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1st time in Charleston SC!!

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Greetings from the Bay Area. I will be in Charleston next Monday for business, have read most of the recent posts, alot of menus, and need some guidance. I'll be staying at the King Charles Inn on Meeting Street, won't have a car but don't mind walking if the weather is agreeable and the neighborhood is safe for a single woman. I expect to dine alone the night of my arrival, then with a coworker and others the second and third nights. So, what would you suggest for my night alone? I prefer a casual place, it doesn't have to be "fine dining." I get that seafood is the local specialty, and I'm looking foward to trying she-crab soup and shrimp and grits. Forgive my ignorance, is grits for breakfast or dinner? or both? I do know to avoid Hymans...

Is there anything else I "must" order? I generally try to avoid fried/unhealthy food but if it's something unique, I'll go for it. Heck, I'd even eat seafood all 3 nights if I could!

I'll expense my meals, but don't want to overdo it, if you know what I mean. So, total bill should be less than $40, no wine (can't expense that!) and include tax/tip if possible. 3 courses if there's a dessert that's a local speciality . Any thoughts on that as well?

One last thing--are there any quick breakfast places near my hotel? I'm thinking of coffee and a bagel, muffin, or a quick plate of eggs. Again, what would be a must-order Southern breakfast? Our meetings are at the College of Charleston each day, so I can't go far. Lunches are being provided.

I'm really excited about coming to your beautiful city. I'm late posting this, as I fly out this Thursday morning. Any help you can provide in that short time frame is greatly appreciated.

Many, many thanks in advance!!

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  1. Visiting the South and avoiding fried food don't mix;-) Southern breakfast usually includes grits (and they are served at all times of the day), side of ham, some gravy (red-eye), etc. Pretty much "heart attack" on a plate. But oooh, so good.

    One thing you should consider is fried green tomatoes. Another fresh local oysters (cooked any way). It is oyster season.

    5 Replies
    1. re: OurGreatEscape

      Oooh...fried green tomatoes! That sounds great. I love oysters, nice Jewish gal that I am. ;)

      Breakfast does sound very heavy, will attempt it at least once.

      Thanks for the input.

      1. re: rednails

        you are walking distance from everything and it is a safe town to walk in.
        you could walk to S.N.O.B. on E Bay and eat at the bar. you can have a nice meal under $40.
        i'd recommend the shrimp and grits since you haven't had them. the pear salad is also very nice

        1. re: jeffbatl

          Thank you, I've read good things about S.N.O.B. The bar idea is good advice, especially since I won't be able to make a res anywhere. Love the name....

          1. re: rednails

            and you should definitely hit the Hominy Grill http://hominygrill.com/ for breakfast. it is a little out of downtown but totally worth it. the chicken biscuit is off the charts

            1. re: jeffbatl

              I keep seeing that name. Perhaps on a group dinner night when we can cab it.

    2. It's a safe area at all times, and there are tons of great restaurants within a short walk. SNOB, FIG, High Cotton, Cypress are all very good. Cypress has a cool bar where you could eat alone. All have plenty of seafood. Hank's is the best "seafood" restaurant in town and is close to your hotel. Amen Street is a step down from Hank's but is still very good and cheaper. Joseph's is very close to there and has a good, inexpensive breakfast. Bin 152 is a new wine bar that would be a good place for before or after dinner drinks. Social is another wine bar with more of happening atmosphere but not as unique.

      1 Reply
      1. re: tennreb

        I've had the good fortune to dine around Charleston a lot over the past 6-months - solo quite often. It's a very good town to walk around (safely) and take a seat at the bar and comfortably dine solo.

        Personally, I've had the best luck with Pearlz on East Bay and prefer that to Hanks and Amen St. I've enjoyed their clam chowder, tuna burger, and salmon BLT. And oysters of course. Their kitchen seems remarkably consistent.

        The places where I would return to are: SNOB, FIG, McCradys (3-course prix fixe), Pearlz, Mercato (their daily specials are well priced), Cru Cafe, Lucca, and Dixie Supply and Bakery (open only for breakfast and lunch) for the best darn tomato pie and they also have good shrimp and grits. I'm also partial to FUEL (carribean-ish food) but it's not "southern" but incredible sweet potato fries!

