October 25, 2011

What to eat in Charleston

When I travel I really only have one prerogative, and that is to eat. A lot. Everywhere.
For me, there's no better way of getting to know a new city than thru the food.

I'd been looking forward to Charleston for months and months because all I wanted was some good-ass pulled pork and sweet tea. Because apparently New Jersey doesn't like pork. And doesn't want to pull it. And top it with BBQ sauce. And put it on a bun. This is not a porky state. So, to the South!

Ironically, despite my ages-old craving, I had not a single bit of pulled pork the entire trip.
In past years when we spent the afternoon in Charleston we always scrounged up some pulled pork. But this year, there was a dearth. And after doing some reading it seems like Charleston is not in fact a porky city either. Shrimp and grits? Hells yes. BBQ?  Not really.

Anyway, here we go:

Jim N' Nicks:  After we checked in to our hotel the concierge recommended checking this place out for BBQ. It was woody and rustic and completely unfussy. You stand in line, order form a giant board, take a number, find a table, and servers will bring the food to your table. We'll try and ignore the fact that despite the incessant need for BBQ, at this post-flight juncture all I really wanted was a salad. So I took a leap of faith and got a Greek Salad. At a BBQ restaurant. Which could have been a big fat failure. Except it was actually kind of delicious! Especially when served with a little cornbread muffin.
Don't fret. To balance it out I also got the Not So Nekkid Potato, "loaded with bacon, butter, sour cream and cheddar." Yes. that's right. Four disgustingly fatty things all together. Crammed inside an innocent potato. And damn it was good.
Jared got the pulled pork, but was a smidgen disappointed. The roll was a little bit Wonder Bread-esque and he prefers a more finely shredded pork. And alas. That was the end of our pork adventures for the trip.
Fleets Landing: Whenever we asked people for dining recos they were all "Ohh, Fleet's Landing Fleet's Landing!" Yes, the location is awesome. We sat on the deck right on the water, despite a blustery wind that kept menus and napkins skittering off the tables. But. I was totally underwhelmed by the food itself.  Also, we were there for Sunday brunch, but for some reason only got a lunch menu, which made me super sad, because there is nothing at all better than brunch. Jared got more fried shrimp. Not bad. I had the Grilled Mahi Mahi Sandwich, with lettuce, tomato and coconut aioli on onion ciabatta. The bread was meh and the fish itself was too thin and almost crispy (but not in a good way). Wasn't the best experience.

King Street Grille:  Two thumbs way up to King Street Grille since they sat us right in front of a TV AND turned the Rutgers football game on for us. This place is all about the football - jerseys everywhere - wings and nachos - the place to chill with your buddies with a beer during gametime. Literally 20 TVs going at once, and you can make requests about which game you want on your TV. Shockingly, the food was good too. Jared got the buffalo popcorn shrimp - tender and breaded and just spicy enough. I got the Portobello Mushroom Sandwich - a giant, marinated and grilled portobello cap topped with roasted red peppers and cheese. I swear that the bun tasted like a soft pretzel - dense and heavy and freaking good. Came with a mixed baby greens salad. 
Toast of Charleston:  To make up for my lack of Sunday Brunch we headed out early Monday morning with breakfast in mind. Ended up at Toast and had good vibes from the moment we saw the cluster of 15 people waiting outside. I was really torn because their Deluxe French Toast sounded out of control (and was recommended by the NY Times). But, in the end I got the House Specialty Omelet - served open faced with grilled zucchini and mushrooms and a a smothering of pepper jack cheese. The home fries were damn good. And the biscuit. Oh the biscuit! (Let's not think of what biscuits are made of, OK?) Jared got the Triple Cheese Omelet and added Ham and was also a happy camper.   
Southend Brewery:  After wandering town in the rain for a while, we stopped in at Southend to get a drink and warm up at the bar. Jared tried one of their home-brewed beers. I had a glass of champagne and was very quickly tipsy. It's worth going here just for the gorgeous interior.

A.W. Shucks:  We came here because the first time we ever came to Charleston we'd stopped in and had our first pulled pork and it was real tasty. But. Apparently they do not serve pulled pork anymore. Fail again. I had to try the She-Crab soup because apparently every single eatery in Charleston is all about these girly crabs and I needed to try it. It was tasty - creamy with a little zing and perfect on a chilly rainy afternoon. Keeping with the southern theme I got the Fried Green Tomato appetizer - and they were exactly that. Fried tomatoes with a zesty zipping sauce. Good. Not life altering.

FIG:  One of the Best. Meals. Of. My. Life. Now, let me preface this by saying that after reading 2 glowing recommendations I was a little hesitant about having my expectations too high, and being naturally disappointed. But. No. No no no. It was marvelous. 

So, inside is simple. Nothing fancy. Minimal and dim and cozy and fully focused on the food.
The service is attentive and incredibly knowledgeable but not at all overwhelming.
We'd obtained reservations for 9:30pm - which worked out because I wanted to make sure I was fully starved for my incredible meal.

Cocktails:  I got the Kitchen's Kir Royale. Jared got the classic Negroni.

Appetizers:  Tomato Tarte Tatin - locally grown tomatoes and onions, cooked inside a pastry shell and dotted with tapenade and some fromage blanc. Yes. So good.

Entree:  Prosciutto Wrapped Grouper with red-wine braised eggplant and OMG THAT EGGPLANT. The fish was tender and meaty and perfectly cooked and paired with the super flavorful eggplant it was completely out of this world. Pretty sure I made all kinds of ecstatic noises while I was eating. 
Jared may have been embarrassed. 
I may not have cared.
(Jared got some kind of steak. Apparently it was good? I dunno. I was very busy with my eggplant)

Side dish:  Sauteed young greens with garlic. Good balance to my hearty fish/eggplant marriage.

Dessert:  OH SWEET MAMA HOLD ME. One trillion thank you's to my husband for convincing me to go with FIG's famous Sticky sorgham cake with caramel sauce and malt ice cream. I was so full but by golly I ate the entire thing with my eyes literally rolling back in my head. ROLLING BACK I SAY. (Disclaimer: I left one bite. Jared mocked me. I felt better because I could say I did not finish the entire thing. Ha. The games we play...)

It was no question one of the best meals of my life. 

S.N.O.B. (slightly north of broad):  On our last afternoon we stopped at SNOB before heading to the airport. It was so packed we had to eat at the bar (which was completely lovely). The average age in that restaurant was no joke 65. Lots of wealthy-looking Southerners digging into their grits. In addition to 3 glasses of sweet tea (oof), the bartender's recommendation of the Grilled Salmon Salad ended up being one of the best salads of my life. So many flavors! So many textures! I'll break it down:  baby spinach, avocado, grape tomatoes, oranges, goat feta cheese, pepporoncini peppers, citrus shallot dressing, tender grilled salmon. Accompanied by a little basket of cornbread squares. 

In conclusion:
Life is good in Charleston.
Tons of good food.
Drink the sweet tea.
Try the She-Crab.
Go to FIG.
Give up on the pork.

1 comment:

jenny d said...

You sound like Julia Child.

Paul: What do you really like to do?
Julia: Eat! And I'm so good at it!