Big Apple Meets Chucktown: The Park Cafe Packed With Urban Pluck, Relaxed Style

The Permanent Tourist
By Holly Herrick


This morning I visited The Park Cafe for the fifth time, but it was my first breakfast visit. Every time I’ve been here,  I’ve always felt like I was instantly transported to New York’s Upper West Side where the broader, quieter streets, delicious restaurants and proximity to Central Park, always make me feel equal parts city and country while comfortably sophisticated.

The Park Cafe, open since early this year, has a cosmopolitan personality that revolves around detailed simplicity. The decor is neat and tidy, white and black, and framed with lush greenery. The floors are blonde-hued hardwood, and sunlight shines in a-plenty through the large windows. The food, like so many restaurants these days in Charleston and around the country, happily focuses on local sourcing with a heavy, delicious dose of artisanal. Breads are delivered daily from Pane Di Vita, granola, ricotta and sausage are made in-house, and there is a hefty reliance on vegetables and fish.

Situated on the edge of Hampton Park (at Grove and Rutledge), refreshing glimpses of green and neat little early 19th-century bungalows are in full-view, which gives the cafe a welcome feeling of space. Attentive and friendly service from the staff combines with its location and special “neighborhood” touches (like Neighborhood Wine Night on Tuesday) to make guests feel right at home.

In a town practically bursting with big, beefy breakfasts rife with biscuits, grits, eggs and more, it was refreshing to bite into some of The Park Cafe’s more European-inspired, smaller portioned and delicious fare to start  the day. Assorted cold brew coffees with international flavor riffs as well as more standard cappuccino and latte options whirred like music in the background, made-to-order for the obvious neighborhood regulars who streamed in throughout my visit.

Creamy Kale served over Pane Di Vita's whole grain toasted and dusted with nutty Parmesan was sublime.Creamy kale served over Pane Di Vita’s whole grain toast and dusted with nutty Parmesan was sublime.

Because I love creamed greens, and have recently become enamored with Heart Kitchen’s creamed mustard greens,  I had to try The Park Cafe’s creamy kale. Invitingly chewy, slightly sweet and creamy, it was served over thick whole grain toast that literally popped with wheat berries. I followed this with a perfectly poached farm egg served over a warm bed of firm, green French lentils laced with little nuggets of savory vegetables and spot-on seasoning.  On the side, the silkiest, most pungent rouille this side of Provence served with some more beautiful bread, this one a warm baguette.

The kitchen cooked my egg perfectly to order (medium hard), but the savory, delicious lentils stole the show.The kitchen cooked my egg perfectly to order (medium hard), but the savory, delicious lentils stole the show. Notes of clove and fennel lovingly perfumed the sausage.

It seemed almost sinful to leave without trying The Park Cafe’s signature sweet Danish popovers, cooked to order in a special kind of pan, half-cooked, gingerly flipped, and finished in the oven, as my server explained. She described them as pancake-like. Light, airy and slightly lemony, they reminded me of beignets minus the fryer and were celestial with the chunky, house-made blueberry jam.

Iirresistable little bites of morning glory.Irresistable little bites of morning-glory.

The Park Cafe brings something to Charleston that’s refreshing and inviting, while simultaneously urban and sophisticated. Once again, owner Karalee Nielsen Fallert hits it out of the park with her uncanny ability to perfectly balance concept and execution. As exemplified in her other restaurants (including most recently nearby Lee Lee’s Hot Kitchen), it’s all in the details and seasoned with just a dash of smart whimsy.

It's all in the flirty details. Single, fresh flowers adorn every table here.It’s all in the flirty details. Single, fresh flowers adorn every table here.

The Park Cafe

730 Rutledge Avenue (at Grove)

Charleston, SC 29401

(843) 410-1070

Breakfast, lunch and dinner:

Mon.-Sat., 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Sunday brunch, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Breakfast served 7 – 11 a.m.,  Lunch/Dinner from 11 a.m. to closing.