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Jan 15, 2008 05:25 AM

Your Quintessential Day in Charleston and Savannah

Warm Greetings 'Hounds :)

The first week in March, my husband, four year old ChowPup, and I will be heading down to Orlando for some Disney action. Initially, we were going to fly into Tampa and spend a few days before our meeting with the Mouse, but on a fluke a few days ago I was reading these very boards and my mouth began to water over many of the posts I read about fried green tomato sandwiches, fresh shrimp, collards, hoecakes, gullah specialities etc.

So... I switched up the plan, and now this little New York family will be flying into Charleston, driving down to Savannah, and then onto Orlando. We only have 1.5 days in each city, and really want to use our time wisely. I've read over quite a few old posts and have a general sense of what the good places are, but my question, more or less, is how to combine them to realy get an authentic representation of each of these city's culilnary jewels.

So, if you could plan the perfect culinary day in both of these cities- breakfast, lunch, dinner, and of course a snack or two ( we've been walking 5 miles a day for the last six weeks in anticipation of this calorie-explosion, so don't hold back!) where would you go? We love the local places, generally eschew things that are too touristy unless it's for good reason, and have no problem with backroads, out of the way spots, or places that are not pretty. So, translated- we'll go ANYWHERE for good food!

Many Thanks and Best Wishes for a Happy, Healthy, and Delicious New Year,
lisa antinore

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  1. I just returned from a food-intensive four days in Charleston. I tend to like local joints rather than fine dining. So, my recommendations are: Jestine's Kitchen in Charleston. Then, you may want to hit the road out to and past Mt. Pleasant for The SeeWee Restaurant, The Wreck or Gullah Cuisine (do a search and you'll find all these place discussed on this board). We visited, but did not eat at, Bowens Island Restaurant. It has a great location on Shem Creek, but I can't vouch for the food other than what another Hound said about the muddy oysters. They do have other menu items. I did take photos of the restaurant and its menu, which I will put on the Web when I find a minute. We never made it to the Boulevard Dinner, but that looks pretty great, too. You will totally love Charleston -- it's a great food town.

    9 Replies
    1. re: hungry100

      Bowen's Island is close to Folly Beach, is it possible you were talking about The Wreck? They are located on Shem Creek.

      As far as the food at Bowen's, we go there a lot and the food is good. It is very bare bones, fried or broiled seafood with no choice on the sides. Just for the record I have never had the oysters, but until the muddy comment I have only heard good things. I also think Bowen's has a great location for watching the sunset.

      I think SeeWee is a good recommendation for lunch or dinner, but be prepared to wait they do not take reservations. They have fried local seafood with a good selection of sides and their desserts are not to be missed.

      Another good option for either lunch or dinner would be Cru Cafe, downtown a couple of blocks away from the market. It's not lowcountry food but it is very good comfort food with a twist. You are able to sit outside and it is located in a Charleston single house.

      Breakfast is a little trickier so will you be here on a Sat or Sun or is this a midweek meal? I also wanted to add, a lot of places, especially seafood shacks and bbq joints, do not take credit cards I would call ahead for hours and if they are cash only.

      1. re: lizzy

        Hi Lizzy,
        You're right, we swung by Bowen's Island after a visit to Folly Beach. Your input on my original post was great, by the way.

        1. re: hungry100

          Thanks for y ou responses thus far. We'll land in Charleston in the late evening on Saturday, have all day Sunday and most of Monday there, then on to Savannah for Monday evening, all day Tuesday and breakfast on Wednesday. Something tells me I can do a lot of damage in this time frame :)

          1. re: ZenFoodist

            If you wanted to do brunch on Sunday, I would suggest Hominy Grill, and make sure to get there early to avoid the crowds.

            I also wanted to let you know that a lot of places in Charleston are closed on Sunday and/or Monday.

          2. re: hungry100

            It sounds like you had a good time on your trip. I am really interested to hear a detailed report on where you went and what you ate. If you have already done this could you please tell me where I can find your post, otherwise I hope you can find the time to tell us about your travels, and soon! :-)

            1. re: lizzy

              Well... the trip got off to an outstanding start. We were driving our
              rental car to our B&B when we spotted Jestine's on our right. We skidded
              to a stop, found a parking space and went right in. I had fried chicken
              (three very generous pieces -- a leg, a thigh and a breast), black-eyed
              peas and stewed cabbage. The chicken was moist inside and crispy
              outside. The cabbage was very tasty and the black-eyed peas were, well,
              black-eyed peas. My PIC (partner in crime) had the special of the day,
              sausage gumbo, which was delish. She also had a side of collard greens
              and a small salad. The only dish that disappointed was the salad. Well,
              that's what you get for ordering salad. Then, even though I was stuffed
              (I saved the chicken leg for later), I figured I had better try the
              coca-cola cake which, prior to researching this trip, I had never heard
              of. I'm not a big dessert person, but this was remarkable cake, more
              like a very moist brownie. The only drawback was the icing, which was
              gritty with undissolved sugar.

