Editor’s note: This is the first in a series the Aiken Standard will run periodically on locally-owned restaurants around Aiken County. To have your restaurant included, email Stephanie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Connie and Tommy Dean opened Swamp Fox last October, they had a mission – to deliver fine Southern cuisine.
Today, they continue that mission but with a few additions.
“We’ve changed a lot,” Connie said, regarding staffing and the menu in particular.
Four weeks ago, Frank Gantt stepped up as the executive chef, with Mike Kirk as his main assistant. When that change took place, others followed.
The appetizers expanded to include items like the Fox Sampler, a selection of scallops, fried green tomatoes, crab cake and quail.
The lunch menu was tweaked. The vegetarian option is now the Pappardelle Pasta, a buttery egg noodle Pappardelle pasta dish topped with Banfi Chianti and lemon thyme cream sauce.
The soups and salad selections and dinner menu were added to, as well. Duck breast, ribeye and flounder are now selections at dinner time.
“So far, they’ve been going over great,” Connie said on the changes.
With Gantt’s promotion came even a new time-slot and menu – the Sunset at the Swamp Special, served from 3 to 6:30 p.m. The menu alternates every day but is set with a salad, an entree and a dessert option.
But be it Sunset at the Swamp, lunch or dinner, some people like a steady glass of wine or bottle of beer to accompany their food.
This is where another staff member comes in. P.J. Mestres tends to the bar and waits tables at Swamp Fox, jobs he has done for 12 years. Due to all of his previous experience, he is now in charge of the restaurant’s wine selection.
“I try to get things that aren’t available at other restaurants,” he said.
Mestres has also introduced some new cocktails. When events come up, the staff also celebrates at the bar with serving speciality drinks, like the mint julep for the Kentucky Derby.
“He’s got his finger on what people in Aiken really like,” Tommy said.
The restaurant is at 233 Chesterfield St., where VZ’s Big Easy once stood.
The name Swamp Fox came from Gen. Francis Marion, a South Carolina Revolutionary officer who led his troops through the back and Lowcountry swamps. He was labeled “Swamp Fox” after the British Col. Banastre Tarleton, after several attempts, never caught him and proclaimed, “as to this ... old fox, the devil himself could not catch him.”
However, you might not know this or think about it, as you come upon what stands today. You might just see people sitting around the widespread porch amongst the many plants.
When you go inside, you will see an open environment – a place divided into three dining areas.
When you sit down, you will be met with several choices, all guaranteed to be fresh and homemade.
“All our vegetables all locally grown,” Tommy said. He also mentioned that the herbs you might notice outside are used by the restaurant, and every item from the biscuits and desserts to the salad dressings are whipped up right in the kitchen.
Breakfast includes omelets like the Minuteman Omelet, a dish of applewood bacon or ham, sausage and cheddar cheese; biscuits; and the Francis Marion, a dish of steak, eggs, home fries or grits and a biscuit or toast.
Lunch can be ordered to-go or enjoyed dining in; there are menus for both.
From Tuesday to Friday, the chefs cook up set items and place them in warmers. This way customers in a hurry can get what they want and be out in around five minutes, Tommy said. The menu used for this route consists of two meat options, vegetable and bread side items. This menu changes every day, especially the sides.
“The vegetables will change depending on what season it is,” Tommy said.
For example, on Tuesday you might order a country fried streak and lima beans, but on Wednesday, you will see those options change to meatloaf and pasta salad. Every day though, you will get the choice of cornbread muffins or homemade biscuits.
If you are wanting to sit in, the other lunch menu consists of hamburgers, salads, wraps and specialities like the Catfish Platter.
After the lunch and Sunset at the Swamp Special customers leave, the atmosphere shifts. The servers put on ties. Tables get draped in tablecloth. Candles are lit. It’s dinner time.
On the menu, one can start off with fried green tomato with mozzarella or the crab cakes. Then you can choose to stay light with soup or a dinner salad or go for an entree, such as the filet mignon or Pecan Encrusted Pork Chop.
The Deans are also trying to get more live entertainment. A couple of weeks ago, Edwin G. Hamilton sang and played piano on the veranda. Hamilton, according to his Facebook, has appeared at The Willcox and performs at venues regularly in Charleston.
The Deans came from Jackson, where they had owned Buckhead Cafe and Bakery.
They have enjoyed their time so far in Aiken.
“The people are very friendly and very supportive,” Tommy said.
Swamp Fox has a Facebook page; its website is under construction but should be up in a few weeks.
The restaurant does take-out, free delivery and catering.
Hours are Tuesdays to Fridays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
For more information, call 803-642-5111.
Stephanie Turner has a hand on all areas of production for the Aiken Standard, where she reports, edits and layout pages. She graduated in July 2012 with a journalism degree from Valdosta State University and lives with her family in Evans, Ga.