Less than two weeks after the last chopstick was cleared from the final service of the Punk Wok pop-up kitchen at MG Road Bar & Lounge, chef Elliot Moss is back at it with a new project.
“We’re calling it a restaurant takeover,” he says of The Thunderbird, which opens Thursday, Nov. 6, at MG Road. The new concept restaurant will be housed in the Wall Street cocktail bar for the four months preceding the opening of Moss’ highly anticipated South Slope barbecue restaurant, Buxton Hall.
“It looks like Buxton Hall is going to open in the spring,” says Meherwan Irani, owner of MG Road and partner in Buxton Hall. They have, he says, just recently received the go-ahead to even begin construction. “The timing just felt right for Punk Wok to end. It was only supposed to be a pop-up, and it lasted almost a year.”
In the process of assembling his team for Buxton Hall, Moss inadvertently reassembled much of the staff he previously worked with during his time at The Admiral, with Sarah Cousler, Eric Kang, Dan Silo and Lydia Clopton all joining the ranks.
“Right at the end of Punk Wok,” Irani says, “Elliot assembled what was essentially his old crew from The Admiral. So Elliot came to me and said, ‘What if, for these last few months before Buxton opens, we did a restaurant takeover of MG Road? I’ve got this crew, and I want to cook.’ And I asked him what he wanted to cook, and he said, ‘My food.’ Which is actually a good question, so I said, ‘Elliot, what exactly is your food?'” And that’s where The Thunderbird concept was born.
There is a phrase you hear repeated often when you talk to a lot of chefs: “Cook what you know.” It’s not just a suggestion for most chefs; it is a dogma. And undeniably, “what we know” is connected to where we are from and how we were raised. For chef Elliot Moss, those roots run deep. Growing up in South Carolina, his connection to Southern classics like barbecue, liver hash and Brunswick stew is so deeply ingrained it functions as an instinct.
“All cooks, all chefs, no matter who it is, you’re always going to be influenced by where you grew up,” says Irani. “If Elliot cooks my food, it still has his style. His style is just different; it is down and dirty. I’ve been calling it ‘Retro Southern.’ It’s like Southern food that is still stuck in the ’60s. It’s not pretentious or struggling to be retro, it’s not trying to be modern either, but it’s down-home and it’s really legitimate.”
“When I was growing up as a kid in the ’80s, there was this place called The Thunderbird in Florence [South Carolina],” says Moss. “It was attached to this old hotel, and it was like this big country buffet that served as the hotel’s restaurant. But it looked like something that they’d just picked up and moved there from mid-century Las Vegas. It was just so weird and wacky, because it was still decorated from the ’70s, but it was the ’80s, but it was a country buffet.”
“I’m trying to draw inspiration from that,” he says, “but it wont actually be a buffet.”
“Thunderbird is a chance for diners, if they so desire, to come in and, in a very unusual and intimate setting, experience not just what Elliot cooks, but experience why he cooks what he does,” says Irani. “He cooks the way he does because of where he came from.”
“This is a one-off,” he continues. “This is the chance for the old Admiral crew to rehash their glory days one more time, and to get it out of their system before they all start cooking barbecue every day.”
So what, you may be asking, will happen to MG Road? “For however long this takeover will last, the restaurant and the bar will be working side by side,” explains Irani. “It’s not just the bar offering new food service; we are actually opening a restaurant called The Thunderbird inside of MG Road, and MG Road will coexist around it. We’re still figuring out how that will work.”
This is nothing new for Moss. When The Admiral opened, the building had housed a dive bar of the same name for years. For the most part, it was maintained as the same bar but also offered incredible, high-end food. Slowly, the bar evolved into a restaurant. So, with The Thunderbird, we can expect something similar, only temporary.