              I really could have skipped dinner, but PIC said "no." We went to
              Hank's. I was relieved to see that I could order ala carte and had the
              sauteed grouper with a beurre blanc on the side and spinach. Both were
              done well. PIC had the special -- trigger fish with asparagus, grape
              tomatoes and potatoes. Again, well done.

              Day two found us at S.N.O.B. for lunch. I succumbed to the
              waiter-recommended smothered chicken burrito (I know, blasphemy in
              shrimp and grits country). I must say, it was fair. A little dried out
              and nothing special. PIC wanted the crispy chicken livers over grits but
              she doesn't eat flour. After a discussion with our waiter, it was
              decided that the kitchen could and would saute the chicken livers rather
              than dust them in flour and deep fry them. She loved them.
              Unfortunately, I just can't develop a taste for chicken livers. Oh, she
              also started with a tomato okra soup that was superb.(PIC: those grits, those grits, those beautiful, soft, sweet grits at SNOB...)

              For dinner we headed to The Wreck. I loved the atmosphere. We sat near
              the fireplace where we munched on boiled peanuts while studying the
              menu. I started with the she crab soup and followed up with fried shrimp
              and oysters. PIC had the boiled shrimp. Both plates came with red rice
              (not very warm or inviting), excellent cole slaw, hush puppy and fried
              hominy. I loved the fact that the shrimp were very lightly dusted in
              flour and not battered. All but the rice were terrific. (PIC: really disappointed by this place, food not so special or tasty)

              Day three (we had breakfast at the B&B, which was our own carriage
              house, each morning. Mostly cold cereal): lunch at Fast and French (my
              gallbladder needed a rest). Really cute place where everyone sits at a
              counter. I thought it was a riot that not only do they tell you about
              the special of the day, they show it to you -- sort of a real life
              plastic sushi display. We both chose the special: Chicken stew/soup over
              Israeli couscous. The platter also came with a slice of Gouda cheese,
              bread with green olive tapenade and a beverage (with wine being one
              choice) for under $10.00. PIC had corn chowder to start and we both had
              a salad that was entirely respectable.

              Dinner on day three was at Gullah Cuisine. PIC's shrimp with brown
              sauce over rice was totally addicting (albeit on the salty side) and my
              shrimp creole was tasty, but I was expecting pieces of tomato, onion
              etc. The sauce was smooth, but tasty. We both had collard greens and

              Lunch on day four found us crying uncle and we finished Jestine's fried
              chicken and black-eyed peas and S.N.O.B.'s chicken livers and grits at
              home. We took a ride out to Francis Marion Wildlife Refuge planning on
              dinner at See Wee. You can only imagine our disappointment when we
              discovered it was closed for dinner. So we went to plan B -- Blvd Dinner. Oh no! Closed for dinner. We didn't exactly have a plan C, so we drove back into town and wandered around before deciding on dinner at S.N.O.B. Good choice. The bread and corn bread they serve are divine. Plus, they serve martinis (a girl can't live on Palmetto alone). PIC started with a fabulous arugula salad and continued with the Maverick Grits. Oh were they ever delicious! I had a crab cake that was all lump crab meat, but there was an herb that I didn't care for in the dish, which was served
              over corn, okra and squash. The plate comes with two crab cakes and
              again the kitchen accommodated my special request of just one cake (this
              hound can only do so much). We both had sides of braised local greens.
              The best greens of the trip.

              Finally, my last day. I dropped PIC off for her work commitment (the
              trip wasn't pleasure only) and I headed off to See Wee (I had made sure
              it was open). Since this was to be my last meal, I had to plan wisely.
              As you probably know, they have a very extensive menu. I started out
              with the she crab soup -- yum (but how can you go wrong with crab, cream
              and sherry?). Then I had the blue plate special (partly because I saw a
              man whom I presumed to be the owner eating it) -- shrimp creole. This
              was more the classic creole I was expecting. It was great -- lots of
              shrimp and good flavor. It was served over rice with a hunk of cornbread
              the size of my head. The cornbread was a more rustic, and probably a
              more authentic/classic version of southern cornbread than served at
              S.N.O.B., but being a northerner, I preferred S.N.O.B. I also had a side
              of collard greens. They were tasty, but slightly gritty. Then I felt it
              was my CH duty to try the coconut cake. It was very, very good. Then,
              sadly, I drove to the airport... and enjoyed a tasty package of
              in-flight pretzels. PIC had a few more meals than I did, I'll see if she
              wants to add her experiences. Thanks for asking.

              PIC: Made a few notes above in parens but here's what happened...dragged my co-workers to SNOB for lunch. We were going to go to Hank's, closed, walked by Magnolia's but it was too girly for the manly men with me. High Cotton seemed too over the top for lunch in under an hour. Oh SNOB, sob! I love you and miss you already.

