The anticipated St. Roch Fine Oysters + Bar is opening in downtown Raleigh Wednesday, transforming the former Joule coffee shop into an oyster bar with Creole flavors, inspired by its owner’s New Orleans roots.
The restaurant on South Wilmington Street will open Wednesday at 5 p.m. with $1 oysters from 5 to 6 p.m. Reservations will be accepted starting Tuesday at 2 p.m. on St. Roch’s website at strochraleigh.com.
The restaurant is owned by Chef Sunny Gerhart, who has spent much of his culinary career in the Triangle. Besides working at Enoteca Vin on Glenwood Avenue and Watts Grocery in Durham, Gerhart helped Chef Ashley Christensen open Poole’s Diner and was her executive chef at Joule.
While working at Joule, Gerhart told Christensen, whom he calls a mentor and one of his best friends, that he hoped to open his own restaurant. After exploring other spaces, they agreed that Joule would be the best spot for Gerhart’s restaurant. She sold her lease to Gerhart, and Joule closed at the end of 2016.
He acknowledges he didn’t set out to open a seafood or oyster restaurant. But the Joule space provided inspiration.
“For what we’re trying to do here, it couldn’t be more perfect,” Gerhart said. “They don’t make buildings like this anymore that have character. I knew what I had to work with.”
The restaurant is named for St. Roch (pronounced “St. Rock”), the New Orleans neighborhood where his family is from. And the space and menu reflect Gerhart’s passions of sustainable seafood and reusing found objects.
Oysters and North Carolina clams are the stars of the menu. Diners can pick from four types of oysters. There’s a half-dozen of raw oysters with cocktail sauce, housemade hot sauce, lemon and saltines. A half-dozen roasted oysters are $16 and can be barbecued with lemon and rosemary; tasso’d with tasso spice, sage and gruyere; or served with miso, lime and chili.
“Our regular menu is a lot smaller and a lot more focused,” he said, comparing it to other seafood restaurants in the area whose food he also praises. “It’s going to be a little similar, but it’s not going to be the same.”
St. Roch’s seafood comes from Raleigh-based Locals Seafood, a company that buys and sells seafood caught by North Carolina fishermen. In the future, he may expand the menu to include seafood from other coasts.
“The environmental footprint is a lot smaller,” Gerhart says. “We’re supporting people creating jobs in the area.”
Other dishes include Crab St. Roch (lump crab and poached shrimp), artichoke gratin (with french onion and roasted tomato), braised clams with miso broth and pork belly; and duck and garlic sausage gumbo.
The menu encourages diner to “leave a little room” for dessert: brioche beignets with powdered sugar.
There is an extensive drink menu of cocktails, wine and beer.
The bar is made of pews that once were in a church in Philadelphia. While Gerhart has vivid memories of bringing them back to North Carolina – “That was the most miserable day of my life,” he says of the logistics – he loves how they have been transformed.
His friend, Clay Buck, who owns Clay Buck Building & Design in Wilmington, took the pews apart and built a new bar top.
“We didn’t stain them,” Gerhart said. “It’s got character. It’s not perfectly smooth. I appreciate things like. Instead of tearing things apart, try reusing what we can.”
St. Roch will be open Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 to midnight.
Info: 223 Wilmington St., Raleigh, strochraleigh.com, 919-322-0359