(This article first appeared in the April issue of VIP Magazine, and is republished here with their permission, and my appreciation.)
Story by Gray Bostick / Original photography by Judy Quick Sharon
This is not your father’s Lake City.
For generations known the epicenter of the Pee Dee’s tobacco heritage, where leaf prices often dictated economic realities, prosperity or hardship – and even led some to crime, such as the Palmetto State Bank Robbery of 1934, when tobacco harvest deposits reportedly totaling over $114,000 were stolen – once-sleepy Lake City, South Carolina is a thing of the past.
As anyone who has passed thru its downtown area of late can attest, in its place is a progressive and vibrant city prepping for a brighter tomorrow. In short, the renaissance is on. A host of carefully-thought out moves are forever changing this town, resulting in a bevy of new cultural, civic, and economic opportunities – some completed, some underway, and even more planned.
It might be said that Lake City is turning over a new leaf – literally – to re-make itself and, to quote Frank Sinatra, “those little town blues are melting away.” A keystone to Downtown Lake City’s vision for a better future is the Inn at the Crossroads, a new 57-room boutique hotel, and its in-house restaurant, “Crossroads on Main,” home to some of the most exquisitely delicious dishes and finest dining experiences ever available in the Pee Dee.
And those ritzy restaurants that have either grown trite or required Pee Dee residents spend hours of travel be advised: there’s a new chef in town. And this time he’s local – and serving dishes on par with entrees served anywhere.
The chef in this case is “Crossroads on Main” Executive Chef Sherif Elkhyati, who’s made it his goal to set new standards in providing the most elegant dining in a refined and cultured atmosphere available not just in the Pee Dee, but the state. Just as Sinatra sings, Elkhyati is determined to make “Crossroads” the “king of the hill, top of the heap” – and has pulled out all stops to ensure that it becomes THE place for special nights out.
And given the opportunity to do it his own way – such as trashing the old menu and starting from scratch, Elkhyati turned to those who mattered most: potential diners.
“We had to determine what people were looking for,” he says. “My first couple months, I would go to people and ask, ”What do you think of when I say ‘Crossroads’ restaurant’? I wanted to know exactly what we needed to do to let people see that a change was coming, that we wanted their input into how we did things, and that they could trust us to be the best.”
“Crossroads on Main” can be categorized as an upscale steakhouse serving regional cuisine with a European bent. Only top-quality ingredients are used in “Crossroads” dishes, including certified Angus Beef, fresh seafood, and farm-raised, free-range chicken, as well as many products grown in the Pee Dee. The dinner menu is loaded with palette-pleasing dishes ranging from steaks of all cuts, plus delicious kabobs, to lamb and pork chops, salmon, tuna, or shrimp, or exquisitely prepared poultry dishes including Pollo Dia, Chicken Marsala, or Chicken Alexander. Sides are also scrumptious, featuring caramelized carrots, sauteed spinach, roasted asparagus, and garlic mashed potatoes, as are the soups, such as the She-Crab and Shrimp bisque, and salads ranging from House to Caesar to Arugula, all topped by in-house prepared dressings and vinaigrettes. Desserts, including crème brũlée and tiramisu, are delectable
“Crossroads” also operates a bar that runs daily specials, and has a courtyard where diners, or guests may gather to share a pre-dinner liquid appetizer or post-meal cocktail socializing with friends, or just relax with a nightcap beneath twinkling lights and stars.
Crossroads serves a delightful lunch menu, featuring appetizers, soups, and salads, and a broad selection of scrumptious sandwiches and burgers, all prepared to order. Additionally, “Crossroads” serves a delicious breakfast with traditional Southern favorites, as well as more extravagant offerings such as Smoked Nova Benedict, in addition to various standard three-egg omelets, including a “Build Your Own” option.
But menus are just a starting point for Elkhyati. “Our menus are constantly evolving as we replace some items with new things, different dishes that we think our guests might enjoy,” he notes. “We want to make sure that everyone is happy, not only with our food, but with our service. That is a matter of personal pride.”
And it’s that same pride in accomplishment that has motivated Elkhyati to attain his status as an executive chef.
A native of Alexandria, Egypt, Elkhyati traveled a long path to reach “Crossroads on Main,” first arriving in America alone as a young immigrant, forgoing friends and family for a chance of living the American Dream. Touching down in Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” without any prospects – just a dream and faith – he was able to secure employment at a Brooklyn restaurant where he worked for two years as a dishwasher. But it was time well-spent as he also became increasingly knowledgeable about the restaurant business thanks to an employer who recognized and nurtured his culinary curiosity.
He also worked in other bakeries and diners before deciding to study Culinary Arts at North Hampton Community College, completing his education at Saucon Valley Country Club, a unique and spacious 800+ acre club retreat just outside of Allentown, PA noted for its exceptional recreational and social offerings. He also served as executive chef and kitchen manager at Chelsea’s Restaurant and Pub in Lebanon, NJ, and was owner/operator of the Norfay Cafe in Nazareth, PA.
But having found a bride and started a family, Elkhyati reassessed priorities and decided to relocate to South Carolina in order to be closer to relatives. Once settled there, he found work in Murrells Inlet, before moving on to become executive co-chef at Victor’s Steakhouse and Wine in Florence.
But it’s Lake City – and a job he loves – that is now Elkhyati’s primary focus, especially since it was announced that Lake City would be home to Florence-Darlington Tech’s new Culinary Arts school, opening later this year within sight of “Crossroads”.
“I look forward to seeing that happen and being able to work with students and help them learn how to be creative in their cooking, how to manage a kitchen and train staffs properly, and how it can help them to lead a better and more rewarding life,” he says. “The kitchen has been very good to me.”
And good for the Pee Dee, too, as connoisseurs of fine dining now have a new venue to treat someone special to dining as special as it gets – and as special as they are. And as special as Sherif’s friends who have followed him to Lake City and who, thru word of mouth, are steadily cluing friends in about “Crossroads,” something for which he is most thankful.
“Having people say good things about us is the best advertising we can get,” he points out. “I’m very happy to be in Lake City. I love what I do. It’s not a job. I love to cook and I feel fortunate to be able to please people with my dishes. I invite everyone to come to Lake City and give us a try.”
“Crossroads on Main” is located at 128 West Main, Lake City, and is open for dinner Monday-Thursday from 5:00 pm – 9:00pm, and Friday and Saturday from 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm, for lunch Monday – Saturday 11:00 am – 2:00 pm, and for breakfast Monday thru Friday from 6:30 am – 9:30 am, and Saturday and Sunday from 7:00 – 10:00 am. Banquet hosting is available in the Stables, a re-purposed early 1900’s structure, and catering is available. More information about “Crossroads on Main” may be obtained by calling 843-394-2100, or by visiting their website crossroadsonmain.com.