Even though Tom Sasser already owned five restaurants in the Carolinas when he opened 1801 Grille at USC’s 650 Lincoln complex last month, he and chef Jason Bruner didn’t transfer menus from his group’s other eateries. Instead, the two created a menu full of items that can only be found at 1801.
Items such as the pancetta-crusted brick oven wild boar and bison meatloaf.
“It’s not your mother’s meatloaf,” Sasser said. “It has a really unique flavor, and it’s topped with a nice sauce. It’s a staple. It’s comfort food at its best.”
Other popular menu items include a blackened mahi mahi with creamy cauliflower gratin and apple slaw, a brick oven-smoked chicken topped with a Southern white sauce and served with caramelized crispy Brussels sprouts and a pastrami Reuben with jalapeno sauerkraut and Swiss.
All menu items are made with locally sourced goods whenever possible, said Sasser, who once planted 70 tomato plants in his own backyard to supply fresh tomatoes to his restaurants.
Though it’s only been open a few weeks, the restaurant’s more traditional tavern-type menu items already have proven successful as well, Sasser said.
“The pizzas have been great, and the burgers have been really popular,” Sasser said. “This is a burger world we live in. People really love their burgers, and we sell a lot.”
Burgers are made from certified Angus 80/20 beef chuck and are made to order. Two of them, the 1801 melt and the griddle burger, are cooked on the kitchen’s griddle, while the third, the bacon burger topped with avocado remoulade, is grilled.
“Some people really prefer the griddle because the burger cooks in its own juices,” Sasser said. “It gives it a really nice, full flavor.”
Down the road, the menu will most likely feature a special burger made from American Wagyu steers raised on Sasser’s brother’s farm in North Carolina.
The restaurant also features cocktails inspired by those made around the year 1801, as well as Old and New World wines.
While 1801 is full of original-recipe menu items, the restaurant does offer up one dish in homage to the original Harper’s in Five Points – the very popular chicken supremes fried chicken tenderloins.
“My sister and I developed that recipe in 1986 and worked on it about six months,” Sasser said. “It’s a fresh product with no preservatives, and it gives you a little comfort. We added it here as a way to pay homage to Harper’s.”
How did the place get its start?
In addition to Harper’s in Five Points, which Sasser opened in 1990, his Harper’s Restaurant Group owns two more Harper’s restaurants in North Carolina, along with Mimosa Grill and Upstream, both in Charlotte. Last year, the University of South Carolina approached Sasser about opening a restaurant in its 650 Lincoln mixed-use student housing complex. He developed the idea for 1801 Grille, named in honor of the year the university was founded.
Once Sasser decided on the 1801 theme, he decided to carry it throughout the restaurant, adding a private room in the back of the main dining space decked out in USC sports regalia that he hopes the university will use as a recruiting room when potential athletes and their families come to town. The room, which seats up to 14, also can be reserved by diners.
While the main portion of the restaurant is not overtly USC, the hallway leading to the restrooms is a tribute gallery to the university, with images dating from 1801 to the 1950s.
“When we decided to go with the 1801 idea, I got with the archivist at the university, and she brought me every book they had in the USC library that documented everything that had happened at the university from 1801 to present day,” Sasser said. “I put a sticky note on every drawing or photo I was interested in, and she digitized all of that for me.”
Then, Sasser and his architect sat down to select the 97 images that would be used in the hallway gallery and plotted their placement. A map identifying each image is available at the restaurant upon request.
A more subtle tribute to the university is in the brick walls in the restaurant’s entryway and along the back wall beside the bar.
“The bricks used on those walls were from the original brick wall constructed around the USC Horseshoe in 1835 as a way of keeping students on campus,” Sasser said. “And they helped protect the campus during the Civil War.”
What does the place look like?
1801 Grille has an Old World tavern feel with an updated, modern twist. The restaurant’s mahogany tables and large, metal chandeliers were designed and made by Sasser’s brother (the same one who raises the Wagyu steers). A patio with roll-up, garage-style glass doors that make way to a completely open-air space can seat up to 40 and can be reserved for private parties.
WHERE: 700 Lincoln St. in USC’s 650 Lincoln complex
WHEN: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. (or later) Friday-Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
COST: Pizzas and burgers start around $14; entrees range from about $16-$24.
WORTH NOTING: Complimentary parking, which can be accessed from Park Street
INFO: (803) 219-1119, www.1801grille.com, www.facebook.com/1801Grille