During the very first installment of #AlexandReneontheroad, I fell completely and unexpectedly in love with Charleston, so when we were planning this year’s getaway, I was quite insistent that we go back. The dreamy pastel houses, the gorgeous weather, the food – I couldn’t wait to experience it all again.
Immediately after booking our flight, I anxiously headed over to Open Table to snag a reservation at Husk (something I failed to do on our last visit). The acclaimed southern restaurant first made a splash when it was named Bon Appetit’s Restaurant of the Year in 2011. Since then, it has been a must-visit destination in Charleston (a Nashville outpost has since opened as well). Chef Sean Brock was one of the prominent leaders of the farm-to-table movement – of going back to our culinary roots, using heritage breed animal proteins and local heirloom crops – to create a modern cuisine with a nod of respect to tradition.
Husk is located in a pre-Civil War mansion in downtown Charleston (right next door to Poogan’s Porch, in fact). Despite its steady popularity, the restaurant retains the charm of southern hospitality – the staff is welcoming, polite and patient, and the overall energy is calm. Although the food is upscale, the restaurant is as suitable for large families with kids as for quieter tables for two.
Rene and I went for lunch. The meal started with the most divine pull-apart eggy bread served with whipped honey butter. Glossed with butter and sprinkled with sesame seeds and salt, it was a perfect way to start a meal. I loved that despite being a modern restaurant, Husk’s starter is as traditional as can be – instead of something cold, green and bland in a shot glass, that highbrow places often opt for.
After deciding that Rene would be the one to get their famed shrimp and grits, I went for the slow cooked pork with Brussels sprouts and mustard greens. Our server explained that my dish consisted of pork belly and shoulder, cooked sous vide-style for several hours, then seared in a skillet. The pork was so tender that it fell apart at the mere suggestion of a poke from a fork. The pork belly fat practically melted, and the whole dish boasted a subtle smokiness in each heavenly bite. Rene’s shrimp and grits were exactly what they’re meant to be – creamy yet al dente grits mingling with saucy, spicy shrimp, speckled with bacon. The meal was definitely one to remember.
Another awesome gastronomic stop was Hominy Grill – more casual than Husk, but just as, if not more, popular among locals and tourists alike. Hominy Grill serves traditional southern specialties, like shrimp and grits, fried chicken, biscuits and collard greens (basically what any sane person would request as their last supper), with complimentary boiled peanuts as the start of each meal (so good! Ever tried them?). The cozy restaurant stays steadily busy throughout the day, running like a well-oiled machine with two hostesses managing guests at the door and servers inside exhibiting the finest of southern hospitality. Though it is tough to get a table at this beloved restaurant, once you’re seated, it feels like a small family-run place where there’s no rush to turn tables – and thankfully, reservations for dinner are accepted.
Since we’d spent the whole cold and rainy day exploring Magnolia Plantation (photos below), my appetite was raging and I was ready to scarf down the entire restaurant, tables and all. I ordered the Charleston Nasty Biscuit (#bestnameever?) – a biscuit sandwich with a fried chicken breast and white cheddar cheese, swimming in a pool of sausage gravy. Also on our table were sides of collard greens and tomato pudding. I didn’t know what tomato pudding was either, but my eyes widened, my mouth watered and my mind went “Holy sh*t!” when the waiter explained how it’s made – whole canned tomatoes get stewed with butter, sugar and torn brioche, and then baked! With a thick saucy texture, like a reduced marinara, the pudding is equal parts sweet and savory, with a hint of acidity. Clearly, this is a recipe I must try making at home.
The most photographed bridge in the south – at Magnolia Plantation
Impeccably dressed birds roam the property
I mean come on, how can you not love this place?
The final culinary stop I want to tell you about is Stars. With dark wood paneling, soft lighting, black leather booths and a striking U-shaped bar, Stars is moody and sexy – the kind of place I imagine Don Draper taking his conquests. Their menu falls into the New American category, pulling from global traditions and incorporating lots of vegetables. I wouldn’t say it’s wildly innovative but everything we tried was superbly executed. I’d definitely recommend this place for a date with a special someone. Another plus – they have a spacious rooftop bar for post-dinner boozing.
Photo courtesy of Stars
Lastly, if you’re ever wandering around downtown Charleston, check out Curiosity, an adorable store featuring new and vintage items for the home.
See ya later, Charleston!