Top 5 Favorite Restaurants in Charleston, SC

McCrady's, my favorite Charleston Restaurant

I’ve seen a lot of list of the best restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina. Some are really good but all are based at the end of the day on personal preference. How much do you want to spend? What kind of food do you prefer? Can you get a reservation? These questions are much more likely to drive what your favorites are going to be. Most of the restaurants I’ve listed, you can expect to pay $50/person plus drinks. Expensive for some, I know, but you get what you pay for. There are certainly more affordable options to eat in Charleston, they just didn’t make my top five list.

We travel to Charleston several times a year. It is a short three hour drive from our home in Greenville, SC. I’ve said it before in other posts, but I love Charleston for the history, the beaches and the food. My wife loves the history, the beaches and the shopping (not necessarily in that order). It is just about our favorite place to go. I’ve eaten at A LOT of restaurants over the years, but a few keep me coming back over and over. Here is my completely biased and unscientific list with a few bonuses below. By the way, if you are planning a trip to Chucktown (as no one calls it) and need some advice, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to help. Or, if you have some suggestions for me, pass those along in the comments as well.

  1. McCrady’s

    My favorite restaurant ever. This is the pinnacle, my culinary Mecca. Executive Chef Sean Brock, a James Beard awarding winning chef, grew up eating a lot of the same southern things I did. He took that old school knowledge, sourced the finest local ingredients (people, he has his own farm) and applied modern techniques. The result is not just food but amazing dinning experiences, it is art.

  2. FIG

    Another amazing restaurant from another James Beard awarding winning chef, Mike Lata. This small restaurant also focuses on local, seasonal ingredients. The simplicity of the food is what gets me every time. Da Vinci said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” That is what you should expect here, elevated cuisine. Perfectly executed, well balanced and tasty food. Even the name FIG, or Food is Good, is perfectly simple.

  3. Fulton Five

    Shhhhhh. This is a local favorite and as fate would have it, where I got engaged to be married. It is that kind of place. Southern Living routinely (if not every year) ranks it as the most romantic restaurant in the south. The food is ridiculous as well. A heavy Italian influence is clear on the menu but most of the ingredients are sourced local based on the season.

  4. Husk

    IF (and that is a big capital IF) you can get dinner reservations, the restaurant is totally worth the visit. All ingredients (exept maybe some wines) are sourced this side of the Mason Dixon line. This is the second restaurant Chef Sean Brock opened and was named “Best new restaurant 2011” by bon appetit. This is southern cooking at it’s best. Think pork chops, bacon, fried chicken, collard greens, buttermilk biscuits and on and on. (Another shhhhh, but if you can’t get dinner reservations, stop by for lunch or go by the Husk Bar next door.) This restaurant was so popular, they opened another one in Nashville.

  5. The Ordinary

    Truth be told, I haven’t been here yet. We have reservations for next week. I’m preemptively adding this one to the list. Why? Two reason, Chef Mike Lata (see FIG above) and seafood (after all, it is Charleston). I’ll follow up with more legit reasons after we are back.

Bonus dish: Hank’s Seafood a la Wando

Hank’s is, in Charleston terms, a new restaurant, but it immediatly became a favorite because of one dish. Seafood a la Wando. Follow the link to learn more or see how I tried to make it at home.

Bonus view: Fleet Landing

Fleet Landing is right on the water. On a nice day, you can sit outside and watch the dolphins and other sea creatures playing. You can also watch the cruise ships let out (some times the best people watching, especially the European ones.) This is one of our favorite lunch spots. I’ve heard they have a great brunch but we never make it passed… well, see the next item.

Bonus brunch: Poogan’s Porch

After a long night of whiskey drinking at Husk Bar, you can cure your ills. Poogan’s Porch, named after a dog that hung out there (love it already, right?), has the best southern brunch you could want. Get there before Church let’s out though, our you’ll be waiting a while.

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Top 5 Favorite Restaurants in Charleston, SC

Braised Pork Belly, Roast Beets, Sautéed Mustard Greens with Mustard Jus

Braised Pork Belly Roast Beets Sauteed Mustard Greens with Mustard Jus

My attempt at replicating a meal I had at FIG (Food is Good) in Charleston. I could never match what Chef Latta and the staff at FIG (one of my top two restaurants in Charleston) can do, but this turned out pretty good never the less. The meal I had at the restaurant is chronicled in the article: Suckling Pig Confit, sautéed young greens, roasted beets, mustard jus, smoked bacon at FIG.

