Ben and I have both long agreed that the mark of a truly good chef or restaurant is ordering a dish and having it come out in a way that’s completely different than you expected. Totally imaginative and exceeding your expectations. Here in Charleston we’ve had a number of those experiences, which I want to share with you so you can see for yourself on your next visit which, seriously – make some time soon. I know you’ll just love it here!
(PS I apologize in advance for some of the following horrendous iPhone photos. They are zero indication of the quality of meals we’ve had here!)
Favorite Restaurant: S.N.O.B. (Slightly North of Broad)
S.N.O.B., or Slightly North of Broad, is “an eclectic low country bistro that brings together an abundance of local ingredients and thoughtful, expert presentation with a friendly, contagious energy.” Um, nailed it!
SNOB (removing the periods from here on out because they are slowing me down) serves southern fare made with local ingredients in a way that is not only beautiful, but thoughtful, brought to you by a super friendly bar and wait-staff. Of all the meals we had in Charleston, this one was my favorite. The ambiance, staff, and most important, food, were just incredible.
By this time on our trip I was feeling stuffed to the gills, so I ordered 2 appetizers instead of an entree for my meal and started with the Ambrose Farm Strawberry Salad: mixed greens, local chevre, organic hazelnuts, strawberries, and white balsamic vinaigrette. Not-so-stunning photo, but perfectly light and delicious. I’d swear it was the middle of July by how sweet those strawberries tasted!
Ben’s salad was also a can’t miss – Caramelized Pear Salad: toasted pistachios, blue cheese, dried cranberries, mixed greens, champagne honey vinaigrette. His slow-poached pear was INSANE. It had a bruleed topping that, without the bleu cheese and pistachios, would have made the salad feel almost desserty. The other fixins, though, pulled it all together. Wow!
For my entree I enjoyed Sauteed Nantucket Bay Scallops with braised leeks, crispy fingerling potatoes and arugula pesto. I could eat this meal everyday for the rest of my life – it was full of surprise flavors and textures. Braised leeks – who knew?!
Bay scallops hold a special place in my heart because they were the first meal Ben and I had together after getting engaged in San Diego in 2007, and I order them whenever I get the chance. The saute on these babies was crisp and bouncy, and the fried spinach they were nestled into were mind-blowing. Best. Meal. Ever!
Not to be outdone by Ben’s tenderloin, which could not have been anymore tender. Way to go SNOB!
Favorite Experience: HUSK
HUSK was by far your most recommended restaurant to visit when I announced we were coming to Charleston, and it lived up to every expectation we had set for it. The restaurant is actually located just steps away from Poogan’s Porch on quaint Queen Street in another southern-style mansion.
(BTW the reason all the restaurants are empty in my photos is because we like to get the first reservations. Mama’s usually hungry by then…)
At HUSK…the kitchen reinterprets the bounty of the surrounding area, exploring an ingredient-driven cuisine that begins in the rediscovery of heirloom products and redefines what it means to cook and eat in Charleston. Totally spot on again! Common, southern ingredients interpreted and served in a way that I would have never in a million years thought of myself. The chefs at HUSK are exceptionally creative.
The service was impeccable and our server, Travis, promptly brought out hot, fresh rolls for us to enjoy right away. Hot, fresh, buttermilk rolls with bourbon rock salt served with pork infused butter. THAT’S RIGHT.
While Ben and I wrestled with what to order for our entrees, we already knew what we’d be getting for appetizers. Up first, “Kentuckyaki” Glazed Pig Ear Lettuce Wraps with Sweet Vinegar Marinated Cucumber and Red Onions. A girlfriend of mine was down here a few weeks ago and assured me that, although a tad bizarre sounding, these pig ear lettuce wraps were absurdly delish – which they absolutely were.
Think of the crunchiest thing you’ve ever eaten, multiply it by 10, then toss it in sweet and smoky teriyaki sauce, pair it with house-pickled cucumbers and red onion, and then wrap it in a tender lettuce cup. We’d never tried anything like this, and I’m still thinking about them 3 days later. Must, must, must try if you go to HUSK.
Our second appetizer was even farther out there – Pork Skin “Ramen” with Crispy Pork Belly, Soft Poached Egg and a Roasted Pork Mushroom Broth, Cilantro. Basically, ramen soup made with “noodles” made from pork skin. Toooootally unique, and Ben went crazy for it. I can’t say I loved the pork skin noodles (just a little unnerving) but the broth was some of the most intensely flavored broth I’ve ever had. Super high on the umami factor. Loved that part!
For my entree, Travis helped me decide on the Wood Fired Carolina Pork Chop, Creamy Pit Beans with Smoky Tomatoes and Heirloom Lacinato Kale. Now, I have not had a pork chop in well over a decade, but this was irresistible. A crisp-seared pork chop nestled onto smoky tomatoes and pit beans with tender kale. MIND BLOWING. How they got such a delicate, smokey flavor into those tomatoes, beans, and broth, I will never know. I slurped down every last bite!
DO NOT skip the cheesy grits at HUSK, either. Best we had all trip.
Since I’m PG and not drinking, I’ve been enjoying Arnold Palmers (lemonade + iced tea) about once a day for something flavorful to sip on, so we thought it’d only be appropriate to order the “Arnold Palmer” dessert with Lemon Pound Cake and Sweet Tea Ice Cream (and foam!) So delicate, and that ice cream seriously tasted just like iced tea. Too cool.
