Keeping it Local-Charleston Food Scene

10
Dec 2014

Charleston has been steadily raising the bar on low country cooking. Many award winning chefs are opening new restaurants and garnering national accolades. On a recent weekend getaway, we did not have to venture far to find many examples of chefs Keeping it Local in the Charleston Food Scene.

food charleston

What comes to mind when you think of southern cooking? In the Holy City you’ll find vendors pushing charming carts filled with moist paper bags filled with boiled peanuts. Fried green tomatoes and local specialty she-crab soup are on many of the menus, as is cat fish and local produce. What you’ll also find is good reason the Charleston has developed such a stellar reputation for the food culture in this southern city by the sea. Cookbook authors and award winning chefs are serving up some of the best food in the country. While I could have easily had a weeks worth of memorable taste bud experiences, I had a few requirements when selecting restaurants. I wanted most to be to walking distance either from the hotel, or the area I was exploring that day,  and of course it had to be a spot that supports the sustainable, local food supply chain.

Breakfast

glazed dounut

Ok, this isn’t really breakfast, but donuts are having a moment, and the ones at Glazed Gourmet are just too good not to share. While I skipped the blue cheese cabernet at 8am {and if I was thinking ahead would have tucked one away for cocktail hour}the other flavors were pretty outrageous. The Kulfi had cardamon pistachio filling and mango glaze, but was gone in a second before I could photograph. Strawberry/basil/lime and chocolate/orange/ginger were other temptations. Traditional glazed didn’t disappoint. Everything is made from scratch daily. Owners Alison Smith and Mark Remi take pride in the little things. Using as many local ingredients as possible, including herbs and berries grown in their garden behind the shop, their pride of product shines through brilliantly.

Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit-My philosophy when I travel is to walk ’till I drop so I can justify all the noshing and throw calorie caution to the wind. The most difficult part was making a decision. Biscuits are just part of the Charleston experience. Long known for their biscuit mix, the new brick and mortar store, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, is a delight. With 7 kinds of buttery, flakey puffs of pastry, both sweet and savory, Callie’s is a great place to begin. PS-they are open late on Friday and Saturday nights.

For a fun, quick and laid back spot for breakfast or lunch, step into Kitchen 208. The open kitchen, pine floors and aged brick walls complement the fun menu. Warm days can have you seated on the outside King St. patio. Efficient service will have you back exploring the city in no time.

Lunch

charleston low country cooking fried green tomato

When we first arrived we were in between meals and just down the street was the SouthEnd Brewery. I got my first taste of low country cooking-fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese and a pickle chutney. It was the perfect snack to hold me over until dinner.  The cavernous warehouse space features an interesting enormous copper tank  housing the in local micro brew and the glass elevator takes a ride to the upper floor bar with views of Charleston Harbor. It was the perfect spot for a late afternoon pick me up.

Xiao Bao Biscuit has filled a void in the land of low-country cooking. Loving all things Asian, I was seduced by the decor and satisfied by the down home Pan-Asian soul food cooking. There are hints of India, Thailand Japan and China on the menu. When the weather permits, grab a seat on the porch and armchair travel for a bit. For a strict vegetarian, the menu is a bit limited, but don’t miss the Som Tam, a kick ass spicy green papaya salad and Banh He a yummy chive and coconut crepe.

charleston bloody mary

Middleton Place, a former rice plantation just outside Charleston, has a lovely restaurant serving lunch and dinner every day except Monday. The menu offers a selection of traditional low country dishes and a superb bloody mary with pickled okra all in a charming setting surrounded by moss covered oak trees.

There are many outdoor spaces to have a picnic in Charleston. You could even pack one and tour the harbor on one of the boat tours. A great place to stop for provisions is goat. sheep. cow.. Stocked to the brim with cheese, wine , gourmet groceries and charcuterie, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped inside a European cheese shop. Exposed beam ceilings accent the 200 year old brick building. It’s open from late morning until 6pm.

