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Please! Help Us Decide in Charleston

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We are two full-on hounds heading to Savannah and Charleston near the end of June. Being from Central California, we want the full southern experience and/or seafood; no steaks or ethnic food. I have researched the archives here but still feel I need a bit of help before I make reservations. In Savannah we will go for Elizabeth's on 37th, Lady & Sons, and Savannah Bistro for sure. Do we bother with Wall's, Sapphire Grill, or 45 South?
In Charleston, we have so far SNOB, Jestine's, Charleston Grill, and Circa 1886. Any losers on that list? Everyone mentions McCrady's, but it looks like the sort of thing we can get in Santa Barbara. Do we bother with Hominy Grill, Anson's, Hank's? Is there a place we need to do lunch rather than dinner?
Atmosphere/price isn't that big of a consideration; we do want excellent food and service and don't mind paying for it.

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  1. I went to Jestine's last October and I wasn't impressed at all. I had their chicken, which they are supposedly famous for, and it was over cooked and didn't even taste like it was seasoned. I can't remember the sides I had. But I seem to remember liking them. I did have their Coca Cola cake and it was really good.

    2 Replies
    1. re: nearlywild
      melinda young

      Been to Charleston many. many times and there is none better than Slightly North of Broad - lunch or dinner.

      1. re: nearlywild

        I totally agree with nearlywild's assessment of Jestine's. I went for lunch and did not think much of the place at all. Very run of the mill. I prefer Hominy Grill and SNOB.

      2. Jestine's is definitely more for lunch. Your dinner choices all sound like really good ones.

        1. In Sav go to Gottliebs. It is new. Lady & Son is messy but ok; do lunch there. I'd skip Eliz if you have had a heavy white table cloth meal in the last yr.

          In Charleston go to Magnolia. Go to McCradys. It's worth it.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Ned

            I just don't care for Magnolia's that much. But what about The Boathouse on Isle of Palms. Or there's two good places on Sullivans Island; Atlanticville and Station 22. Have a drink at the Windjammer for a real beach flavor and go to one of those. Gee, decisions, decisions - so much food and so little time! Perhaps you could do the "appetizer tour" instead of one big dinner.

          2. It's been a long time since I've been there, but there used to be a seafood place called Sullivan's on Sullivan's Island, on the old route to Isle of Palms. When I ate there it had great seafood right off the boat, and all the cars out front had SC license tags. It wasn't a tourist joint.

            1. b
              Betty Mackinson

              Go to The Wreck of the Richard and Charlene on Shem Creek, which is a short drive over the bridge from Charleston in the town of Mt. Pleasant. Just call information for directions from Charleston. It is off the beaten path and does not even have a sign in front. You would never guess the building is a restaurant. DO NOT eat at any other restaurant in Shem Creek. The atmosphere is pure low country. Get there for the sunset.

              1. Forget Jestines. I took someone's recommendation and took my business partners there. Was I ever embarrased! I could have gotten better food at Denny's.

                1. I'm surprised no one has mentioned Hyman's Seafood on Meeting Street. I was in the Holy City yesterday and asked two friends - locals - where to get the best seafood lunch downtown. They sent me to Hyman's.

                  Not fancy, but very very good seafood. The best she crab soup I have ever had. Reasonable prices. The owners stroll through and greet every table. They also own Aaron's Deli next door.

                  1. We live in Charleston and here are my recommendations.
                    Forget Jestines, Sullivans, Hymans, Magnolias, Charleston Grill and the Wreck.

                    These are great restaurants in no paticular order:
                    Ansons--signature dishes apricot flounder and BB grouper
                    Pennisula Grill and McCradys upscale but great food
                    Grill 225- great beef
                    The Cur- Thai seafood, chicken, and macroni and cheese
                    Boathouse on Isle of Palms great atmosphere
                    Sermets- good
                    Langdons at Mt Pleasant very good great lobster spring rolls
                    These are just a few. There are many many more wonderful restaurants.
                    You wont be disappointed with any of these.

                    1. Please skip Hyman's. There are no locals there. If you want fresh, fried seafood (possibly lunch) go the The Shrimp Boat on the Folly Beach Causeway. No atmosphere but great local food. Try the she-crab soup. The Boathouse is another very good suggestion. Two more dinner suggestions and the first never disappoints are Coco's and Rosebank Farms. Coco's is in Mt. Pleasant in a strip mall (don't let the store front fool you) with Staples. It's French and it's done very well. Rosebank Farms is the other direction just before Kiawah Island. It's grown from a produce stand and it focuses on what is fresh and in season. Get out of downtown and see some of the greatest areas of the low country!

