One of the knocks I have on the downtown restaurant scene is that many of the restaurants have the same flavor profiles in their menus. This is one reason why I was excited to hear that Oakblue Kitchen was taking over the space that once held both Guadalajara and Bravo! Mexican restaurants as it billed itself as crossing Korean and Southern barbecue. When you walk into Oakblue, there’s no evidence that this was once a place filled with tacos and nachos. There is, however, the aroma of smoked meat wafting over you as you walk in the door.
Oakblue opened for the first time last week with a soft opening and is in the middle of its first week of regular business. The decor is very southern/farmhouse chic with exposed brick walls, muted grays and reds, and the servers all wear denim-looking aprons, which I kind of covet.
Service was attentive, but not overbearing. Their bar list is extensive with craft beer on tap as well as in bottles and cans. Big Beer brands are also available. Their specialty cocktails seemed to be a hit with plenty of the other customers.
The food menu features appetizers, salads, sandwiches, plates, and side dishes to accompany your entree. The menu seemed to be favoring more of the Southern barbecue side than the Korean BBQ, which I wasn’t expecting. I’d like to see them start to focus on blending the two flavors and putting a little more emphasis on the Korean side of the concept. This would help to differentiate themselves from the other southern restaurants downtown. Currently, there are only three items on the menu that are Korean focused. The only other Asian restaurant on Main Street right now that isn’t sushi or Japanese-focused is Lemongrass. There’s a hole there that can be filled and Oakblue can do that, but some tweaks need to be made.
I ordered the Korean BBQ plate with Brussels sprouts and mac and cheese. My wife got the pulled pork plate with baked beans and tater tots. The meat and the sauces are fabulous. I mean, look at these Korean short ribs:
There’s great smoke and flavor in the meat. My short ribs had a sweet and savory marinade that they were grilled in. The sauces were original and tasted like they were made in-house. Don’t change either the meat or the sauces, but maybe add wings to the menu and put those sauces on them as well.
The area that needs the most work is the sides. The Brussels sprouts, with a nice soy flavor, were the best out of the two that I got and the baked beans were the favorite out of those of my wife. The beans were a bit toothsome and were more firm than I’m used to. The tater tots were tater tots. The rice, while technically not a side, comes with the Korean BBQ plate. There were several clumps of rice that had dried out and were crunchy, like they had been sitting out for too long. The kimchi that also came with the Korean BBQ plate was a good contrast to the fatty short rib, but I wanted it to have more funk, ferment, and heat on it as it gets lost in the chogochujang sauce when mixed together.
Now, about the mac and cheese. I love mac and cheese. I’ve eaten a lot of mac and cheese. In this example of it, there’s a lot of mac, and not a lot of cheese. You can taste the cheese, but it isn’t evident when you look into the bowl. There’s no cheese sauce and no pull of the cheese. I want mac and cheese to be creamy, with a sauce, with cheese that stretches from the bowl to my mouth. This was more just like noodles and cheese that were baked, leaving the noodles oily with the taste and promise of cheese that never appeared. Some of the noodles that were obviously on top of the baking dish were dry and chewy and not that good, half-charred crunchy, half-cheesy gooey that you’d expect from the top of mac and cheese. There was also a puddle of oil from the cheese in the bottom of the serving dish when I finished. So TL;DR, the sides need some work.
We decided to get desert after hearing that they were all made by The Desserterie here in Greenville. The choice we went with was caramelized banana pudding:
I don’t know if this was a bad batch, wasn’t stored right, or what. This is a good idea that needs work in the execution. The pudding was grainy and not silky and smooth. It had more of the texture and a bit of the flavor of cheesecake. It especially made me think of cheesecake with the “crust” layers that were in there. I expect caramelized bananas to either be firm/crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle and these were chewy and brown/gray in color. This had none of the hallmarks when you think of banana pudding other than including bananas. It was an okay dessert, but it’s more of a banana cheesecake parfait than a banana pudding.
Like any restaurant, Oakblue has some kinks in the first few days, but they can be easily fixed. There’s a good foundation there to have something special downtown and find a niche that hasn’t been explored yet.
109 N. Main St.
Greenville, SC 29601