Practically all that know me or have read this blog know my daughter and I share a birthday and for the last 15 years or so we’ve taken a trip to celebrate, just the two of us. This year with the pandemic waning, hotels and restaurants returning to full service and for me the nagging desire to get back to writing about food and drink, it seemed that finally it was time to go south to Charleston South Carolina. In a blog post from a while ago (My Es-Cape May be of Interest) I labeled my dear girl and I as HAGs ……. lovers of History, Art and Gardens. While that hasn’t changed and this trip was full of it, my focus of this post will be the absolutely marvelous food and drink we experienced while visiting the Holy City.
It only took a hot minute to experience our first handcrafted cocktail upon arriving in Chuck Town. You see, the spectacular Spectator Hotel www.thespectatorhotel.com in which we were staying for five glorious nights offers their guests a drink of the day immediately upon check in. The idea is that you can sip the concoction while your personal butler gives you the grand tour of this boutique style hotel that gives personalized service to but 41 rooms. The place has a swank, speak-easy style bar as well that fit perfectly into my plan to drink jazzy-old timey-artisan cocktails all week made be professionals who tend bar as an artform. My mission was accomplished at the Spectator by the talented Allen Lancaster and a sundry of great Charleston places and barkeeps……….
My everyday cocktail is a Dirty Martini, vodka or gin. I had several at various restaurants in Charleston. Whether it was because I was on vacation or just a fact, the martinis I experienced in Charleston were just better than what I get or even make at home. One take away is that with rare exception Chuck Town and Southern bartenders are very generous with their pours!
Rooftop cocktail lounging was all the rage in Charleston at least in April. We visited two and although the drink presentation left a little to be desired, they were tasty and the views divine. One early evening we went to The Rooftop at The Vendue http://www.thevendue.com. Touted as an “Art Hotel”, it’s worth the wait for the crammed elevator up to the roof just to experience the artsy lobby…very fun! The other cocktail drank atop a roof was at The Citrus Club at The Dewberry http://www.thedewberrycharleston.com. There you’ll find more elegance up top but the journey getting to the roof is not nearly so arty.
I have two more cocktail bars to mention because both are a must if you too want a significant portion of your visit to Chuck-Town to be on the boozy-jazzy-amazing food side. The Gin Joint http://www.theginjoint.com was hands my favorite, well, gin joint we went to. Dark, narrow, sultry with a mysterious vibe, it checked all the boxes for me. This was EXACTLY what I hoped we find. To make the experience more perfecter, the menu had an option for the Bartender Choice to just make you a cocktail based on two descriptive words…mine were boozy and savory (I got to throw in a third which was “herbal” for free) . The other very exciting cocktail lounge you must know about is Doar Brothers http://www.doarbros.com. This place is so cool BUT make reservations because it is teeny tiny!
Make no mistake, Charleston has become a “foodie” town. Five days and nights is simply not enough time to get everywhere we wanted to so as usual I deferred to our typical travel scenario. You see, we two gals have an understanding about meals that we experience on trips that eating and boozing are primary activities. My daughter does all the upfront research of where and when we should go for our sustenance. Her research is extensive and laser focused on local foods, “up and coming” as well as renown Chefs and starred reviews. My little girl takes her task so seriously that this trip she insisted that we have two lunches one day in order get the most benefit from her labor!
I’ll get all breakfasts out of the way right at the start. They were all at the Spectator and included with the room rate. Such lovely breakfasts indeed with our birthday one including bubbly and chocolate covered strawberries. Each evening we’d fill out a little card with our choice from four plated meals, juice coffee and tea along with what time we’d like to have it. The next morning, voila, a beautiful and seemingly nutritious breakfast would appear. A perfectly lovely way to start the day I tell you.
Our first meal in Charleston was dinner at The Ordinary eattheordinary.com . Billed as “a fancy seafood and oyster bar”, this place was anything but ordinary. The joint was bustling when we arrived and didn’t calm down one little bit while we were there. It’s loud and festive and lots of folks go for the fairly obnoxious-in-size seafood towers, but we opted to be a bit refined and ordered several dishes to share. favorites of mine were the Smoked Oysters with Old Bay Saltines and the Clam Spaghetti.
