a dusting of fresh horseradish and accompanied by grilled slices of Tiller bread. The cubes of top round are tossed with buttery pine nuts and a lemon-heavy chimichurri that seems to have denatured the meat, ceviche style. As a result, some pieces are incredibly chewy, and all feature a drab gray hue reminiscent of cooked eggplant.
On the opposite end of the color spectrum, the rainbow carrots ($8) are an unexpected showstopper. Truthfully, I don’t like cooked carrots, except now apparently I do. Served in a small cast iron pan, the slightly salty, al dente root vegetables are topped with chopped pistachios, fresh parsley, and bitter celery leaves. In contrast, the ring of honey-sweetened mascarpone cheese surrounding the colorful stack is nothing short of sublime. Light, but decadent, getting your daily allotment of beta carotene has never been more enjoyable.
For those more inclined to sink their teeth into some heritage swine, the pork confit ($24) has got what you need. Nuggets of fork-tender meat are submerged in a rich, bell pepper-based peperonata sauce and complemented by toothy Sea Island red peas. Topped with red jalapeño slices, frisée, and basil and cilantro leaves, the overall flavors come across as more Sichuan or Thai-influenced than the obvious Italian intentions. Gratifying regardless, just be sure not to spill any of the sauce on your ecru pants, as the stain will resist even advanced efforts to eradicate it, six hours soaking in a bucket of OxyClean be damned.
Meanwhile, it seemed improper to visit a butcher/farmer establishment and not sample the Ancient White Park cattle, so the LWF steak of the day, a bavette ($30), was called off the bench. Delicately seasoned, the juicy sirloin is served sliced and cooked perfectly as ordered, allowing the subtle flavors of the grass-fed meat to shine through. While the rich and creamy potato puree is enough to inspire light moaning, it’s upstaged by two thick, ripe slices of heirloom tomato, lightly enhanced with salt, olive oil, and three tiny basil leaves each.
A straightforward celebration of quality ingredients prepared with care, Herd Provisions is a welcome new addition that puts the farm in farm-to-table. While a future in husbandry probably isn’t for everyone, a satisfying dinner here most certainly should be. Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
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