Calhoun Street Tavern, a cozy neighborhood restaurant, is tucked away in The Promenade of Old Town Bluffton. This month I stopped in to get a behind-the-scenes look at what they have to offer. Check it out...
Calhoun Street Tavern (Cal's) just celebrated its one-year anniversary in Bluffton, but co-owners Jon Rinaldi, his brother Joey Rinaldi and James Groetzinger are no strangers to the restaurant biz. Jon, owned local favorite Vineyard 55; James and Joey own Warehouse up in Charleston. So naturally, when the idea for Cal's began to form, Jon called up his brother and middle school best bud, and the rest is history. In fact, the horse racing theme found throughout the restaurant from branding, to food and drinks, to the overall vibe, was sparked by an annual Kentucky Derby party held at Warehouse. When I sat down with James, the marketing guru of the trio, he said his first taste of the restaurant business was as a bus boy at 13. Now, as a co-owner, he has had the opportunity to work closely with their chef to create their incredible menu.
Right Out the Gate:
Cal’s ambiance hits you as soon as you trot in the door. The vibe is “proper Southern tavern,” and its hearty welcoming appeal, accented with comforting rustic accents, warm wood and low lighting all add to the pub “feel,” which doesn’t have to ask twice for you to settle in. The “sporting in the South” theme is entrenched in the Derby accents, including lucky horseshoes on the wall and cleverly designed menus that mimic betting forms. It’s easy to forget just where you are. Cal’s captures it perfectly: A comfortable room where fine spirits are drank, laughs are had and stories are told. A public house for travelers and loCal's, alike. Cold beer, classic cocktails and familiar faces are just the start of it.”
The Triple Crown:
There are three main reasons guests will come back to a restaurant time and again: The food, the staff and the way people feel during their stay. 1) The food: Cal’s Lowcountry-inspired menu offers Southern classics with modern twists and creativity that pair perfectly with Chef Laety’s classically trained, French techniques. Add in some old school tavern, steakhouse and pub flavors from the South and a winning menu is born. My first bite of the chicken and waffles was reassurance that this restaurant is here to run and win. 2) The staff: “This place is a family,” says Chef Laety. From the smiling faces as you walk in, to comradely conversation with the bartender... you’ll be sure to feel a part of it all when you visit. 3) The vibe: Easy and welcoming, with friendly, enveloping warmth is a sure bet Cal's did it right.
The Daily Double:
Craft cocktails...you hear it a lot these days. But Calhoun Street Tavern is taking their mixology game to an exquisite taste bud experience. Based on old popular standards of American cocktails, Cal's has created their very own speakeasy, with a focus on Southern ingredients and preparation. Take The Colonel, for example: Cathead Honeysuckle vodka, Aperol, Crème de Pamplemousse, St-Germain Liqueur, frozen with a sea salt rim. Impressed? You should be. This is just one of their spirited concoctions.
Looking for something a little less concocted? No worries. The tavern comes stocked with an array of regional craft beer, with a focus on local and Charleston. They also feature a carefully selected reserve and boutique wine collection that you won’t find just anywhere. Join them for the happiest of hours, 4-6 p.m. every Tuesday through Saturday.
The Clover Club
You won’t feel out to pasture in the open-air lounge and speakeasy under the stars. In fact, this is the perfect place to sip some Southern small batch bourbon, while enjoying the crisp fall air and clever conversation. The Clover Club is open Wednesday through Sunday and offers a fun-tina environment with lighter cocktail options. Plus, it’s perfect for private parties!
Beating the Odds:
We have heard that behind every successful man is a strong woman. Chef Laety Heissat is no exception, as she is the force behind the chef -driven menu at Calhoun Street Tavern. Originally from Biarritz, France, Laety’s food has international flavor. After cooking for nearly 24 years, Laety has deep-founded flavor influences that jump out of the gate and onto the palate.
In Europe, Laety climbed the elite fine-dining ladder by graduating culinary school and apprenticing at a five-star hotel, under a Michelin Star awarded chef. And it wasn’t easy. Laety was immersed in the battle to be the best, playing in a male-dominated field. “The food world is very tough for a woman. You have to have the right mindset and strong character. There are very few women chefs,” said Laety.
Now her love lies with the line. “I just love being on the line and getting credit for the dish,” she said. Being a head chef is a challenge. It’s more than just cooking; it involves managing the kitchen, balancing menus, staffing, training, sourcing food and more.
I must have gotten on Laety’s good side because she was willing to give up one of her cooking secrets: Herbs de Provence. She explained, “It’s a mix of herbs from Provence and I use it on everything. It’s great for meat, grilling and salsa. I never remember my mom cooking without it.”
Customers keep coming back for more!
Appetizer: Pepper Jelly & Goat Cheese, a hushpuppy corn waffle paired with homemade pepper jelly, goat cheese and rosemary.
Entree: Flat Iron Steak (pictured on the far left), served with tavern potatoes, creamed collard greens and Cal’s house steak sauce.
Dessert: Milk & Cookies—cookies with salted and bourbon glazed pecans and chocolate chips, served with vanilla milk.
Cal’s just celebrated their one-year anniversary and there is much more to come! Keep a look out for a holiday soiree, an annual Kentucky Derby party, and much more! Their motto: “Everyone’s Invited!” Plan to come for a drink and stay awhile.
843.757.4334 | 9 Promenade Street #1201 | Bluffton
Calhoun street tavern: Tues-WeD: 11 am - 9 pm
Thurs-Sat: 11 am - 10 pm; Sunday Brunch: 11 am - 3 pm
The Clover Club: Wed - Sun 4-until