What’s good here?
Melt-in-your-mouth, hand-cut, 8-ounce rib eye strip steak stuffed with candied jalapeno and goat cheese and served with plantains and a sherry demi glace. That is just one of the creative culinary dishes at 116 Espresso & Wine Bar. The Chimichurri Tasting Plate has grilled skewers of barbecue shrimp, Piri Piri Chicken (which is marinated in a slightly spicy blend) and spiced rubbed steak served with plantains and a cilantro dipping sauce. For small tasting plates, there is a fried eggplant dish with tomatoes marinated in fresh lemon juice and garlic, cheese plates with fruit and toasted baguette, and spinach and artichoke dip with goat cheese.
Since the menu is tapas-inspired, and since the chef/owner Ryan Whittaker visited Spain in late spring of 2012, there are many dishes with a decidedly Spanish flair: paella, which is authentically Spanish, as well as homemade Chorizo sausage and Spanish-style smoked paprika deviled eggs with tuna “la plancha,” which means grilled. Pizzas on crispy flatbread and served with a hearty Romesco sauce offers a range of topping choices. Plus, there are some staples: Veggie Pie, Chef’s Pie with goat cheese, jamon (ham), pepperoni and extra garlic, and Spanish Pie with goat cheese, bell peppers, spinach and Chorizo.
At least 14 new wines are offered by the glass regularly. Many of the featured wines are from Spain or South America. There is also a selection of beer and seasonal cocktails. Since the restaurant is also an espresso bar, 116 brings in custom selected and roasted coffee beans from a specialty roaster in Ohio. Many of the 116 drinks incorporate the coffee as well as coffee liquors. One drink includes vodka, Frangelico, Baileys Irish Cream and Kahlua French Vanilla. For those who just desire dessert, 116 is known for its “fancy ice cream sandwiches.” This time of year, there is also a peppermint cheesecake and sometimes tiramisu, as well as a tuxedo cake with white chocolate mousse and chocolate mousse between layers of marble sponge cake.
How did it get its start?
Three years ago, Ryan Whittaker, with a background in catering and an interest in Spanish cuisine, decided to open 116 in the historic strip on State Street just over the Gervais Street Bridge. He enlisted the assistance of Ryan Ditman, an experienced bar manager, to manage 116 and to oversee the bar service. Ditman says 116 serves as an opportunity for Whittaker to offer his culinary expertise to customers and to showcase local meats and produce, such as City Roots Microgreens Salad. Pork for the sausage comes from Heritage Farms in Orangeburg. Free-range bison from North Carolina is sometimes featured, as is seafood from the South Carolina and North Carolina coasts. Ditman adds that nightly specials also provide “Chef Ryan” a chance to entice customers with creative combinations such as the recent butternut squash ravioli with an apple cider cream sauce.
What’s the ambiance?
The long narrow galley restaurant features an open bar at the back. Exposed brick is a backdrop to local artists featuring, most recently, contemporary clocks and photographs for sale. Colorful lighting hangs over the bar area. There are both bistro tables and regular tables available for diners. In front of the restaurant is European-style sidewalk dining – weather permitting.
Who eats here?
“We’re very casual,” says Ditman. “We see people who are a bit older coming in before or after a show, and we see many professors from the surrounding universities. But we also have students coming in and people who want a nice dining experience while they are on a date.”