Upscale steakhouse marries Gallic elegance and Irish hospitality

When Eric Norton says he went to the Culinary School of Hard Knocks, he’s asking for a spanking.

“He worked for his mama,” Eric’s wife, Sarah, teases.

“Hey, it taught me to be a good server,” Eric says, with a grin.

Eric, part owner of The Public House in Surrey Center, started in the restaurant industry by helping at B.C. Davenport’s, his mom’s well-known cottage-style North Augusta eatery. Norton’s parents, Brenda and Gary Gibson, are local restaurateurs who also own Gary’s Hamburgers. Each of their outlets is distinctive in theme and service, so it’s no wonder Eric and Sarah chose to serve something new at Augusta’s dinner table, an upscale steakhouse with an Irish pub feel.

The concept is different for a guy who managed Columbia’s Downtown Funkyard while in college, but his years with Macaroni Grill prepared
him for culinary management and Sarah’s education in business and finance should keep this Irish tavern “in the green.”

The pub sits in Surrey Center in the former location of Sweet Basil, Ciao Bella and the blink-and-you-missed-it Summerville Grille. Dark polished wood contrasts with crisp white tablecloths. Water goblets sparkle in the fading afternoon light that sneaks through a stained glass skylight. A flat panel television screen floats over the bar where Guinness, Bass Ale and Killian’s Irish Red flow from the taps. Everything is
polished to a high shine, cleaned until it squeaks and set precisely where it should go.

The Public House combines the couple’s love of Irish culture and cuisine with what
Eric calls a “Manhattan” style of service that relies on plating at the table from white
linen-covered Gueridon trolleys. Traditionally, such a trolley is used in the “French”
style of service — elegance hard to find in Augusta.
The business also draws upon Sarah’s
experience in providing lavish courtesy
at Gulfstream Aerospace while working
with the likes of golf great Greg
Norman. It bodes well for guest service
that front-of-the-house operations are
her domain.
Not that Eric is slacking off in the
kitchen. The brick oven in the open
kitchen lends a cozy scent to the air,
and Eric teaches one of the cooks how
to make a coulis while simultaneously
simmering a red wine reduction for
three thick, chunky chops.
Lobster bisque, lump crab cakes and
oyster shooters top the menu, while
asparagus hollandaise, an heirloom
tomato salad and a distinctive Caesar
salad weigh in at the bottom, along
with Irish cheeses that cap off the
salads and enjoy a sampler plate of
their own. In the middle: giant hunks
of meat.
The couple prides itself on offering the
best beef, chicken, pork and fish in town:
triple cut lamp chops, two-pound live
Maine lobsters, porterhouse veal chops
and both New York and Kansas City
strip steaks.
“You can go anywhere in town and
get a choice or a select steak. You can
go to a few select restaurants in town
and get a prime steak. But we carry
only the top 14 percent of choice up to prime beef,” Eric says.
That translates into quality and consistency for diners, something mom — with
whom Eric still compares recipes — would approve of.
“Even to this day when I call my mom and say, ‘My pot roast kills your pot roast.’
She’ll say, ‘You know I taught you to make the pot roast, right?’”
The Public House is located at 399 Highland Ave. in Surrey Center. They are open Monday-
Thursday from 4:30-10:00 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 4:30-11:00 p.m. Call
706-364-2711.

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