Lesley Carroll, executive chef, Jack of Cups Saloon

By Shelley Hill Young

Lesley Carroll’s first job was in a catering kitchen, serving breakfast and then lunch to 100 people. “I just remember thinking how much I enjoyed cooking, but I hated cooking boring things,” she says.

No one will ever describe the seasonal menu at Jack of Cups Saloon — where Lesley is co-owner and executive chef — as boring. The food at the cozy Folly Beach bar surprises first-time visitors expecting standard bar fare. The eclectic menu features green curry mac ’n’ cheese, pumpkin curry soup, pineapple habanero wontons, a coconut beet noodle bowl and thai peanut ginger soup. The menu is mostly vegetarian, but much more accessible than some might think at first glance. And you can add chicken or pork belly to any dish.

“We’re trying to follow the vegetables,” Lesley says. “We use local vegetables whenever we can.”

The release of each seasonal menu is a highly anticipated event for Jack of Cups regulars. Lesley explains that she and her longtime boyfriend Nick della Penna, who is co-owner of the bar, have a huge brainstorming session and get the bones of the menu in place.

“Then, we fight about it for a while and then we come back to it,” she says, laughing. “It’s usually not finalized until the night before it’s introduced. “Nick is very good at editing me a little bit because I tend to be very ambitious. I have crazy ideas…. He’s the more practical of the two of us, as far as menus go.”

Lesley first made the thai peanut ginger soup on the menu for her family 15 years ago. “I like it, and I kept changing it until I loved it,” she says. “That’s a defining dish, and it’s a soup. For me, they’re the most complicated because you have to layer the flavors. If you can make a good soup and cook a good egg, I feel like you’ve got a shot.”

Jack of Cups doesn’t have a sign out front, but word of the delicious menu that Lesley prepares has spread.

“We’re very content with having the people who find us, find us,” says Lesley.

Like the menu, Jack of Cups continues to evolve. The bar is opening a courtyard this month. Look for a different menu to be offered out back. And Jack of Cups recently got its liquor license. Lesley hopes to serve craft cocktails “as dynamic as our food.”

“I like to curate a lot before we send it out,” she says. “Until then, we’ll do things that we think are delicious but not so involved.”

Among those Lesley credits for success are Nick; her manager, Sam Grady; and her dad.

“My dad drilled into me that having employees is a privilege and not a right. He said, ‘If you can be a good friend, then you can be a good boss.’ I always wanted to own my own business. I never felt great working for other people.”