      2. If I'm not mistaken, FIG is right across the street from where you are staying. And you are easy walking distance to some great food. Hanks Seafood is right around the corner (probably the best pure seafood place close to you, although not the best seafood available within a stones throw of your hotel room). Cru Cafe is very close as well, and is my rec for lunch. And an often missed gem, Muse, is an easy walk just up Meeting. Go two blocks north on Meeting and turn left on Society. Muse is on your right. Easy walk, great food. Regardless, it's pretty easy to find a good meal in that area. Basically, avoid anything on either Market Street with the exception, perhaps, of Mercato and Penninsula Grill (although if I had a limited amount of time to experience Charleston, I'd not waste it on either of those). Charleston is a very safe town. Even "after hours", you are pretty safe.

        1. Thanks for all the responses. I ended up at Hank's (2 blocks from the hotel, easy walk). Here's a quick review:

          I got there at about 6 pm, and the restaurant was mostly empty. I first thought was that it wasn't casual enough, but as it turned out, it was perfect, I really needed a quiet dining experience. I ordered She-Crab Soup, Shrimp w/Grits and Pecan Pie for dessert. The soup was lovely, creamy but without any real outstanding flavor/seasoning notes. Fresh crab was a nice portion and I could have licked the bowl clean. Shrimp with Grits was fantastic for my first taste of that dish. Other posts on the board indicate that some places do it better but I really liked it, and I generally don't like Andouille sausage, which I understand is essential to the recipe. This dish had the right balance of heat (sausage) and cream (grits) for my liking. The Pecan Pie was a bit overcooked, rather crusty on top but fine underneath. The vanilla ice cream was not exceptional in flavor (I would have liked Vanilla Bean) but a good note as was the fresh whipped cream. When I mentioned to my server about the overdone pie, she offered to replace it, but by then I was halfway into it and didn't feel like starting over. I did finish it anyway.

          Service was efficient and gracious, except my finished entree plate was left on the table a tad longer than I wished. There's nothing enjoyable about looking at left-over shrimp tails :(

          With 2 beverages (soda and coffee) the final tab, with tip included, was $56 and change. It was more than I wanted to spend but I did enjoy the meal. By the time I left the restaurant was more than half full with large groups coming in. It was a nice introduction to Southern/Low Country cuisine.

          I have no idea of where we'll end up tomorrow or Wednesday nights but I'm glad I got off to a good start. Charleston looks like a lovely city, I wish I could really see more of it but that won't happen this trip.

          Thanks again!

          -----
          Hank's Seafood Restaurant
          10 Hayne Street, Charleston, SC 29401

          7 Replies
          1. re: rednails

            thanks for the review on Hanks.

            If I were you, I'd walk over to FIG next. The fish entrees are usually $25. I would get one of those and a side vegetable $6-8, and water, skip the app and dessert. You'll still go over $40 with the tip, but its worth it. Walk over to the Haagen Daz store for dessert!

            Looking forward to your next review!

            1. re: danna

              Nah. Walk over to Paolo's Gelato on John St for dessert. You can get Haagen Daz anywhere. (I would have said go to Gelateria Modica, but sadly, they closed.)

              1. re: dinersaurus

                I'd have to disagree with the recommendation for Paolo's Gelato. I find all the flavors there very "artificial" tasting - like fruit-flavored bubble gum.

                1. re: MyNextMeal

                  Fair enough, not everyone likes Paolo's including at least one self-confessed gelato fiend on Chowhound, so I know you're not alone. I've gone out of my way for a lot of gelato in the U.S. and hit about 20 places in Italy. I've always thought that Paolo's stood up pretty well with the upper tier of ones that I've tried. Then again, combine cream and sugar with shoe leatherand I'll probably like it.

                  I spoke to Paolo about his gelato and he said that it's all natural. Surely he wouldn't fib. ;)

                  1. re: dinersaurus

                    We've done Paulo's once. Besides insanely expensive we simply didn't enjoy it very much.

