Waiters at Frog Hollow Tavern are mesmerists. When they describe a dish, specifying where the groceries come from, what techniques are used in preparation, and how the meal is plated, their spiel is so polished that I get lulled into a happy reverie, like listening to a song in which melody overshadows lyrics. I wind up having to slap myself to attention and ask for repetition of details: “What was that? … saffron butter?… organic stone ground grits? … macerated berries and a hint of almond? … what the heck are tomatoes gastrique?”
Such confusion is a pleasant dilemma. No matter what you order in this stylish urban tavern, it is likely to be wonderful. On the Roadfood price scale, it’s a splurge (entrees in the $30 range); and despite the restaurant’s assertion that it lets “freshness speak for itself,” nearly everything on the menu is complicated and multi-layered with hints of this and that, subtle undertones, and surprise seasonings.
If there is a leitmotif to chef Sean A. Wight’s cuisine, it is big flavor. Nothing is bland. Even macaroni and cheese (made lasagna-style with flat noodles), is powerfully cheesy; collard greens are very sweet and very pungent; shrimp and grits isn’t just shrimp and grits, but rather a gallimaufry of shrimp, grits, andouille sausage, pork lardons, and tomatoes.
Must-eats from the regular menu include silk-white dayboat grouper, an appetizer of beguilingly crisp arancini made with “dirty” Carolina gold risotto, and creme brulee that is, in fact, agreeably unfussed-with other than a subtle shot of almond in the custard underneath its singed-crisp integument.
Frog Hollow Tavern is popular and crowded enough that reservations are de rigueur. The gatekeepers up front can be officious, assigning customers to the bar if they arrive a few minutes early (despite plenty of empty tables in the dining rooms). Once a party is seated, service is professional, hospitable, enthusiastic, and genuinely helpful.