NORTH AUGUSTA — Every restaurant has a story.
This particular one has the tale of a youngster heading to play baseball last summer, and anecdotes about executive chef Dominic Simpson's guilty pleasure of chocolate covered blueberries, which inspired a signature desert.
Each narrative combined with several others have helped create what Jeff Brower, Vincent Johnson and Simpson believe will be one of the more unique dining experiences the CSRA has to offer.
The identity of Salt + Marrow, the area's newest restaurant nestled on the first floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the middle of Riverside Village, was birthed from the restaurant's surroundings. Even its name, which is a play on words both food-wise and in terms of the character and core of people.
The restaurant offers American cuisine cooked with a bit of flare, being that it's the first restaurant in the area to utilize a Grillworks grill.
“Dominic and I began talking about the river, given that it's just right outside the hotel, and we looked at that as a freeway going back 300 years ago,” said Brower, the general manager of the Crowne Plaza. “You imagine what was coming up the river and what was the bounty from our region. As we began to explore that with oysters and all of the local produce that's here, that was some of the inspiration for some of the menu items themselves.”
From there, it became a matter of finding the aspect of the story that would be unique to Salt + Marrow. With several restaurants popping up throughout the CSRA, the brains behind Salt + Marrow once again turned to their surroundings to further curate the experience it would offer diners.
The menu features a variety of steak options as well as traditional Southern dishes like fish and grits and shrimp and grits.
'Setting the table for our neighbors'
The restaurant is not only connected to a hotel, but it's also surrounded by condominiums, an apartment complex, the Hammond's Ferry neighborhood, and not to mention, the city of Augusta is just across the 13th Street bridge.
The story of the restaurant's unique goal of setting the table for its neighbors actually came from the other landmark it's in close proximity to: SRP Park.
“Where that idea came about from is seeing a little boy last summer with his mother and his little sister. His mother was pushing his little sister in a stroller and he had his backpack on, he had his baseball bat in the back and he was just marching off to GreenJackets baseball camp,” Brower said. “That's where we really realized we are a part of a neighborhood and people are walking in, and that's what we imagine in terms of golf carts and people, pedestrian-wise, coming to our restaurant.”
The restaurant has a few options outside of the main dining area of Salt + Marrow. The Parlor Bar offers an alternate menu of appetizers and small plates. The establishment also features Jackson's Bluff, a rooftop bar that also serves appetizers.
A good story is nothing without a protagonist. Salt + Marrow happens to have two.
Simpson, the executive chef at the restaurant, has 23 years of experience cooking professionally. He's worked at multi-million dollar restaurants and was most recently the executive chef at the Partridge Inn in Augusta.
Simpson initially balked on the idea of leaving the Partridge Inn and becoming the executive chef at the new restaurant, but while traveling on a trip to Charleston, he decided he wanted to do something new. He's jumped right in to the challenge of getting the restaurant up and running.
“It's exciting, but it's soothing. Being busy all the time, you don't have the time to think about nothing,” Simpson said. “So you don't have time to think about 'Am I going to do this wrong or am I going to do this right,' you just do it, because the pace is just so fast.”
Simpson's also excited about the opportunity to use the Grillworks grill, the other protagonist.
“It gives you a diverse way of cooking versus going to turn on gas stoves or electric stoves.”
The unique grill allows the chef to control the temperature by controlling the elevation of the cooking surface.
“Essentially, what we're doing is hearth cooking in a modern way. The Grillworks system really allows for that. We're able to get these intense heats of 1,200 and 1,400 using our oven. It's also uniquely challenging, because with gas you turn it on and it's ready and it's burning at a consistent temperature. Here you have to be thinking of elevation of my food, how direct or indirect as well as continuing to feed that fire, because if you don't you'll eventually run out of flame and heat,” Brower said. “I think it's amazing for steaks and the pork tomahawk and almost any special that we have.”
Salt + Marrow continues to tweak a few things with its diners in mind. They've already decided to alter the menu a bit after feedback the staff has gotten from customers in the restaurant's infancy.
Simpson and Brower both expressed how much they've enjoyed learning about the North Augusta community and what the people like.
“By next year, we want to be a Four Diamond establishment,” Simpson said. “Building up, we want to be a great neighborhood restaurant, basically the foundation for North Augusta.”