Four Breakfasts in/Around Charleston (long)
My wife, 22-year old son, and I just returned home from a trip to South Carolina, during which we spent 4 nights/3 days in Charleston. Here is a report on the 4 breakfasts we enjoyed.
Sunday brunch at the Lost Dog Cafe in Folly Beach: Sunday, Dec. 22 was a warm and sunny day (temps eventually hit about 80 in downtown Charleston) and we drove the 15-20 minutes out to Folly Beach for brunch. Arriving shortly after 10 AM, we were surprised to have no wait to get an indoor table; the outdoor seating areas looked inviting and were full of dog-lovers with their pooches as well as a bevy of smokers. We each ordered specialty coffee drinks and started off by sharing an "awesome Cinnamon Roll" which was good but not awesome. Son had biscuits and sausage gravy (in fact, he had this as breakfast all 4 days in a row) and a side of grits, wife had a HUGE breakfast burrito (meat, eggs, beans, tomatoes, cheese, etc.) which was accompanied by grits, and I had Eggs Benedict modified with a fried green tomato between the egg and Canadian bacon. We were served very quickly despite the crowd, portions were huge, and the food quite tasty (except that he fried green tomatoes were quite acidic - more so than those I ate elsewhere in Charleston). Service was a bit rushed, as might be expected given how busy they were. Walls were decorated with many photos of dogs.
Monday breakfast at Hominy Grill: set in a residential neighborhood in an old barbershop, we again had no wait to get a table inside, whereas those seeking to sit outside on the patio had to wait. Extremely nice and personable service from our waitress, who took time to explain not only the breakfast options but also items (T shirts, coffee cups, etc.) that were available for sale. Son had B&G again, wife had sausage, eggs, grits, and toast, and I had a Hangtown Fry (eggs scrambled with oysters and bacon) with grits. As opposed to the relatively creamy grits at the Lost Dog, these were stone ground grits with a distinctive "crunch" that we all very much enjoyed. We finished up by sharing a piece of sublime buttermilk pie, which we enjoyed in a relatively leisurely way in the relaxing ambience of the restaurant.
Tuesday breakfast at the Dixie Supply Bakery and Cafe: a very small storefront about two blocks from the historic Charleston Market, patrons line up, place an order at the counter (which strongly prefers cash), and then find a table either inside the crowded room or at patio furniture just outside. The long line appeared to include both tourists and locals, Not too many fancy dishes on this menu; son again had biscuits and sausage gravy, while wife and I each had scrambled eggs, grits, and biscuits. Apparently, this place is famous for tomato pie, but it was not listed on the menu posted on the wall above the counter, otherwise I would have ordered it. Grits were like those at Hominy Grill, biscuits were better than Hominy Grill!
Christmas morning breakfast at Toast: this restaurant is attached to the Days Inn on Meeting Street about a block or so from the Historic Market, and was one of the very few places open on Xmas Day. No wait at all upon our arrival at 8:45. Son had his usual B&G, wife ate scrambled eggs, meat, and grits, while I had shrimp and grits covered by a "lobster" sauce with very small pieces of pork sausage. Grits were very creamy and a bit runny but otherwise this was a good dish. Fairly simple interior of the restaurant. All the staff, however, were attired in "Santa gear" and were amazingly cheerful and inviting given that they were working on Christmas morning!
We enjoyed all 4 breakfasts and would return to all 4 places. Son felt that the biscuits and gravy were best at Lost Dog Cafe, and my wife enjoyed her breakfast at Lost Dog the most (she might not want to return to Dixie Supply because of the tight quarters and lack of wait staff).. My favorite was Hominy Grill for the combination of food and ambience, with Lost Dog a close second.
OK - here they are; sorry for the delay and the length:
Saturday night dinner at Hank’s Seafood:
After a very frustrating and long day of driving (or should I say “sitting”) on I-95 from DC to Charleston, we arrived at Hank’s full of anticipation, based upon a friend’s recommendation that Hank’s had “the best” seafood in Charleston. We started with drinks: son had a beer while my wife and I ordered cocktails from their specialty list. I had a Southern Gentleman (Gentleman Jack, Southern Comfort, a splash of OJ, some simple syrup, mint leaf with crushed ice) and my wife had a Gin & Tonic made with jack Rudy Tonic. Both drinks were weak and we were unimpressed. My starter was a 1.2 dozen oyster sampler (2 each from the Gulf, Nova Scotia, and the West Coast) – the smaller non-Gulf oysters were very tasty. For entrees I chose a special that was pan roasted Carolina bass with roasted vegetables plus another accompaniment that I do not recall. The fish was perfectly cooked with a nice crust on the outside. My wife had shrimp and grits (creamy, not stone ground) which she said was very, very, good except for a few small pieces of shell that were NOT associated with the tails. Son had a platter with a fried crabcake, fried shrimp, hush puppies, cole slaw, and fried sweet potato chips. While he raved about everything, the sweet potato chips were especially impressive. He finished with Peanut Butter Pie, while my wife and I shared Cherry Crisp with vanilla ice cream which, truthfully, was nothing special. Service was efficient but a bit stuffy and not at all “warm.”
