Southern cooking in Wando

When Nathaniel Chamblin was 9 years old, his father opened The Icehouse Cafe, then a small bar in a suburb of Washington. Within a few years, it was one of the city's top restaurants, branching into California cuisine long before its competitors and pouring microbrews by 1987.

Chamblin is planning to get off to a similarly modest start with Cainhoy Cookin' Depot, opening this week at 1190 Clements Ferry Road in Wando. And while he doesn't have any immediate plans to overtake the city's leading restaurants, he says, "I have mad respect for all of the talent we have in town. But I wouldn't mind going toe-to-toe with some of these chefs in an Iron Chef format, and they know it."

Now 43, Chamblin has been involved in restaurants since he was a boy. After his family sold The Icehouse Cafe in 1991, he gravitated toward restaurant consulting, moving to Charleston in 1997. He helped open Bull & Finch and Zinc Bistro, but didn't spend much time in the kitchen: Cainhoy Cookin' Depot is Chamblin's first full-time chef job in 20 years.

"Even though y'all down here don't think a Virginia boy is really Southern, I had a Southern grandmother who taught me how to cook," he says.

The menu is dominated by traditional dishes such as fried chicken, barbecue and a daily blue plate special.

Culinary flourishes are reserved for Chamblin's "signature creations," including a shrimp and crab hash, and chicken and doughnuts, served with collards and pan gravy. Not surprisingly, the recipe got its start after Chamblin and his friends had had too much to drink.

"They wanted chicken and waffles, but I didn't have a waffle maker," Chamblin recalls. "So I said, 'I'll do you one better.' "

When Chamblin says "doughnuts," he's not talking about something sugar-dusted and jelly-filled: The doughnuts are really a cross between sweet pastry and a biscuit. "It's not fancy, but it's good," he says.

Cainhoy Cookin' Depot is jointly owned by John Stauss, whose aunt helped create Henry's. The Cainhoy Cookin' Depot is a counter service joint.

"I hate to compare it to something, but it's kind of Glass Onion-like," says Chamblin.

For more information, call 216-8299 or go to cainhoycookingdepot.com.

Tearoom opens later this month

The tearoom at St. Andrew's Parish Church will operate from March 24-April 5.

Described as Charleston's oldest tea room, the original pop-up lunchroom will serve she-crab soup, okra soup, chicken salad and shrimp paste sandwiches from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. every day but Sunday. Packaged food items will be available through the gift shop.

The church's female members 61 years ago developed the tearoom to feed hungry tourists in the midst of plantation visits. Proceeds from the tea room and gift shop benefit programs sponsored by The Church Women of Old St. Andrew's.

The tearoom doesn't accept credit cards, but it takes reservations for parties of six or more. Call 766-1541 or email office@oldstandrews.org.

MUSC researchers probe shellfish toxin

A toxin found in seafood may pose an even more serious threat to human health than previously believed, according to new research from the Medical University of South Carolina.

The study published this month in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology demonstrated that domoic acid causes kidney damage in mice. While domoic acid has already been linked with brain damage - sea lions who feast on sardines and anchovies with high levels of domoic acid "go crazy and die," MUSC associate professor Michael Janech is quoted as saying in a release announcing the study's results.

The researchers say the kidney is the more sensitive organ in this case. They documented kidney damage at concentrations 100 times lower than the level associated with brain damage.

Although the findings have not yet been extended to humans, the researchers are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to revisit its domoic acid standards, which are based on brain damage concerns.

"The fact that we've found that domoic acid is so highly toxic to the kidney is novel and new and has not been recognized at all," says P. Darwin Bell, research chair of MUSC's nephrology department.

Domoic acid was first documented in the Gulf a few years ago. The acid is produced by algae, which is blooming more exuberantly in response to the warming of the ocean.

Because the research has not yet been completed, it hasn't yet produced any guidelines regarding seafood consumption. As the press release puts it, "it's too early to set off alarm bells."

Mellow Mushroom staff helps with menu ideas

When I worked as a server, the most creative we got with the restaurant's food on company time was dipping French fries in blue cheese. Mellow Mushroom's crew is apparently a more culinarily inspired bunch, since their ideas provided the fodder for a special menu running through the end of March.