Dinner

fig restaurant charleston

Food is Good, you don’t have to tell me twice.  Local neighborhood favorite, FIG is serving seasonally inspired cuisine in a warm, sophisticated setting. Chef Mike Lata is passionate about sustainable sourcing and supporting local farms. The menu is low country modern with an emphasis on minimal preparation to allow the peak seasonal ingredients to speak for themselves. Creative signature cocktails start off the evening, the Depth Charge 2.0 lived up to its name and hinted at the St. Germain I am so fond of. My nine vegetable salad was just picked freshensss on a plate and the fish stew was loaded with shrimp, squid and mussels, in a delicious broth. I had to refrain from ordering more bread to soak up all that flavor. Alas, no room for dessert especially once I remembered the earlier meals of the day.

oysters charleston

Lobster rolls and oysters at The Ordinary made me feel right at home. The James Beard Awarded chef Mike Lata (who also owns Fig) dresses up the delicious local seafood in a former bank and leaves seafood lovers glowing in briny flavors.

Husk Charleston South Carolina

One of Charleston’s most lauded chefs is behind the highly decorated and successful Husk. The menu changes daily here,  and is again seasonally driven by the market. Rumor has it that nothing but local makes it through the doors. Speaking of doors, the charming interior will have you believing that you are dining in a wealthy friends antique charmer. Interiors are modern, while retaining their stately southern charm. A cabinet of house made pickled vegetables informs diners of what might be on their plates. I had my first taste of Caper’s Blades oysters, a more mild, delicious version of what I am familiar with in the northeast. Cornmeal dusted catfish was a warm comfort food, similar in feeling to the upstairs, fireplaced room I was eating in. Spiced pumpkin trifle finished off the meal and hinted at the holidays around the corner. Everything down to the hand made pottery plates has been carefully selected to reflect a love and respect for the area it represents. This was my favorite meal of the trip. They also have a fabulous bar.

bin 152 charleston

When you want to eat a bit lighter, Bin 152 is the perfect solution. Wine bar, cheese bar, art gallery and antique market, this cozy spot features 30 different wines by the glass, 40 varieties of cheeses and charcuterie with their warm freshly baked bread. Put your own platter together, or have the helpful owners offer some suggestions. It’s a clever concept and if you fall in love with any of the decor-lucky you, it’s all for sale.

These days the city seems to be divided into two areas on King St., one of the main drags in town. Lower King St. {where we were staying} is the historic area written about and written about again. Upper King St. {north of Calhoun} appears to be the place in town having a renaissance. As it was our first time visiting, we were determined to get an overview of the city, tasting a little bit of all it had to offer. Next round, I could definently see exploring the upper area in more depth, as the energy there was lively, hip and I’m sure will be constantly evolving. Where ever you choose to dine, you don’t have to look far for sustainability and chefs keeping it local in the Charleston food scene.

Photo credit: Top photo via Middleton Plantation/Charleston CVB

  1. noel says:

    wow, those all look like stellar places to enjoy in Charleston, thanks for the tasty treats, I wan’t to visit now!

  2. anna parker says:

    Good philosophy – we do the same so we can make the most of the food available and treat ourselves! These look like great local haunts that won’t be in guide books – scrummy photos!!

  3. Oh goodness! This all sounds so good and with so many wonderful restaurants it must be hard to know where to go first. I really would love to visit Charleston one day and try them all out! Very hungry now.

  4. I’d love to try low-country cuisine and it sounds as though you’ve scouted out some great finds. That Bloody Mary with pickled okra looks amazing …and those oysters – yum!

  5. The donuts for breakfast look awesome but I am most intrigued by Bin 152 and that cool looking cheese and wine bar! Combine that with the art gallery and a perfect relaxation spot and you really have a great place to chill out for a few hours. Will definitely have to check out Charleston soon!

  6. Oh I love places that are undergoing a renaissance, and the scene in Charleston sounds de-lish and delightful. But your “doughnuts are having a moment” was just the best. 🙂

  7. I’m headed to Charleston so all these foodie recommendations were very timely!

  8. Looks like it’s not hard to find a good meal in Charleston! I’ll opt for that striking Bloody Mary.

  9. Karen Warren says:

    It all looks wonderful, especially the cocktail! Yet another reason why I need to go to that part of the US.

  10. We were there years ago and remember the food being spectacular. We need to return.

  11. Having lived in Texas for 10 years I always think of FRIED when I picture southern cooking but you’ve changed my thinking! And the thought of pickled vegetables made my mouth water!

  12. Charleston is on our list! Your photos made me hungry! Can’t wait to get there!

  13. Donna Janke says:

    It all sounds so good, especially the fish stew. My mouth is watering. I don’t eat donuts often, but I’d love to try the gourmet flavours you discovered.