Locals usually think of the area around Market Street as a place for cruise ship tourists and memento seekers, not as a spot where some of the city's most exciting restaurants might be hidden. However, executive chef Adam Hodgson and owner-operator Patrick Whalen of the modern and dynamic eatery 5Church have set out to change all that.
5Church got its start in Charlotte as a youthful and popular dining establishment situated on the corner of 5th and Church Streets in Charlotte’s Fourth Ward downtown. The Charleston location, the restaurant’s first expansion, reimagines the old Seaman’s Chapel on N. Market, with bold contemporary art and sleek concrete walls accented by original stained glass windows. The ambience of the restaurant—so unlike most of the establishments downtown today that pander to “Old South” expectations—reflects the New South cities where 5Church has its sister locations, Charlotte and soon-to-open Atlanta.
The menu—refreshingly for today’s Southern-food-obsessed culinary climate—focuses on inventive and diverse iterations of American cuisine, including some of Hodgson’s own family recipes.
5Church in the former Seaman’s Chapel
Charleston Grit contributing photographer Caitlin Gill and I sat down to try some of the signature dishes on the new summer menu.
First things first: as we perused the dishes, we were treated to the specialty drink of the night—the Final Confession. This cocktail is made with Knob Creek rye bourbon, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, Domaine De Canton ginger liqueur, and key lime juice, garnished with maraschino and lime. It was refreshing and light, a great bourbon drink for warm weather.
The Final Confession is a great hot-weather way to sip bourbon.
Next, we sampled small plates. The arancini—an Italian-American inspired fried rice ball filled with delicate fontina cheese, bolognese, and peas, sat atop a sweet, slow-roasted tomato sauce—was flavorful and not too rich, a hard balance to strike.
The tuna tartare was an example of what 5Church has mastered so artfully—taking the expected and making it extraordinary. Tuna tartare seems to be a popular appetizer feature in upscale dining these days. However, Hodgson’s version—with sesame-marinated ahi tuna atop citrus-soaked avocado with fresh orange slices, radish shavings, and sesame chips all brought together by a complex and sweet ginger hoisin sauce—took the dish to another level.
After the small plate first course, we chose one recommendation from our server, Scott, and Caitlin chose another dish. The Agnolotti, one of Hodgson’s specialties, was the best pasta dish that I have had in Charleston to date. This folded aged white cheddar-filled pasta in an amazing cream sauce was hearty without feeling decadent, and the simplicity of the dish made it all-the-more eye-opening. Hodgson shows that while he can be inventive and make the dining experience an event, he also knows the value of a few key ingredients working together. I would go back to 5Church strictly for the agnolotti. This dish also comes in a small plate size!
After the agnolotti, we were bound to be let down by anything, but the wasabi-crusted salmon held its own, providing a varied taste with sauteed bok choy, a sesame-marinated seaweed salad that brought out the bite of the mild wasabi crust, and a miso emulsion that kept the salmon filet moist without sacrificing its flavor.
Each dish was well thought out and interesting, and yet we never felt as though the chef was reaching too far for complexity. Locals and visitors to the Holy City alike should head to N. Market street for a great meal at an establishment that bucks the status quo—and succeeds.
An after-dinner Americano from 5Church’s full-service espresso bar.