              We were guests for dinner at Charleston Grill and lunch at the Palmetto something or other, both at Charleston Place where we were staying. Both good but I was itching to go to other places. I convinced the manly men to pass up a tour and take a Charleston Black Cab to Hominy Grill for breakfast. I want to live in that world: Bright and cheerful and yummy delicious food. I had the shrimp and grits. Really good but it made me wish we could stay for lunch just to see what else they can do. I guess I'll have to go back.

              1. re: hungry100

                Thanks to you and your partner in crime for the report. It sounds like the two of you had fun eating your way around town.

                1. re: hungry100

                  Great report, thanks for posting ! I'm going to be down in Charleston in April and have several of the restaurants you mentioned on my list. I wonder why Boulevard Diner was closed for dinner...unless it was a Sunday, when they are closed period. I plan on eating lots of shrimp and grits - I was in Charleston in 2003 and I still remember how yummy that was. I wish I could make it to See Wee as well, but Charleston doesn't lack for choices, that's for sure.

          3. re: hungry100

            I have to chime in here on Jestine's Kitchen. Unless they've improved dramatically recently, I think it would be a waste of an empty stomach to eat there. Between my own and family's multiple experiences there over the past year, I wouldn't go back if you gave me a free meal. Others may have a different opinion, but it seems to me that Jestine's has bought into its own hype and is coasting on reputation and location.

            I highly recommend SeeWee, the Wreck, and Bowen's Island. Unfortunately I haven't made it to Gullah Cuisine, although I'm hoping to try it next time we're in town. For lunch, I also adore Fast and French on Broad Street.

            I don't have anything to offer on Savannah, unfortunately - being a Charleston native, I've never even had a reason to go there. :-)

          4. Not to offend anybody, but I would skip Savannah and focus on Charleston. Savannah has come a good ways in recent years, and I haven't been there in a while, but we were thoroughly unimpressed with its best restaurants. They are similar towns, obviously, and Charleston simply vibrates with action and food and tours and people. Savannah is extremely staid, with little of the vibrancy that Charleston radiates. Some consider Charleston one of the 2nd-tier contenders for one of the best food towns in the USA, but Savannah isn't even close, to put it mildly.

            And there's a TON of posts about the best food in Charleston. We loved Al di La, Basil, SNOB, Charleston Grill, and Pho Bac. There's a wonderful, tiny little cafe just off Market for breakfast and afternoon pick-me-ups, forgot the name. Best espresso I ever had, and that's saying something.The owner is a sweetheart. Fast and French is good for lunch, though our last experience bordered on disaster. Maybe it was a bad day.

            And be sure to take a tour of one of the old houses; it's fascinating, and don't be afraid to raise your hand with a good question (or five ; ). Take a nice long walk one afternoon into the residential neighborhood, and don't spend too much time in the touristy Market Street area.

            But I strongly urge you to spend three relaxed days in Charleston. Much better plan, IMO. The cities are too much alike to need to see both, and, well, we like one much better than the other, especially for the food. Charleston is a jewel.

            1. I agree with the sentiments here that Charleston is BY FAR the better of the two cities from a foodie perspective. However, if you're passing through Savannah on the way to Florida, have to eat somewhere.

              There's an awesome restaurant in Savannah with southern food and veggies (but prepared in a much more healthful way) called Sweet Potatoes Kitchen. There, I had the best Southern veggies I've had in my life. I'm about the opposite of a health nut, so its healthy preparation doesn't mean anything to me, but it tasted better than anything I've ever had (and I've lived in the South most of my young life).

              A place in Savannah I haven't yet tried but gets pretty much universally good reviews, while still being casual, is the New South Cafe.

              Both Savannah places I mention definitely fall under the category of "locals only" places undiscovered by tourists. enjoy!

              1. FYI, here's the menu and a photo of Bowen's Island

                1 Reply
                1. re: hungry100

                  I second, or third, or fourth - whatever number we are on - the suggestion for Bowen's Island. The seafood is wonderful, but it's a great experience, too, a real gem that Charleston should be proud to claim. Just dress warmly if it's cold because you are basically eating in a covered picnic shelter. There are a few heaters, but it is very bare bones. the oysters. My only complaint is that they don't seem to have melted butter there and I prefer my steamed oysters with butter, not cocktail sauce. I find the cocktail sauce overwhelms them. We also liked the fried shrimp - they came out piping hot and went down like popcorn.

                2. Sweet Potatoes Kitchen in Savannah is really good. As is, shockingly enough, Uncle Bubba's Oyster Bar. My husband has the steamed platter and could almost not finish it, there was so much food- and that is almost unheard of for him.
                  Skip the Pirate's House, nice idea, but you can get the same food at Red Lobster for half the price.