Saturday, May 9, 2015

Charleston Insider: A Taste of the "New South" (Locavore, Of Course)

From the warm welcome of the wrap-around porches and hospitality at Husk, a “new Southern” locavore restaurant in a beautiful 19th century building, and melt-in-your-mouth Southern fried chicken skins, on our first night in Charleston to the last bite of shrimp, sausage and grits at Magnolia Restaurant before catching a flight back home on Sunday, my husband and I had a extraordinary long-weekend in this charming and historic city that, like many American cities, has undergone a renaissance. 

We’ve wanted to visit Charleston for a long while – it’s one of the many locations we are “shopping” as we consider where we want to live during our retirement years (some time in the 2020s).  On a freezing cold night in February, when I was reading the latest copy of Food & Wine magazine, I saw an advertisement for Charleston Insiders' Weekend, a three-day series of food and cultural tours and events (including a golf outing on a world-class course) organized by several of Time Inc.'s lifestyle magazines --- I jumped on reservations immediately. 

Despite the high standards of this New York City native and my New Orleanian husband, Charleston and the surrounding area did not disappoint. Neither did the Lowcountry food or Southern hospitality. It felt like “home”. 

Thursday, April 30th Dinner: 
Husk Restaurant, 76 Queen Street
The chalkboard in the lobby that lists 40 or so ingredients and the name of each purveyor tells only part of the story.  The other is the out-of-the-box creativity in preparing meals and do-it-yourself ingredients that burst with flavor and are visually delightful.  All the beef, pork, chicken, game, and seafood are from South Carolina and Georgia, so are the fruits and vegetables, eggs and dairy, and grains and flours. Peanut desserts, locally sourced "benne cakes" (made from a heritage seed from Africa used in South Carolina cooking for centuries), country hams and pickled foods and beverages -- including some delicious cocktail "shrub" recipes from times past -- are made in-house. We had strawberry soup, fried chicken skins, pork marinated in cider for dinner, and a delicious peanut butter pie with chocolate sauce for dessert. 

Sean Brock, IACP and James Beard Award Winner,  and Husk Restaurant Are Leading the Food Renaissance in Charleston's Downtown with Its Locally-Sourced and House-Made Ingredients and Creative Cuisine

Husk's "Southern Fried Chicken Skins with Honey and Hot Sauce" -- Addicting and Uniquely "New Southern" 

Strawberry Soup with House-Pickled South Carolina Shrimp is Visually Exciting and 100% Local
Husk's Daily Special: Heritage Pork Loin and Its Belly, Raised in South Carolina, With In-Season Grilled Asparagus, Snow Peas, Tomatoes and Ramps
Husk's Pickling Closet Just Outside the Ladies' and Mens' Rooms on the 2nd Floor

Friday May 1st Morning Coffee: 
Gaulart & Mallet Fast and French, 98 Broad Street

We discovered this adorable and old-fashioned counter-only restaurant from a "best coffee in Charleston" listing online. Indeed, I had the best house roasted coffee of my life -- it was made in a French Press.  After breakfast, we strolled through cobble stone streets, past tourists on horse and carriage rides, and visited the City Market rich with arts and crafts, handmade grass baskets, food and cookbooks, paintings and photographs. 

Lunch on Friday: 
167 Raw, 289 E Bay Street, Charleston

Seafood tacos, po' boys, salmon burgers, and catch of the day ceviche. We got there at 11:50 in the morning -- by noon there was a line.  There are just 12 bar stools in this casual downtown jewel box seafood joint that hails from New England (the first 167 Raw is in Nantucket). The fried sea scallop po' boy with a spicy sauce on a fresh roll that was lightly buttered and then grilled knocked the shoes and socks off of my New Orleanian "po' boy and bread snob" husband. Crispy oyster and shrimp tacos were equally delicious - also with a spicy tingle on the tongue. Don't miss the fresh guacamole served with homemade, direct from the fryer corn chips, and friendly New England/Boston service. 

Fresh, fun, fast, friendly and delicious seafood at really good prices. Restaurant and fish market. 

