You have read 1 of your 3 free articles.
Subscribe to unlock full access.

Brasserie la Banque Will Open Next Week with Traditional French Fare

Taking it to the bank

The Maine Lobster roll from the opening menu at Brasserie la Banque
The Maine Lobster roll from the opening menu at Brasserie la Banque (Andrew Cebulka)

By Robert F. Moss

Charleston has long had a hot and cold relationship with French cuisine. In the 1990s, Restaurant Million, a thoroughly classical French restaurant, was the city’s most upscale dining room. The same decade saw the rise of New Southern cuisine, which originated when classically-trained chefs—many of whom trained in Europe—came home and applied French techniques to the ingredients of the Southern pantry.

Those French flourishes were largely abandoned during the High Lardcore days, as smoking, pickling and wood-roasting became all the rage, but the cycle came back around in 2014. That year a half-dozen new French restaurants opened their doors in and around Charleston—and most of them departed before the decade was out.

These days, as farm-to-table continues to recede, it seems another the French cycle may be on the rise. Case in point: the arrival of Brasserie la Banque, which will open for its first dinner service on Tuesday, November 30 after months of construction delays. The opening menu has just been released, and its French brasserie offering is about as traditional as it gets.

The hors d’oeuvres and fruits de mer include Burgundy escargot and duck consommé, though they are joined by a few American entries like Maine lobster rolls and a blue crab cocktail with pickled green tomatoes. The entrées balance hearty dishes like duck confit cassoulet with lots of seafood, including bouillabaisse and whole roasted loup de mer (sea bass.)

Brasserie la Banque will begin dinner service on November 30
Brasserie la Banque will begin dinner service on November 30

Brasserie la Banque is the latest venture from restaurateur Steve Palmer and his Indigo Road group, whose other upscale Charleston ventures conform to well-defined genres, too: Oak (classic American steakhouse), Indaco (rustic Italian), O-Ku (Japanese/sushi), and the recently-opened Maya (Mexican).

So why French for the latest outing? Jeb Aldrich, who was recruited from Atlanta to be the restaurant’s executive chef, says one big factor was the building itself.

“Steve has been looking at this building for years,” Aldrich says. “Saying, ‘this needs to be a French brasserie’. The space just fits.”

Indeed it does. The three-story brownstone at 1 Broad Street was originally constructed in 1853 to house the State Bank of South Carolina (hence the “banque” in Brasserie la Banque.) Its rounded front, which hugs the corner of Broad and East Bay, and high arched windows invoke the Boulevards of Paris.

The curved front and arched windows of Brasserie la Banque evokes the Boulevards of Paris of
The curved front and arched windows of Brasserie la Banque evokes the Boulevards of Paris of (Robert F. Moss)

But there’s more to it than that. In many ways, the mode of dining is a throwback to several decades ago—and several decades ago in New York City, not Charleston or Paris.

When I asked Steve Palmer why he had chosen to open a French brasserie, his answer was simple: “Because Balthazar in the ‘90s was one of the most magical places on earth for me.”

Indeed, there are many echoes of the famed Manhattan brasserie in Palmer’s new venture—the plateau de fruits de mer, the onion soup and beef tartare, the lofty ceilings and leather-backed banquettes.

The interior of the 19th century bank building has been transformed into a Parisian-style brasserie
The interior of the 19th century bank building has been transformed into a Parisian-style brasserie (Andrew Cebulka)

Aldrich’s return to Charleston is something of a throwback, too, for the chef started his career here as a student at Johnson & Wales. “I worked with Steve 20 years ago at Peninsula Grill,” Aldrich says. He departed for Atlanta around 2004 and worked in several noted restaurants there, including at Joël Antunes’s Restaurant Joël, followed by a stint overseas in Austria and Italy.

Aldrich began working with Steve Palmer again in 2018 when they teamed up to open Tiny Lou’s, a French brasserie in Atlanta’s Hotel Clermont. Indigo Road no longer manages that restaurant (the hotel’s management group decided to bring it in-house), and during the transition Aldrich decided he was ready to move on from Atlanta, too.

“I reached out to Steve and said I’m looking to do something new,” Adrich says. “He said, ‘I have another French concept’.”

The fact that it was located in Charleston was a big draw. “It’s where I fell in love in food,” Aldrich says, “and where I want to be. Charleston diners really appreciate fine food.”

When asked for some his favorite items from the new menu, Aldrich points to the foie gras torchon, which is cured with black cocoa and served with tiny orbs of apple parisienne, as well as the poulet rouge, a French heritage breed that’s raised in the Piedmont of North Carolina. “That’s kind of that Southern inspiration,” Aldrich notes. “The flavor is delicious.”

The foie gras torchon from Brasserie la Banque
The foie gras torchon from Brasserie la Banque (Andrew Cebulka)

Though its corner location is midway between the two tourist poles of Rainbow Row and the City Market, Aldrich says Brasserie la Banque is more aimed at the local market. “Our bread and butter is definitely our local crowd,” he says. “It’s a brasserie. It’s a neighborhood restaurant.”

Aldrich thinks locals are eager for more traditional fare these days. “French cuisine is having a little bit of a renaissance,” he observes. “People are going back to the classics. They want to go to have a specific style of food or cuisine . . . things get muddled when you don’t know what the actual cuisine is.”

There’s no risk of that at Brasserie la Banque. Dinner service begins on Tuesday, November 30th, and they’re planning on adding lunch and brunch down the road.

About the Author

Robert F. Moss

Robert F. Moss is the founder and publisher of The Southeastern Dispatch as well as the Contributing Barbecue Editor for Southern Living magazine and the author of numerous books on Southern food and drink, including Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, Southern Spirits: 400 Years of Drinking in the American South, and Barbecue Lovers: The Carolinas. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina.