So much of our focus here in Durham centers around food; it’s not surprising that when we go away, our plans revolve around a similar purpose.
Charleston, SC is one of the original “foodie cities” of the South. It’s an easy vacation choice for people like us who plan our days around what restaurants we’re most excited to try. Plus, it’s a fairly easy drive from the Bull City (just over four hours).
We managed to pack a lot of food into our four-day trip to this charming historic city, which we visited once before, years ago. There were a couple places on our “must return to” list, but like Durham, new restaurants are popping up here all the time. Below is a recap of our favorite bites from the trip.
The first spot worth mentioning is en route to Charleston in Florence, SC: Tubb’s Shrimp and Fish Co. is a good halfway stopping point for lunch on the way down. We always try to eat local when we’re on the road, and with apps like Yelp it’s easy to find a much better substitution than fast food chains.
While Tubb’s, a converted gas and service station, is a little bit off the highway, it’s worth the extra 10 minutes to visit this local joint for a satisfying shrimp or fried oyster po’ boy! The seafood was fresh and plump and the addition of slaw and sauce was the perfect compliment. It will easily keep you fueled for the rest of the drive.
Charleston itself has no shortage of fresh seafood. One of our favorite places for seafood with sophisticated lowcountry faire is 82 Queen.
While it may not look like anything special from my photo, my husband has been talking about 82 Queen’s she-crab soup since our first visit to Charleston four years ago! And he’s probably not the only one. It’s been voted best in the city for 17 years.
Its creamy texture is similar to a light chowder with flavor reminiscent of lobster bisque, but with crab instead. We’ll be talking about it again until our next, next trip to Charleston.
Keeping on the crab trend, the crab cakes from 82 Queen are made with 95% local lump crab meat. The bed of corn and okra may not sound like anything special, but it was cooked to perfection and made for a delightful side. For bunch, I’d highly recommend the crab benedict atop a bed of yellow corn grits.
Salad typically isn’t my husband’s go-to choice, but when it’s topped with a generous portion of fried oysters, bacon and smoked gouda, it’s a winner.
82 Queen is located in a large old residence that has ample seating both inside and on the outdoor terrace, so wait times without a reservation are not too bad. We went for a weekday lunch and were seated immediately.
Of course, it’s not a trip to the real South without some real barbecue.
We were first introduced to John Lewis Barbecue last year at a pig pickin’ for the launch of Durham’s whole hog barbecue restaurant, Picnic. At the time, Lewis, who had made a name for himself in Austin, Texas, was getting ready to open his own Texas-style barbecue restaurant in Charleston. After one bite of his brisket, we knew it would be a hit…and that we absolutely had to eat at his new place whenever we were in Charleston.
The brisket and other meats are kept in warmers and sliced on the spot when you order your per pound portion. You can pick your cut (lean or fatty) and your sides (our favorites were the green chile corn pudding and cowboy pinto beans). Don’t skip the free pickles and onions!
After seeing some appearances by pitmaster Rodney Scott on chef shows we watch, we wanted to make sure we tried whole hog at his newly opened Charleston restaurant.
We went on a cold rainy day, and the fact that there are a few parking spaces at the restaurant (a rare find in Charleston) made it an even better choice!
Of course, the slow-cooked pork was delicious and I loved the house sauce (vinegar-based with a little kick), which I kept pouring on.
The perlo rice with sausage was an unexpected favorite side, and just look at that giant hunk of cornbread.
Both barbecue joints are less than a year old, yet somehow feel like they’ve been around for a long time. It’s probably because the pitmasters have been perfecting the art of slow cooking for so many years already, they have it down to a science.
Of course there’s also plenty of that down home Southern comfort food we adore…along with everyone else who lines up for brunch at Hominy Grill run by a James Beard Award-Winning chef. I could have ordered one of everything on the specials menu if I didn’t still have a full day of eating ahead.We also tried a brand new Greek restaurant and we’re not typically huge fans of Greek food – truthfully, we don’t find it to be that exciting, but that wasn’t the case with Stella’s. With an original location in Richmond, VA, its new Charleston spin-off is already a popular hangout. We can see why.
The menu is vast and the tapas (meze) were so unique and delicious: everything from grilled octopus to flaming cheese (a platter of cheese set on fire!) to lamb frites. Even the bread and real olive oil was a treat! As cheese lovers, we happily ordered many plates that incorporated our favorite food group.
Even ordering mostly small plates at Stella’s (four small and one entree), we had enough leftovers to enjoy the next day for lunch. Bonus!
Another place we enjoyed for tapas was Paw Paw, within walking distance to the waterfront. We could have gone with ordering individual appetizers and entrees, but since we were with a friend, we opted to share a variety of delicious small plates and the waitress was happy to advise on how many might work for the table. We couldn’t wait to dig into the three cheese and bacon mac and cheese.We also stumbled across some great neighborhood finds during our journey. During our previous trip, we dined at Sean Brock’s well-known restaurant, Husk, but failed to think ahead and make a reservation weeks in advance. With two-hour wait times, we ended up walking a few blocks down the street to Queen Street Grocery: a cute neighborhood cafe where we could get a well-balanced sandwich, crepe and smoothie. For a small place, they do a good business. It was healthier comfort food with a good balance of flavor and a nice change of pace from the rich heavy meals we were eating.
Another good place to give your gut a break is Beech on King Street. Fresh poke bowls, acai blends, and juice isn’t exactly what you’d picture dining in the South, but trust me, there is a limit to how many biscuits and barbecue one can consume.And, let’s not forget dessert. During our trip, I was feeling a little sad missing out all the Pi Day specials going on in Durham, so a quick search on Twitter led us to Kaminsky’s Dessert Cafe, which was having their own Pi Day special ($3.14 a slice).
Key lime looked the best to us, but they had lots of other cakes and pies and dessert drinks and ice cream sundaes…you get the idea…I like dessert.
All that eating can be balanced (at least in part) with a healthy dose of walking around, exploring the charming streets of downtown Charleston. I adore weaving through them and looking at the homes and perfectly manicured gardens and lawns. Even the driveways are stunning!
One thing Charleston and Durham have in common is that they make great vacation destinations for foodies. I’m already looking forward to going back and adding more local stops to our list.
Photos via Instagram @bitesofbullcity