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Charleston’s Husk, under new kitchen leadership, homes in on seafood

Charleston residents and visitors dining at Husk have high expectations for the Queen Street restaurant. They want to know about the must-have entrées or the dish they can’t miss during their trip to the Holy City. 

Glancing at the menu on a recent weekday in July, many of the selections were different from my last visit. Husk has always served a daily changing menu, given its focus on hyper-local sourcing, but the changes under new executive chef Ray England stretch beyond that.

  1. By Parker Milner

After graduating from culinary school in Portland, Ore., England worked at various restaurants in Oregon and Colorado before earning a chef de cuisine position at Tom Colicchio’s Craft Los Angeles. In 2015, England moved to Charleston to help open Scarecrow and Co., which was located in the sprawling space now occupied by recently opened restaurants Share House and Bodega. England eventually joined Tavern & Table in Mount Pleasant after Scarecrow and Co.’s closure.

Scallop crudo with cantaloupe at Husk. Husk/Provided 

When he joined Husk in March, England knew he wanted to put more of an emphasis on South Carolina seafood, but he fought the urge to perform a total menu overhaul. 

“I kind of realized pretty quickly that I needed to slow it down a little bit,” England said. “I just had to be a little more patient.”

Months later, England said he has found his groove, especially after hiring former Butcher & Bee chef Rick Ohlemacher as chef de cuisine. While the seasonal menu continues to fluctuate, diners who visit in the coming weeks and months will get a taste of Husk with England at the helm.

“I wanted to do more seafood,” England said. “There’s not a lot of limitations as long as we’re using ingredients from the South, which is easy to do.”

New to Husk is England’s crudo, currently served with scallops as the centerpiece surrounded by sweet orange orbs of cantaloupe, balanced by some heat from pickled Fresno peppers. A finishing salty touch from bits of crispy ham from The Hamery add texture to this bright, refreshing appetizer.

When it comes to the main course, fans of Husk’s cornmeal fried catfish with Hoppin’ John will be pleased to find it has stayed put amid the recent changes. Jumping off the page is another seafood dish that could become a new favorite: pastrami-glazed swordfish with kohlrabi, cabbage, peanuts and African blue basil from the restaurant’s garden.

Enveloped in Muddy Pond dark sorghum, the meaty white fish from Abundant Seafood develops a caramelized crust when it hits the steel pan it’s cooked in, giving it a smoky, tangy taste. 

Husk’s pastrami-glazed swordfish with kohlrabi, cabbage, peanuts and African blue basil from the restaurant’s garden. Husk/Provided 

“So the spices kind of toast and char on that pan and then we glaze it with more of the Muddy Pond sorghum,” England said. “It has this smoky richness to it that you kind of get from pastrami.”

This, along with other seafood selections like the blue crab squid ink bucatini, is Husk at its best, outshining the menu’s land offering. 

A porchetta made with pork from a Walterboro farm lacks consistency, as tender morsels are followed by ones that are far too fatty. Lettuce wraps filled with molasses-rubbed pork toro — pre-cooked in the hearth and finished on the yakitori grill — are a valiant attempt at reinvigorating the previously served Kentuckyaki-glazed pig ear version Sean Brock made famous, but would benefit from more acid.

According to England, some new meat dishes have landed at Husk since my visit, like beef tartare with coffee mayonnaise and lavender.

  1. By Parker Milner

“It’s a flavor bomb and it works really well,” England said.

Husk entrées, most priced between $36 and $43, place the restaurant in the high-end dining category in Charleston. After consulting an old Husk menu, I found that entrées have increased by an average of $7.53 since 2016, a number that is in step with current inflation figures; noteworthy given the recent rise in food costs that have led to sweeping price increases across the industry.

The restaurant’s atmosphere was just as lively as ever before last month, and diners without reservations were told that every table was booked for the night. What England does with the menu moving forward remains to be seen, but one thing hasn’t changed: 

Diners in Charleston are still keen on paying a visit to Husk. 

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