Local pork belly from Whole Foods (ask, they have it in the back) which was braised and seared ended up very good. Roasted beets and the mustard greens balanced the richness of the pork.

The biggest difference between Chef Latta’s and mine was the confit. A long slow bath in duck fat makes a car bumper taste good. Also, if I ever make this again, I’ll trim more of the fat off before starting. I would take more time for the braise and for the jus. I would strain and skim the jus several times and let it reduce and fortify.

Don’t get me wrong, this was awesome. Nowhere near FIG but pretty dang good.

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds pork belly, skin removed
  • 1-2 bunches beets
  • 1 bunch mustard greens, cleaned and dried, torn in bit size pieces (collard, or other greens are fine)
  • Kosher salt
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ Whole grain mustard
  • 3 cloves garlic, 2 smashed, 1 minced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2-3 cups low-sodium chick stock
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 2-3 bay leaves
DIRECTIONS

  1. Pre-heat oven to 325 F.
  2. In a medium Dutch oven over medium high heat, sear the pork belly. Cook until all sides are crispy and rendered. Set aside.
  3. Remove all but a few tablespoons of the renderings. Add onion, celery and carrots. Season with salt and cook until slightly tender. Add 2 smashed garlic cloves and crushed red pepper (to taste). Cook a few more minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add wine, reduce by half. Add thyme, bay and the pork. Cover the pork and vegetables with stock. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Cover and place in the oven. Cook until tender, approximately 3 to 3 ½ hours.
  4. Once the pork is done, remove and strain out all the vegetables and herbs. Place the remaining liquid in a medium sauce pot and add mustard. Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer. Reduce the sauce and skim as much fat as you can off the top. I would suggest being more patient than I was. You can see in the picture the sauce was doomed from the start, too fatty.
  5. Pre-heat oven to 425 F. Trim the beets and make a few thin incisions in the skin from top to bottom (this will make removing the skin easier later). Wrap beets in tin foil and place on a sheet pan. Roast until tender, approximately 1 hour. Set aside and allow to cool to the touch. Under running water, slide the skins off and keep warm.
  6. In a large pan over medium heat, add olive oil. When you see the oil shimmer, add more crushed red pepper and minced garlic. Cook for one minute and a add greens. Toss until just barely wilted. Season with salt.
Braised Pork Belly, Roast Beets, Sautéed Mustard Greens with Mustard Jus

Seafood a la Wando

Seafood a la Wando

One of my favorite dishes in Charleston, SC is the Seafood a la Wando at Hank’s Seafood. I have had it many times and it never ceases to amaze. It is very rich, put the acidity of the sherry and the freshness of the seafood somehow balance the cream and butter. The crunch from the fried grit cake and the…well, I said all this in my previous post.

I wanted to make it. Maybe I should not have. This was a very time consuming meal to make. My lack of planning skills coupled with my lack of meal prep skills combined into an overall average meal. Check that, it was fine but with notable flaws. The sauce that should have had time to reduced more and thicken up. Also, to live up to Hank’s, I should’ve used a lot more butter. The shrimp and fish were cooked to early and as a result were not warm when the dish came together. I tried to sauté the crab at the last minute to warm it up and I think I dried it out a bit. The grit cake was kept warm in the oven to long and ended up browned and more dried out than I would’ve preferred. For the purposes of the picture above, I forgot to add the mushrooms which were also cold. It didn’t suck, but it was not Seafood a la Wando that’s for sure. I don’t mean to seem so negative, the dish was good I was dispointed because it could’ve/should’ve been great.

I’ll try this again sometime and post the results. The directions below are not what I did, rather what I should have done.

