Living in the Upstate of South Carolina, I am on the complete opposite end of the state in relation to Charleston. But it’s just a short 4 hour drive and always well worth the visit. It has an old world charm that is infectious, and the people are among the friendliest you will ever cross paths with. Just don’t be offended when they call you “sir” or “ma’am”. It doesn’t mean you’re old; it’s a form of southern cordiality and respect.
I am a foodie. I love to eat. There aren’t many types of food that I won’t partake in and my appetite is insatiable. Seafood is my favorite, but in a coastal town like Charleston, it’s just too easy. There are literally hundreds of seafood restaurants in and around the city. So I thought, why not stray from the norm? Dare to be different. I decided on this visit I would try to abate my hunger with anything but. Well, almost anything but.
One of my first stops was at Low Country Bistro (www.lowcountrybistro.com). Located on historic Market Street, it is a subtle blend of Creole, French, Southern and comfort foods such as crab cakes, gumbos, jambalaya, she crab soup, and fried green tomatoes. The staff was friendly and attentive, and they immediately made me feel right at home. I went in for a cocktail and a quick bite for lunch.
I wasn’t feeling too ravenous so I had their award winning she crab soup and a Low Country Sweet Tea Mojito. The She Crab Soup was a velvety, creamy little cup of down home heaven. And just in case you decide you’d like to whip up a batch of your own, they have the recipe written on a chalk board in the restaurant! The Low Country Sweet Tea Mojito came to me served in a mason jar. It was light and refreshing; a perfect remedy to battle the cities hot, sweltering summer days. This restaurant is the epitome of what Charleston is all about.
Next I decided to travel from the downtown area, across the beautiful Arthur J. Ravenel Jr. Bridge that spans the Cooper River into Mount Pleasant, where I discovered Jack’s Cosmic Dogs (www.jackscosmicdogs.com). This kitschy space-themed spot is worth the short drive. The only way I can think of to describe the décor is that it’s like eating at a 50’s style diner, if it were located on Mars! It has the distinction of being voted Charleston’s Best Hot Dog since 2000, and Alton Brown from The Food Network claims it is “the best hot dog I have ever had, EVER!”
With reviews like that I was sure I would be disappointed, but all of the accolades are rightly deserved. I had the Krypto Kraut Dog, a hot dog served with sauerkraut and spicy mustard, a Corn Dog, and an order of fresh cut fries. The service was speedy and efficient, the hot dogs were fresh, hot and tasty, and the fresh cut fries were thinly sliced, crispy, and, dare I say it, the best fries I have ever had, EVER!”
For breakfast I went to Hominy Grill (http://hominygrill.com/). It is a quaint little restaurant that is actually located in one of Charleston’s historic single houses. Open since 1996, the head chef and owner Robert Stehling is a James Beard award winner, and his attention to detail comes forth in the food. You can relax while you’re waiting to be seated and enjoy a Mimosa or Blackberry Collins out on the patio. Once you are seated, you will be greeted by an enthusiastic staff that aims to please.
I was as hungry as a bear that morning, so I ordered a smattering of everything. The Charleston Nasty Biscuit with fried chicken breast, cheddar cheese & sausage gravy may seem like a strange combo, but it is just perfect. And the Shrimp & Grits with sautéed shrimp w/ scallions, mushrooms & bacon over cheese grits was as creamy and delectable as it sounds. It was a hearty, succulent meal that left me feeling more than satisfied. You can check out their website for recipes, and even purchase a cookbook of their favorite dishes.
And finally on my last night in Charleston I had a hankerin’ for some Chinese. My friends call me Lee, so Lee Lee’s Hot Kitchen seemed like the obvious choice (www.leeleeshotkitchen.com). They opened their doors in early 2014, but owners Lily Lei and Karalee Nielsen Fallert have a wealth of experience from a lifetime of working in the restaurant business. It is located in a residential area and doesn’t look like much from the outside, but once you step through the big red front door you are transported to an Asian paradise.
I started with a Hibiscus Mimosa that is a mixture of St. Germain, pink grapefruit juice and champagne, and Crab Rangoon with house made sweet and sour sauce. Then for my main course I had one of the house specialties, Orange Chicken, and Chicken with Broccoli. The food came to me blazing hot, the portions were huge, the prices were very reasonable, and it was delicious.
I have barely scratched the surface of the wealth of restaurants and cuisine that are available to you in the great city of Charleston. In addition, the history, the culture, and the hospitality that it offers will make you feel like you’re visiting an old friend that you haven’t seen in years. You will leave relaxed, revitalized, and ready to return.