HUSK also owns the building next door, which they call the “Bar at Husk”. Kind of prohibition-esque with excellent drinks (so Ben reports.) Be sure to stop in for a drink either before or after dinner!
Favorite Low-Key Spot: Lost Dog Cafe
There are a ton of fun little side trips you can take from downtown Charleston – dolphin and shrimp boat spotting at Shem Creek, going to see the Angel Oak tree, plantation and garden visits, in addition to many others. We didn’t rent a car down here though, and had already seen 2 plantations in New Orleans, so we decided to hail a cab one morning and high tail it out to Folly Beach, about 20 minutes outside of town! (Yellow Cab – ~$25 each way.)
While the beach itself was fah-reezing (we were about 1 month too early for laying out weather, me thinks) the sight of the ocean, a brisk beach walk, and stroll to Lost Dog Cafe made the trip worth it.
Lost Dog Cafe is the cutest little surf shack cafe, tucked into a side street and surrounded by palm trees. It reminded me of Ben’s and my favorite surf spot in Cardiff by the Sea, CA – Pipes!
By the time we arrived we were starving, and spent our 20 minute wait distracting ourselves by pointing out the cute pooches that line the walls at Lost Dog.
This little guy was my favorite. ;)
After a quick peruse of the menu we ordered some drinks – decaf coffee for her, and a bloody for Ben. I haven’t been drinking any coffee this pregnancy (most decaf is decaffeinated through a chemical process) but the splurge was absolutely delicious. First cup in almost 5 months – MMMM!
Breakfast was quickly decided upon next – French Toast with a side of home fries. The French Toast was tender and topped with more of those sweet strawberries. I can’t wait for the Midwest to catch up. The home fries though were EPIC. Sauteed with garlic and red onions, those potatoes were one the most garlicky foods I’ve ever had. So, so, so amazing. I’d order them again in a heartbeat!
If you want a nice trip to the beach, and an awesome low-key meal to go with it, definitely take a trip to Folly Beach, and the Lost Dog Cafe!
Favorite Sweet: Kaminsky’s
By 7:00pm there’s a line for Kaminsky’s, a downtown Charleston dessert cafe and bar, out the door and it’s not hard to see why.
The first thing you see when walking in is sky-high cakes and pies glistening in the glass-front case, with a menu featuring ice cream, milkshakes, and more up above.
Ben and I nabbed a spot at the bar in the crowded cafe and ordered up after dinner one night!
A Hot Toddy and cheesecake for him.
And a MAMMOTH slice of Red Velvet Cake for her.
O.M.G. both of us – best respective slices of cake EVER. Look at the size of this thing – it’s as big as my head!! (PS how much do I look like Ina Garten in this photo – I can’t even. Brown bob, jean top, scarf. HALP!!)
Anyways – the restaurant desserts around here have been really good, but do yourself a favor and save some room for Kaminsky’s when you come into town. Such a unique concept for a “restaurant” with decadent desserts that will blow your mind.
One of Ben’s and my favorite vacation activities is bar hopping. Seeing the local watering holes, trying local beers and cocktails, and just talking our faces off. This time the bill was cut in half since I wasn’t drinking, but the fun remained. Here are a couple of our favorite spots:
Blind Tiger Pub
BTP has just the right amount of dive, and a beautiful view of Broad Street out its front windows.
What’s really cool though is the back patio, which holds the remains of a 19th century carriage house with arched entryways, and twinkling lights.
Sit under the crumbling brick, grab a beer and lunch, then try your luck at the community ring toss – a game where you try and hook a ring attached to a string.
It gets pretty competitive!
Ben and I hopped into High Cotton on a whim for drinks before dinner at SNOB, and it ended up being one of our favorite bars here. It’s so classy/cute!
The bartenders are really friendly, and make a mean Nojito.
Don’t miss live jazz in the back and happy hour 7 days a week from 4-7pm. Can’t beat that!
Bakehouse Bakery Cafe is located just a few doors down from where we had breakfast at the East Bay Meeting House and is a great mix of cafe/bakery/bar.
The sunny tables and chairs setup outside are the perfect spot from which to people watch while enjoying a local beer, or sparkling soda.
We liked this place so much we went back several times to sit and relax. Definitely make a stop if you’re in town!
Other Recommended Spots!
I think Ben and I could stay here another month and not make it to all the restaurants that were recommended to us. There are SO many great places to sip, dine, and unwind around here! In case you’re ever planning a visit, here are the other places in Charleston that were recommended to us, as well as a few more we tried out:
F.I.G. (Make reservations way in advance, we tried but were too late.)
Hominy Grille (Going to try and stop here for lunch before leaving today!)
The Rarebit (Ben had their Chicken & Waffles for dinner one night and the bites he saved for me were some of my favorite from the whole trip!)
King Street Grill (Amazing build your own chop salads for when you need something light.)
The Tattooed Moose
Charleston Cocktail Club
Basil (We had lunch here – AWESOME Pad See Eiw!)
Butcher and Bee
Cru Café (Tried to eat here for lunch one day, but all booked up. ADORABLE, so make reservations.)
The Taco Spot
Jestines (good, no-frills southern food.)
Final thoughts on Charleston, plus details on where we stayed coming up later this weekend! Hope you all had a great week, and I’ll see ya’ real soon!