Friday Dinner Was The Official Start of Insider Weekend: 
Charleston Grill, 224 King Street (one of five restaurants in town hosting "Insiders")

Charleston Grill is an upscale, elegant dining experience. The restaurant is beautiful with wood paneling and white table linens and top notch cuisine and service. The food is fresh, delicate and flavorful -- the menu has dishes that are a contemporary spin on old world Southern as well as Continental favorites. We had a four-course meal co-hosted by Coastal Living magazine editors Tracey Minkin (Travel) and Ellen McGauley (Home): Octopus salad with tomatoes and petit mache, a very crabby grilled crab cake with lime, and prime beef tenderloin with baked potatoes, truffle butter, bourguignon sauce and horseradish. Dessert was a lemony cake topped with tart lemon curd and strawberries. 
Charleston Grill's Chef Michelle Weaver's Octopus Salad Tossed with Heirloom Tomatoes

Saturday, May 2nd Breakfast: 
Callie's Hot Little Biscuit, 476 King Street
Buttermilk biscuits and jam and a cup of hot coffee -- a perfect way to get myself going "in 'da South". Callie's is around the corner from the Charleston Visitor Center where I met up with fellow Insiders and picked up the Gullah Tours van for a cultural tour. My husband spent the day at the golf course on Kiawah Island with some of the marketing team from Departures and Travel & Leisure magazines and only got to hear about these awesome biscuits. 

Callie's Biscuits Are Legendary: Sharp Chedder, Cream Cheese, Pimento are just some of the many flavors. Served at this tiny take-out restaurant with four counter seats and local parties. A large assortment of products are available via mail order at their website
Tender, buttery, flakey -- handmade, hot out of the oven and served with blackberry jam on a fine china.

Saturday, May 2nd, Lunch: 
After a humorous (and scholarly) drive around Charleston with Alphonso Brown, owner of the Gullah Tours Company,  who shared the cultural history of century's old South Carolina's African-American Gullah culture -- language, beliefs, and foods -- and showed us beautiful wrought iron gates and a blacksmith shop,  I rushed off to join a Pop-Up Lunch of Gullah Cuisine and Butcher & Bee Menu Items Hosted by Dana Cowin, Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief at Le Creuset's Test Kitchen. We ate a six-course meal consisting of small plates - the menu is below -- at this "South Takes On The World" lunch.   
Chef BJ Dennis is recreating "Gullah" Cuisine, the traditional foods of African settlers in South Carolina's  Lowcountry. Somewhat reminiscent of Creole and Cajun Louisiana foods found at Jazzfest in New Orleans this time of year, the Sweet Potato Pone that Chef Dennis made - a quick bread, casserole-type dish made with grated sweet potatoes lots of butter and seasoned with cinnamon and sugar -- is a vintage Lowcountry Gullah recipe that soothes the soul. 
Mediterranean Butter Beans Salad and a Soft Boiled Egg created by Butcher and Bee, one of Charleston's Hottest Sandwich Joints Known For Helping Elevate Charleston's Food Scene in the National Rankings
Local artisans maintain the traditions of "poet ironworker" and "national treasure" Philip Simmons who created some of Charleston's most beautiful and iconic wrought iron gates, and balconies. 

Swirly curly elegant shapes define the work of Philip Simmons' iron work. We saw dozens of examples like this one on the Gullah Tour with Mr. Brown. The piece in this photo is a work in progress at the Philip Simmons Foundation and Workshop. 

Saturday, May 2nd, Dinner
We attended the "Biscuits and Jam" outdoor pig roast and seafood boil with live folk music -- Canary in the Coalmine and Houndmouth -- hosted by Southern Living magazine in Mt. Pleasant, just over the uber-modern looking bridge on the waterfront. It was fun to run into "old friends" and meet some new ones at "the Jam". 

Sunday, May 3rd, Brunch
Magnolia Restaurant, 185 East Bay Street
Considered one of the original creative restaurants serving "new Southern" cuisine, Magnolia is 25 years old this year. Great vibe and awesome meal. We had the shrimp and grits and a cuban pulled pork omelet topped with a beautiful salad and hot peppers for our last meal in Charleston. 
Quintessential Louisianan Spicy Shrimp, Sausage and Tasso Gravy Over Corn Grits at Magnolia Restaurant
Interior of Magnolia Restaurant 
We'll be back (soon, I hope). Until next time, y'all. 

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Karl Peterson said...
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