So many times when I sit down to read a restaurant review or a blog post featuring a high-end eatery the same old tired words are used to describe not only the food served, but also the hospitality and level of service provided by the restaurant staff. And quite honestly, sometimes you read those pieces and you think, “uh huh, yeah, umm, right.” Then you show up at this highly acclaimed dining room with wait staffs decked out in white coats and gold rimmed dinner plates adorning an impeccably appointed table, and your dining experience begins with a half-hearted superficial greeting from a host or hostess who seems to be very tired of greeting another fat guy in a jacket and tie. Often after reading or hearing about the house specialties and all of the awards and accolades bestowed upon the chef the actual experience is a bit disappointing, not a bad experience, but maybe just not a “wow” experience either. Perhaps this is due in part to your expectations, your anticipation of something really, really special.
I have been hearing a lot of good things about Halls Chophouse, located on King Street in Historic Charleston. A couple of the blogs that I follow have provided glaring reviews on Halls. A sample of some of the terms and phrases used to describe Halls: “family”, “relationship”, “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”, “aged steaks, like a fine cabernet”, “ Cooked to a perfect mid-rare, this is a bright beautiful steak", "seasoning was spot on”, “buttery”, and the piece de resistance of quotes, “it is so good, I get emotional.”
So, as you can see, a lot to live up to, No? The bar has been raised If this dining experience is going to live up to the reviews; this place has got to make me say “wow.”
This evening Charleston was a buzz, for a cool and crisp evening there were a lot of people out and about. Of course, if the reporters, anchors and news staff members from all of the cable news networks that are in town to cover the upcoming GOP Presidential campaign were out on the town tonight, I am sure that would account for at least half of the crowd that I encountered on King Street. From the reviews, I was expecting a warm reception, what we received was so much more than that, we were met and greeted at the front door with firm handshakes and a sincere welcome, by not one, but two members of the Hall Family. Immediately, Billy Hall offered to take our coats and told us to feel free to visit the bar and that our table was ready for us whenever we were ready to be seated. Allow me to set the stage for you, we are in Historic Downtown Charleston on a Saturday night dining in one of the most popular restaurants in town, they are jam packed with diners and not only have we been properly greeted at the front door by two people whose last name matches the name on the sign, but they have made us feel like they are on our schedule and we are guests within the Hall household, not their family business. For crying out loud, they hung our coats in the hall closet.
And the hospitality didn’t end there either. After meeting our friends with whom we were dining at the bar and enjoying a glass of wine and some conversation we moved on to our table. When Billy Hall spotted us beginning to make the move to our dining room table, he met us half way there and insisted on carrying the ladies wine glasses to the table for them. Can you say impressive attention to detail?
I am a huge beef lover and I am a tough critic when it comes to steak. I had read an article about Halls Chophouse serving Allen Brothers steaks. Allen Brothers has been around Chicago since the late 1800’s and anybody who knows anything about the gourmet steak industry knows that Allen Brothers is second to none as a source for the finest, most tender and tasty USDA Prime beef. I also knew that my server at Halls Chophouse would present to us a steak plate prior to taking our order so that we could see first-hand, up close and personal the quality steaks that we would be enjoying this evening. What I didn’t expect was that this wasn’t just a ritual that the waitress was trained to perform for each table of diners, she was actually purpose-driven in her presentation. I engaged her in discussion about the bone-in filet mignon and I could tell that she wasn’t just reciting the points provided to her by the chef staff, she knew what she was serving and she knew what was good.
Michelle and I both started off with Halls chop salad, a wonderful marriage of greens, black eyed peas, celery, feta cheese and a heavenly green peppercorn buttermilk dressing. We both ordered steaks, Michelle had the petite filet mignon and I had the dry aged rib eye. Once again, rather than just taking our order and asking us for our doneness preference, our waitress quizzed us on what we were looking for in terms of internal temperature of the meat, and then I was blown away when she said to me, “would you prefer a leaner rib eye, or one with a fair amount of marbling?” Really, I thought, are you serious, you mean I can choose that?
The steaks did not disappoint and at Halls the side orders are served family style so we enjoyed a generous dish of pepper jack grits to compliment our steaks. Finally, we decided to share a piece of whiskey bread pudding, after all, as one of my fellow bloggers had recently written, “it’s so good I get emotional.”
So, after experiencing Halls Chophouse for myself, how do I describe the dining experience? Here are some words that I can use to describe it: “family”, “relationship”, “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”, “aged steaks like a fine cabernet”, “cooked to a perfect mid-rare this is a beautiful steak, the seasoning is spot on”, “buttery”, and “it is so good, I get emotional.” OK, honest, no I didn’t cry over the experience, but all of those other comments, ABSOLUTELY.
As Billy Hall retrieved our coats from the “hall closet” he walked us to the front door, held the door open for us and wished us a good evening. Once again, it was as if we had spent the evening in the Hall Family home, not their family business. I mean what restaurant owner walks their patrons to the front door and bids them farewell by saying, “stay in touch.”?