With dramatic food in an inspired space, Grace has found its sweet spot.
When Anne Verrill first saw the neglected Methodist Church on Chestnut Street, she knew immediately she had to do something with it.
“It was impossible not to,” she says. The bones of the Gothic Revival church, built before the Civil War, were impeccable, and the space held promise in its soaring arches, slender pillars, and exquisite stained glass windows. Elements from the building’s original mission were repurposed: turrets became wine storage, pews are now benches along the walls, and the raised area where the altar was once located is an open kitchen. The painstaking transformation of the old church into a new restaurant was eagerly anticipated, and Grace opened its tall red doors in 2009.
At the center of the cavernous space is the circular bar, crowned by a custom-made triquetra. The dramatic wood and glass structure, hand-made by a friend of Verrill’s, mirrors the trefoil motif found throughout the space. With an excellent selection of libations, as well as an appealing menu of small plates and snacks, the bar draws visitors in search of a transcendent experience. Bartender Nikki Bates uses locally distilled spirits to create the Voodoo Priestess, the latest in a roster of cocktails that play on the sinner and saint theme. The Heated Affair is now a classic at Grace, featuring house- infused strawberry, jalapeno, and pineapple tequila. In the late afternoon, sunlight streaming in from the kaleidoscopic windows casts a magical glow, illuminating the bar and the bustling kitchen, presided over by chef Adam Flood.
The first chef at Grace was well- regarded, but somewhat formal, branding Grace as a special- occasion restaurant. The second chef put out excellent food, but it was more casual than what Verrill had in mind. Flood, who has been at Grace for two and a half years, “has hit the exact mark of where we want to be,” she says. “His food is exciting but approachable.” It’s also beautifully composed. Every dish that Flood presented us with was a veritable work of art. “Adam just swells with pride about his plates,” says Verrill. The charcuterie board is served on a slate tile, originally from the roof of the church. Black is the perfect backdrop for the clever presentation of meats, cheeses, pickles, fruit, and mustards. There are additions to the board that make it extraordinary: raisins still on the vine, Chihuahua cucumbers that resemble tiny watermelons, fresh figs, and honeycomb. As Flood starts to describe each cheese and its provenance, he gets very excited. “I could talk about the charcuterie board all day,” he says, a little apologetically.
But there’s so much more of his food to taste, admire, and discuss. Every dish is multifaceted, layered, and complex. “I want things to be complicated,” says Flood. “I like to make stuff you won’t make at home.” He’s right about that. I don’t see myself ever whipping up cocoa-cured foie gras, but I can enjoy Flood’s version at Grace. “It’s such a decadent combination,” he says of the dish, which also features chocolate chip banana bread, cocoa nib crumble, and strawberry- chocolate mint jam. I admit to being skeptical about the whole thing, but any misgivings are put to rest when I take a bite. Every component comes together in a forkful, a fascinating intermix of flavors for the adventurous palate. The balance of flavors is surprising, a quality Flood aims for even in his most complex preparations.
More familiar flavors appear in a generous short rib, prepared in a multi-step process that renders it wonderfully tender and tasty, with Asian flavors of soy and sweet chili. It’s served over bok choy, pattypan squash, fresh baby corn, and other uncommon vegetables. A copious bowl of Frogmore stew, a traditional, low-country dish, is reinvented with Maine ingredients. It takes two to three days of simmering to make the slightly spicy broth from tomatoes, lobster stock, and wine. For serving, local mussels, littlenecks, and lobster are added to the broth, along with PeeWee potatoes and chunks of corn on the cob. “Most of my entrees are multi-day projects,” says Flood. “It’s a labor of love. It’s what I do.”
The chef is thoroughly devoted to his calling, and his commitment to it extends beyond the stylish walls of Grace. Flood shows me a large container of herbs and edible flowers that he and his father have grown in their garden, along with unusual varieties of tomatoes. “This is more than a job for me,” he says.
And Grace is more than a restaurant. It’s played host to countless weddings, community dinners, private parties, and special events. Anne Verrill’s expansive vision for the historic church is realized at every meal, cocktail, and occasion. For those who worship sophisticated food and inspired decor, it’s all about Grace.