Exploring the Food, Drinks, and Culture of Charleston

You know those vacations that exceed your expectations because you don’t really know what to expect? Charleston was one of those.

It was such a relaxed vacation, which was just what I needed. I’m used to being go, go, go all the time, in my daily life as much as in my travels. Recently I’ve been even busier than normal (although every stage of life seems to have it’s own busy-ness.) Since I’ve been working full time, and also maintaining old and growing new (really great, wouldn’t trade ’em for the world) friendships, it’s been hard for me to find a moment alone.

The other day I told my friends Ruth and Kelsi that I’ve decided to take one night a week JUST for myself, to make no plans, as if that was a big deal. They laughed  and told me I should probably take more than one night a week for myself.

Oh.

Huh.

Ok.

I’m learning to say “no” with zero guilt or fomo, but I’m definitely still a work in progress.

ANYWAY. That being said. This weekend was slow paced relaxation with one of my long-term, most-comfortable friends, and it was real good, ya’ll. (Stop pretending to be southern, Carrie. It was 4 days.)

Without further ado, let me tell you about the most charming city and all the things I ate and drank and saw there!

 

Poogan’s Porch

(4 out of 5 stars)

We arrived in the South Carolina city at 10:30 Thursday morning and were immediately charmed. We went straight to brunch at Poogan’s Porch, a farm to table restaurant I read about online. We squealed over the beautiful yellow facade, little garden, and double porches. They seated us on the lower porch, and our waiter was knowledgable and friendly – probably my favorite person we met in Charleston, and a good first introduction to the city.

We shared a carafe of mimosas (literally promised myself mimosas as I tried to prop my eyes open on the all-night drive), and I ordered grits (SO GOOD) and, at the recommendation of our waiter, the French toast with champagne macerated raspberries, whipped mascarpone cheese, and toasted almonds. It was perfect because it wasn’t overwhelmed with an aggressive amount of toppings as French toast often is.

Our brunch was interrupted by a loud truck who stopped in the narrow street next to us to empty the restaurant’s grease. All we could do was laugh as the truck held up traffic and made loud noises for 15 minutes.

Shopping District

After brunch we took a leisurely walk around the shopping district and historic part of the city. We strolled through unique boutiques, and I may have accidentally dropped a few $$ at Kate Spade.

 

Black Tap Coffee

(3 out of 5 stars)

This shop was a fun little specialty coffee café full of hip college students. They roast their beans nearby and you can find other coffee shops around Charleston selling Black Tap coffee. I can’t remember what my drink was called, but it was basically a mint julep with espresso instead of bourbon. It wasn’t my favorite, but I love trying things I won’t be able to get elsewhere. Ronnie had a lavender vanilla latte which was lovely and not overbearingly sweet or floral.

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Airbnb

(5 out of 5 stars)

We loved our little backyard bungalow in the Wagener Terrace neighborhood, near Hampton Park. BJ, the host, lived right next door; he was engaging, and gave us plenty of recommendations. (Among his recommendations was the Thursday night drag show “obviously.” He also told us, “In Charleston, if you’re not drinking, you’re not doing anything.” Needless to say, BJ kept us laughing.) His love of plants was obvious-they were everywhere on his property, He took such care in making sure we had an enjoyable stay. His dog, Kai, shared the patio with us.

The Wall Street Journal just published this article on the neighborhood where we stayed, calling it the “hottest neighborhood in Charleston!”

Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog Barbecue

(4 out of 5 stars)

This little traditional South Carolina-style barbecue joint was just a few blocks from our bungalow. We feasted there on our first night in Charleston. The whole neighborhood-in fact, much of Charleston-smelled of barbecue. We peaked in a side window in the back and saw a man hard at work in a smokehouse, preparing the meat.

 

Hampton Park

Hampton Park was right down the street from our Airbnb. It was beautiful and sprawling, with a pond, Spanish moss, and birds galore. The neighborhood of Wagener Terrace was a lovely place for a leisure walk. A lovely place to just be.

 

The Park Café

(4 out of 5 stars)

When I first started planning this vacation (aka Pinteresting), this place caught my attention. When I saw it was two blocks from our bungalow, I knew it was meant to be, so we brunched there Friday morning. The Park Café is airy and full of plants and light. 10/10 would recommend.

I had the farm egg scramble with vegetable curry, white cheddar, and avocado. The red sauce was spicy and made it a breakfast to remember. (My breath was probably something to remember for the rest of the day as well.)

 

Folly Beach

We decided to head to the beach for the day Friday. Both of us got more sun than we bargained for! Everywhere we went, we were reminded of Nicholas Sparks movies.

While walking up the pier, I saw a man catch a shark that was probably about 3 feet long. Shark fishing is illegal, so I watched as he untangled the hook and tossed his catch back into the sea. The day alternated between sun and clouds. We ate at Rita’s Seaside Grill (2 out of 5 stars) before heading back into town. It was nothing special-just a casual spot for seafood or burgers.