                    The canolis weren't great either...and also insanely expensive.

                    1. re: dinersaurus

                      I also like Paolo's myself. I especially like the floral flavors, for me they tend to taste like the flower without venturing into tasting like perfume.

                  2. re: dinersaurus

                    good point, i forgot she's from a town where she actually CAN get HD. I think the closest one to my house is the Chas location...three hours away. and yes, I mourn the loss of Modica, particularly the pistachio *sob*

              2. For reasons too long to explain, I ended up at Jestines tonight. I had the fried green tomatoes, pecan fried chicken breast, mashed sweet potatoes and collard greens. I enjoyed everything, but I'm not sure it was the best I could have had. Others in my group had fried chicken, charbroiled chicken breast (they were dieting), and a flounder special. Desserts were shared by everyone but me (I was too full): peach/blueberry cobbler, pineapple bread pudding, and coconut cream pie. Service was very good. My tab was very reasonable--about $22.00 w/out tip. I got 2 pralines to go (to send to someone) and on a walk later on, found the River Street Sweet shop on Market Street. I had a taste of their pralines and it rocked!

                Tomorrow is the (large) group dinner at Cypress. I'm really looking foward to that. I think a few of us will find a bar to hang out at afterwards. Someone in our group has lived here before and knows the nabe.

                Oh, and breakfast is comped for our group at the hotel every day, which is reasonably priced anyway. Lunch is at the College of Charleston dining hall every day. Not bad, for college food.

                Thanks again for all your feedback. I just wish I could stay longer!

                5 Replies
                1. re: rednails

                  Oh dear. Jestine's is tough on a diet. I love that place, but I like down-home better than foodie fabulous. Glad you're having fun.

                  1. re: rednails

                    How was your dinner at Cypress? We are looking at going there on our trip in April.

                    1. re: fterie4u

                      I am reluctant to criticize Cypress as it was a group dinner and hosted by our organizer, but I was underwhelmed by the food. The salad and dessert were preselected, and we could choose from 3 entrees.

                      The starter was a butter lettuce salad, with fresh tomato wedges, bacon jam and bleu cheese. I asked for a substitute to the bleu cheese (can't stand it) and was given a lovely champagne vinaigrette so it was clearly bleu cheese dressing, not just crumbles. So far so good but I've never understood (or appreciated, I guess) a wedge of lettuce. The bacon jam was interesting tho a few guests said they didn't get any.

                      The second course was a choice of Chicken with Dumplings, Vegetable Risotto or a 3rd choice which escapes me now, except I do remember it had brussel sprouts kimchi which didn't appeal to me. It may have been smoked pork loin. I ordered the chicken, and felt the flavor was lacking. The chicken was prepared well, it just wasn't....fabulous. The dumplings were small, really gnocchi, but didn't have much flavor. The plate was not colorful either, and we all know, we eat with our eyes first.

                      The dessert was a small round apple spice cake, with piped, spiced cream on top. It was OK, I guess, but not "WOW" or special. The menu says ice cream but I didn't taste it as ice cream, nor did it melt. It was too composed for ice cream.

                      Service was terrific, extremely gracious and efficient. We were upstairs in a private room at rounds of 6 and 8 so we could be as loud as we wanted (and we did get boisterous) as we'd had 2 out of 3 days of training and had bonded pretty well.

                      Maybe it was the menu selections, but the dinner didn't excite me. There just wasn't any specfial flavor notes or "wow, you've got to taste this" moments. Come to think of it, it was basically beige and brown. As noted above, I really loved Hank's and would have gone back there in a heartbeat for shrimp & grits!

                      Afterwards a small group of us ended up at a rooftop bar (I forget the name of the hotel) just down the street from Cypress and that was a lot of fun. Some groups ended up elsewhere for drinks, etc and everyone had a good time. Amazingly we all got to breakfast and our meeting on time the next morning!

                      I would hate to put you off Cypress if the general consensus is that it is not to be missed. I just know that I wasn't impressed by the food and didn't think it was special enough to return to.

                      I hope this helps!