                      1. c
                        charleston ex-pat

                        I agree on SNOB, the soft shell crab is wonderful. If you are looking for Shrimp and grits, I would go to the Hominy Grill. There used to be a great seafood "shack" on Folly Beach, but the name escapes me right now. Maybe someone else can point you there. We live in Dallas now, but try to work in Hominy Grill when we are home to see my husband's parents. Hope you have a nice trip.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: charleston ex-pat

                          Hominy Grill does have great grits and it's such a cute, cozy place. I was surprised by how many negative reviews it received. It's good, basic, Southern food--no frills but mighty tasty. I've been for both lunch and dinner. It is loud though so not a great choice if you're looking for something quiet or intimate.

                          We had Sunday brunch at Poogan's Porch (7 of us on a girls' weekend), and we loved our $2.50 mimosas, the biscuits, and our waiter. It was a good all around experience.

                          The best meals we had that weekend were SNOB (fabulous, creative salads) and Blossom.

                        2. Anson's is fabulous - went there twice over several years and was not disappointed either time. Good luck!

                          1. In Savannah pass up the hype and substandard expereince at Lady and Sons and head instead to Mrs Wilkes Boarding House, get there early as a line forms - Local 11Ten is a great dinner experience. Sapphire Grill good choice all around.
                            Sorry I can't speak to the Charleston part--

                            1. I have just returned from a 5-day maiden visit to Charleston. FWIW, I had dinner at the Hominy Grill and Poogan's Porch. I thought Hominy Grill was just fine. It's small and very casual. I did order the Shrimp and Grits...their signature dish, but since it was my first time having it, I can't compare. It was good...not great. You will see this on almost every "southern" menu, so you should try it at least once. As for Poogan's Porch, I enjoyed it as well. I had their Fried Green Tomatoes with Pecan-Encrusted Goat Cheese Balls, and I have to say, this was probably the best dish I had the whole trip.
                              Charleston is known for their restaurants, so you really can't go too wrong. I was on a budget, so I went the cheap and tasty route. I hope to get back and try some of the others I've heard so much about. Good luck and let us know where you end up.

                              13 Replies
                              1. re: luvarugula

                                I don't mean to be argumentative, but you can go VERY wrong in Charleston. There are several tourist traps that are notorious for average-to-bad food. Some would say that you ate at one. ; )

                                1. re: uptown jimmy

                                  I'll be in Charleston for a few days in about two weeks. I'd like to hear what places to avoid, but more specifically, I'd love to hear about down-home, Southern places. You know, places where there are probably formica tables and not much atmosphere, but great, unpretentious food. I'm definitely not looking that innovate dining, modern takes on Southern classics type of thing.

                                  Also, many of the recs in this thread are four years old...I assume there are some updates. Anyway, many thanks....and, I'll be sure to point you in the direction of the best crabcake should any of you make it up to Baltimore!

                                  1. re: baltoellen

                                    uj...I'm sure you're right, since there was a long line, as well as an ambulance in front of Hyman's (not usually a good sign). I still thought the food at both the places I mentioned was decent, and I feel comfortable in recommending them. Since the people I dined with were native Charlestonians, I trusted their choices. 'nuf said.

                                    1. re: luvarugula

                                      Hominy Grill served me the WORST meal I've ever gotten anywhere including any meal I ever ate in any school cafeteria. I won't rehash the details as they are in another thread on this site.

                                      1. re: Cpt Wafer

                                        I've heard these kinds of stories. That's why we haven't been back. ; )

                                        1. re: uptown jimmy

                                          I'm happy to know I wasn't singled out for such "special" treatment.

                                        2. re: Cpt Wafer

                                          My experience at Hominy Grill was completely different. Great food, and just the atmosphere you described. Not expensive.

