On my last visit to 212 Hale Street, I was a twenty-something with a boyfriend and no kids. I was trying to find my place in Charleston. At that time, the location housed the Vandalia Lounge, a comfy and crowded upscale bar. Nearly ten years later, I’m a married mother of two and the Vandalia has done some changing of its own. Now Vandalia Grille, it’s grown into what it really wanted to be, or at least what I wanted it to be: a cool and relaxed space for people who love food and good company.
The menu offers small plates, designed to share, as well as salads, wraps, sandwiches, burgers, pizza, and sides. The selection is an inspired combination of traditional fare and foodie flair that hits a mark many restaurants miss. In a one-page menu, Vandalia Grille managed to offer at least 14 options that made me say, “mmmmmm, that sounds good.”
The famed sweet potato fries sat atop my must-try list, after recommendations and raves about their deliciousness from multiple friends. The fries did not disappoint. They were the perfect combination of crisp and tender and came with two dipping sauces that were the brand of special that keeps you coming back. I ordered them with a Mediterranean Veggie Wrap because I’m a sucker for anything with feta cheese and balsamic dressing. The wrap was good, filled with tasty grilled vegetables, fresh lettuce, the feta and dressing, but I think I would have been just as pleased with the Mediterranean salad (same ingredients, minus the wrap).
The restaurant’s décor remains much like I remember the lounge’s: casual, with cushy leather couches and sitting areas; modern, but warm. The occasion for my visit was lunch with friends. The kids stayed home so I can’t speak directly to family-friendliness, but I did notice other patrons with children in their parties. While The Vandalia might be perfectly receptive to guests who fall under the required height to ride the big coaster, I think it’s the kind of place I’d rather save for date night or lunch with the (grown up) girls.
Our server (Big Mama, according to the check), was friendly and down-to-earth without being unprofessional or too familiar, and she was just the right amount of attentive. A group of moms on a lunch break have a lot to say to each other. Big Mama totally got it and took care of us while giving us the space we needed for conversation.
Charleston doesn't always embrace the friendly and open spirit that many associate with West Virginia, maybe in an attempt to distance itself from other stereotypes and generalizations about the state. Food, as well as the atmosphere and manner in which it’s served, can be both relatable and distinguished. Vandalia Grille is doing it right.