I was invited to spend a few days in Charleston and eagerly jumped on the opportunity knowing that they had a thriving food scene. We actually stayed at the beach in Island of Palms which is approximately 12 miles from downtown Charleston and a 24 minute drive. For the South Florida readers, I would equate this with staying on Key Biscayne and driving to the Design District for dinner.
The first stop was lunch at Gullah Cuisine. Gullah was on my list of potential places to try but I had no intention of searching for it. Well, we happened to pass right by it on our drive from the airport to our house. It was not far from where we were staying and was perfect for lunch. It's a casual spot featuring Gullah style dishes. The Gullahs were the first African Americans to reside in the Low Country (coastal area of South Carolina). Fortunately, I was hungry (surprise surprise) so I ordered a few dishes. I started with the she-crab soup which is a Low Country signature dish. This was a delicious combination of bisque with crab meat and topped with sherry. She-crab soup is also made with crab roe hence the "she". I followed that up with fresh and lightly fried okra along with fried shrimp and Gullah rice. All three were great. The shrimp were nicely seasoned with little to no coating. The Gullah rice was packed with flavor thanks to the sausage, chicken and shrimp along with the various seasonings. Chowprincess had the macaroni and cheese which was "the best ever". I was able to steal a few bites and it was awesome.
I'm not sure I would make a special trip for Gullah Cuisine with all of the other great options in Charleston but I would certainly recommend it if you are in the area.
1717 N Hwy 17
Mt Pleasant, SC 29464http://gullahcuisine.net/
Next up was dinner at FIG. FIG (Food is Good) is located in downtown Charleston. Chef Michael Lata won the James Beard award for best chef in the Southeast in 2009. He has a reputation for using local and sustainable foods with a changing menu based on seasonal offerings along with a few staples.
FIG was my kind of place. They served great cocktails along with reasonably priced wine by the glass options. The dining area was modern and upbeat. The server was friendly and knowledgeable. The food was stellar.
The night we were there the menu featured several appealing appetizers which made ordering difficult. I decided to bypass the entrees and go with three appetizers. Narrowing the list down to three was not an easy task.
First up were the crispy Caw Caw Creek pork trotters served with a sunny side up farm egg and field pea succotash. This dish was so good that my socks hit some lady in the head ten tables over. Okay, I exaggerated. It was only eight tables. Chow P even ordered one and loved it too. This could easily be my dish of the year.
Round two featured Keegan-Filion Farms pork testa. Testa is the Italian name for head cheese which isn't even cheese. Confusing, I know. It's the meat from the pigs' head and served as a terrine. Lata's version was served with Vidalia onion jam and new potatoes. This was another delicious dish.
For my third course I went with the veal sweetbread ravioli with porcini mushrooms. The ravioli was fresh, soft, tasty and filled with tender melt in your mouth veal sweetbreads. A fantastic combination and a real treat. I also sampled Chow P's lacinato kale gnocchi with spicy ragout and that was a winner too.
If I lived in Charleston I would frequent FIG often. They should be on everyone's must do list if visiting Charleston.
232 Meeting St
Charleston, SC 29401
We attempted to try Hominy Grill for lunch the following day but we had the Chowbabies in tow and the line was long so we passed. I was fine with the decision knowing that we were going to McCrady's for dinner.
I was really looking forward to our dinner at McCrady's. Not because George Washington dined there but because the kitchen was manned by 2010 James Beard winner, Chef Sean Brock. Unfortunately, I left disappointed. I will take some of the blame because I passed on the tasting menu. It was a long day and late and Chow P wasn't into it. The restaurant requested that the entire table order it so I passed. In hindsight that was a mistake because I suspect that the tasting menu showcased Chef Brock's cutting edge skills more than the regular menu. That being said, there is no excuse for a sub par regular menu from a Beard winner.
Here is what I missed:
T A S T I N G M E N U
Scallop, Rhubarb, Celery, Cilantro Ice
Petale de Rose, Cinsault/Grenache/Syrah, Cotes de Provence, 2009
Grouper with Courgettes and Bonito
Regillo, Malvasia/Trebbiano/Bombino/Greco, Frascati Superiore, 2008
Lobster Legs, Sweetbreads, Sweet Onions and Artichokes
Hiedler, Gruner Veltliner, Kamptal, 2008
Pork, Farro, Pine, Green Garlic and Wild Ramps
Brigaldara, Corvina/Rondinella, Valpolicella, 2007
Beef, Tamarind, Peanut, Coconut Rice
Four Vines, “OVC”, Zinfandel, California, 2007
Chateau Soucherie, Chenin Blanc, Chaume-Loire, 2005
Chocolate, Hazelnut, Chewy Caramel and Malt
Brachetto d’Acqui, Giacomo Bologna, Piedmont, 2007
$75 per person
$60 Sommelier’s Paired Selections, plus tax & gratuity
Instead I started with the plate of house made charcuterie with pickles and mustard. I can't recall all of the items on the plate but they were all great. For my main dish I went with the grilled pork shoulder with Anson Mills grits, cow peas, green tomato pickle and mayhaw jus. The combination of Chef Brock, pork shoulder and grits excited me. B-U-S-T. All I tasted was tough pork shoulder and a plate of vinegar. It's possible that was the way it was supposed to be. If so, I didn't get it or enjoy it.
2 Unity Aly
Charleston, SC 29401
Our last meal was a difficult decision between S.N.O.B, Amen Street and Cypress. I would have given serious consideration to a return visit to FIG but it was closed. Miami Chef's K and 'Zilla recommended Cypress but I knew (thanks to Twitter) that Chef Deihl was out of town so it was automatically eliminated. SNOB was well reviewed but the menu didn't excite me. Amen Street which was fairly new (Nov. 2009) featured an interesting sounding menu so that was the call. It should be noted that the well behaved Chowbabies were with us and Amen was Chowbaby friendly. The staff was great.
This was a very enjoyable meal. I started with a plate of fresh and nicely crisp fried oysters. It was paired with traditional po' boy dressings (minus bread) and dill tarter. This deconstructed po' boy was a great idea and a tasty starter. Since this was my last meal, ordering Charleston's signature dish of shrimp and grits was a no-brainer. Amen's version was served with green onions, roasted tomatoes and tasso ham. This was fantastic and the perfect way to end the Charleston Chew. Amen Street is a cool spot worth checking out.
205 East Bay St
Charleston, SC 29401
FIG sounds delicious. Going to have to drop in next time I'm in that area.
Didn't the ChowPrincess recently profess her love for a different Mac N Cheese? I thought I remembered that somewhere...
FIG served a crispy pig trotter w/ beet mustard @ the Best of the Best at SBWFF and I went back for seconds because it was awesome. Love that you called this trip the Charleston Chew hahaha.
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