With its latest concept, SERG Group goes back to basics.
Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Kim Smith Photo
Nick Unangst is scrolling through photos on his phone, gleefully showing off shots from his day on the farm. There’s Sam, the frisky border collie who became Unangst’s best friend following a game of fetch, trotting toward a herd of dairy goats at Split Creek Farms. There’s a shot of the equipment Forx Farm uses to make its deliciously rich gouda cheese. Each is a reminder of what a different venture Nectar Farm Kitchen represents.
Sitting at a side booth at Nectar, where construction crews were busy transforming the old Marley’s Island Grille location into a warm, country-style farm house, he and fellow chef Chris Carge are working through a lengthy printout listing suppliers, cross-referencing delivery dates for fresh produce, eggs, meat and dairy from a network of around 40 farms.
“There’s a lot of logistic involved,” said Carge with more than a hint of deadpan humor.
The two of them represent nearly half of the five chefs taking the helm at Nectar, the other three being fellow SERG stalwarts Orchid Paulmeier, Brad Blake and Andrew Davis. For Unangst, who had been serving as corporate chef overseeing 10 different restaurants, Nectar represents a chance to narrow his focus onto one menu. For Carge, who had made his mark with Poseidon’s wildly creative menu, it represents a chance to expand on the relationships he’d built with area suppliers.
“It worked out for the both of us,” said Unangst.
The range of suppliers, proudly displayed on the back of the menu at Nectar, is impressive. But perhaps even more impressive is what these chefs have done with them. From breakfast to dinner, each item informs a massive menu that runs a broad gamut. While the overarching theme is one of farm-fresh cuisine, it’s not necessarily a mandate.
“The theme is inspirational Southern ingredients, but things like the Korean fried waffles are a little more out there,” said Carge. “But that’s just the stuff we like to eat so we snuck it in there.”
There are more than a few surprises. Alongside the traditional stick-to-your-ribs fare of breakfast and the approachable upscale dishes on the lunch and dinner menu, you’ll find items like noodle bowls, African gumbo and Lowcountry cioppino. Yes, local is the rule, but farm-raised ingredients don’t always need to make for farmhouse cuisine.
When asked whether the menu drives the supply or vice versa, both chefs insist it’s both. “It’s a weird, wacky combination, I think,” said Carge. “Something will spark an idea, and it morphs into us asking, ‘Should we try this?’”
So the local ingredients may be a big part of the appeal, but it’s ultimately the culinary magic Nectar’s chefs have created from those ingredients that steals the show. That said, sourcing each ingredient on an almost individual basis, from Hilton Head Island tomatoes to Springer Mountain, Georgia, tomatoes, does represent a unique new test.
“When I was at Poseidon, I’d already been working with some of these local fishermen and farms, and it’s really caught traction,” said Carge. Nectar just takes those networks and takes them to the next level. “This is our baby for it.”
“We were ready for this challenge,” added Unangst. “The island doesn’t have anything like this. And being socially conscious and trying to help communities, it’s not a horrible idea. Small farmers need as much help as possible.”
At its heart, Nectar represents a natural evolution for the farm-to-table movement. Long the province of smaller, more intimate eateries with a handful of exclusive tables, Nectar will take the same devotion to local sourcing and apply it to a much larger footprint.
“What we’ve learned is that there are a lot more people making artisanal products than we thought,” said Unangst. “One challenge is getting them out of a farmers market mentality and into a distribution mentality, because they are two different animals.”
It can be a tall order, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Nectar. As part of SERG Restaurant Group, Carge and Unangst can work alongside their fellow owner partners to leverage buying power and share in a network of farms already being developed by sister restaurants.
“With SERG in general, our chefs are motivated to work with locally sustainable products, and we’ve slowly been incorporating that into our DNA. I’ve been with SERG since 2002, and it’s always an evolutionary process. Evolving and getting smarter, getting more socially conscious. As we move along, it’s kind of a natural process,” said Unangst. “I think this is the most evolved and enlightened thing we’re doing.”