Ahhh… Charleston… my kind of place – a total foodie town! As long as I can remember, the regional food of Charleston, SC has been a standout in the south. An incredible convergence of forces – everything from the Gullah and Huguenot cuisines and soul food to the seafood that is available locally, mixed with chefs educated in every tradition from french to southern – a beautiful local cuisine is created. I was in heaven, and it is worth every calorie to eat through this town.
We started at McCrady’s – one of those evenings that you know in the moment that you will remember it forever. We sat in the bar area of this James Beard award-winner – a well-done renovation of a two-story covered space between two very old brick buildings (top, middle) – and had incredible snacks (top, right) and prohibition-era inspired cocktails (top, left). How can you pass up a Corpse Reviver whiskey-drink, for example (front)? Everything was simple and straightforward, but elevated at the same time. I don’t think you could go wrong with anything on their menu. Of similar caliber was the next night at FIG (another Beard winner). We stopped by for cocktails and dessert – both of which were excellent (bottom, left), peach crumble with creme fraiche ice cream (in front) and sticky toffee pudding with maple ice cream (in back). YUM!
The Hominy Grill was recommended to me from every angle, and worth all the hype. A beloved, classic southern-cooking cafe, with all the requisite elements that one would think – somehow far better, fresher, and tasty than imagined from the straightforward sounding menu. All sorts of southern goodness to be had – such as boiled peanuts brought as a snack, heaping vegetable plates, and catfish sandwiches to the special okra and shrimp beignets and fried grits I had the day we went. Their desserts looked just as enticing, but we saved some room for the Sugar Bakeshop down the street. Also worth all the hype – this Brooklyn/NYC transplant found a great little space a few blocks away from Hominy to peddle his beautiful confections. We had wonderful cupcakes, but they were in close competition for our favorite as the local-made Sweetteeth chocolate we picked up for later.
Bowen’s Island Restaurant A low-country establishment in the inter-coastal waterways between Charleston and Folly Beach serving up “steamed” oysters (roasted over a fire), among other seafood treats, for 60 years. We got there off-season for oysters, and a mere 3 days before the owner opened his new space, but I still loved my shrimp and grits, and the ambiance of this slice of country. One of my favorite random-happenings of the southern road trip was when the owner, upon learning we were architects and knew about green building, toured us around the new space for half an hour – where he is pushing the sustainable angle pretty hard: green roof, hardcore water conservation, and some things, like no AC and naturally ventilation, were pretty impressive to pull off in a restaurant in Charleston! All built on top of the original shack and oyster steam pit, that burned down a year or two ago. He was a great character, and has taken serious care to honor his grandparents legacy.
Since we only had two days, and there is so much architecture and history to cover in Charleston, we did a history tour. You can choose from walking or van tours, various themes of focus, etc., and we found our tour guide from Charleston Tours to be quite charming. One of those quintessential Charlestonians that perpetually sound a bit grand and a bit tipsy – all with the mischievous glint in his eye. I was doing more listening than photo-taking, but suffice it to say if you are interested in architecture, there is a plethora of styles, all unique to this city, and vernacular details to learn from in dealing with this specific type of climate. And as one of the countries oldest towns – layers of history to sift through. Our last morning before heading down the road, we spent a few hours at Middleton Place. The plantation itself has America’s oldest landscape, designed by Le Notre (Versailles) beautifully sited on a lazy bend in the Ashley River. The archi-geeks in us were most interested in the Inn at Middleton Place, designed by WG Clark (above, right) – a beautiful project from the late eighties that somehow transcends its time period.
Most people on the West Coast chuckle whenever I mention the name of my favorite Southern magazine – Garden and Gun. While it does cover everything from home and garden to food to, yes, aspects of hunting in the Southeast, it is the way they go about it that is what makes it dear to me. Dubbed the “Soul of the New South”, it is so artfully illustrated and stated – full-page spreads, graphically beautiful and well told tales from that unique and thorough perspective that captures my displaced southern heart. I made a complete dork out of myself when we were in Charleston – not introducing myself or anything, I ran into their office just to tell them how much I love the magazine, and left as quickly as I went in. I am hoping it was a random happening in their busy work day that at least made them laugh. Always a good magazine to check out for more food recommends around the south!