                                          1. re: Potomac Bob

                                            Coming from Mississippi, I thought Hominy Grill was overpriced, though I've just eaten breakfast there. There's a restaurant like this in just about every small town in Mississippi, except they don't try to be Southern (they just are) and they don't get written up in the New York Times. Granted, all their ingredients were high quality, which at the typical Mississippi diner isn't always the case (they buy what they can locally and the rest from national sellers and usually don't tell you where the ingredients came from). However, Hominy Grill was easily twice the price. Two dollars for a biscuit is ridiculous, especially when they aren't as good as the ubiquitous Popeye's chicken chain's or the standard Mississippi gas station biscuit. I'll try it again for lunch and dinner, but I'll only go back for breakfast to take friends visiting from up North to give them that "Southern" experience they're expecting.

                                      2. re: baltoellen

                                        Honestly, I said "may" concerning Poogan's because I haven't eaten there. The place has received bad reviews too many times to bother, and I've got tourist trap radar of a sort. My one really bad food experience in many, many years was at 82 Queen, which ranks as one of the most insulting dining experiences I've ever had. That place is just awful, but we got roped into trying it, with almost no wiggle room to avoid it, though I sorta knew what we were getting into from reading posts on Chowhound.

                                        We've avoided the "semi-upscale Low Country" and the "down home" places in Charleston because so many have posted about them going downhill over the years. They're not tourist traps like 82 Queen, per se, but they have just let themselves slip under the weight of reputation and excessive tourist patronage. But that's just my impression. I grew up eating excellent Southern cooking and have no desire to disappoint myself with a mediocre experience, especially since there are so many amazing restaurants in Charleston.

                                        I did enjoy the fried chicken at Hominy Grill several years ago, but not all of the food on the table was exceptional.

                                        Lastly, there are several rather exhaustive recent threads on the general topic of dining in Charleston. Have fun on your visit!

                                        1. re: uptown jimmy

                                          Honestly, Poogan's Porch has one of the best brunches you'll ever eat. We try and eat there just about every Sunday if possible.

                                          Also, I think Jestine's is excellent. If we don't have Sunday Brunch at Poogan's, we eat it at Jestines.

                                          1. re: BlueHerons

                                            I agree that Poogan's brunch is great. Jestine's, however...well, let's just say that you've obviously had better experiences there than I have.

                                            1. re: Suzy Q

                                              LOL! We always get the blue plate for brunch at Jestines. Their meatloaf is the best I've ever had along with the fried chicken, mac&cheese, fried catfish, fried chicken, and Coca-cola cake.

                                              1. re: BlueHerons

                                                I keep going back and trying, but I always seem to get the bottom of the barrel on the fried chicken - if it's not cold, it's stale, and has alternately been dry as a bone and so greasy it almost slipped out of your hands. The mac & cheese is pretty good, though.

                                  2. IMHO, Hyman's and Jestine's are two of the most overrated and underwhelming restaurants in Charleston. Both benefit from location more than anything else.

                                    I've had good meals at Poogan's Porch, as well as Magnolia's, which doesn't tend to get much love on this board. One of my fave restos in Charleston proper has always been SNOB, and over the bridge in Mt. P we always visit the Wreck.

                                    1. As locals, we too, avoid Hymans. I know Gilligans (Main Rd. off Hwy 17 South) has been trashed here before, but that is where we take people "from off" for seafood. They have locally caught shrimp and it is crowded unless you go early. Our new favorite place to eat is the Glass Onion, newly opened on Savannah Hwy. Sunday brunch/buffet at Gullah Cuisine in Mount Pleasant is very "Low Country" and downhome. For upscale, we go to Tristan in the Market downtown.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: MomComfort

                                        I just checked the menu for Gilligans and Glass Onion. Both look good. Just one question: In their specials Gilligans' mentions something called "oyster clusters." I've never heard of them, and wonder if someone could explain.

                                        Also, I assume by the time I get there in a few weeks, oyster season will have been over?


                                        1. re: baltoellen

                                          They are not singles. They are together in a cluster and a bit more of a challenge to open. April is the last month for oysters, unless the weather is too hot. They are in season with months with "R" in them. We don't eat September oysters as it is still too hot. Last week at an oyster roast, we had huge singles and frogmore stew that was superb (boiled shrimp, smoked sausage, potatoes, and cob corn.) Sometimes that is also on menus as LowCountry Boil or Stew. Try it!

                                          1. re: MomComfort

                                            The reason I ask is that some places aren't getting Chesapeake oysters here in my part of the world, saying it's too warm. (Other places are getting them.) I figure Charleston is warmer than Baltimore, so I asked.

                                            And, thanks for the rec and explanation of frogmore stew....sounds exactly like the regional specialty that I'm always after when I travel!

