South Carolina and Charleston report - thanks for all the help
We spent a delicious week in South Carolina, with 5 days in Charleston itself. Thanks to all who offered suggestions and opinions to my original post: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/917706
We started in the Columbia area. We went straight to McCabe's for lunch and were not disappointed. The BBQ was delicious - moist and smoky. We were surprised that the vinegar-pepper sauce had some sweetness - didn't anticipate that from the descriptions. The sides were all good, particularly the almost custard-y sweet potatoes and the freshly fried hush puppies. The hash was very tasty, although we had no prior reference point to compare with. The father and daughter team were very friendly and gave us a bag of free hush puppies to go.
We were hoping to get back to Columbia in time to have Hite's for dinner, but we lingered too long on a swamp hike. So we went to Maurice's Piggie Park (the Charleston Highway location). We had read warnings of the owner's segregationist politics and noted the prominently displayed pictures of him posing with various black employees, presumably to offset that history. The BBQ pork itself was delicious (moist but also featuring some crustier bits) and went really well with the mustard sauce - our first taste of this style. The ribs on the other hand were a bit dry. The hash was very oily, but tasty. Of the sides, my wife particularly enjoyed the sweet potato casserole topped with mini marshmallows. I, of the opinion that mini marshmallows in a savoury dish is a culinary travesty, preferred the turnip green, yellow squash, and purloo.
We were next in Greenville and went to Henry's Smokehouse for lunch. The fatty, smoky brisket was a particular highlight, with the moist chicken and sweet ribs coming a close second. We also enjoyed the mustard-based hash and the sweet potato casserole (anointed with candied pecans - vastly better than mini marshmallows).
Few recommended places were open for dinner, so we opted for Smoke On the Water. Despite the cheesy name and the mainstream atmosphere, the BBQ was actually pretty good. We started with giant pterodactyl wings that had been smoked and then basted with BBQ sauce (sweet tomato style). The smokiness of the wings was particularly nice. Of the mains, the brisket was particularly good, not fatty like Henry's but still nicely smoky.
We next headed to Beaufort. We stopped along the way at Fishnet. The fried flounder, scallops, and shrimp were flawless - crispy, not oily, and sweet. The Jesus crab was very good, but perhaps not otherworldly. We did not have room to have the whole fried crab unfortunately.
We also briefly stopped at the Carolina Cider Company, just before the turn-off towards Beaufort. The cherry and blueberry ciders were particularly notable, each strongly tasting of the fresh fruit in question. We also sampled the boiled peanuts - Cajun and regular. I preferred the regular.
For dinner, we went to Steamer Oyster and Steakhouse on Lady Island. The steamed oysters themselves were delicious - fresh and sweet. We then split the Frogmore stew. The overall flavours of the dish were great. But several shrimp were clearly undercooked (gray in parts) and some potatoes had blackened portions. My wife got some kind of stomach bug the next day and so we suspect the Frogmore stew.
We headed to Charleston the next day. We had originally intended for a more ambitious dinner, but my wife was feeling very ill by this point. So we went to Hymans based on the fact that it was a minute walk from our hotel and she could quickly retreat back if necessary. I sampled the she-crab soup, which was excessively thick but well-flavoured. I also had the crispy flounder, which I thought was very well executed - crispy skin and edges, moist and perfectly cooked meat. We also had a very kindly waitress who took great concern with my wife and mixed up a stomach cure-all for her on the house.
With my wife in semi-recovery mode the next day, we went to Dave's Carry Out. The fried shrimp and whiting there were as good as Fishnet - it would be hard to pick one over the other. The lima beans were also fantastic - tons of smoky pig tails and lima beans in a rich creamy sauce.
The next few days were restricted to a conference, so no culinary adventures. We did try some drinks at the Gin Joint, which were inventive and tasty (if extraordinarily strong). We also went for drinks at The Mackintosh, which were good if not as sophisticated and complex as at the Gin Joint.
We then had a fabulous dinner at the Hominy Grill. The shrimp and grits were easily a highlight of the trip - creamy, cheesy grits topped with browned shrimp, thick smoky bacon, mushrooms, and redolent of garlic. The country captain was also great, with its mix of tomato, curry, currants, and almonds. The buttermilk pie was a nice surprise - the sour custard and lemon overtones were refreshing.
Although we almost didn't find it (Google Maps failed us), Gullah Cuisine made for a very nice lunch. The gullah rice was a nice version of purloo - reminded me oddly of Chinese fried rice. However, the real highlight was the fish head stew. It had a complex mix of flavours and just enough heat. We could easily have had many more bowls (if we had had the space).
For dinner, we went to Bowens Island restaurant. It was crowded, with a very long wait. The steamed oysters were just as good as promised. We regret only having one tray. The fried whiting was very good, pretty close to Dave's and Fishnet quality. The Frogmore stew was also excellent, with sweet shrimp and yummy sausage (and no stomach upset the next day!).
Our original plan would have taken us to See Wee at some point, but we ran out of time. So we returned to the Hominy Grill for an encore performance of the shrimp and grits. We also had the Big Nasty. The biscuit was fabulously light; the fried chicken was a bit overcooked but the cheesy cream gravy made up for any imperfections. We had just enough room for the pecan pie (with a very thick layer of pecans) and the chocolate pudding which was blessedly not-so-sweet.
So thanks again to this board for helping us eat to our hearts' content (and we didn't even gain weight). Hope to return some day in the future.
The photos below are of the brisket, sweet potato casserole, and hash from Henry's Smokehouse and the shrimp and grits from the Hominy Grill.
Regarding Maurice's, I read an article in The State recently that said that Maurice Bessenger's children have taken over the restaurant and quietly removed the Confederate flags and other controversial bric-a-brac from the restaurants. They said that they have no interest in politics or culture war issues and just want to make good barbecue.