Steve Palmer walked by the corner building at 1 Broad St. for years and thought, “That building wants to be a French brasserie.” This summer, that vision will come to fruition when Indigo Road Hospitality Group, where he’s the managing partner, opens its newest restaurant, Brasserie la Banque.
The name itself is a nod to the building’s rich history. Originally built in 1853, the structure once housed the State Bank of South Carolina. Over the next 145 years, 1 Broad St. mainly served as a bank. The building remained vacant for almost eight years after Carolina First, now TD Bank, moved out of the space in 2006.
After a renovation by the current owner, the building was converted into a restaurant in 2017 known as One Broad, operating until the eatery announced plans to permanently close in 2020.
“For the longest time, the building sat empty, and I would walk by and think, ‘This building reminds me so much of Paris,’” said Palmer. “And when I heard it was going to be available again, I just knew it needed to be a brasserie.”
Once the plan was in motion, Palmer got executive chef Jeb Aldrich on board. Aldrich, who attended culinary school in Charleston and launched his career at Peninsula Grill in 2001, was previously working for Indigo Road at Tiny Lou’s in Atlanta, looking for a reason to come back to Charleston.
“I went to Johnson & Wales here,” said Aldrich, “I started my career here, so to come back and open a restaurant is full circle for me.”
Aldrich is classically trained in French cuisine, having worked under James Beard award-winning chef Joël Antunes in Atlanta, so he’s familiar with the structure of French cuisine and brigade-style cooking. But, a brasserie is meant to be a casual setting, so Palmer and Aldrich hope to incorporate a more laid-back kitchen environment alongside the regimented structure.
“A brasserie, to me, feels good all the time,” explained Palmer. “You can go in for a late lunch at 2:30. You can go in for a proper dinner. You can show up at 11 p.m. and have a drink. It’s just one of those restaurants that you feel like it’s always the right time to go to.”
La Banque is serving lunch, happy hour, dinner and late-night snacks at the basement bar downstairs, formerly occupied by Bakers Bar. The driving idea is a return to approachable French food — not fine dining.
The menu is broken down into five sections: raw bar, hors d’oeuvres, seafood, meat and sides. Aldrich wants to keep the raw bar simple with two oyster options — one from the Northeast and one local — local crab, shrimp cocktail and a mini lobster roll. Similar to a ceviche, yellowfin tuna escabeche is a standout item from the raw bar, but Aldrich adds his own twist by using verjus, a kind of fermented grape juice, instead of vinegar.
The happy hour menu from 3-5 p.m. will feature some raw bar items as well as crudites and a traditional French dish of chilled radishes and clarified butter. “It’s a very French thing to do,” Aldrich said.
Hors d’oeuvres selections include a seasonal mushroom tart, beef tartare, sweetbreads and butter-poached lobster, along with duck consomme with foie gras dumplings, beech mushrooms, fennel and pickled apricot.
“Right now, we’re doing a crepe de comte with carrots and pop sorghum,” said Aldrich, “It’s kind of a take on a traditional dish with a little pop of Southern ingredients like sorghum.”
The appetizers will change regularly, but the black cocoa-cured foie gras torchon is slated to stay on the menu indefinitely.
Main dishes are separated by la mer (seafood) and l’abattoir (meat). A local daily catch and bouillabaisse are stars of the seafood section, making use of local ingredients from purveyors like Tarvin Seafood. Whole-roasted loup de mer (seabass), will also appear on the menu.
No brasserie would be complete without steak frittes. To prepare the dish, Angus beef coulotte is cooked in butter for four hours, then seared, blanched and rested before slicing. The dish is topped off with the house-made “sauce du banque.”
“This sauce is inspired by a restaurant in France that only serves steak frites,” Aldrich said. “But we added our own take to it. They use chicken livers; we add foie gras.”
Diners will also discover a poulet rouge dish, one of Palmer’s favorites. Poulet rouge refers to a heritage breed of chicken, which the restaurant is sourcing from Joyce Farms in North Carolina. The dish will be served with vegetables, pomme macaire — a French potato cake — and a dark chicken jus.
Downstairs, the restaurant has a dry-aged duck cooler. In its opening months, Brasserie la Banque will offer an aged Rohan duck confit spring cassoulet, a slow-cooked stew with local lady peas, tomato confit, leeks, pearl onion, pistachio and candied garlic jus.
To cap off your meal, indulge in one of four desserts like profiteroles or a slice of 30-layer crepe cake.
Some mainstays will take up permanent residence on the menu, but otherwise, Aldrich expects to swap out dishes seasonally.
But descend into the basement bar, and you’ll find new menu items on the regular. “That menu will be a little more playful and give the cooks a chance to be creative and have fun with the ingredients,” Aldrich said. The cozy, 30-seat bar will serve five to six late-night dishes, two or three desserts and a meat and cheese plate from 11 p.m.-1 a.m. on weekends.
Former bar manager of The Macintosh, Ian Abriatis, will head up the bar at La Banque, offering his own interpretation of classic French cocktails, some dating back more than 100 years, like the French 75 with chartreuse and the boulevardier.
Overall, Palmer wants the brasserie to exude a comfortable, inviting atmosphere with a touch of elegance.
“You’ll feel like you’re in a pretty place without wondering if you’re underdressed,” he said. “You can pop in and have pâté, cheese, some oysters, and you wouldn’t have thought to make a reservation. It’s just the place that you can always drop by. That’s the essence of a brasserie.”
Note: Currently, the main level of Brasserie la Banque is not yet open, but diners can indulge in cocktails and French dishes in the below-street-level Bar Vaute.