Dishes based on the results of an employee poll and a call for employee recipes include a trio of cocktails, a Thai chicken sandwich with broccoli and mayonnaise, a cordon bleu calzone, and a pizza topped with bacon, turkey, apples and honey mustard, in tribute to a club sandwich.

Mellow Mushroom has stores in Charleston, Avondale and Mount Pleasant. For location information and the complete "Homegrown" menu, go to mellowmushroom.com.

Citadel grad developing a dim sum truck

Dim sum has been on a roll seemingly since the invention of the wheeled metal cart, but a Mount Pleasant entrepreneur is taking the mobile concept a step further with a dim sum food truck.

Although Chad Moore hasn't yet hit the road, he's purchased an old Aramark truck and this week flew to Hong Kong for an intensive dumpling tutorial. The preliminary menu for Dim Sum Good Thoughts includes har gow (translucent shrimp dumplings), shumai (tightly packed pork dumplings, although Moore's plotting a vegetarian version) and fun guo (the typically thicker-skinned pork and shrimp dumplings), as well as a pair of barbecue buns. He's also contemplating serving xiao long bao, the soup dumplings that are the subject of countless obsessions.

To fund the project, Moore has posted a $15,000 campaign on Kickstarter.

Moore first discovered dim sum when he moved to Boston in 2007. "Once you have real dim sum, it becomes really hard to go back to fast food and frozen items," he writes in his Kickstarter pitch.

Although Moore is a first-time restaurateur, he last year received his MBA from Suffolk University, and clearly enjoys thinking about how to maximize profits through technology. He wants to install digital menu boards, and is considering purchasing a vacuum sealer so he can sell to-go items.

While dim sum is typically a morning meal, Moore plans to serve during lunch and dinner hours. He allows his menu might change after he completes his classes with Martha Sherpa, a cooking instructor he discovered through a Bon Appetit story.

The truck is scheduled to start operating later this year.

Pair of upcoming bar crawls

In case drinkers need more incentive to hoist a pint during St. Patrick's Day week, the Folly Association of Businesses is again hosting its holiday pub crawl to raise money for local charities.

The beneficiaries of the March 15 event haven't yet been announced, but the roster of participating bars and restaurants includes Loggerhead's, Woody's, Folly Brew Pub, Drop-In Deli, Planet Follywood, Crab Shack, The Grill and Island Bar, Surfbar, Blu, Rita's Seaside Grille and Snapper Jack's.

Charitable crawling continues the following weekend on Shem Creek, where Red's Ice House is the starting point for a Saturday afternoon bar hop. From 1-6 p.m. March 22, groups of crawlers will spend about an hour each at Red's Ice House, Vickery's, Water's Edge, Shem Creek Bar & Grill, RB's and The Shelter.

Registration for the annual Mardi Crawl, organized by the Lowcountry Parrot Head Club, is $25. The fee includes a T-shirt, koozie and chance to win prizes. Proceeds will be donated to area charities. Go to lcparrotheads.org to learn more.

Chef switch at Riso Noodle House

There is still an "Authentic Chinese Menu" at Riso Noodle House, but the dishes are now being prepared by a Vietnamese chef.

The West Ashley restaurant, which I had hailed for its second menu featuring tripe noodle soup, soybean pork feet and steamed beef balls, last month hired a new chef after owner Patty Ho's partner had to leave the kitchen permanently because of damage to his hand.

Ho described the injury as related to repetitive motion. "The pain was getting worse," Ho says, adding that he had delayed surgery.

A few of the popular dishes from the authentic menu, including the beef noodle soup and dry chow beef noodle, will remain on offer. But Ho warns that "the ingredients and recipes are different."

"It's property for them," Ho says of her unwillingness to ask her partner to share his recipes. "I don't do that, asking for private property."

In addition to striking dishes from the menu, the restaurant has also added dishes from the Chinese-American canon, including honey-walnut shrimp. Other new dishes include curry noodle soup, kimchi noodle soup and ramen.

"We know what we do best," Ho says.

Riso closed briefly for remodeling, which Ho describes as "rearranging, adding a TV." It also made room for bubble tea, a notoriously hard-to-find beverage in the Charleston area.

The restaurant is at 1890 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. For more information, call 225-6898.