The Monday of our stay was our two lunch day! Of course this was not until after I had decided I must have one of those big floppy straw hats that I purchase for way too much and then promptly let it blow off my head into on coming traffic. One SUV ran over it slightly on the edge while the kind gentleman who followed behind got out of his vehicle and retrieved it for me receiving a round of applause from the onlookers on the other side of the street. Anyway our lunch number one was at Edmund’s Oast https://edmundsoast.com which is a brewpub where we drank Peanut Butter and Jelly Beer and feasted on Spicy Korean Meatballs. A soft-shell crab sandwich was consumed as well since they were in season. Lunch #2 came a bit later after a long walk and visit to the home of Hat Trick Botanical Gin, the esteemed High Wire Distillery highwiredistilling.squarespace.com. So number 2 was at Leon’s Fine Poultry and Oyster Shop https://leonsoystershop.com because research told us we must experience the chicken and my daughter was hellbent on eating as many oysters as she could down within reason (great T-shirts here too! I still could kick myself for not getting one for my son).
Our lone Italian dinner came from La Faralle lefarfallecharleston.com. This restaurant has such a lovely atmosphere and is slightly off the beaten path so it appears to be more popular with locals than tourists. Our Uber driver from another day was very impressed that we had found it. I thought the food was delicious. We shared Whipped Ricotta and Braised Artichokes (yum) and I had Duck Confit Agnolotti while the little one had Squid Ink Pasta with local Shrimp and Salami.
Okay here we get to one of my most favorite meals…lunch at the Glass Onion ilovetheglassonion.com! Did you ever think you knew what a certain dish tasted like and knew you loved it only to find out years later that you only now were tasting the best? That’s my experience with Pork Belly at the GO. Hands down the very best pork belly I’ve ever had! Don’t get me wrong, the Fried Green Tomatoes with Pimento Cheese, the Braised Beans, Red Rice and Macaroni Salad were great too, but the pig’s belly…sublime. The Glass Onion is a wee bit out of town but go, you won’t be disappointed.
FIG is another great restaurant in Charleston that makes most every list of where to dine. Food is Good https://eatatfig.com is actually a product of the same team as The Ordinary that I listed above, a tad more upscale and not totally seafood focused. For us, it was just another terrific meal. I would definitely recommend sharable Ricotta Gnocchi alla Bolognese and the entrée I got at the time, Chicken Milanese.
On our actual Birthday, traditional meal order was disregarded! We decided to throw caution to the wind and have our celebratory meal at lunchtime at Chez Nous https://www.cheznouschs.com. Chez Nous is not for everyone. You see the menu changes daily, consists of just two small plates, two entrees and two desserts. The real rub is the menu is hand written and posted to social media only at 10AM the day of! You never know what you’re going to get but we were confidant we could handle whatever came to the menu on our big day. This was my very favorite meal of our trip! The food was excellently prepared and so very delicious. Tucked away in a residential neighborhood in an iconic Charleston single house, the ambience of this pint-sized establishment is lovely. I’ve included photos although who knows what will be served on the day you decide to go. Try it, you’ll like it!
We did an a lot of fun stuff on our birthday. Having dinner wasn’t one of them. We did however share a delicious piece of the famous coconut cake served at the Peninsula Grille at the Planter’s Inn https://www.peninsulagrill.com/store/ultimate-coconut-cake . It’s too funny that the bartender there keeps pieces of cake to-go behind the bar for all the folks (usually us girls) who wander in for cake and a cocktail! Later after we took a “Dark Side of Charleston” walking tour we had made our 9:45 reservation at Doar Brothers that I mentioned above for cheese and charcuterie.
Our final day in Charleston brought us to two more notable restaurants. A friend joined us in Sullivan’s Island for lunch at the Obstinate Daughter https://www.theobstinatedaughter.com. Unlucky for you, I forgot to capture our order but I highly recommend the Frogmore Chowder and the Tonnato Salad. Coincidentally, at dinner we met a different friend back in Charleston at Delaney Oyster House https://delaneyoysterhouse.com/. Again, the food was very good and obviously seafood focused. Both dishes I got were specials but I believe represents well the quality of the menu.
This was long I know. I appreciated everyone who made it this far. Just know that Charleston is a charming city with wonderful dining options. Some recommendations for other-than-eat things to do? Visit Middleton Place (not the manor, just the grounds), King Street shopping, Gibbes Museum of Art, walk the Battery, Dark Side of Charleston Walking Tour, visit Sullivan’s Island and Shem Creek Park to name a few. WooHoo done!
Thanks to JR for giving me the motivation to finally write this post!
“One thing inspired me the most from the time I spent in Charleston was how much heritage and history are connected to influencing how I cook. Each dish tugged my heart in a different spot that after I finished cooking, I was really emotional and felt fulfilled at the same time.” ~ Shirley Chung