Charleston, SC is one of my favorite places in the United States. Since my best friend moved down there in 2008, I have tried to fly down whenever I can. It is an easy two-hour flight from Philadelphia and DC, and I can usually find great deals on US Air. (Fingers crossed that these great deals don’t disappear after the merge!)
It’s hard not to be seduced by the cobblestones and sea air. Charleston is a city of nooks and gardens, and the Spanish moss that drapes over it all seems to just invite you to slow down. Enjoy yourself. When you’re in the South, there’s no need to rush to the next destination. Take advantage of its famous hospitality.
This was my first wintertime Charleston visit, and while the temperatures were … what are the words I’m looking for? … not as bad as up north (polar vortex, have you no mercy?!), it was still too cold to take advantage of all of the outdoor activities – kayaking, beaching, house-gawking etc. – that I usually love about visiting. There were really only two things left to do: drink, and eat.
Mercifully, the culture of food down South is divine. It is rich; it is fresh; it is refined; it is delightfully infused with all ingredients designed to keep you slightly plump but heartily satisfied. Home-style cooking? Yes. Soul food? Second helpings, please.
Best place to follow-up a night of heavy, New Year’s Eve style drinking: Lost Dog Cafe
Three girls. Four breakfasts. That’s what brunch at Lost Dog Cafe looks like. Because believe me, you WILL read the menu and be all Sophie’s Choice between the Eggs Benedict piled on top of a fried green tomato (I REPEAT: A FRIED GREEN TOMATO), Canadian bacon, and an English muffin and the Sweet Potato Pancakes (because, Sweet Potato Pancakes!). So, what you will do, is each order a savory breakfast and share the pancakes between the four of you for
second breakfast dessert. The side of fruit makes it okay.
Best place to discover what holistic soul food means, or to try your luck at bumping into Bill Murray: Alluette’s Cafe
Alluette’s is a tiny, unassuming space in a strip of retail stores off the beaten path, but still near, historic downtown Charleston. It is, apparently, a favorite of local resident Bill Murray, and they’ve named the black bean burger after him. It is the best place to go if you are curious how collared greens go inside of a sandwich, and if you want to actually see from where your food comes (hint: it will come from the garden out back. You’ll see the chef walk outside and bring back the tomato that goes inside of your sandwich). The food is vegetarian-centric, farm fresh, and so flavorful your tongue will demand seconds. This is maybe something I said during my visit: “I don’t want to eat it because then it will be gone. But I want to eat it.”
Best place to stop for a drink, because, that’s cool!: Market Pavilion Hotel
Everyone, and I mean everyone, will tell you the best place to get a drink in Charleston is on the roof of the Market Pavilion Hotel. They’ll be all like “the views!” and “the glamour!” And so maybe you’ll go up there, but maybe it will be winter, and pretty freaking cold. And you’ll get a gin-based cocktail with cucumber wedges floating in it and it will be unspeakably fresh and delicious. But, because it’s winter, and frankly kind of shitty out, the fog will prevent you from seeing those views! And then it will kind of start to sputter and rain, so you’re a little bit like fuck this. So you go downstairs to the lobby bar, a place so blah-ly named Grill 225, and the lady bartender will be like, “Do you want to try our signature Nitrotini?” And you will ask if it’s cool, and she’ll say “It’s pretty cool.” So then, you will be served a cocktail with a warning label on it. The label says: WARNING. Wait for the liquid nitrogen to evaporate. If you don’t, this drink may cause SEVERE and PERMANENT internal damage. It looks pretty. And you drink it. And not only is it cool, it’s dangerously cool. (Sorry).
Best place to get the wool pulled over your eyes (Bonus: it’s like the tapas of Southern food!): Hominy Grill
Hominy Grill is famous for their Big Nasty (name soon to be changed!): a sinful looking thing with fried chicken and a biscuit at its core, drizzled in cheddar cheese and sausage gravy. It will be tempting to order this, but then, there is the Vegetable Plate option, a gift to menu-debaters everywhere. From the many options of vegetable sides, you can choose 3-5 and make your own meal. Not really sure how mac and cheese and corn bread counts as a vegetable, though. Ah, no matter, I’ll take it!
Also, pretty sure this is a lie:
But, hey. When in Charleston…
A note about my endorsements: I’m not (yet) cool enough to be paid to tour places and eat the food for free. Not being cool enough to be paid for my endorsements means I have more time to pretend I’m a spy. And pay for all my drinks. So, you know all my opinions are the real deal, just in case this post being filed in “Amanda Seal of Approval” didn’t convince you already. PS if anyone wants to pay me to eat your food, contact me.