In Harbor East, on the cusp of Little Italy, sits one of the newest restaurant concepts in the area, Oliver Speck’s.
Named for Chef/Owner Jesse Sandlin’s pet pig, Oliver Speck’s serves up some classic comfort food with a focus on BBQ. Think brisket, pulled pork and turkey served alongside savory sides like macaroni and cheese, baked beans, grits, and mashed “taters.”
On a recent Friday night visit, the restaurant was busy, but not packed, allowing diners to chat comfortably with their dining and drinking companions. The large square bar is the centerpiece of the front portion of the restaurant. Brightly lit, yet still comfortable, the area features a minimal amount of televisions with a greater focus on enjoying the food, drink and company.
In the dining area, two large communal tables welcome large parties or shared dining experiences. Against the wall are tables to accommodate smaller parties or for diners to enjoy a more intimate dining experience.
The appetizer menu offers a fun array of singular or shareable appetizers. Our table chose to try the classic party starter, deviled eggs, as well as the bacon-caramel popcorn. Arriving nearly instantaneously, both appetizers were a tasty start to the meal. Other unique choices included pimento cheese and crackers and pork cracklins with chili salt as well as a “little jar of pickled things,” which I’ve already deemed to be an appealing reason to return, given my soft spot for all things pickled!
As a sidenote, the plates that appetizers are served on are absolutely adorable and make diners feel like they’re eating at a cozy joint where no detail goes overlooked.
The remainder of the menu focuses on the meats and sides and offers combinations for each that are served with a biscuit (which is enormous!) or cornbread. Not looking for meat? Mustardy pulled squash is the delightful alternative.
It should be noted, for those who, like me, want to ponder over the menu online before I visit a restaurant, that while their menu has a lot to offer, it does not match the online menu and there are not sandwich options still available. Our server informed us that this is a very recent menu change, so surely the online menu will soon be better reflective of the actual menu.
The table ordered a variety of different meats and sides and even some appetizers to pair together to make a meal. Meals were served quickly and presentation was perfect.
Described to me previously by a friend as “heavenly,” and without a need for any sauce, the brisket most definitely delivered. Tender and juicy, it can be cut with a fork. And while I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try their four different sauce options, I agree that saucing is not a necessity for meat this sumptuous.
Macaroni and cheese, served in a crock and generously sprinkled with toasty bread crumbs, was a hit with everyone who ordered it. A creamy blend of three cheeses envelops perfectly toothsome noodles that will satisfy any comfort food craving.
A side special for the night, cauliflower au gratin, was also a homerun. Similar to the macaroni and cheese, the cauliflower came served in a rustic crock in a similar cheese sauce and with the toasty bread crumbs as well. If you are looking to avoid pasta, but want to satisfy the craving for a homey, warm, cheesy dish with just the right mixtures of texture, this is a fantastic alternative.
Speaking of alternatives, the mustardy pulled squash was another delight. Served, again, in a homey rustic crock, the pulled squash is somewhat reminiscent of sauerkraut in appearance and texture. Pulled and then prepared so that it is warm and slightly soft, this spaghetti squash retains a slight level of welcome crunchiness. The housemade mustard sauce gave it the perfect tangy kick to counteract the slight sweetness that spaghetti squash has. As a side, or as a whole meat-alternative meal with a side, this dish is surprisingly delectable and any vegetarian, or diner seeking a healthy vegetable option, will want to try this tasty take on squash.
Another delicious choice, the hush puppies are delectable and served with housemade honey butter. While listed as an appetizer, these gorgeously golden hush puppies come out in ample quantity and, paired with another appetizer, could certainly make a meal.
If you are looking for other options besides the meat and side combinations, there are three tasty salad options as well.
In terms of drinks, there are a variety of tasty cocktails on the menu and a stellar list of bottled beer options, in addition to a few rotating taps. The list of reds and whites is a little brief, but the quality of each that we tried was top notch. I’ll take quality over quantity any day! Recommended by our knowledgeable server, the Plungerhead Zinfandel was incredible and pairs well with most menu items. If white wine is what you are seeking, the only slightly sparkly Vinho Verde is a fantastic accompaniment to the menu options, or on its own. (Another insider tip from the server: Bartender Jon Carroll is an amazing creator of cocktails. Try stopping by on a Wednesday to try one of his creative concoctions.)
All in all, if you’re looking for something a little different from the other mainstays in Harbor East, this spot is a great place to enjoy some comfort food or innovative appetizers and cocktails. And if you’re a Top Chef junkie? You’ll enjoy getting to brag that you visited the restaurant run by Top Chef Contestant Jesse Sandlin.
507 S. Exeter Street
*Note: Reservations are only taken for parties for 10 or more.