One bright side of a journey with lots of ups and downs is that it makes a hard-fought happy ending that much more rewarding. And Bridge Road Bistro owner Sandy Call — at long last — is basking in the glory of success shaped by its fair share of struggles along the way.
When late celebrated chef Robert Wong first opened the restaurant in Charleston’s tony South Hills neighborhood back in 2004, it quickly became one of the region’s top restaurants, drawing crowds and four-star reviews for years.
But when Wong suddenly died of a heart attack in 2012, his wife Sherri and then-manager Call were left to pick up the pieces. They dug in to keep the restaurant afloat, offering fine food and a casual place for drinks while enjoying live music.
That strategy worked and the hiring of John Wright, a classically trained chef from Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, helped shore up the Bistro’s food game.
Things were on the upswing until a derecho storm later that year shut down the city for days. They bounced back, but then a 2014 chemical spill into Charleston’s water supply crippled the local restaurant industry once again.
Talk about your roller-coaster ride!
Still, they persevered, only to face their biggest hurdle yet this year. While COVID-19 forced the temporary closure of all restaurants for a few weeks, Bridge Road Bistro shut its doors for 6 months, taking a longer break than most.
“We closed the day before the governor mandated and I thought that would last two weeks max,” Call said. “But we’re a fine-dining restaurant and once other places started opening for takeout, no one was ordering filet and scallops to go.”
She also said her father and Wright’s mother were both in nursing homes at the time, so they wanted the opportunity to spend time with them without putting them at risk being in the restaurant every day. And she felt the risk was too high for her staff and guests.
“It really was a hard decision, because people’s lives and livelihoods were at stake, but there was just so much we didn’t know. So we hunkered down and kept our doors closed until we had a clearer path forward.”
And selfishly, Call added, she enjoyed the extra time that gave her to spend with her goddaughter, boyfriend and growing the “Bistro Soup Mix” business she had recently launched.
Now, the Bistro’s tables are filling up once again and Call can’t help but appreciate the blessing yet another “do over” has provided.
“We’ve been living like an ol’ oak tree,” Call explained. “We know we have to weather the storms or we all fall. Failure is not in my DNA and I have managed to surround myself with a very strong, knowledgeable and loyal staff. Honestly, I am nothing without my Bistro family.”
A revamped menu now offers an appealing blend of old favorites alongside exciting new dishes, plus Wright has been treating lucky guests to a rotating selection of complimentary amuse-bouche soup “shooters” like sweet pea or heirloom gazpacho with goat cheese foam.
Longtime guests will be happy to still see classic apps like the restaurant’s signature fresh-made chips topped with warm bleu cheese, scallions and bacon, as well as delicious Thai chicken lettuce wraps stuffed with sesame oil-braised thigh meat bathed in sweet Thai chili sauce with cilantro pearls.
New warmups include local banana peppers stuffed with Italian sausage marinara, chicken wings with smoked peach glaze and sliced jalapenos, and blackened shrimp tacos with shredded red cabbage, cotija cheese and ancho yogurt sauce.
The beloved bacon-wrapped BBQ meatloaf with a silky glaze is still on the dinner menu, but new entrée options include a “Black & Bleu” sirloin with flash-fried Brussels sprout leaves and cauliflower mash, plus seared salmon atop sweet corn puree with roasted heirloom tomatoes and parsley pearls.
A new lineup of “Boujee Burgers” includes the French Onion, a Little John topped with stuffed banana peppers and provolone, a Lamb Burger with feta and house-made tzatziki, and a Certified Angus Beef Godmother topped with lettuce, tomato, applewood bacon, bleu cheese and hot wing sauce.
Afterward, you can cap off your meal with a slice of carrot cake, a flourless chocolate cake, crème brulee, cheesecake or locally made ice cream.
But whether Call’s future is just as sweet is anything but certain.
“We expect the unexpected at all times,” she said. “My momma taught me that. Nothing is ever guaranteed, so you just have to navigate and survive. But my journey has been blessed beyond measure, so even when we’re dealt some tough cards, we have to believe the next hand may be better.”
IF YOU GO: Bridge Road Bistro, 915 Bridge Rd. in Charleston, is currently open from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4:30 p.m. to midnight on Friday, and 2 p.m. to midnight on Saturday. For more information, call 304-720-3500, visit www.thebridgeroadbistro.com or visit the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Readers in the Huntington area can also enjoy Call’s restaurant handiwork at the new Sunset Grill on 4th Avenue, which opened in early 2020 offering a selection of brick-oven pizzas, entrees and cocktails in the cozy location that used to house Prime on 4th.