Johns Island conjures up visions of shady grand oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, offering a peek into a more rural side of Charleston. Several dining options have long existed for the residents of the island, but as its population grows, so grows the burgeoning food and beverage scene.
Since 2005, Hege’s Restaurant in Freshfields Village has served French cuisine in a bistro setting with classics like French onion soup, crab cakes and steak frites. Down on Maybank Highway, local favorite Wild Olive has led the way in sustainability and locally sourced items, boasting housemade pasta and a stunning Italian wine list.
But these popular staples are not the only game in town.
“We knew that Johns Island was growing faster than other parts of the area and also that we wouldn’t have to deal with some of the same logistic problems,” said John Williams, co-owner of Johns Island eatery The Royal Tern, echoing the sentiments of others who brought their businesses to the island for the community and space.
Bottom line: Johns Island’s developing food and beverage community is now a force to be reckoned with.
U.S. Navy veteran Jordan Hooker opened one of the island’s new additions in June, Somm Wine Bar, and he hopes it becomes a vital name on the island.
“Somm is a neighborhood-focused wine bar specializing in wine flights with special attention to detail, to incredible meat and cheese offerings,” Hooker said. “It’s kind of a Cheers bar, where everybody knows your name.”
Somm’s wine flights come with informational cards about each selection, which help guests discover something new.
“I like when people come in and are open to trying new things because the amount of flights that I have that turn into glass pours are astonishing,” Hooker said.
He said he likes to keep the menu fluid because there’s such a wide variety of wine and charcuterie available across the world. Somm’s charcuterie and cheeses are all vegetarian-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free. And since Somm strictly serves wine, beer and charcuterie, it’s currently the only true wine bar on the island, a fact Hooker is proud of.
“We’re the only ones here on Johns,” he said, adding he is happy about the island’s reception of the shop and the weekly regulars that Somm has already gained.
Another newcomer Periwinkle Kitchen aims to fill a gap on the island, offering healthy chef-made to-go options.
Periwinkle, which opened mid-June on Betsy Kerrison Parkway, has a diverse menu that changes weekly, with fun staples like the BLT tortellini pasta salad and three chicken salad options. Recently, it offered a beef stroganoff that captured flavors of home.
“I was missing my parents, so I wanted to make things that remind me of my mother,” said chef Haley Gunter of the beef stroganoff. For Gunter, Periwinkle Kitchen is a space that allows her ideas to flow. “I finally got to a spot that I was able to help create,” she said.
Periwinkle’s owner Kim Hayes wants to do more than just serve delicious food.
“[Our staff] wants to build their careers, and we want to help them build them,” Hayes said. For her, Periwinkle Kitchen is an opportunity to give back on a personal level.
“I blew my back out in active duty [in the Army] and had a massive spine injury,” she said. “I didn’t know if I would ever stand or walk again, and now that I can, it’s a big thing to come in and see people smiling when they come into the cafe.”
Periwinkle Kitchen values the community and is proud to give back to it. A portion of the proceeds from its Heartfelt Cinnamon Rolls goes to the GreenHeart Charity.
“When you think of us, I hope what people always think of is a company that gives back to the community,” Hayes said. “It starts in your own backyard.”
Periwinkle also has Johns Island’s only juice bar where cold-pressed juices are served. It soon may turn into a smoothie bar, too.
For Johns Island locals, this next one is no secret, but for everyone else, it might be. Seanachai Whiskey & Cocktail Bar opened in 2011 and recently turned over ownership in 2019 to chef and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jason Myers and his wife, former figure skater Marissa Myers.
“The pub has been around since 2011, and it’s just become a landmark and staple of Johns Island,” Jason Myers said. “We’ve been running it more or less the same as the founder intended.”
But, that’s not to say the establishment hasn’t grown.
“We just offer a really strong food program. Nothing crazy inventive, but super, super solid,” Myers said. “We’re a bar with a kitchen, not a restaurant.”
With the island’s increasing growth and the bar’s popularity, Seanachai will soon open for lunch and on Sunday evening’s after brunch.
“[Brunch] has easily become our second-busiest day of the week,” Myers said, highlighting brunch cocktails, like the Irish coffee cocktail, which he said is “second to none.”
He has also grown the whiskey list from about 100 to 350 whiskeys, adding that several times a year, he hosts a whiskey dinner.
“I typically try to do four to six of them a year, and they’re private, ticketed events. The whole pub closes down, the vibe changes to lowlight, candles and jazz, and I do a five- or six-course tasting menu with whiskey and cocktails.”
Myers and his wife also opened Flyin’ High Frozen Yogurt next door, offering frozen yogurt, coffee, pastries, CBD, Delta-8 and Delta-9 products.
Mexican eatery Minero shuttered its doors downtown in 2020 after six years on East Bay Street, but in June 2022, it found a new home on Johns Island — with much more space.
“The downtown location and kitchen were very small. We didn’t have room to have an expansive menu,” said Kenny Lyons, vice president of operations at the Neighborhood Dining Group.
In the new space, Minero added a back deck with games, as well as a live-fire charcoal grill used to make fajitas and items featuring charcoal-grilled chicken, like chimichangas and enchiladas, paired with housemade tortillas.
Lyons said the Johns Island community has welcomed the move with overwhelming support.
Brothers John and Ben Williams fulfilled their dream of opening a restaurant in 2019 when they moved to the Lowcountry and started The Royal Tern.
“The ability to design a space and building based on the way we wanted it as well as the ability to provide parking for patrons and employees was a huge deciding factor,” John Williams said.“Our initial goal was to offer the local Johns Island community a new restaurant where they could feel at home. With their loyalty and praise, we have been able to continue to grow as word gets out to people in the surrounding areas of Charleston.”
The Royal Tern offers globally inspired preparations of seafood and beef created by chef Kyle Kryske. Fan favorites include blackened swordfish, whole grilled fish and grilled shrimp, with gluten-free crème brÛleé and carrot cake as desserts.
Williams added that The Royal Tern’s manager and resident sommelier, Garth Herr, is always looking for wines to complement the menu. It also offers a phenomenal bar and cocktail program led by Jimmy Shea, making The Royal Tern a well-rounded place for a night out.
With so many possibilities, new and old, it’s pretty clear that no matter what you’re in the mood for, the Johns Island restaurant community has a fix for it, and they are excited to see you when you arrive.
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