Food: Charleston

Here are a few holiday snaps of the meals I had in Charleston, South Carolina—one of the loveliest cities I’ve had the privilege of visiting. I also have a bunch of pictures of the town itself, which I hope to put up later, but here’s what I ate.

Upon arrival, I immediately had a late lunch at Jestine’s Kitchen, an unprepossessing place that has superb fried chicken. It’s accompanied here with homemade pickles, collard greens, whipped sweet potatoes, the local paper and, of course, sweet tea.  The yardbird was great. I believe Anthony Bourdain featured this place in one of his recent restaurant shows. Click all photos to enlarge them.

Jestine's

I had a semi-fancy lunch the next day at Slightly North of Broad (Broad is a street in Charleston), a restaurant usually abbreviated S.N.O.B. But it’s not snobbish at all: it serves upscale Southern food in a pleasant, unstuffy atmosphere.

SNOB

The menu, heavy on local seafood and fancified southern food, and not too expensive:

SNOB menu

To start off with, since the day was warm: a locally-brewed “White Thai” wheat beer made with spices. Just the ticket.

SNOB white Thai beer

Steamed local clams in garlic and white wine, with fennel, tomatoes and toasted baguette. Yum!

SNOB clams

And the best dish of all: shrimp and grits, a Carolina favorite. The grits were creamy (I think they contained cream), a perfect foil for the many large shrimp, which were interspersed with pieces of homemade andouille sausage and country ham.  This is the Risotto of America, and was absolutely delicious, if filling!

SNOB shrimp grits

The next day, after a long walk around the city, I had a late lunch (I often eat one large meal per day while travelling) at Cru Café, another restaurant that does “modern” Southern food (they call it “gourmet comfort food”). Thank goodness that, in Charleston, “modern” or “gourmet” doesn’t equal “small portions.”

Because I booked the kitchen table (really a copper counter that overlooks the kitchen), but had to wait 25 minutes, they comped me a drink and an appetizer: delicious roasted corn flan with jalapeño peppers. Excellent.

Cru corn flan

And then the appetizer I ordered: duck salad with carmalized walnuts, arugala, and fried onion slivers on top.  A substantial appetizer that could also be ordered as a main dish. Note the sweet tea: the table wine of the South.

Cru Duck salad

The main course: homemade meat loaf, barbecue style, with mashed potatoes and homemade cole slaw with horseradish.  It was excellent as well, though a bit dry. You can imagine how full I was after consuming this and the two courses above. This was not a small dish.

Cru meat loaf

I wish I’d had room for dessert, as they were homemade as well, and looked great. Before the chef cut a slice of Orange Blossom Cake with coconut frosting, he made two squiggles of sauce on the plate, which, as a biologist, I had to photograph:

Cru dessert

Afterwards a quick walk through the touristy Charleston Market, once the place that house slaves went to buy groceries for their white owners. Now it’s a fancy mall selling geegaws (and some decent stuff, like local handwoven sweetgrass baskets).  There was some food on offer, too, like this (I didn’t try the famous okra chips):

Okra chips

And a panoply of hot sauces:

Hot sauce

I greatly enjoyed my three major meals in Charleston, as well as the BBQ dinner (with mustard sauce) that one of the seminar organizers at the College of Charleston got me to eat in my hotel before my debate (I can’t remember her name, but she was very gracious).  I know from reading about the city that it’s rapidly becoming a foodie paradise, and I wish I’d stayed longer to sample the fare. But I’m sure I’ll be back.

Later this week I’ll post some pictures of this beautiful city—a city voted the prime tourist destination in the world by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler Magazine last year. I can’t quite agree with that ranking (Paris is stiff competition for food and scenery, and beats Charleston hands down for art), but Charleston is up there with New Orleans and New York City as my favorite tourist destinations in the U.S. If you have a chance to go there, do so!

19 Comments

  1. Posted February 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    You are clearly living the dream. My boyfriend got me a Frommer’s guide to Charleston over a year ago to plan our weeklong food fest and maybe this will jumpstart the scheduling. Yum.

  2. Woof
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Those okra chips taste WAY better than they look. Of course, I guess they’d have to…

  3. Bill Cain
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jerry, I hope you don’t suffer too much from all the saturated fat, cholesterol and salt in those dinners. I’d like you to be around longer to rebut all those creationists. Bill Cain

    • JBlilie
      Posted February 19, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      He has frequently noted that he does not eat this way normally. He’s just giving us the highlights! Oatmeal isn’t so photogenic (or saliva-genic).

  4. gravityfly
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    So many kinds of hot sauce!

  5. Posted February 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Robert F. Furchgott was also a fan of corn flan.

  6. Jim Thomerson
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    My wife bought a sack of okra snacks, similar to your okra chips, but rather whole dried pods. They were tasty, and I ate a couple of handfulls. Result was almost continuous powerful flatulance for a couple of hours. Someone brought in another pack. I put them out for the deer, but the deer did not touch them.

    • bacopa
      Posted February 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Be glad it was just gas. Okra seeds are coated with a gel that aids in “seed dispersal”. If you are not used to it or eat too much, you will find out what I mean.

  7. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I think I may have to hate you. You eat so much wonderful food, yet every photo I see of you, you look such a skinny so and so. :-)

    One thing you are doing is making me even more determined to save up the pennies and get over to the US one day. Good food, maybe a decent lecture, I’ve just got to do it.

  8. Matt Bowman
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Man it all looks good to me! I’ve never had shrimp and grits–looks tasty.

  9. JBlilie
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful food shots! Wow, I’m envious! And a fine time of the year to be in Charleston! Well-planned!

  10. Ken Pidcock
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    If you have a chance to go there, do so!

    I will second that. A few years ago, we decided that Charleston and Savannah might be a good spring break vacation, and was it ever. Profoundly interesting American history, beautiful architecture, and excellent food.

  11. Diego
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    You sure know how to travel! Yum!

  12. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Sweet Jebus that food looks good.

  13. John Foster
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m from Northwest Florida and have eaten a lot of shrimp and a lot of grits, but not until a few years ago did I try shrimp and grits. I was in Charleston for a carcinologists meeting and I tried them. Outstanding! I learned to make them tolerably at home, but there is something about the Charleston experience that you just can’t reproduce. And that’s a good thing.

  14. Marella
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Mmm, mmm, I will put Charleston on my list of places to go. I have had shrimp and grits in Washington DC and I still remember it fondly. I gained about 2kg in a week but it was worth it.

  15. Posted February 20, 2013 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    Mouth-watering post! A kitchen table? Way to go!

    Oh, I do miss clams so much (no ‘real’ clams in France). Great Coynage: The Risotto of America! Yes, meatloaf needs to be mucho zestified AND moist. :-) The duck salad looks magnificent–it’s clever to add a bit of sweetness via the carmelised walnuts. I wonder what that ying/yang pair of saucy ‘sperm’ was made of? Some kind of berry?

    The fried chicken meal is my fave though–authentic, done well, and simple. Yay for home-made pickles!

    Yeah, I would love to check out Charleston, but doubt I ever will…doing it vicariously is not so bad. Thanks!

  16. Kevin
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Okra done right is a delight.

    Sadly, however…

  17. Vaal
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Once again, Good Crikey that food looks wonderful. Shrimp and Grits, one of my favorites! It’s torturous to see that image when I have no hope of satisfying that craving.

    Selfish request for info: Since I’m going to be in Myrtle Beach SC soon I must ask: Does anyone know of some good southern cooking to be found in that area?

    Many thanks,

    Vaal


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