The next stop on our Southern trip was the port city of Charleston, South Carolina.
We rented a car and got a free upgrade to a Mustang which isn’t really my style (I actually think they’re kinda douchey) but hey, why not take the upgrade? We left Savannah in the morning and the drive was fairly easy, only about two hours.
We stayed at The Vendue Hotel, a boutique art hotel showcasing 300 pieces of original art, in the charming French Quarter. Amenities were great at the hotel with complimentary hors d’oeuvres and wine every night and breakfast in the morning.
We started off our day by walking around the French Quarter then to the City Market, a historic market with tons of vendors.
Inside the City Market was one of Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit’s locations so I had to try their famous handmade biscuits. We tried three biscuits to share (they’re pretty small): buttermilk biscuit with blackberry jam, cheese and chive, and black pepper bacon. Each biscuit was buttery and had that wonderful flakiness and crumbled in your mouth but in a good way. I wish I was able to try all their flavors!
After our afternoon snack, we continued to walk through the French Quarter and then to Waterfront Park that has two fountains and a pier overlooking the harbor.
Right near Waterfront Park is Rainbow Row, the longest cluster of Georgian row houses (14 to be exact) in the country all beautifully painted in different pastel colors.
After Rainbow Row, we visited Huguenot Church, St. Philip’s Church, Saint Michael’s Church, and Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.
On our way to White Point Garden, a public park on the peninsula, we saw various gorgeous houses on King Street with stunning architecture.
White Point Garden is the southern most part of The Battery, a defensive seawall and promenade landmark that features an amazing view of Fort Sumter and the Charleston Harbor. You can also find cannons on display from the Civil War that were used to defend the city. The Battery area is also known for grand antebellum homes.
On our way back to the hotel, we walked down Meeting Street where Calhoun Mansion is located. Calhoun Mansion, a Victorian home dating back to 1876, was built for business man George Williams by architect William Russel and was called the “handsomest and most complete private residence in the South” when it was built.
Our first dinner in Charleston was at Husk where James Beard Award winning chef Sean Brock celebrates Southern cuisine, the abundance of ingredients found within the South, and the rediscovery of heirloom products. He also happens to be one of our contributors at In Situ where his dish was featured on our opening menu two years ago! His restaurant is so popular that I just barely snagged a reservation even though I reserved months in advance. Since opening Husk in Charleston, he’s also expanded to three other locations in the South: Nashville, Greenville, and Savannah.
The Victorian style house is the perfect backdrop for this beloved restaurant.
Awesome to see where all the ingredients are coming from.
Pillowy warm rolls were sprinkled with benne seeds, similar to sesame seeds but indigenous to Africa, were a great way to start the meal.
Their country ham was quite similar to prosciutto but slightly saltier. I loved the pungent dijonnaise with the sweet homemade pickles and buttery biscuits to compliment the salty ham. I just wished they gave us more biscuits!
A beautiful array of vegetables that just needed a tad more seasoning.
Flavor wise these pork ribs were bomb but just needed to be more tender for my liking. I liked the addition of the peanuts but the pork rinds seemed unnecessary.
Golden brown cornmeal crusted catfish was tender, flaky, and delicious with the intense shrimp flavored curry. The Anson Mills heirloom rice was earthy and the watercress and raw fennel salad added vibrancy and freshness. This was my favorite dish of the night without a doubt and perfectly showcased Husk’s concept of Southern cuisine highlighting heirloom varieties.
Rich and meaty duck confit laid on top of sautéed cabbage, sugar snap peas, carrots, and shiitake mushrooms. The country ham XO sauce had a real depth of flavor that added to the overall unctuousness of the dish. My only criticism was that the duck fat could have been rendered more and the skin could be crispier.
This oatmeal pie was pretty damn tasty with granola clusters, fresh juicy blackberries, and that creamy blackberry ice cream.
