Uptown Social encourages conversation with solid bar food, boozy slushies, and rooftop views (Charleston City Paper) Jun13


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Uptown Social encourages conversation with solid bar food, boozy slushies, and rooftop views (Charleston City Paper)

As an introvert and an aspiring recluse, I first arrived at Uptown Social feeling a little … antisocial. Nonetheless, it was a mood that soon passed. Maybe it was the friendly waiter, with his go-getter hustle? Perhaps it was the late ’70s/early ’80s soundtrack, seemingly curated by my dad? Regardless, although the general premise of Uptown Social is more or less my kryptonite — a vast, spacious bar with more TVs than a Best Buy — it also happens to be a decent way to while away some time, especially if you can get a spot on the rooftop deck.

The food is decidedly bar fare, plus pizza. The waiter strongly recommended the wings (six for $7, 12 for $14 or 24 for $28). Available in an amazing technicolor dreamcoat of flavor varieties — General Tso, buttermilk ranch, and Old Bay, as well as ‘social suicide,’ which apparently involves face-burning heat rather than vampire-proof levels of garlic I’d presumed, I went with ‘hot.’ The wings arrive smoked and then flash-fried, the new normal, at least in Charleston. The wings were tasty, but possessed such a light coating of Buffalo sauce, I couldn’t really pick any distinct flavor. Even so, the smoke notes came through and the lingering burn was notable.

I thought maybe they were just kidding, but the JK Hummus ($7) seems to be hummus. More likely named for Chef Jonathan Kaldas, it tastes like it’s been made with some added vinegar. Normally more of an “obscene amounts of creamy tahini” Palestinian-style fan, the JK variation is greatly helped out by its topping of chopped tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers, plus dots of feta cheese and cracked black pepper. A lighter option for soaking up suds and shots, it’s accompanied by a loaf of exceptional fresh bread — warm and light inside, with a dense, crispy crust.

If I were going to make a lethal weapon out of bread and cheese, the pizza dough bites ($6) would serve as a solid starting place. Although the name makes it sound like something you’d find in the freezer aisle, when the hunk arrives, you realize ‘bite’ doesn’t begin to do it justice. The same, superlative round loaf is filled with a heap of mozzarella, topped with grated Parmesan, and baked to a melty, manna-from-heaven state. The accompanying tomato sauce is powerfully over-seasoned with oregano, but no worries. You don’t need it. You’re just here to eat drippy, gooey cheese and fresh bread with your hands, like the good Lord intended.

Your mitts will also be necessary when tackling the General Tso’s chicken sandwich ($14). Here, a seeded hamburger bun and romaine lettuce leaf are topped with a huge, encrusted breast. Hand-breaded and fried to a dark crunch, it’s coated in a tangy, spicy sauce and finished with tart red bell pepper, onion, and cucumber pickles. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a concoction, and I’m glad I know where to find it.

As we’ve discussed, Uptown Social is a bar — technically, four bars — a responsibility they take seriously. Whatever your pleasure, they have some. There are adult slushies with names like High Noon grapefruit frose ($7) and day rager ($7), plus signature cocktails like the Grape-full dead ($9) and Burning Sensation ($9). For those less inclined toward mixed drinks with adorable monikers, there’s also a variety of beer and wine on tap.

The sloppy joe sliders ($9) are billed as “cafeteria style, but better.” Although not a very high bar, they’ve succeeded. The chunky ground beef mixture contains flecks of red bell pepper and the sauce has notes of brown sugar and Worcestershire. Although there’s nothing wrong with them, per se, I’m inclined to think there are stronger menu options out there if they were so inclined.

On that note, the classic cheeseburger sliders ($12) require no adjustment. Three sliders arrive with sweet sauteed onions blanketed by a melted layer of cheddar cheese. Well-seasoned and topped with two pickles apiece, the homey simplicity works well here.

The Caesar salad ($8) with Tarvin family shrimp ($4) was unfortunate. While they lured me in with the promise of “house baked croutons,” this is also where they lost the thread. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I’m pretty sure cutting up stale hamburger buns and baking them to a rock hard state does not a crouton make. More like something you’d toss at some waterfowl or leave to mark the forest path home, they single-handedly ruined what could’ve been a mediocre salad.

Happily, the armitage pizza ($14) is a return to what Uptown Social seemingly does best — bake fresh dough. The cracker thin crust is topped with green creme, fresh mozzarella, and big chunks of Grana Padano, but where it really takes flight is with the peppery arugula and bright lemon zest. Light and fresh, the super thin crust allows the unique toppings to take center stage.

A big, beautiful space with four bars and a coveted rooftop deck, Uptown Social is bound to be slammed in the evening hours. But even if you don’t fancy yourself a social butterfly, it’s worth a stop for anything involving some fresh dough and melty cheese.