                                            1. re: baltoellen

                                              Assuming, of course, that you're looking at getting *local* oysters, which you generally don't in Charleston restaurants. Otherwise, the "months with an R" rule doesn't always apply.

                                      2. One of my favorite spots in Boulevard Diner in Mt. Pleasant. It is what I would consider down home, unpretentious food and I think it may even have formica tables. It is located on Coleman Boulevard.

                                        Happy Eating

                                        1. Went to a lot of good restaurant in Charleston but SNOB was not my favorite and neither McCrady.
                                          I had the most wonderful encounter at TRISTAN when my dinner fork got into a plate of White tuna with black truffle agnolotti and vanilla broth. Great for lunch also

                                          1. mccrady's is a great place to have dinner, great old building with lots of charm and the kitchen staff operates their own vegetable garden, get the tasting menu

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: bactoferm

                                              I just returned from a weekend in Savannah and heartily recommend Jazz'd for dinner - tapas style with a lot of great seafood - and Elizabeth on 37th. My dinner at Elizabeth's was very expensive but the service was great as was the food - had the special of local grouper pan fried with porcini mushroom and a cauliflower flan. Worth every penny.

                                            2. Went to Savannah, Hilton Head and Charleston in late Sep 08. The food at Lady & Sons is what you would imagine buffet style food to be. The fried chicken is a little soggy, but all the side dishes were great southern style cooking. It's a tourist spot, but hey, you're a tourist. Really bad food is in Hilton Head. I have no where to recommend.

                                              In Charleston, we really liked SNOB (went for dinner and then for lunch). The service at lunch was terrible. The waiters were confused as to who was responsible for our table and it was downhill from there. The food is fine - excellent shrimp and grits (non-traditional).

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: jayal

                                                I posted a review of my Savannah and Charleston trip above - have fun!

                                              2. LOVE Charleston Grill. Top notch service and food- they even knew and greeted us by name upon arrival (mostly thanks to the fabulous Governor's House Inn). We ate there on Saturday. The atmosphere is not to be missed, it's like a magical getaway- a little jazz, a friendly manager, and a packed room, even in tough times. Prepare to spend about $200+. But surprisingly the portions are large- we took a (packed) box back to our room. Simply amazing... especially now during the holidays.

                                                1. SNOB is a great spot for lunch — you'll be there with all the power lunchers. They've got good specials and a variety of reasonable choices. I used to eat at Jestine's all the time when I first moved to town a decade ago (I love southern veggie plates), but now the lines are out the door, and it's really not worth it. It's basic and done kinda badly these days.

                                                  Charleston Grill is a great upscale choice. Fantastic food and service. Interesting menu (you must eat the fried mac and cheese balls!) Mickey, the maitre'd, is one of the nicest guys in Charleston.

                                                  Circa 1886 is a good choice — but a rather sedate setting. Peninsula Grill is more upbeat and has an updated spin on Lowcountry classics. Anson is in the same kinda class — but has received mixed reviews over the years. The other two are probably more solid.

                                                  McCrady's is a favorite. Sean Brock is incredibly talented. He's got a closet of handmade charcuterie, his own farm where he tends to pigs and tomatoes with equal care, and a fantastic front of the house team.

                                                  FIG and Trattoria Lucca are also pretty great. Cru Cafe is a wonderful spot for lunch.

                                                  Hominy Grill is probably a better place for breakfast or lunch. You can't really go wrong — just don't expect anything but well-prepared country cooking. It's very basic stuff, but I don't know many people who wouldn't like homemade sausages and biscuits, right?

                                                  Hank's is solid for seafood and so is the Boathouse, if you're looking for an upscale setting. If you want to get down and dirty and shuck some local oysters, you should go to Bowens Island out near Folly Beach. Rustic, authentic, and unforgettable. Just had an office party here last week and was blown away. It'd been a while since I'd been there and I had forgotten how crazy wonderful it is.

                                                  1. I thought I'd second Cru Cafe. Only mentioned once in this thread and I think it's wonderful. Very small and cozy and great food. Been to both lunch and dinner there and had wonderful experience both times.
                                                    I too will be in Charleston in a few weeks-do any of you Charlestonians know of a newer place that's the place to go? Been to a lot that were mentioned in this thread so I was hoping to try something new.... Inexpensive good eats are always a plus, since we are on a bit of a budget this time. Thanks!