Le week-end is here! Add Charleston to that and you get le perfect weekend getaway. It's a small enough city that two or three days can be enough to fill you up. And yes, I mean your belly. Any more time than that, in fact, and you may be in gastrointestinal trouble. You'll want to eat, even when you don't want to eat; you'll want to cram in three restaurants a day, two bakeries and two coffee shops cause of FOMO. If you're like me and your daydreaming of food is almost annoyingly incessant, then you too have learned the hard way that there is such a thing as gorging yourself on food when your body has had its fill.. Even if it is thoughtful or healthy-ish food.
First stop: The Drawing Room for a contemporary and artful gastronomical eve in the historic French Quarter district. I was immediately drawn to feature this restaurant because of its strong focus on locally sourced seafood and produce, supporting many local purveyors and farms. So, I'm quick to support any restaurant that supports local agriculture as much as possible. Fortunately, not a rare thing for notable restaurants these days.
At the time we dined here, it was still headed by the very talented chef Jon Cropf, a Platinum member of the local Sustainable Seafood Initiative for the last five years. Pictured below.
As the kitchen sent out each dish, one by one to be photographed, I kept looking at Joe (duo self portrait above) with the expression "we're gonna eat the shit out of this after I shoot it". He'd return the look with "I'm here to help with anything, some impromptu white napkin holding to bounce light... and take your damned pictures already so we can eat". Cropf's artful dishes had elements of molecular gastronomy that elevated southern heritage cooking, without missing the flavor or comfort of a satisfying meal.
Pastry Chef Meagan Tighe's desserts were exquisite, and perfectly balanced. The red one above, almost too beautiful to eat (scroll over that one to read all of its components!) . We were pretty full by this point, but even then Joe and I pretended as best we could to be modest and graciously share. We alternated dipping our spoons politely, but I know for me it was one of those moments of "I'm eating this whole thing. I don't care if I get cellulite and a muffin top."
Do I need to write or say anything about James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock's Husk restaurant? Or can we all agree that it lives up to the hype. Both in Charleston and in Nashville, I walked in with high hopes for ingredient-driven southern cuisine, and walked out at the end delighted. I love how they built a huge chalkboard to display a list at the entrance with ingredients currently on the menu along with the name of the farm or purveyor from which they came. So lovely to honor the entire process and effort, a labor of love that begins far before food even enters a restaurant.
The Park Cafe - farm to fork dining in an understatedly chic and bright cafe in the Hampton Park neighborhood. A local magazine I'd picked up was raving about the Park Lettuces salad here. Beautiful lettuces, shaved carrots and radishes, cucumber, cilantro, crisp shoestring onion aaaaand.... pickled shiitakes. I'll take pickled shiitakes on just about anything!
The Daily - my favorite Coffee Shop during my stay in Charleston. Why? Because it is also a mini marketplace that sells goods from local makers. The food on their menu is also primarily sourced from local farmers, ranchers and fishmongers. Owned by the same folks as Butcher & Bee (conveniently on the same lot, originally popular for their carefully crafted sandwiches, really satisfying. Also a great beer selection).
Lastly, I HAVE to give a shout out to Xiao Bao Biscuit in the Cannonborough neighborhood - an Asian Fusion restaurant. The location is awesome, great vibe. But more than anything, more than all the gastronomical sophistications we experienced.... the humble Okonomiyaki (a Japanese savory cabbage pancake) blew my mind. How could something so simple, be so delicious? I need to learn how to make this, and stalk the interweb for their specific recipe!
Ok, I leave you with that. Whenever you start planning your getaway to Charleston, leave space for me in your car... and AirBnb... and wallet. ;) I kid.