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  • Writer's pictureMarissa Bialecki

72 Hours in Charleston: Where to Eat and Drink

In my latest stint of traveling, I headed to Charleston, SC, for what I affectionately called the “72 hours of eating” trip. It was not for the weak of stomach. It was not for the weak of heart. It was, however, a girls weekend out of DC built around the premise that a food writer and a food PR professional ought to do some field research. Seven restaurants, a 20-mile bike ride and an ungodly amount of pralines and enough grits to last a lifetime, I can tell you that Charleston surpassed every expectation.

Menus were printed with the specific date atop them, an attention to detail that immediately told us restaurants were respectful of the produce in season and what was readily available. That extra work of changing a menu daily showed us that Charleston wasn’t interested in a getting a meal done; they were interested in getting it done right. Life operated at a slower pace. People were friendly and willing to invite you into their lives, talk to you and tell you everything you should know about their city. Slowly, I began to realize that keeping up that northern guard and skepticism was just plain rude down here. With every breath of clear, 60 degree and sunny air, I wanted ten more. I’m not saying I’m leaving DC anytime soon, but Charleston was a city I could easily get used to.

Here’s what and where we ate throughout the weekend:

The first stop after checking into the hotel was this little late-night-dining spot. Fried chicken bahn mi was a dead giveaway that we were in the south now. Bleu cheese fries were something I could see trying to replicate when I got home–simple enough but a whole lot better than plain fries. And the meatloaf sandwich that could only be eaten with a fork and knife was one of the best testaments to comfort food I’ve ever eaten.

Husk stole the show with appetizers. When you start to laugh at the table because something you just ate was plain silly good, you know you’ve come to the right place. The wagyu steak was perfectly cooked and seasoned, but for me what stood out most were the crispy fried chicken skins and pig ear lettuce wraps. The chicken skins, soaked in buttermilk and smoked to give them an extra depth in flavor, were addictive. And the tangy hot sauce cut with a sweet cane sugar syrup was something I’d like to have bottled up to take home. The crispy, shredded pig ears in a “kentuckyaki” (that’s bourbon and teriyaki) sauce were nestled in buttery Boston lettuce leaves and topped with a quick-pickled slaw of carrots and cabbage along with chopped peanuts. It sounds like a simple concept but a dish, such as those pig ear lettuce wraps, where every component serves a purpose and is meant to be on the plate is something to behold.

Recommended by one of the most respected mixologists I’m fortunate to know in DC, The Gin Joint was the first bar stop on the trip. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how many of the best bars and restaurants have a certain degree of theatrics. Whether it’s an open kitchen where you can see every cook or a long bar where you can watch bartender after bartender swiftly shuffling through bottles and rocking boozy ice-filled shakers back and forth, there’s plenty to watch. Gin Joint’s bar, though only six or so seats, had that little theatrical feel to it that could hold your attention for hours. Their packed booths and fully stocked shelves of bottles of liquor, along with a bartender team who knew exactly what they were doing when it came to drinks, made it the right place for us to post up for a few hours. A bar where I can name two flavors and a type of liquor and get an excellently crafted cocktail right on the spot (and off the menu), is one I want to go back to time and time again.

If I lived in Charleston, I’d bet that you’d find me here on a weekend morning more often than not. The soft scrambled eggs put most others to shame, and I felt slightly less guilty about the dish because of all the crispy, roasted brussel sprouts, cauliflower and mushrooms on top of it. Mustard tagliatelle with pulled pork neck and a fried egg might have been a bit heavy to start the day out with, but when in Charleston, you eat like you’ll never see food again. And though it might seem like a low-brow college concoction, orangina mimosas aren’t bad to sip on for a few hours in between cups of dark coffee.

There was a split second when we thought we couldn’t possibly eat something Sunday morning. And then we got to Hominy Grill and forgot all about that. Biscuits with jam from the owner’s family in North Carolina, homemade rhubarb pop tarts and a hot bowl of shrimp and grits fueled us for a 20-mile bike ride out to the beach. It hit me yet again as our server talked us through the menu that the hospitality and friendliness here were enough to knock the wind out of you.

I’m beginning to think I need to plan a few more trips down south to do a full and proper study in shrimp and grits. The sausage and country ham in the S&G at SNOB took it to the next level. Though a chicken dish might not be my first pick at a restaurant, the grilled chicken with eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, pesto and goat cheese croutons left me with lunch envy. Croutons with goat cheese inside kind of seals the deal.

Pre-gaming dinner with a pre-dinner was our chosen method of madness for squeezing in all the restaurants we wanted to get to. Spying Craig Rogers’ lamb from Border Springs on the menu, we went for the lamb carne cruda with fennel, walnuts and aged pecorino. The tuna carpaccio with crisp, bright vegetables and a light lemon vinaigrette was in a word, memorable.

Right as I was heaving one last mental sigh that I didn’t want to leave, US Airways cancelled our flight and didn’t have anything that could get us back to DC before the next morning. A vacation that doesn’t have to end? I’m on board. So that led to a dinner with some friends we made in town at The Macintosh. Having locals pick out what to order in Charleston was a godsend. Again, the appetizers were what captivated our attention–a butcher plate with housemade cured meats, a rich foie gras pate you’d want to slather on everything, housemade gnudi stuffed with creamy ricotta, and sweetbreads made more southern with collard greens and bacon. Do not, by any means, miss out on the luscious bone marrow bread pudding here. And though the size of the dish might be intimidating, I assure you you’ll feel extreme dinner envy if you’re not the one at the table to order the pork shoulder with roasted root vegetables.



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