Charleston, South Carolina is a vast culinary landscape and a wonderful retreat for any foodie looking for a weekend getaway. Charleston is home to many highly acclaimed restaurants where you can enjoy traditional Lowcountry cuisine or locally sourced ingredients.
With my day job sending me down to Charleston for a business trip, I knew I needed to take the opportunity to taste as much as I could during my time here. Two musts on my list were Sean Brock’s Husk, a restaurant that makes the most of the ingredients they have at hand. The menu changes daily, and everything used is sourced locally. The second was Magnolias, which takes a modern twist on traditional southern and Lowcountry food. I also visited The Grocery off of a colleagues recommendation, another restaurant focusing on local and in season ingredients from their favorite purveyors. Finally, things wouldn’t be quite right without a little cooking myself, so in my tiny hotel kitchenette I tackled my version of the famous Lowcountry boil.
My first stop in any new city is to visit the farmer’s market, I always love to see the local produce available and any other vendors that might be set up for the day. I have to say, I was absolutely blown away by this market, it was more than just produce, meat, bread and cheese out there. It was an entire bazaar encompassing a large park in between King and Meeting Streets. Vendors surrounded the outside of the park, while in the center bands were set up to entertain customers and workers alike. There were also families laying out picnics enjoying their finds from the market.
Produce was out in full force in the market, and it made me completely jealous that it’ll be another month or two before we see so much green in NY. I also took the opportunity to try out some boiled peanuts for the first time – let’s just say I’m not really a fan. I had no idea what to expect going in, but peanuts tasting like beans, was not one of them! Luckily the vendor had some fried peanuts for sale too – now that is what I’m talking about! You eat the shell and all and they are delicious!
I also picked up a packet of frogmore stew aka lowcountry boil spices from the spice vendor. This all organic spice mix is to be used in place of old bay seasoning in your boil, and as you’ll see soon enough, I thought it was an excellent substitution.
After walking my way through the farmer’s market and having complete envy over everything I couldn’t by, I made my way down the King St. shopping district to discover perhaps the greatest moment of my trip (next to all the delicious food I ate of course).
I literally, stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the store, we don’t have individual Le Creuset shops in NYC! Why? I don’t know, but if you are listening Le Creuset, please open one ASAP. I walked in knowing I couldn’t buy anything, because there was no way I could take it home, until the clerk told me they shipped anything over $100 for free. Sold! Damage was done, and I purchased the brasier that I have had my eye on for a year! I also picked up some espresso cups from their new cafe line.
All this shopping was making me hungry and it was time to head down to Husk for lunch. Husk is an absolutely beautiful restaurant, set in a remolded home on a tree-lined block. I was seated on the upstairs balcony with a wonderful view, they also have fresh herbs growing all over the property.
I started with some delicious house made rolls topped with benne seeds and served with honey butter. Then off my servers recommendation I moved on to the Cheddar Pimento cheese appetizer with country ham and pickled ramps. I mean, we all know how much I adore my ramps, and these were pickled just right and were the perfect accompaniment to the slightly spicy pimento cheese. For an appetizer that probably wasn’t meant for one person, I ate it all. That’s how good it was. My server also recommended the Husk cheeseburger, and since I knew I’d only be able to go here once, I wanted to taste what he recommended. Sadly, I just didn’t love it. I don’t know if it was because it was a smash style and I just like my burgers bloody or I’m just really used to eating Pat LaFrieda meat in NY. So many restaurants source his meat, and I cook with it at home, that I feel like I’m used to the taste and expect it. Husk clearly uses the best ingredients they can get their hands on, and I know this was a personal opinion.
As you walk around Charleston, don’t be surprised if you start to smell sugar. That smell is coming from the numerous candy shops lining the Historic Charleston City Market, most of them have their doors wide open to lure you in with samples of freshly made pralines.
The first thing I need to say about Magnolias is that they made a grits fan out of a hater. I didn’t need server recommendations coming into Magnolias. I knew I wanted a real southern dinner, which included Fried Green Tomatoes with white cheddar and caramelized onion grits, country ham and tomato chutney; Buttermilk Fried Chicken Breast with cracked pepper biscuits, mashed potatoes, collard greens, cream style corn and sausage and herb gravy. Don’t go here if you are on a diet, and if you are, toss it out the window. This was just one fine meal, perfectly executed fried tomatoes with the right breading to tomato ratio served on a bed of coarse grits that weren’t too cheesy. I also now see that coarse grits are the key, it’s the fine grits I never liked! Magnolias has also perfected the art of the juicy fried (white meat) chicken. Even with the bone removed there wasn’t a piece of dry meat there. With just the right amount of spice, a wonderfully balance – but filling dinner. I purposely took half home so I would have room for dessert – pecan pie, perhaps the best I’ve ever had. It was not to sweet and generous with the pecan toppings.
As much as I’d like to eat all the food in one day, I just can’t. Plus I have to work! However I made sure to find time to stop by The Grocery. Torn between getting a softshell crab sandwich or “Lowcountry ramen”, the sight of fresh churros at another table made my decision for me. “Lowcountry Ramen” it was! A wonderful stew make with smoked pork broth, fresh hominy, greens, burnt ends and topped with a perfectly poached egg. I also detected some notes of vinegar in the stew to mimic some Japanese flavors.
Then there were the churros, hot out of the fryer, served with three dipping sauces – salted caramel, vanilla bean creme anglaise and dark chocolate. It took all my will power not to lick my plate clean!
Finally, I leave you with South Carolina’s most famous dish Lowcountry Boil! I found this great Belgian-style trippel brewed with coriander and used it for my boil. It added some amazing flavors to my dish and complimented the coriander that was in my spice mix.
Also with a really important lesson, don’t cook seafood in your hotel room, even with ventilation, it will smell for longer than you prefer.
Recipe (for 1 person):1 fresh andouille sausage, cut into 1 inch pieces 6 small red potatoes 1 ear corn, cut in half 1 12oz bottle Belgian-style beer 12oz water 3 teaspoons frogmore stew seasoning or old bay seasoning 1/4 pound fresh shell on large shrimp, cleaned 4 clams In a large pot brown the andouille sausage on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and corn to the pot, as well as the beer, water and seasoning. Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce to the heat to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender. Add the shrimp and clams to the pot, cover again and cook 2-4 minutes until the shrimp are pink and the clams have opened up. You want to be careful not to overcook your seafood. I suggest removing the shrimp as the finish cooking. If any clams don’t open, toss them since they will be bad. Serve with some bread, beer and a lot of napkins! Foodbuzz for choosing me to participate in their 24X24 event. Where 24 of Foodbuzz’s featured publisher bloggers are picked to showcase 24 unique meals in one day.