You won’t make it far past the door at Halls Chophouse before shaking Bill Hall’s hand. The tall, gregarious frontman flashes a wide smile and personally greets every customer — and often chats up passersby on the street. He keeps a keen eye on the bar and stands ready to intercede at the slightest hint of need. When they insist it’s a family endeavor, they mean it, and Bill’s brother and father, who work alongside, reinforce the notion that no matter what it takes, they intend that every customer leave fat and happy. You’ll meet them all, probably before you finish your aperitif, and you’ll practically feel like part of the family before you finish your last frosty sip of the most delicious grown-up milkshake in town.
To say that the Halls merely transformed the old Artist and Craftsman Supply store on Upper King into one of the most impressive fine dining spaces in the city would do a disservice to its incredible metamorphosis. Simple schoolhouse lights highlight dark panels of wood. Downstairs, a full-length bar serves one hell of a custom Manhattan and flourishes with a bar scene of older patrons (relative to the youngsters who frequent this part of town). At night, the joint is packed with a lively crowd, imbued with a neighborly vibe that belies the newness of the establishment. Halls has quickly become the place to be seen around town, a final, succinct indicator of the complete gentrification of the Upper King corridor, but it fits in as if it’s been there forever.
There is no way around a fancy dinner here. Two people enjoying a three-course meal with wine will find it hard to get out the door for under $200. But considering the price points of Charleston’s finest kitchens, the only question that remains is whether or not Halls lives up to the hype. We found a mixed bag.
They certainly have the potential to be one of the best restaurants in town, with the menu establishing a classic steakhouse theme. A strong showing of appetizers, soups, and salads is headlined by the best Caesar salad we have ever eaten in Charleston ($8). Two quartered sections of romaine, spears really, come dressed with shards of grated cheese and delicate white anchovies. Ice cold and shatteringly crisp, the lettuce is dressed with the most delicious dressing; I want the recipe.
They also serve a mean bowl of roasted corn and crab bisque ($9), creamy, but not cloyingly thick, and rich with large lumps of backfin crabmeat hiding beneath the silky puree. There is the requisite wedge of iceberg with blue cheese and bacon ($9), gussied up with slices of avocado. And decent quality beefsteak tomato slices layered with vinegary onions and basil can be had even in the early days of May.
Raw plates of oysters (market price) are generally quality specimens, cold and briny Blue Points on our visits, and the “Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail” ($15) also deserves a prize, given that we’ve never tasted shrimp so large that tasted so good — no doubt owing to their perfectly cooked texture. Perhaps a bit more horseradish could spice up the sauce, but I’ll never leave Halls again without sampling the cold seafood on tap.