 

Ingredients

  • Haddock or other firm white fish (1-2 fillets depending on size)
  • Shrimp (I used fresh SC caught)
  • Jumbo lump crab
  • 3 green onions sliced thin
  • Cremini (baby portabella) mushrooms (quartered or halved depending on their size)
  • Red bell pepper diced
  • Grit cakes follow jump for recipe (replace polenta with grits here or here)
  • Sherry wine
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallots
  • 2 cups shell fish stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Spicy Carrot Pickle Directions

  1. For the sauce, heat in a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt a tablespoon of butter. Add shallots and cook until translucent. Whisky in ½ cup of sherry wine, bring to a boil, decrease the heat and continue to cook until the wine has reduced to 1 tablespoon. Add the shellfish stock and the saffron, and reduce the liquid by one-half. Add the cream and reduce by one-half or until the sauce is thick. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer into another saucepan. Stir, set aside (preferably in a thermos) and keep warm.
  2. Prepare the grit cakes per one of these recipes (replacing the polenta with the grits). Place in oven to keep warm.
  3. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, heat a tablespoon of butter. Season the fish and cook until cooked half through. Flip the fish and add the shrimp. When the fish is cooked through and the shrimp are almost done, add a tablespoon or two of sherry to deglaze the pan. Turn the heat off and add the crab. Toss once.
  4. At the same time in a separate sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender.
  5. To assemble, pour the cream sauce on the bottom, add fish, shrimp, crab and mushrooms. Stack a grit cake and top with your best looking shrimp. Garnish with green onion and bell pepper. Enjoy.
Seafood a la Wando

Skillet-Roasted Chicken, Farro with Acorn Squash and Kale and Herb Pistou

Skillet-Roasted Chicken, Farro with Acorn Squash and Kale and Herb Pistou.

Beautiful. Sometimes that is how you have to describe food. One particular month, the cover of Bon appetit magazine particularly caught my eye. Not only did the dish on the cover look amazing, it happened to have been prepared by one of my favorite Chefs and at one of my favorite restaurants.

I’ve been a fan of Chef Brock since he took over as head Chef at my favorite restaurant, McCrady’s in Charleston, SC. Shortly after he won a James Beard award, he opened his second restaurant Husk. Even before Bon appetit named Husk the best new restaurant in America, I had made a pilgrimage to the restaurant. Good thing too, it’s getting harder and harder to get a reservation.

Seeing the Bon appetit cover and recipe inside, it was a lock that I would try this recipe. A number of the elements were appealing, especially the at home sous-vide. The wife was visiting family one week, I had nothing better to do so I dedicated a Friday and Saturday night to recreating this dish. While mine isn’t nearly as beautiful as Chef Brock’s, I assure you it was plenty tasty.

I rarely follow a recipe exactly; in this case I did and was very pleased with the results.

The farro was earthy, the kale brought bitterness, the acorn squash had the sweetness, the chicken was savory, rich and crunchy and the herb pistou was the punch of light, freshness that tied the whole thing together. Beautiful.

Click the links below for the recipes.

Skillet-Roasted Chicken Recipe

Farro with Acorn Squash and Kale Recipe

Herb Pistou Recipe

Skillet-Roasted Chicken, Farro with Acorn Squash and Kale and Herb Pistou

Seafood a la Wando at Hank’s Seafood

Seafood a la Wando Hank's Seafood, Charleston, SC

As I’ve mentioned in several posts, we go to Charleston, SC often. We love the history, shopping, beaches and most important for me, the restaurants. Many of my favorite restaurants are in Charleston. One restaurant you won’t find on my favorites list is Hank’s Seafood. It’s not because I don’t like Hank’s. The food is very good and consistent. The atmosphere is awesome. The seafood is fresh. I’m picky with my favorites list.

The restaurant isn’t on my favorites, BUT they may have my favorite dish in Charleston. Hank’s Seafood a la Wando. This dish is fantastic, maybe a little rich, but amazing. I don’t often order the exact same thing every time I go somewhere, but I love this dish so much, I get it now every time.

The menu describes it such:

“Sautéed Shrimp Scallops and Fish deglazed with Sherry finished with Crabmeat, Button Mushrooms and Scallion in a Shellfish Saffron Cream Sauce Served with Fried Grit Cakes”.

I shouldn’t have to say any more than that. The seafood is fresh and cooked well. The mushrooms are a surprise of supple earthiness and the fresh scallion and a punch of freshness. The fried grit cakes are the perfect starch to balance the rich sauce. Oh and there is the sauce, very heavy sauce with a hint of saffron velvet. The sherry is a nice acid that brightens the whole dish. Ahh…yum! One of the best things I have eaten. As much as I love to try new things, I’ll get this until they take it off the menu.

