When Nathaniel Chamblin was nine years old, his father opened The Icehouse Café, then a small bar in a suburb of Washington D.C. 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 next month 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 in 1991 sold The Icehouse Café, 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. “When I say chicken fried steak, it’s chicken fried steak,” Chamblin says. “It’s simplistic food at a value price.”
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. Despite the partners’ high-end pedigree, 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, who’s cooking for the Charleston Brown Water Society’s reception during Wine + Food week.
Since Chamblin and his 13-year old daughter were both born on Wednesdays, he’s holding off on opening the restaurant at 1190 Clements Ferry Road until Wednesday, Mar. 12.
For more information, call 216-8299 or visit cainhoycookingdepot.com.