T he team behind Chasing Sage was ready to open its shared plates, seasonal-focused downtown Charleston restaurant in March 2020, but the COVID-19 outbreak caused them to press pause before coming up with a new way to introduce their cuisine to Charleston.
“We were all set to open. We were all-systems-go. We had hired our entire staff and developed our opening menu,” said co-owner Walter Edward. “And then, February and March happened.”
The four-person squad at 267 Rutledge Ave. is made of Walter (chef/co-owner), his wife Cindy (pastry chef/co-owner), Forrest Brunton (chef/co-owner) and general manager Maxfield Clarke, who together brainstormed a way to pivot during Chasing Sage’s quarantine.
They landed on a concept they dubbed “Chasing Sage pop-ups,” an evolving takeout-only program that would swap cuisines and menus every two weeks.
“We wanted to make sure we didn’t take what we wanted to do and dreamed of and do it halfway,” said Walter, describing what sets the pop-up offering apart from what they consider quintessential “Chasing Sage cuisine.”
“I think so much of it comes from what we crave and what we’re hungry for. What’s approachable, fun, delicious, and would make us happy right now. That’s quarantine food.”
The inaugural pop-up — called “We Got Seoul” — was inspired by a surprise Korean barbecue birthday party for Cindy during quarantine.
“We were like, ‘Wow, this is amazing, I wish this food was out there,’” Walter said. Chasing Sage served Korean barbecue for two weeks before moving on to its next two themes — a French bistro concept aptly named “So You Think You Can France,”’ and a Moroccan concept called “Moroccan on Heaven’s Door.”
The punny names didn’t stop there — after Moroccan, they moved on to Thai street food (Life’s a B!tch and Then You Thai), German (Prepare for the Wurst) and Peruvian (Much Peru About Nothing). With each pop-up, Walter and Brunton made everything in-house, forcing them to seek out unique ingredients, which made prep work very involved for the quick, two-week concept.
The week before Thanksgiving, Walter and Brunton had to come up with a concept that would only last one week instead of two before the holidays.
“We thought, ‘What could we do quickly, wouldn’t take too much testing, that we really enjoy,’” recalled Walter.
The team hopped on the ramen bandwagon with a pop-up called “Everybody Loves Ramen” that’s still going on six months later.
“Ramen was successful to the point that we decided to keep going with it after Thanksgiving, and it’s been this continued wave,” Walter said.
“Originally we said that no matter how successful the individual pop-ups were, we were going to change every two-to-three weeks no matter what, and ramen ended up changing our minds,” Brunton added.
Instead of asking “What’s next?” diners who try Chasing Sage’s ramen keep coming back for more. The menu is small, but packs a punch.
“The pork ramen is a super rich, creamy tonkotsu broth and the veggie ramen has a mushroom-y, earthy flavor,” Brunton said.
The menu is designed so that two-to-three people can try everything. In addition to ramen, Chasing Sage serves rotating side dishes like karaage (gluten-free Japanese fried chicken) and a sunomono salad, featuring Persian cucumber, avocado, sesame, togarashi pepper and rice vinegar.
The restaurant serves beer, wine and house-made Japanese-style sodas. For dessert, try Cindy’s macarons or a chewy mochi doughnut.
“They’re totally gluten-free and made from rice flour. They’re a leavened sweet dough, then fried and glazed. It’s got this fun, chewy texture to it,” Walter said.
Diners can take their ramen to-go or enjoy it on Chasing Sage’s sidewalk tables. “You’ll definitely get some socially distanced conversation from us. We get very excited when people are sitting outside,” Cindy said. “There’s a few more beverages if you dine in with us than if you’re taking it to-go. Only the tables get the QR code menu, and they have the secret drink menu.”
The team still uses the phrase “When we open …” because Chasing Sage and “Chasing Sage pop-ups” are two completely different concepts,” Walter said.
“Chasing Sage, the ingredients define the dishes, whereas Chasing Sage pop-ups, we’re coming up with the dishes then searching out the ingredients for them,” he said.
“It’s just the four of us here, and we love what we do. We are continually inspired to cook and eat and try to make people happy,” Walter added. “We’re excited to be part of the Charleston community, both restaurant and beyond. We didn’t open Chasing Sage because it wasn’t the right time and it wasn’t what the world needed right now. We really hope that’s what Chasing Sage pop-ups is.”
Chasing Sage is serving ramen for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday from 12-1:30 p.m. and 4:30-8:30 p.m. Stop in on Saturday for Sushi Saturday courtesy of Clark, who is a trained sushi chef.