Dining

2Nixons Is Breaking Charleston's Curfew

Meet the chef behind the city's late-night ramen hot spot
Photo: Courtesy of 2Nixons
Jeffrey Stoneberger of 2Nixons

“Whenever I do something, I become obsessed.” That’s Jeffrey Stoneberger, chef and owner of 2Nixons, talking. And the city of Charleston is reaping the benefits.

If you move quickly, you can, too. Stoneberger’s pop-up is still under the radar, but we’re guessing that won't last long. Not when Husk’s Sean Brock is ‘gramming about the chef’s work, calling his bacon ramen “insane,” proclaiming he could eat it “every morning for breakfast.”

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Stoneberger’s background reads like any line cook’s fantasy: He staged at The Fat Duck in London and with René Redzepi at Noma before staging at Noma was a thing; he worked briefly in NYC at Momofuku Noodle Bar and Del Posto, then headed down south to cook at McCrady's alongside chefs Jeremiah Langhorne and Aaron Silverman. Next, he foraged for Saison and did R&D for Bryan Voltaggio's restaurant group.

But for the past year, Stoneberger has been luring curious diners and chefs to his after-hours pop-up, hosted in various breweries around the city. The draw? Everything from brown-butter and blue crab ramen one night to bonito butter clam yakitori the next, with something just as inventive the following evening. Need more convincing? How about tonkotsu broth flavored with smoked pigs’ ears and tails and black vinegar pickled shiitake, or scrapple yakitori ​glazed in Korean barbecue—a favorite of Stoneberger’s. Charred and caramelized over portable, Binchotan grills, Stoneberger turns this much-maligned offal loaf into something unrecognizably addictive. And then there’s the okra served with olive miso sauce (see the recipe), which we can’t get enough of.

The name 2Nixons comes from an historic dinner the eponymous president ate on a trip to China in 1972. After that meal, which was broadcasted around the world, interest in Chinese food took off in the U.S. Similarly, Stoneberger wants to expand people’s culinary horizons and challenge their assumptions about dining.

Setting up shop at local breweries and cocktail joints (read: spaces with built-in bars) three or four nights a week, Stoneberger isn't just bringing the heat with his knockout food. Keeping the grills on as late as 3 a.m. for chefs who file in on weekends post-shift, he’s also firing up Charleston’s late-night food scene—one that simply didn't exist before.

“It started because there was this new influx of chefs, from New York especially,” Stoneberger says. “Guys like Michael Toscano and that whole massive crew of chefs that were coming in were used to those kind of late-night bites. And no one was doing this.” As he explains, Stoneberger decided to fill the void with “fire, fun—fun is at the forefront—and noodles.”

Grilled Pork Confit on the Korin Binchōtan | Photo: Courtesy of 2Nixons

But there’s more to the story than just fun and noodles. Drawing from both his childhood spent eating blue crabs on Fenwick Island in Delaware and his impressive culinary pedigree, Stoneberger is putting what most of us consider “late-night food” to shame.

Of his nuanced broths, he says, “I approach it from a sauce-making perspective—from a fine dining perspective. There are notes that I want to hit.” This care and thought goes into each element of the menu, like his Bulls Bay Saltworks seawater pickles—inspired by his time foraging for Saison along the coast.

“There might be 50 elements that go into this little bowl of noodles. It’s super deep and layered,” he says. And you can taste it.

2Nixons Ramen and Szechuan Boiled Peanuts | Photo: Michael Hrizuk

“I go to Jeff's pop-up at least once a week. The food he puts out is the best in Charleston right now. Pound for pound, the best,” Home Team BBQ pitmaster Madison Ruckel says.

Understandably, 2Nixons is not only selling out seats but also has a loyal following of regulars, warns Karen Easterby of beer lounge Craft Conundrum, a bar specializing in local microbrews with more than 120 beers on draft and host to around 40 2Nixons pop-ups.

“It's clear a lot of thought and craftsmanship goes into each dish. They're packed with layers of flavor and textures,” Easterby goes on.

This season, those flavors and textures came in the form of zucchini umeboshi, and roasted duck miso ramen with grilled pork confit and heirloom purple sweet corn. Next season, expect a charred carrot broth, steeped with bonito.

For two nights in October, Stoneberger heads north to join forces once again with Voltaggio for a dinner at his restaurant, Range. “What Jeffrey has brought to Charleston with 2Nixons is really special,” Voltaggio says. “We wanted to get back together in the kitchen and show D.C. what he has been up to.”

Scrapple Yakitori with House Hot Sauce | Photo: Michael Hrizuk

With all the success, you’d think a brick-and-mortar restaurant wouldn’t be far off. But Stoneberger is a pop-up evangelist—for the time being, anyway. He values the freedom to experiment and focus on the food. He says he’ll consider setting up shop only “once the restaurant bomb kind of blows itself.” For now, he’s sticking with the tried-and-true breweries and cocktail bars.

Charleston’s food scene is already a force to be reckoned with, and chef Stoneberger is adding more fuel to the fire. With dishes like grilled Meyer lemon shio ramen (a bowl he calls “unfuckwithable”), we only wish there were more hours in the day to enjoy them.

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