Yuko and I realized that we had a free domestic airfare certificate that would expire soon, so we cooked up a short jaunt to Charleston, South Carolina, where we hear the eating is good.
We definitely were not disappointed. We found a couple of new favorite restaurants and beers. And, we had to be selective about where to go, meaning there is more to be discovered on a future trip.
King Charles Inn: The staff here is very friendly. That’s about the only praise I can give this hotel. Our room was small and in need of a makeover, taking into consideration the exorbitant cost. The walls were paper thin and our room overlooked an intersection of two major roads. Between the lady on the phone in the next room and the early-morning garbage truck, it felt like we were in New York, but worse. Skip this place. Hotels in Charleston seem to be absurdly expensive; if I were to come back, I’d just stay at the Hyatt Place, which is moderately less expensive but still within walking distance of the interesting bits of downtown.
Pounce Cat Cafe and Wine Bar: I admit that we didn’t actually go into this place, but we should have. Everytime we walked by which was often before opening or after closing we’d stop to stare in the window at the cutie pie cats running the joint. We made such good use of their window that we ended up donating money to them, as we didn’t actually spend any money in the shop.
Charleston Night Market: We walked through here on our way to dinner and picked up a candle and a cat toy from some local artisans. It’s worth strolling through.
SNOB: This place is legendary and helped make Charleson become the food scene that it is. Make a reservation, but try to sit by the seats overlooking the kitchen. When you sit down, immediately order a Barn Raiser cocktail and definitely get the shrimp ’n grits. Everything else we had was excellent, including the sour cream apple pie. This is a must visit. We still talk about that shrimp ’n grits months later.
City Lights Coffee: This is a perfectly fine neighborhood coffee shop with some fine people working behind the counter. I’d not recommending paying a special visit here, but it is nice and delivers on its promise of supplying coffee.
Charleston Farmers Market: I would, however, strongly recommend coming straight to the farmer’s market. There was a bunch of tasty-looking things here: as can be expected, there was a section dedicated to produce and another to prepared foods.
Rodney Scott BBQ: Rodney Scott won the James Beard Award for Southeast earlier in the year, so of course we had to pay a visit to his shop. Though I’m no connoisseur of barbeque, this food was tasty. We sat outside which was nice, aside from the flies. Pro tip: get a cup for sweet tea, but make it ¼ sweet tea and ¾ unsweetened for a delightful but not overpowering beverage. I got the sandwich + one side combo, but the right order is for a plate and two sides.
Revelry Brewing: I really liked this place and would come back any time. I was drawn to Revelry because they have an open-air roof deck (oh and also they brew beer). Alas, even in October, the South Carolina sun is intense, so we went back downstairs and sat at the bar under shade. Everything I had was delicious and they have the best merchandise of any brewery I’ve ever been to.
Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co.: I found a new favorite brewery here. Edmund’s Oast is one of the most innovative breweries I’ve ever been to. They produce everything from sours to stouts and knocks each style out of the park. Every one of their beers I had was layered in wave after wave of complexity. My friend, who apparently knows my tastes very well, had suggested to get the peanut butter and jelly beer, though I was disappointed to find it was not on the menu. Nevertheless, we found other beer to drink and stayed for way more rounds than we had expected. This was made easy by sitting outside and watching all of the dogs on a gorgeous day.
Peninsula Grill: This restaurant shows up in all of the Charleston food guides and was recommended by the front desk staffer at the hotel, notably for their coconut cake. It was a little strange how formal this place felt, even emphasized by the chargers on the table from the 1996 Bocuse d’Or. Don’t get me wrong: I agree that participating in the 1996 Bocuse d’Or is an admirable thing, but maybe it’s okay to retire those chargers 20+ years later. The coconut cake is good and the wine list is large, but I would recommend making reservations elsewhere and picking up a slice of cake to have in your hotel room.
Kudu: I really liked this coffee shop. It’s just off the main drag on a side street and they have a lovely outdoor courtyard that I could just stay in and drink espresso all day. Then, once the evening hit, they often turn it into a live music venue, so I could hang out and drink beer there. I might never leave.
