All photography by Mike Ledford, courtesy of Three Sirens

The RundownCharleston

Everything You Need to Know about Three Sirens, Charleston’s New Ode to Seafood

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Before you go to a restaurant, what do you want — or need — to know most? In our series, The Rundown, we’re sharing all the essentials about newly opened (as well as some of your favorite) restaurants.

Three Sirens co-owners Matt Tunstall and Justin Croxall didn’t have to travel far — literally across the street — to set up the second concept from their partnership, AOC Hospitality. 

The new seafood-centric spot in North Charleston opened its orange door to guests on December 3. Their first, Stems & Skins, brought an inventive wine list and vermouth on draft to Park Circle (with plenty of snacks and small plates and one helluva grilled cheese). With Three Sirens, they’ve upped the ante with oysters on the half shell, plenty of original cocktails, and some dark and sexy dramatic decor that has already cemented the spot as a date-night darling.

We have the rundown on all you need to know before you go book that table.

 

1. The decor is dark and dramatic, and how about those sconces.

“I had something like ‘siren song’ in the back of my head for years, and once we came up with the name, I’m surprised at how it all just came together,” Croxall says. 

The three sirens reference plays homage to island-dwelling vixens of Greek mythology, who lured sailors to their demise through irresistible song. The dark tale inspired a seafood menu and some darkly dramatic decor vibes, including sconces with mannequin hands (which Croxall enlisted an craftsman on Etsy to produce), and a back room that could be either a fortune-teller’s lair or a great place to tuck away for an evening. 

The Three Sirens was a remodel of a space that had already been a restaurant, and the windowless back room presented a challenge, especially since the renovation budget didn’t include new window installation. “But instead of fighting the lack of windows, we decided to enhance what it is, bring the outside in a bit, and mix it with an air of mystery,” he says. 

The special seating area is further enhanced by a stained glass transom that sets the space apart from the front dining room and open kitchen. Stained glass is something Croxall had always wanted to incorporate into a restaurant design since growing up in a home in Tennessee that included it. These little personal elements from both of the owners and the staff pepper the design, deepening the feel of welcoming and hospitality that the restaurant exudes.

2. Oysters are the way to begin a Three Sirens meal, then just keep swimming.

Overall, Three Sirens emphasizes a modern menu with large and small plates to be ordered in combo for the table, rather than individual servings for each person at the table.

And what to order? Many, if not most, tables begin with oysters. Although oysters on the half shell have become ubiquitous on Charleston restaurant menus of late, there aren’t many options for fresh bivalves in North Charleston, and there are even fewer baked oyster offerings throughout the metro area. Three Sirens offers both, with daily single selects as well as charbroiled oysters with Calabrian chiles, breadcrumbs, and pecorino cheese.

Beyond that, there’s always spicy shrimp etouffee made with shrimp supplied from Tarvin Seafood and Carolina Gold rice, often a whole fish supplied by Park Circle neighbor Abundant Seafood that you should reserve through your server upon seating if you want to snag it before the kitchen runs out, and some luxurious appetizers, including smoked fish dip croquettes and potato rosti with creme fraiche, that prove sometimes dining out well is about ordering things that you really can’t — or don’t take the time to — make at home.

3. Wines and cocktails are made to pair with food.

Three Sirens’ sister spot, Stems & Skins — directly across Montague Avenue — made a name for itself with its “fresh and freaky ferments” and helped spark the natural wine trend in the Charleston market, but at Three Sirens, the focus is more specifically on clean wines that pair well with the food coming out of the kitchen. That’s not to say that this wine list is staid and safe (we see you, sassy 2018 Domaine de Bretauche) but instead is affordable, fun, and meant to be consumed by the bottle with friends.

When it comes to cocktails, the bar has steered away from the classics — although they can happily make you a nice Negroni — and instead provide a decidedly European approach that might be seen in Spain or Southern France. There is a Spanish-style Gin Y Tonic, vermouths, and amaro, and plenty of bright, fresh original creations that start off a seafood celebration with just the right tone.

“We also have a couple of cocktails on draft,” Croxall says, “which makes the whole thing approachable and easy. We want guests to feel comfortable, but at the same time, we love comfortably introducing them to new things if they’re open to it.”

4. The staff seems familiar, because it is.

Not only is some of the staff doing double duty at Stems & Skins, other Charleston culinary veterans figure among the Three Sirens ranks. General manager Dan Lattimer is a familiar face to many, working the floor and organizing front of house in his low-key manner, which many know from his stint at Neighborhood Dining Group (which he exited in 2015) as well as plenty of freelance staff presence at events through the Southeast. If he can help organize crowds, food, and chefs at a food and wine festival, then nightly service at Three Sirens is well in hand.

Executive Julian Lippe moved to Charleston in 2018 and worked at FIG under Chef Jason Stanhope, so beyond experience and professionalism, that means you should definitely also order the gnocchi on his new menu because its potato puffiness and perfect sear is reminiscent of Lippe’s work at the iconic downtown restaurant. Lippe took the helm at Stems & Skins in 2021 after moving to the neighborhood, and “we knew he was on board and wanted to grow,” says Croxall.

When the opportunity arose for the group to purchase the former YoBo Burrito space across the street, Lippe was ready to take the helm for the seafood-centric menu that resulted.

5. The menu is only going to get better.

Sure, the focus is always going to be seafood, but if you don’t love things with fins or in shells, menu offerings will expand as the restaurant and the staff grows. Right now, there is a grilled chicken with shiitake mushrooms, a few appetizer options, and the aforementioned gnocchi, but Croxall intimates that there are plans afoot to add a couple more non-swimming supper options as well as brunch service on the weekends.

“We’re keeping everything in front of us right now, and we want to make sure that what we’re doing, we are doing really well,” he says. “Just like everyone else in the industry right now, we are running pretty tight on staffing, and we want to make sure that we aren’t trying to do too much. But there will be rotating items with the seasons and a few more items on the menu soon.”