Cloning is not necessarily a bad thing. Case in point: Sesame Burgers, Home Team BBQ, Caviar & Bananas, Five Loaves Café. All those restaurants were excellent enough to merit more than one location. When the concept is good, the more the merrier.
Those of you already familiar with the Mt. Pleasant craft brew and burger haven Coleman Public House will recognize the menu at the newly opened Maybank Public House on James Island. It’s identical. The same folks who lured diners east of the Cooper with 100 percent fresh-ground Angus patties, addictive rosemary popcorn, tender baby back ribs, and 18 rotating taps have duplicated their popular formula west of the Ashley. Yet despite the similarities in cuisine, Maybank Public House has a vibe all its own.
Open three months, Maybank Public House is already a neighborhood joint, adopting James Island’s signature laid-back, unpretentious rhythm. Servers greet regulars by name. Charleston Municipal Golf Course golfers take a break from the links for a bite. Salesmen hash out deals in the taproom. On-leash dogs enjoy water bowls on the outside deck where, in warmer weather, customers sip sweet tea, nosh on creative flatbreads, or gobble up whole-kernel corn hush puppies sprinkled with fresh chunks of blue crab. Theatergoers at the nearby Terrace pop in for pre- or post-film drinks or meals.
Wide doors lead from the small outdoor patio into a spacious taproom, but for those avoiding the bar, the separate dining room is the ticket. There, walls with mismatched boards of weathered wood set a rustic vibe, accented with large-scale photographic prints of the Folly Pier and Morris Island Lighthouse. Mysterious numbers stenciled on the rear wall give diners something to decipher while waiting for food (spoiler alert: the numbers approximate the latitude and longitude for James Island).
Earlier this summer, shortly after the former Mustard Seed space was stripped down to its studs to clear the slate for a redesign, local James Island craftsman Ryan Mckiernan of RHM Woodworking waltzed in and offered his services. Mckiernan studded the dining rooms walls with distressed planks salvaged from an Upstate barn, crafted the long bar and hightop tables in the taproom, and varnished a massive slab of center-cut African bubinga redwood for use as a community table near the front door. No wonder the space feels organic to James Island; the woodworker lives in Riverland Terrace.
On any given day, servers swing through kitchen doors with large plates of fish and chips ($10.95), consisting of succulent haddock encased in a golden beer batter and fried to a crisp then served with delicious house-cut, skin-on fries. The fries, if requested, can be pimped up with garlic or infused with truffle oil and sprinkled with grated parmesan, which melts and clings to the oily spuds. But even without the garnishes, the unadorned fries are the bomb. Burgers ($9.95-$11.95) come stacked with a myriad of toppings, including roasted mushrooms, hatch green chiles, house-made pimento cheese, pecan-smoked bacon, or goat cheese. Ale-steamed clams ($12.95) swim alongside crumbled chorizo, strips of onion, and bell pepper in a garlic-studded broth that you can sop up with buttery toasted baguettes smeared with neon saffron aioli.
Maybank Public House aims to please many different palates. In fact, the wide swath of dishes can be a little overwhelming to first-timers: soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, flatbreads, tacos, snacks, dips, apps, desserts, and seasonal pies. The savory bowl of shrimp and grits ($12.95) is a good bet for either weekend brunch or daily lunch, especially in the recent cold weather snap. Sizeable local shrimp share center stage with andouille sausage on a bed of toothsome stone-ground yellow grits ladled with a smooth bourbon cream sauce.
The egg-studded weekend brunch menu mixes it up with indulgent buttermilk chicken biscuits (two for $9.95), a perfectly simple combo of floury biscuits and crispy-juicy fried chicken (speaking of which, the chicken strips on the kids menu would please a discerning adult). Brunch’s Southern take on eggs benedict ($10.95) tops crunchy thick-slab fried green tomatoes and Black Forest ham with perfectly poached eggs still jiggling from the cooker. If it’s greens you’re craving, try the beet salad ($8.95), whose sliced roasted beets flank a nest of arugula and which is bookended by two orbs of pecan-encrusted warm goat cheese.
The consistency between Coleman Public House and Maybank Public House is not surprising when you learn that sous chefs Tim Bassett and Matt Porter both worked at Coleman before helming Maybank’s kitchen. Theirs is the talent behind such dinnertime favorites as the encrusted tuna ($18.95), large hunks of ruby red tuna with basil and cilantro encased in a paper-thin filo pastry, served with dense sticky rice, mild enoki mushrooms, julienned carrots, and some potent little daikon sprout microgreens. They are also the minds behind evening’s super-spicy red curry-rubbed salmon ($17.95) whose coconut milk-based sauce really packs heat — it’s best cooled by a forkful of fluffy rice laced with fresh lemongrass and ginger. Even the humble chicken is tasty ($15.95), its shatteringly crispy skin slathered with a velvety porcini umami cream sauce, served over toasted orzo, roasted tomatoes, and wilted baby spinach.
Clearly this public house offers far more than bar snacks. Yet the brews themselves, a major component of Coleman’s success, are equally appealing here. Beer geeks will be happy to hear that despite some mainstays (like Bavarian-brewed Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen, Founders Session IPA, or Left Hand Brewing’s silky Hard Wired Nitro Coffee Porter), taps at Maybank Public House are not identical to those at Coleman. So you can hop between the two locales for double the options. Belly up to Coleman’s bar for Revelry’s bonfire-reminiscent Smoke Show rauchbier or head to Maybank for Belgian-brewed farmhouse ale Saison Dupont. Constantly rotating taps keep the chalkboards busy at both establishments with local and domestic craft beers, Belgian, German, and seasonal macrobrews. The bartenders are also more than happy to dole out small pours to help you decide.
With its late-night hours, proximity to a popular movie theater, large parking lot (though it does manage to fill up), friendly lunches, and comforting brunches, Maybank Public House already packs in crowds. Even better is the rear biergarten currently under construction, and due to go live in late March. The dog-friendly back deck tucks the action away from heavily trafficked Maybank Highway.
I imagine those who frequent the nearby Plaza Laundromat are thanking their lucky stars. Doing laundry just got a lot more fun.