Charleston, SC

5 Things to Eat and Drink in Charleston, South Carolina

Claire Handscombe

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I’d been curious about Charleston for a while anyway, so I was happy to finally travel there last spring -- and, later, happier still that I'd made it before the world changed. It’s a lovely place. I particularly enjoyed King Street, the main street with beautiful shops, restaurants, and houses that leads down to the tip of the peninsula, where I walked along the waterfront and enjoyed reading in the sunshine.

But what I didn’t know before I boarded the plane was how much of a foodie city it was. I ate so many good meals, and I probably need to plan a return trip to try some more. Here are some of the highlights:

Shrimp Rice at Husk

It’s basically impossible to get reservations at Husk, which has just been named among the top 101 places to eat in America, and they don’t have a full-service bar, but I got lucky on my first night and they had a slot for me at 9.15 pm. Because it was so late, though, and I’d eaten weirdly on my flight, totally throwing my meal schedule, I’d been snacking all day and wasn’t as hungry as I should have been where I got there. So I only got to eat one course. It was a good one, though.

Despite the fact that duck was on the menu and duck is always what I pick, I didn’t love that it was paired with cauliflower. I had the corn skillet fried catfish with shrimp rice, collards, and Louisiana hot sauce.

It was all delicious, with the collards providing the perfect balance to the dish, but the shrimp rice was to die for. Flavourful and cooked to perfection. And yes, without my knowing it, this was the dish that The Daily Meal specifically named in their roundup of best restaurants. So I think that cements my status as Expert Foodie.

Chocolate Martini at the Vendue

If you’re ever in Charleston, head to the lobby bar at the Vendue hotel and the bartender who looks like Dan Bucatinski (but whose name is actually Michael) to make you a chocolate martini. It’s not on the menu, but he made one for somebody and gave me a sample to taste and I had to go back the next night to get the full experience. I wasn’t disappointed.

Michael works at the weekends, and Fridays and Saturdays there is also live music in the bar – on the Friday when I was there, there was a wonderful piano-playing/singing husband and wife team who got us all singing Bohemian Rhapsody, and even handed Dan/Michael the microphone for a verse of one song. Turns out, chocolate martinis aren’t his only talent.

Breakfast Crumble at Big Bad Breakfast

There’s a brand new place that’s just opened and is already really popular called Big Bad Breakfast. I had what the menu calls “the chef’s on-the-go breakfast favourite”: the breakfast crumble. It consists of crumbled buttermilk biscuits, grits, tomato gravy, crumbled bacon, poached eggs and green onions. It’s got of lot of flavour and a bit of a kick.

I’m more of bland eater first thing in the morning so it was a little much, but I could tell it was objectively good. Don’t, however, do what I did and order a biscuit on the side. It’ll fill you up unnecessarily and there’s more than just a crumble of biscuit in the dish — more like large chunks. Even if you really like biscuits, you don’t need an extra one.

Shrimp and Grits at Slightly North of Broad

Shrimp and grits are A Thing in the South. I’ve honestly never been sure about grits — they basically seem like porridge, which to this Brit feels like it should be eaten on its own or maybe with some raspberry jam rather than mixed in with dinner, but I wanted to try the specialty.

I’d asked Michael of Chocolate Martini fame about the best place to have shrimp and grits, and he’d mentioned Slightly North of Broad (or S.N.O.B., a clever name which appeals to my tastes!). I wanted to try the version at Coast Bar and Grill, which has bacon — bacon elevates every meal, if you ask me — but was hampered in my efforts by the fact that many of the best restaurants in Charleston don’t seem to open before 5 pm. I was outside S.N.O.B. at the right time, so I went for it.

Lots of restaurants treat solo diners poorly, but not S.N.O.B. They did ask if I wanted a seat at the bar, but not in a “we’re trying to shove you where you’ll take up the least space” kind of way. In the end, I went for a table, and the waitress offered me local magazines to page through, which was a lovely touch.

I had a strawberry and goat’s cheese salad from the day’s specials, and it was delicious. It featured radishes and pine nuts, two things that make any salad better, and the strawberries were local and tasty. It went really well with the wine I’d been recommended, too — a rosé called AIX.

Another bonus here is you get free corn bread, one of my favourite American things to eat, as well as straightforward bread with superior butter.

But anyway, back to the shrimp and grits. There was a lot going on in this dish — I wasn’t sure it really needed the kielbasa sausage on top of everything else, and I’m still definitely unsure about mixing grits with other things, but I enjoyed the taste overall, especially the cayenne pepper kick. If you’re going to try one of the local delicacies, this is definitely one of the best places to do it. Plus, they actually are open for lunch, and right next to the historic market for all your souvenir needs, so a great pitstop.

Jumbo lump crab rice at The Ordinary

On my way into town from the airport, my cab driver recommended The Ordinary, and I’m so glad! I think it’s my favourite of the places I tried, and not just because it was right next to my hotel.

The vibe was great, and I enjoyed sitting at the bar: the seat were comfortable, there were hooks for bags, there was tons of space, and there was a hum of conversation and music rather than anything you had to shout over. The servers were friendly and nice to talk to (if rather more interested in three younger women than they were in me!), remembered me when I went in the second time, and were happy to assist with advice and modifications to dishes. I’d been dithering about the jumbo lump crab rice, but wasn’t sure about the poached egg it usually come with, and definitely didn’t want mushrooms — all of which was fine with them, and I’m so glad I asked! Even without those components, it was a perfectly balanced dish with lots of character. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Also worth trying: their crispy oyster slider, the green salad with apple and walnuts, and the delicious coconut rice pudding. It came with strawberries, and was the creamiest, loveliest thing.

What’s your favourite thing to eat (or drink) in Charleston?

Photo by Jonathan Zeman on Unsplash

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

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