Not only were the dishes at Husk flavorful and true to chef Sean Brock’s vision, service was warm and friendly as well. My rating is an 8/10.
The next day we drove to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Charleston’s most visited plantation. It’s also the country’s oldest public garden and the last large-scale romantic style garden where nature controls the garden’s design. It was founded in 1676 by the Drayton family and opened its doors to visitors in 1870 to view the gorgeous famous gardens. Here you have various tour options and we decided to do the plantation house tour and nature train tour (all tickets include entrance to the gardens). At Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, you’ll also see all types of wildlife such as birds, turtles, and alligators. The gardens itself were stunning with colorful flowers such as azaleas, daffodils, camellias, and hydrangeas. If you’re ever in the Charleston area, I highly recommend visiting Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.
After exploring Magnolia Plantation and Gardens we went to see Angel Oak, a 400-500 year old oak tree.
Our last night we dined at McCrady’s Restaurant located inside of McCrady’s Tavern in a small back area dining room. This is chef Sean Brock’s newest venture where the 22 seat restaurant features only a tasting menu. Since we dined at Husk the night before, I was intrigued and excited to try his more refined and experimental dishes that still emphasize and celebrate Southern ingredients.
A peculiar way to start the meal with a cold, almost frozen, bite of cucumber and uni. I would have preferred a piece of uni instead of this whipped blended version.
This pork en croute was an explosion of flavors. My piece had a sweet earthy walnut honey (since I don’t care for mushrooms) on top of the rich pork.
The beet chip reminded me of fruit leather with its chewy texture. The butter bean tart was airy, light, and fresh.
Sweet, briny, and tender little clams were hidden underneath thin slices of crunchy kohlrabi. The green tomato dashi was vibrant but I would have liked a touch more of acidity.
This was an additional supplement course that was one of the highlights of the meal. The royal red shrimp mousse was wrapped in cabbage and served with a kimchi flavored sauce. The caviar was laid on top of the shrimp mousse with crispy cabbage chips on top. So good.
Tender mahi-mahi was elegantly served with a chamomile tea flavored sauce. The delicate flavors of the fish and the white asparagus were amped up with finger lime hidden underneath the asparagus.
Creamy comforting rice almost had a porridge consistency with crunchy popcorn and puffed grains on top. The egg foam added that richness yet still had a light airy mouthfeel.
Perfectly cooked pork was garnished with tender celery root slices as well as a buttery celery root blanquette, a rich sauce finished with cream. The lamb’s quarter, also known as wild spinach, added a slightly green and earthy flavor to the delicious dish.
A fantastic bridge from the savory courses into desserts. This strawberry tart had a sweet delicate flavor with a jellylike consistency and the elderflower cream was luscious with floral notes.
Silky smooth coconut ice cream was on top of a sweet banana mash with sticky caramel poured table side. The dusting of black lime (lime that has been dried and lost all of its water content) added a slightly sour tang and smokiness.
Basically a chocolate covered piece of decadent foie gras that was perfectly balanced between sweet and salty. Fun and whimsical.
A cooling refreshing way to end the meal.
McCrady’s Restaurant showcased a beautiful progression of dishes, each carefully thought out and delicious. An open kitchen always provides a fun and interactive experience with the guest allowing them to watch chefs cook and meticulously plate their food. Service was also impeccable and inviting so my overall rating is an 8/10.
The following day before driving up to North Carolina, we stopped at Lewis Barbecue for lunch for an amazing spread.
The brisket just melted in your mouth, the ribs were falling off the bone, and the housemade sausage was wonderfully spiced. All the side dishes (mac and cheese, potato salad, coleslaw, and baked beans) were all super tasty. I highly recommend coming here!
Much like Savannah, Charleston had that infectious southern charm and hospitality. From the elegant streets of the French Quarter and The Battery, to the cobblestone streets, and the stunning views of the Charleston Harbor, Charleston is a vibrant city filled with history and culture.