PS. Hank’s isn’t on my favorites list but that is not because I don’t like the restaurant, we go often. They just aren’t the type of restaurant that I look for when naming favorites. Most restaurants on my fav list, I couldn’t point to a dish like the Seafood a la Wando, because the never have the same menu twice.

I would recommend Hank’s and highly recommend the Seafood a la Wando.

Seafood a la Wando at Hank’s Seafood

Suckling Pig Confit, sautéed young greens, roasted beets, mustard jus, smoked bacon at FIG.

FIG, Charleston

One of our favorite vacation spots is Charleston, South Carolina. It is very convenient for us here in Greenville, SC to get to (usually less then a 3.5 hour drive). It has every thing we love, the beach, the history, the shopping and most importantly for me the restaurants. If you are a foodie like me, this is a Mecca. Restaurants like McCrady’s, Fulton Five and FIG all make my favorites and can satisfy any foodie cravings you might have.

On this particular trip our “splurge” meal was FIG, short for Food Is Good. I have NEVER eaten anything at this restaurant that I did not LOVE. The atmosphere has a great vibe and the decor is well done not over done. I know for a fact that most of the staff are the same as my very first visit years ago. That says a lot too.

The menu has never been the same on any two visits and most of the ingredients are sourced locally and sustainable. Better then all that, the food IS good. On this visit we started with the John’s Island Tomato Tarte Tatin with fromage blanc and tapenade. I love tarte tartin anything (some day I will get around to blogging my tomato and goat cheese tarte tartin) and this one does not disappoint. The tomatoes are perfectly tender, the crunch from the tarte, the saltiness from the tapenade and the tartness from the goat cheese cream makes the dish amazing. The tarte is a great way to start.

For my entrée I had the Caw Caw Creek Suckling Pig Confit with sautéed young greens, roasted beets, mustard jus and smoked bacon. Can I just say, well done Chef Lata! The pig confit was like a REALLY high end pulled pork with pork belly. The greens were tender but still crisp and not overly seasoned. The beets were roasted beets, very nicely roasted (nothing special and still delicious). The mustard jus, as you can see in the photo above, has the mustard seeds and was also not over seasoned. The smoked bacon was mostly in the greens which is how a make them as well. Like most dishes I have had at FIG, The Chef really lets the ingredients stand on their own accenting them when needed but never over powering them.

apple tart tartinWhen dining at an establish such as this Jen and I usually split a dessert. On our last two visits we got the same one, Apple Tarte Tartin over a Honey Crisp with Vanilla Rum Syrup and Rum Raisin Ice Cream. Uhhhh….Yum! Again, very well balanced with the apple, the crunch from the tart and the crisp almost tasted like peanut brittle. The ice cream rounds out the dessert with that cool creaminess and when all combined reminds you of apple pie a la mode.

I really love this restaurant. The food is simple but elevated. It is like my Grandmothers might make but with a more refined culinary technique. Like confit instead of roasting or tarte tartin instead of a pie. I highly recommend this restaurant. The price point is a little on the pricey side as are most Charleston restaurants but it is well worth it in my opinion.

Have you ever been to FIG? What did you think?

Suckling Pig Confit, sautéed young greens, roasted beets, mustard jus, smoked bacon at FIG.

Congrats to Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s on the James Beard Award.

One of my favorite Chef’s in the whole world has won the most prestigious culinary award one can win, The James Beard Award. Chef Brock was named the Best Chef Southeast for his work at McCrady’s at 2 Unity Alley in Charleston, South Carolina. The restaurant is located in an old building down a tiny cobble stone street. The bottom floor has been many things during its history including a tavern and a warehouse and I have been told by several staff there, a whore house upstairs (Nice, huh!). If you sit around awhile you’ll hear stories about pirates and all that cool stuff.

The building, however, is NOT why it is my favorite restaurant in the south and has been for many years. Check out Chef Brock’s ever changing menu and commitment to farm to table cuisine, it is ridiculous. The best thing I have ever eaten in my life was at McCrady’s, a tuna tartare (I will review that some other time).

Read more:
Charleston City Paper
NY Times
All the James Beard award winners (PDF)

Congrats to Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s on the James Beard Award.