Butcher and Bee: We had passed by here on our way to Edmund’s Oast the prior day and decided to drop in for brunch. They pride themselves in serving mostly local goods. Their design aesthetic is well thought through and the space is really inviting. I would come back. The breakfast sandwich I ordered was delicious, aside from the fact that bagels outside of New York and Montreal are terrible.
Edmund’s Oast Exchange: This is the retail beer and wine shop attached to Edmund’s Oast (the restaurant, not the above brewery). We were walking back downtown and I wanted to check it out: I’m glad we did. We chatted with a staffer who was about to conduct a class on the wines of Rhone. Then, we went down stairs and found the peanut butter and jelly beer! My life was complete in that moment. And in the next moment, I was enjoying a fusion of two of my favorite foods ever. It was not the first peanut butter and jelly beer I’ve ever had, but man was it good. I wish I had some right now.
South Carolina Aquarium: I love aquariums, partially because it reminds me of when I used to go diving and how foreign I was in a sea of creatures that were totally at home. This aquarium was great and did a really good job of being interactive and explanatory.
Historic houses: We took a cab to the southern tip of the peninsula where a lot of antebellum-era houses still stand. This wasn’t that interesting to me. They are pretty houses but are pretty divorced from how the rest of the people in this city are living.
Second Sunday on King Street: Every second Sunday of the month, the city shuts down the downtown stretch of King Street from cars and allow pedestrians and street vendors to take over. It was nice to stroll back to our hotel along this route, stopping in stores and seeing people enjoy life without the threat of traffic around them. We also hit up…
King of Pops: …this popsicle cart along the way. Like any popsicle cart these days, they had a lot of innovative flavors. I had the strawberry jalapeno, which I would recommend for anyone who likes a little spice in their sweet. The guy who sold us his wares was dressed in a banana costume so you know he means business.
Husk: This restaurant is the top recommended one in Charleston. I made reservations here months in advance to make sure we were able to partake. Sadly, we weren’t that impressed. Service was perfectly fine and all of the food was as well, but nothing was outstanding. We were in and out within an hour and a half.
The Rise: I got suckered into this coffee shop in a hotel because of their lavender latte, which sounded like a concept from the outstanding coffee menu at Band of Bohemia in Chicago. Sadly, this was just a lavender-infused sugar water that can be added to any drink. I got a regular coffee with such an infusion and it was both calming and energizing at the same time. We sat outside, though there aren’t many seats in- or outdoors.
Hominy Grill: Best brunch ever. I really love brunch even though I recognize it will probably being about my death faster. Hominy Grill really knows southern comfort and practically shoves it in your face and down your throat. (Yes, it is that tangible, with every bite.) I had the “Charleston Nasty Biscuit,” which is their take on a chicken sandwich on a biscuit and would highly recommend it.
Fort Sumter National Monument: I really like American history and love the movie Glory. (It’s sort of still amazing to me that the first time I saw that movie was to get extra credit in my 8th grade social studies class!) We also had an afternoon to kill before our flight. Fort Sumter was the symbol of of the South in the Civil War, as that was where the war actually started and it was held until the Confederacy collapsed. Getting to the fort requires taking a 40 minute ferry ride to an island in the middle of Charleston Harbor. The tour starts with a National Park Ranger interpretation and then is self-guided, until the boat leaves again about an hour later. I really enjoyed sitting in the fort trying to imagine what it must have been like to be a soldier stationed there during a siege.
Peace Pie: “The ice cream sandwich with a layer of pie filling.” Sold. We stopped by this place on the way back to our hotel to pick up out bags to go to the airport. The ice cream sandwiches were tasty and are a great concept, though they weren’t my favorite.
Holy City Brewing: We still had time to kill, so we picked up our bags and got a cab to this brewery near the airport. They have a huge tap list that rotates constantly (they have 188 beers listed on their website) and a bunch of medals to go along with them. It was a perfect idea to stop by on the way to the airport.
Charleston is home to one of the assembly plants for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I really wanted to visit the factory, but alas, I came to find out they don’t offer tours and it’s not open to the public. I had a consolation prize in seeing the Boeing 747 Dreamlifter, which is a highly modified (and funny looking) 747 used to transport the massive, one-piece composite sections that make up the 787.