 

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

(5 out of 5 stars)

I had Jeni’s once before, in Nashville, and it was the same locally-sourced, clean, creamy goodness and intriguing flavors I remembered. We stood in line for 25 minutes before finally getting to the counter, where I of course sampled about 6 flavors before deciding to get a flight of mini scoops. I chose Osmanthus and Blackberry Crackle (a light peachy floral flavor with a hint of blackberry tartness), Brown Butter Almond Brittle (pure comfort), and Brambleberry Crunch (a classic Jeni’s flavor).

The scooper topped my ice-cream off with a fresh waffle cone wedge (YUM), extra-bitter hot fudge (holy cow), raw honey whipped cream (um, wHAT EVEN), and a few amareno cherries (HOW!!), I basically took two bites and melted into a puddle of happiness.

 

Hominy Grill

(3 out of 5 stars)

I love grits. Hominy Grill is known to have some of the best. This brunch of traditional southern comfort food was worth another long wait!

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I ordered the famous Charleston Nasty Biscuit which is probably famous for giving people heart attacks on the spot. It’s crispy fried chicken in a biscuit, on a bed of sausage gravy. Of course I also had a side of cheesy grits, because, well, when in the south do as the southerners do. (Also I LOVE grits a strange amount for someone who has never lived in the south.)

We also had breakfast cocktails (obvs). I had the day’s special, which involved orange juice, honeysuckle vodka, pomegranate, and champagne. YUM.

 

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

(4 out of 5 stars)

Originally we were going to spend this day at Boone Hall Plantation (the filming location for Allie’s house in The Notebook), but at the recommendation of BJ and a friend of mine from Lancaster, we decided to go to Magnolia instead. While the house may not be quite as impressive as Boone Hall, the gardens are sprawling, wild and gorgeous.

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More than once I happily ran off the path and up a tree that sprawled out over the river. An old man told Veronica to keep an eye on me or I’d become alligator food. Thanks for looking out, lil old man.

The Daily by Butcher & Bee

(5 out of 5 stars)

After tramping around Magnolia most of the (hot) day, we needed some iced coffee beverages. So we hit up The Daily on our way home. I had a tahini mocha made with Stumptown Coffee, and a same-day croissant. They had pastry cases, shelves, and coolers stocked with all kinds of local goods, as well as shelves and shelves of wines and ales. The Daily has a trendy, general store kind of vibe.

The coffee shops were one of the few places in Charleston where the employees and people in general seemed a little snobby/less-likely-to-literally-give-you-the-shirts-off-their-backs-if-you-asked-for-it. I noticed this at Black Tap as well as The Daily. What’s up with that, Charleston?

Good coffee and good vibes.

 

Leon’s Oyster Shop

(4 out of 5 stars)

Since day one in Charleston, I was hoping to find some fresh oysters. I held out for Leon’s, and man oh man was it worth it.

I chose the char-grilled oysters with lemon, parsley, butter, and parmesan. They came with pieces of toasted bread and were gone before I knew it. I also had hush puppies (another great southern invention that the north needs) and spoon salad, which consists of whole grains (barley, said the obnoxious yet informative know-it-all sitting at the table next to us), tomatoes, currants, and pecans.

I tried the “Sazerac” as well. This cocktail consists of rye whisky, Peychaud’s bitters, Absinthe, and sugar. Hmm. Not really sure what to say about that other than there’s a reason I stay away from whisky. It was an experience, though.

We also went out for cocktails that night. The Benedict (3 out of 5 stars) was our favorite. A classy little lounge known for it’s cocktails (everyone we talked to recommended it to us). It reminded me of The Horse Inn because the bartenders seemed VERY serious about their drinks. Charleston is definitely a bit of a party city, with lots of bars and lots of people out late.

WildFlour Pastry

(3 out of 5 stars)

Three words: Sunday Sticky Buns.

I got a (hot, fresh-from-the-oven) combo bun (sticky bun/cinnamon roll) and an orange juice, and we sat on the patio, where a friendly dog was roaming and a friendly Texan couple chatted with us and gave me a donut muffin.

 

Butcher & Bee

(5 out of 5 stars)

Can we talk top 5 meals of my life? Because Butcher & Bee is on the list. I wasn’t that hungry after my morning sticky bun, but then I saw their impressive array of “mezze” (small plates) and I had to try three of them. I got the whipped feta, grilled fava beans with hummus and schug (!!!!!!!!) and cheesy grits. The grits were spicier and less pure-southern comfort food than the grits I tried at other places on the trip, but I enjoyed them. The fava beans literally changed my life. I’m already planning my next trip to Charleston (or Nashville) just to eat here again! Such a satisfying last meal in Charleston.

 

All in all, Charleston was lovely, relaxed, and charming. It was really the best of both worlds… a bustling city with old time charm. I would recommend it to lovers of good food and drinks, slow-paced vacations, history, and plants!

Also, Charleston means checking off half an item on my 22 Before 23 list (explore two American cities you’ve never been to). That list has been falling by the wayside a bit, so it felt good to check a few items off today!

 

 

Now can someone please point me in the direction of the nearest salad?

 

xoxo,

Carrie

 

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