By MADOLINE MARKHAM
Chef Chris Harrigan can easily talk for hours about how his experience as a chef, farmer and restaurant consultant brought him back Mt Laurel to create the casual-upscale menu he changes daily at Stones Throw Bar and Grill.
Harrigan wants the restaurant to be a gathering space for people who live just a stone’s throw away. “We try to foster relationships and create a craving so our customers want to come back,” he said.
He opened Stones Throw in the former Standard Bistro location in the spring of 2010 when fine dining was losing its market in the middle of the economic crisis. The idea was to create a hybrid of family and fine dining experiences using higher end techniques with lower price points.
“We wanted to be more accessible, to appeal to different kinds of people and to incorporate traditional Southern fare,” Harrigan said.
The signature of each of Stones Throw’s dishes is fresh, seasonal produce. Harrigan grew up gardening and for two years before coming to Stones Throw grew vegetables at a farm in Vincent exclusively for chefs. “I use anything local I can get my hands on,” he said. Stones Throw has a small garden with herbs and some lettuces and tomatoes, and most other produce is sourced from local farmers.
Stones Throw offers a buffet during lunch that’s $10 per person and can be eaten in 10 minutes, Harrigan said. Each day has a different theme: Wednesday is Mediterranean, Thursday Mexican, Friday Southern Soul and Saturday brunch. The fried chicken and Southern sides on Friday pack the biggest crowd of the week.
For those looking for an affordable, casual meal, a half-pound hickory burger is $10 and so is a flat bread with seasonal toppings like pestos and squashes that’s big enough for meal. Most appetizers are less than $10 and meant for sharing.
You can find Southern classics with an upscale twist like fried chicken livers and okra baskets with a homemade ranch dressing. “I love okra, and the only way to eat it is fried,” Harrigan said.
The smoked chicken nachos are topped with uniquely delicious salsa fresco, queso sauce and lime crema, all made fresh.
At the next price point are daily dishes like a Brick Oven Roasted Chicken Breast with braised new potatoes ($18), a Southern Fried Porterhouse Chop ($22) and Shrimp and Grits ($24). The Shrimp and Grits is always available with its classic combination of capers, tomatoes, McEwen and Sons grits and a white wine sauce.
For those looking for a more upscale dinner, there’s always a nice cut of beef like a Hickory Grilled Beef Tenderloin with Balsamic Glaze ($32) and a few fresh seafood dishes.
Harrigan serves succotash, a traditional Southern combination of sweet corn, black eyed peas, okra and smoked bacon, with seafood all summer. “It’s simple and Southern,” Harrigan said, “It doesn’t get any better than that combination in the summer.”
The Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo is hearty and popular ($7); you can make a meal out of it and a salad like a Hearts of Romaine “Cobb,” Baby Greens and Watermelon Salad with goat cheese and grilled red onions, or Southern Tomato Caprese salad with fried green tomatoes and basil pesto.
The selection doesn’t stop at the printed menu. Harrigan said you can make any request from former menus or really anything. “We don’t say, ‘No,’” he said.
He marks up the menu each day, adjusting the details of recipes and adding new items to the menu he hopes people in the surrounding neighborhoods will come by to try for either a quick weekday meal and a special occasion dinner.
“We want people from neighboring areas to come and hang out,” he said. He fondly recalls how many families came to eat on the patio in the spring and let their kids run around and play in the garden. Harrigan is considering adding a meal like meatloaf and side dishes served in large dishes family-style for $10 per person.
The restaurant also has a private dining room and offers catering services.
Harrigan has worked for 20 different restaurants concepts in Birmingham, San Francisco, South Florida and Italy over his career. He’s trained under Frank Stitt, helped open the original Standard Bistro 10 years ago, was a country club executive chef and consulted on openings for Jim N Nicks, among other things. With all this experience, he is now fulfilling a different dream operating his own restaurant and trying to put a definition on upscale casual dining.
“People want good food that’s not as expensive but is still interesting,” he said. Fresh, simple, local, seasonal—that’s what you’ll find at the core of Stones Throw’s dining experience.
3 Mt Laurel Avenue 995-0512 www.stonesthrowgrill.com
Tuesday, 5:30 to 9 p.m.
Wed. & Thur., 11 am- 2 pm, 5:30 to 9 pm
Fri. & Sat., 11 am- 2 pm, 5:30 to 10 pm