A welcome outpost of Southern charm in Del Ray, Live Oak combines a solid drink list, enchanting decor, and an inviting atmosphere.
Overall Rating: 4.5
One of my favorite cities in the world is Charleston – the mix of American history, gentile architecture, and Southern food drew me in years ago and never let go. But Charleston is a bit of a hike, so if you’re looking for your quick fix of Southern charm, you should pay a visit to Del Ray’s new neighborhood restaurant, Live Oak. Named after the distinctly Charleston growth, the restaurant ably walks the line between fine dining establishment and neighborhood watering hole, which is a perfect fit for the upscale but restrained Del Ray. Live Oak’s inspired design is warm and welcoming, with soft wooden furnishings that dull beautifully in the summer sun flowing through the large windows.
Amidst the sunny, antebellum surroundings, you need something upscale to sip on. Luckily, Live Oak offers six cocktails that pay homage to American classics but with some distinctive and welcome twists. Live Oak’s beverage manager Will Witherow is a pal and the one who got me into the whole cocktail game in the first place, so needless to say I enjoyed all six of his magnificent mixes, particularly four standouts. My favorite drink was the “Bee’s Knees” with hibiscus-infused honey, lemon juice, and gin; this was just sublime, with a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming delicious, savory taste on the nose from the honey, then a great lemon and gin thrust. I just loved the relaxing, flavorful tone of this cocktail, which carries just the right level of zest and citrus.
Then the “Old Fashioned” with house-made roasted pecan syrup, black walnut bitters, and smoked salt water. This was a nice take on the OF with a simmering, nutty flavor through the drink leading to a sharp, sugary overall taste. Very easy to drink and a generous pour as well. Then a standout with the “Mule” with house made ginger beer, lime juice, and vodka – you can choose any spirit you’d like, but I’m a guardian of tradition, not some wild-eyed hippie, so I have it with vodka. Will’s copper mugged delight was the first cocktail I really embraced, but this taller variant is different; spicier and a little more ginger-forward than most mules you’ll have, this tall drink of water has a surprisingly sophisticated flavor profile, but still delivers that refreshment you order a mule for. Bubbles, lime, and heated ginger – my oh my, what a summer drink!
Moving on to another standout, the “Sour” with pineapple syrup, lime juice, egg white, tiki bitters, and spiced rum. This was velvety sweetness, measured, and just perfectly straight, with a citrus buzz on a nice milkshakey cloud. The rum is very light but present. Then the “Hemingway Daquiri” with grapefruit juice, lime juice, maraschino liquor, and honey habanero moonshine. This was a standout mostly because I reflexively avoid grapefruit and maraschino, but in this ode to Hemingway, those ingredients are aligned and even, with a clean bite – the drink is made, however, by the spiced moonshine, which kicks half way through the gulp and offers just the right level of fire through the sip. Loved it.
Our finale was the “Pimm’s Cup” with lemon juice, cucumber-syrup, Navy strength gin, Pimm #1, and ginger. I’ve never been a big booster of Pimm’s Cup drinks, but this was nice, with a heavyweight gin shot granting some oomph to this very herbal, earthy cocktail. Loved the ginger and lemon match here, which flows nice on the heady gin. Nice way to end the tour at Live Oak – I’ll be back soon.