                      1. re: rednails

                        I've never been a huge fan of Cypress. It's not bad, but there are better places very close to it. It's too bad the shecrab at Hank's was disappointing. It usually is decent. But like I said, in that neighborhood, Hank's is IMO the best purely seafood eatery, but there is better fish to be had at several other places. Next time you are in town try FIG, Fulton Five, or Muse for their fish specials. I promise they will not dissapoint.

                        1. re: Dr.Ron

                          I didn't say the she-crab soup was "disappointing," I said it was "lovely, creamy but without any real outstanding flavor/seasoning notes" and that "I could have licked the bowl clean." To clarify, I didn't taste any particular seasoning. No particular flavor stood out. Also as noted above, I would definitely go back to Hank's again.

                          I probably won't be back to Charleston again unless for another round of training, and that won't be for another year, at least. I hope I'll be able to return and try other restaurants, and do some real sightseeing.

                  2. Well, it appears that your trip was not very impressive culinarily, and I must say I am not surprised, because dining in Charleston, and overall, perhaps, is overblown I think. The restaurants are expensive for what you get and what you get can often not be that impressive.

                    Hanks, as you said, decent, but overpriced, Jestine's, not great and decently priced, and Cypress, I am surprised and yet not surprised to know, not good *and* overpriced. At Hominy Grill you would have gotten quite good but much overpriced, and probably something similar at most places. I once talked to a women who had eaten at FIG, a James Beard award-winning restaurant, and she had gotten a 30-something dollar entree and she couldn't remember what it was when I spoke with her. If you are going to have a 30-something dollar entree I would hope you would at least remember what it was, but apparently not very memorable! Good food and reasonable price I stil tap my foot for.

                    EDIT: $21 shrimp and grits at High Cotton, terrible, 18 dollar hamburger at Oak Steakhouse, pathetic.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: observor

                      I think it is all perspective. I can't do a analysis of the different restaurants and a specific dish (i.e. Shrimp & Grits) and determine what was overpriced or not. That would require more time than I had, or will probably have in the future.

                      I really enjoyed Hanks (and didn't think it was overpriced), got what I expected at Jestines, and was disappointed in Cypress. Tho I did not pay at Cypress, it was highly recommended by our hostess, and perhaps it was the menu composition that disappointed as much as the individual dishes. I don't recall saying Hank's was "decent". I said the She-Crab soup was "without any outstanding flavor/seasoning notes." For my first time with the dish, I didn't know what to expect. The pecan pie was a bit overcooked but I finished it anyway. And for what it's worth, I picked Hank's based on the 2 recs above.

                      I would have preferred going to FIG, SNOB or Hominy Grill on my second night but it didn't work out. My third night's dinner was prearranged, but I didn't know that until I arrived. My trip was for business, and the opportunity to sample the local cuisine a bonus, especially since I can expense it!

                      Nonetheless, I am still looking forward to returning to Charleson!

                      1. re: rednails

                        And there is much to look forward to. As you've seen from this thread, and probably others, you've just scratched the surface. Per capita, I think that Charleston is the best restaurant town in the U.S.

                        1. re: dinersaurus

                          Indeed. Charleston is easily one of the better food towns in the country, by any standard. Not to say that there aren't some misses, but I wish our home of Athens GA had a fraction of the culinary vibrance and variety and vitality that Charleston has.

                        2. re: rednails

                          I have had three bar items at Cypress that were good, and I had heard good things about it, surprised it did not meet expectations.

                        3. re: observor

                          If you're looking for cheap/value perhaps fine dining in Charleston isn't the place to start. I disagree that Hank's is overpriced. It's not cheap, but not expensive either. It is what it is, a decent downtown seafood restaurant at a medium price.

                          1. re: Dr.Ron

                            You are right, Dr. Ron. It's all about expectations. If a person goes into Cypress expecting a cheap dinner, the person will be disappointed but it's not the fault of the chef/owner/waitstaff.

                        4. I followed this post for a while before our own weekend in Charleston. Here’s what we thought: Cru Café was delicious - the best of our meals. SNOB was just OK. FIG - another winner. Amen Street was great. Cypress very good.