SNOB alum opening Charleston-inspired restaurant in D.C.

December 22, 2016 GMT

A Johnson & Wales University graduate who for five years cooked under Frank Lee at SNOB is planning a new Washington D.C. restaurant that will “mirror the comforts of Charleston, South Carolina’s genuine welcome and warm hospitality.”

Hamilton Johnson in 2008 moved to the nation’s capital to work at Vidalia; its chef-owner Jeff Buben this year tapped Johnson to take over the space when he decided against renewing his lease.

“It’s not strictly Southern, but it definitely has a lot of Southern accents,” Johnson says of the restaurant he’s calling Honeysuckle.

According to a concept paper, in an effort to draw guests into Johnson’s mind, the interior will feature burlap; concert speakers and a photograph of Freddie Mercury. “Chef Ham is holding you steady, no fear: Just experience his dream of warmth – you are now in his arms…maybe you’ll leave with a tattoo,” the paper promises.

As for the Charleston touches, Johnson says they’ll come in the form of an oak communal table (“made of recycled timber from one of South Carolina’s oldest community farms,” the paper elaborates) and oyster gray paint. Lowcountry influences will also appear on the menu; Johnson is planning to serve collard-wrapped foie gras. Each table will also be greeted with a Mason jar of pickled okra.

“I hope everyone wants to come all the time,” he says of Honeysuckle’s chances for success in an increasingly crowded restaurant market. “I just think it’s something no one’s doing around here.”

Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema was a longtime fan of Vidalia, which was known for its shrimp-and-grits and cornbread pudding, but this year downgraded its rating by two stars. “No meal made me sadder this year than my last visit to Vidalia,” he wrote, speculating that the restaurant suffered when chef de cuisine Johnson left to develop the Honeysuckle concept in a pop-up venue.

Johnson hopes to open Honeysuckle in January.