In the South, barbecue, like football, is a religion.
And the debate over mustard-, ketchup- or vinegar-based 'cue can be heated.
"Barbecue is so galvanizing here; fights break out," said chef Scott Hall, whose first bricks-and-mortar restaurant, Bone-In Barbeque, opens Friday at BullStreet.
The restaurant is located in the restored, historic Ensor building on the former S.C. State Hospital campus, which is being redeveloped. It overlooks the entry plaza of Spirit Communications Park, home of the Columbia Fireflies minor league baseball team.
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Hall has been featured by such publications as GQ and Smithsonian magazines for his catering business and his Bone-In Artisan BBQ on Wheels food truck. He's also appeared on the Cooking Channel television shows “Man Fire Food” and “Eat St.,” as well as the Travel Channel’s “BBQ Crawl.”
The Columbia native plans a "low and slow" opening for Bone-In, allowing his staff time to ramp up to high gear. A grand opening will be held in about a month, Hall said.
"We're going to have limited seating at first," he said. "If we didn't, we could sink the kitchen in 15 minutes — it's a big room. We want people to come, but there will probably be a wait."
The wait could be very pleasant, however. Hall will have drink service featuring kicked-up Prohibition-era cocktails and small bites served at the bar or on the wide patio adjoining the stadium's entry plaza.
The 3,600-square-foot casual dining restaurant has a large bar — complete with purse hooks and USB ports — that was handmade from rubber wood by Hall and his father, Steven.
Baseballs rest in a three-tiered tray at the bar. "We do get the occasional foul ball on the patio," Hall said.
Roll-up glass garage doors open onto the patio, which seats 40 and features European-style cafe chairs and umbrellas.
In the 77-seat main dining room, Hall and his father repurposed oyster tables by building circular “lazy Susan” inserts, making it easy to share dishes. A private dining room can accommodate up to 30 guests.
A twist for the monthlong opening is that Hall plans to hand out cards seeking input on the restaurant's barbecue dishes.
“Every person who walks through our doors will be a barbecue expert, because this is South Carolina and everyone has an opinion,” Hall said. “So we’re going to have fun with it. But we're also going to take the input very seriously."
Hall calls his cuisine "experimental barbecue" that is "hyper local." He chuckles when the controversy over mustard-, ketchup- or vinegar-based barbecue is brought up.
"We're so far beyond" cooking the typical barbecue styles, he said. "A lot of our food has never been plated before."
For instance, on Tuesday, his kitchen crew was tinkering with a baseball-themed appetizer — candied kielbasa Cracker Jack. (It's really good, BTW.)
Hall plans to open Tuesday through Saturday from 4 to 9 p.m., with happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m.
The Fireflies don't play at home again until Tuesday. But on game days, Hall hopes the patio will be a popular destination for fans.
"We hope they tailgate with us," he said, adding that free valet parking will be offered to restaurant patrons.
Hall's general manager is Howard Jarrett, formerly of Terra, the Palmetto Club and Motor Supply. Hall’s kitchen team includes alums of Terra, War Mouth and Greenville’s Bacon Brothers Public House.
Jarrett said he decided to move to Bone-In after an eye-opening trip out west.
"I was out in Las Vegas and instead of eating at the high-end restaurants, I went to a taqueria and stood in line for 20 minutes. The food was so fresh and so different. It was like an epiphany. So I wanted to get closer to the food. And I believe in what Scott is doing."
BullStreet, at 181 acres, is considered the largest land deal in Columbia history.
Master developer Hughes Development Corp. of Greenville plans a 20-year build-out of the campus, which began with the construction of the mostly public $37 million baseball stadium and the adjacent First Base Building, a four-story office and retail building.
Mayor Steve Benjamin, in a news release, said: "This is more than just a new restaurant in our city. ... It's the perfect first restaurant for Columbia's newest downtown neighborhood."
Bone-In is the first retail establishment on the campus (outside of the stadium).
And the Ensor building in which it is located has a bit of a macabre past. It was formerly the state mental hospital's research laboratory and morgue.
"We've cleaned it all out," Hall said. "There isn't a trace left."