When trying to plan a last minute getaway, the first consideration is the weather. Any place where the forecast calls for little chance of rain and warm weather works for me – and, of course, good food. With those caveats in mind, we ended up booking an impromptu 3 day weekend trip to the Charleston area – the day before the horrible shooting at Mother Emanuel.
Taking a cue from the amazing spirit of the people in this historic Southern city, we didn’t cancel our trip. Instead, in just an hour and a half flight from NYC (after a ridiculous flight delay from a Delta affiliate), we were out of the dreary, unseasonably cool weather and looking forward to breathing in the salty air at the beach on the Isle of Palms (IOP).
Before we kicked off summer at the sea, we spent two nights at the Ansonborough Inn in Charleston, a lovely hotel that had a complimentary social hour with so-so wine and amazing pimento cheese dip (you’ll find it on every menu), plus baked brie with bacon! It’s located in walking distance of everything but away from any noise and has a nice roofdeck. It’s also conveniently located near a Harris Tweeter, so you can grab snacks and some local craft beers and wine to enjoy on said roof. The Holy City beers we tried all were delicious – and that’s from this very picky beer drinker!
I gave a lot of thought to where to eat in Charleston. Having just been to Nashville and already full on my BBQ and fried chicken quotient for the year, I could take a break from that. And I also didn’t need to spend NYC prices on meals in a place where there were no lack of good dining establishments. Instead, I tried to go more local and low priced. I’m not sure that this was the right thing to do in the end, but it didn’t break the bank on a trip where hotels aren’t the cheapest.
While I waited for a flight delayed companion, I had a drink at Boone’s. Out of the muscadine jam for their special cocktail, the bartender made me something boozy and savory. As the delay got longer, I decided to get something to eat and come in from the heat with a martini at the Charleston Grill (I read they made a proper one, and this was not a disappointment, especially with hand-stuffed blue cheese olives). Little did I know that this is owned by the same restaurant group as the 21 Club– but I decided to have the beef tartar there anyway. It was hot, and I wanted something cool. It was a huge portion and very good, although nothing compares to the one I had in Paris at Chez Mamy a year ago. Service at the bar was warm, and it was a great place to dine solo.
Because the city was hot and humid, the next morning, we decided to take a carriage ride with Classic Carriage Works to get a better feel for the history and closer look at the houses. This company uses only draft horses and treats them with the utmost respect. I highly recommend using them if you go (they also donated a portion of the ticket price – $25/pp – to the church).
After the ride was finished, we went to the Saturday-only farmer’s market, which is supposed to have one great BBQ place, but they didn’t show up this weekend. Instead we had a Bahn Mi sandwich from Street Hero with housemade pate and BBQ pork (they were out of the Vietnamese ham). This was really delicious and unexpected.
After refreshing ourselves at the hotel, we headed over to The Gin Joint, for what we told were well-crafted cocktails. Definitely good drinks, but nothing different than what we can find in NYC, although a couple dollars cheaper. We wanted some oysters, but they were out, and we didn’t need any more pimento cheese that night.
Next we tried to go to the Bar at Husk, instead of dining there (the menu was similar to what I had in Nashville). Too bad the place was packed with New Yorkers, so we decided to leave. For dinner we were going to 492, but it was a little far away, so we decided to not drive and instead go to Lowcountry Bistro, a cheaper, sister restaurant of 82 Queen, that emphasizes hyper-local ingredients.
Drinks in the South tend to be sweet and this was no exception. But they were half the price of most other places. Our she-crab soup was lukewarm, but tasty. (For the record, you can find this at most seafood spots in Southern New Jersey- but with a little less sherry.) I tried the duck special, which was neither crispy nor medium rare, but it actually tasted like duck, unlike most places that tend to mask the flavor with fancy sauces.
The even cheaper Frogmore Stew was loaded with shrimp and sausage- it was spicy but overly seasoned, which was a shame.
With a full day of history in, we felt no guilt in relaxing on the beach for the rest of the trip. But first we wanted to try breakfast at Hominy Grill, which is known for their shrimp and grits (plenty of photos on Yelp). One thing is for sure, they know how to cook their local shrimp in SC- we didn’t have one overcooked anywhere we went. The grits were wonderful- with texture that you rarely find. I had a fried catfish sandwich special that was tasty but a small portion on a boring roll. Drinks were good and service was fast. But if you don’t have a car, it will be out of the way.
At Isle of Palms, we stayed at the Seaside Inn, one of the few options that allows you to stay for less than a week. They have a small pool, but you walk right onto the beach. My idea of heaven.
There aren’t a ton of dining options on IOP. We had some frozen drinks while catching the tail end of live reggae at Coconut Joe’s. Then we indulged in fried oysters, fried green tomatoes topped with crab and pimento cheese and chicken wings. And local beer!
For a slightly more upscale place, try Acme Lowcountry Kitchen – which had a ridiculously good burger with fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese, fried oysters and a blackened local fish sandwich. Everything there was very good and well-priced. Next time I’d try their shrimp and grits. (Plenty of pics on Yelp again)
After a couple of days, I absolutely fell in love with Charleston and IOP! Looking forward to finding any excuse to go back soon – if not permanently.