After leaving the bustle and hip-but-not-even-trying vibe of New Orleans, we spent a night in Destin, Florida, which, as a city, is nothing to write home about (or, more aptly, nothing to blog about). Except for the fact that the beaches are fine white powder sand and warm sea water. Watching the sun set while strolling the beach with Mr. Dame in Spain made us glad we’d picked the southern route from New Orleans to Charleston, South Carolina. A morning run on the beach and a swim in that perfect ocean water and we were on the road.
We arrived in Charleston in the evening and checked in to the big, stately, but slightly stodgy hotel in a main square of downtown. We went to The Grocery (4 Cannon St). and feasted on eggplant and tomato gratin, Roman-style cauliflower with soft egg, and okra two ways, I declared “See, this is exactly the food I’ve been looking for in the South.” New Orleans food was decidedly unfriendly to vegetarians, but Charleston seemed to understand the same things that make southern meat-focused cuisines tasty and satisfying can make vegetable-based dishes tasty and satisfying as well (mostly butter). We had a nightcap in Smoke (487 King St) which has live music, board games to play while drinking, and pages of vintage Playboy to look at while peeing.
The next day, we had lunch at Hominy (207 Rutledge Ave), which serves low country classics like ribs, shrimp & grits, and something called a Charleston Nasty Biscuit. It also has good vegetable sides like mashed sweet potatoes and a sweet-spicy-vinegary cole slaw, plus it considers mac and cheese a vegetable, how southern is that?
Hominy is also where we were introduced to boiled peanuts, a traditional southern snack. They are basically little more than a vehicle to get salt into your mouth, and I’m cool with that.
We had dinner at FIG, (232 Meeting St.) which stands for Food is Good, and the name does not lie. From the cocktails (a choose-your-own Manhattan menu) to the cheese plate with watermelon jam, to the light-as-air ricotta gnocchi, oh my goodness it was all delicious and the service was exceptional (Note: After living in Spain for two years, we are floored every time we have attentive service in a restaurant). We continued drinking Manhattans at The Belmont (511 King St.), which has an entire shelf of bitters, many of which I’ve never heard of. I’ll be replicating a the Manhattan made with mezcal, cynar (an Italian bitter liquor with notes of artichoke) and vermouth. The following morning, a flat tire got in the way of our brunch plans, so while Mr. Dame waited with our deflated rental car, I ran to Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit (476 King St) for a few super satisfying pimento cheese and egg biscuits. To say I’ve eaten a lot of biscuits on our southern road trip would be an understatement. Also, I’ve eaten a lot of the shredded cheddar/mayo/pepper dip that is pimento cheese, also known as the “cavier of the South.” I generally don’t speak ill of cheeses, but pimento cheese is solidly “just okay” in my book.
A historical walking tour of the Charleston (which is where the first shots of the Civil War were fired) left a bad taste in my mouth, as our guide seemed on the defensive about slavery (Charleston had a larger slave population than any other city). Example, “Yes, slavery was terrible, but….” No buts, please. However, the historic mansions along the battery (one of which Stephen Colbert grew up in) were cool to see.
I loved New Orleans so much, that the quieter, prim and pretty feel of downtown Charleston didn’t overwhelm me, but the city’s food did. And geez, I ate enough of it.
To biscuits, no buts about it,
The Dame in Spain