Sunday night dinner at Monza Pizza on King Street:
We were attracted to this place because several web sites had chosen it as “best” pizza in South Carolina and because we wanted a lighter dinner on at least one of our nights in town. We were not super hungry because we ate a large brunch at Lost Dog in mid-morning and because we drank several beers that afternoon at Charleston Beer Works while watching the Panthers. Our server bragged about having been selected as 11th best pizza in the U.S. We had two of their 10 inch pizzas: the Materassi (fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella & basil) and a special with apples, manchego cheese, sausage, and some other items. Monza’s wood-fired oven bakes these pizzas quickly with a thin crust with just the right balance between chewy-ness and crusty-ness. We liked both pies but found them similar to other wood-fired oven pizzas from across the country; frankly, we were surprised this place received such a high ranking. I also had a wonderful warm salad composed of wood roasted seasonal vegetables with parmigiano reggiano cheese andbread crumbs, topped with a local farm egg cooked sunny side up. This was fabulous, and I really liked the way the slightly runny but warm egg yolk and the cut-up egg whites melded with the light dressing on the rest of the salad. While we were there, I saw only a few other tables but about 10 staff members and on the way out learned that they had a back patio; it would have been nice if we had been offered an opportunity to sit out there as it had been a beautiful day.
For dessert, we stopped on the walk back to the hotel at Paolo’s Gelato Shop on John Street; while we enjoyed all 4 flavors we tried, the pistachio was outstanding!
Monday night at Fat Hen on John’s Island
After having consumed a pedestrian but convenient lunch at Hyman’s (many downtown lunch spots were closed on Monday, and others took an extended Christmas vacation), we drove through a drenching rain 15-20 minutes out to John’s Island to this country French-inspired restaurant located on a main highway in an otherwise residential area. Given the time of year, it was very dark upon our arrival, and a bit difficult to see signs directing us to parking, which is in the back (which is where the main entrance is located). We were seated in the large and (a bit) noisy front room, and were impressed with the convivial nature of the space. Our server was very attentive and got us started with drinks - nothing for my wife, but a Low Country Lemonade (Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, Triple Sec, fresh squeezed lime, splash of Sprite, garnished with lemon) for my son and an Orance Fashioned (Orange bourbon, bitters, soda, orange wedge, cherry) for me. These drinks- especially the Lemonade – were much more satisfying than those we had at Hank’s. We shared a delicious appetizer of Fried Green Tomatoes that came with pimento goat cheese, pepper relish, and tomato jam. The kitchen must have been very efficient because despite the crowd, our main courses emerged very quickly (in fact, I felt that our entire meal was a bit rushed). Son had Salmon Bearnaise with mashed potatoes and garlic spinach (which I wound up eating, as he does not eat cooked spinach), I had the tilefish special and my wife had the Grilled Butcher’s Steak with demi glace, bearnaise, garlic spinach, and pomme frites. We were all very satisfied and decided to forgo dessert.
Tuesday night (Xmas Eve) dinner at Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.)
My son and I, as a continuation of our tradition started in 2012, wore bow ties to dinner; given our relative inexperience tieing them, we arrived just in time for our reservation! We had eaten a light lunch that day at The Glass Onion (which was OK but we did not understand all the fuss about this place). Wife and I started with Prosecco and son had a rum and Coke to toast the holiday, and later he switched to beer and I had a glass of Pinot Gris with my dinner. I started with SNOB’s version of She-Crab soup (called Charleston Crab Soup) which was very good but was not an adequate replacement for she-crab soup that I had had in the past. My main course was an amazingly outstanding plate of pan-roasted fish (sorry – forgot what type!) that came with potato gnocchi, a few roasted veggies and a creamy puree. Again, the fish was perfectly cooked, and its juices blended well with the sauces in the bowl that bathed the gnocchi and veggies. I ate very slowly to savor this dish, which was my favorite of all the meals I consumed in Chucktown. My wife had pan-seared duck breast with Charleston gold wild rice pirlou, Brussels sprouts, apple compote, and a honey thyme reduction. She liked it very much (as did I, having an opportunity to taste a few bites) but – in her words – “not the very best duck she ever had.” My son stuck with turf and ate a grilled CAB ribeye filet with herbed goat cheese, red onion jam, grilled okra (which he did not touch), and Madeira sauce; other than the okra he cleaned his plate and then enjoyed Peanut Butter Pie while my wife had Espresso Chocolate Pie with Oreo crust and chocolate sauce and I had sorbet for dessert. Our server, as well as the other servers with whom we interacted, were knowledgeable, warm and very helpful, making us feel very much at home. Despite our having a 5:45 seating, we never felt rushed even as we lingered over dessert while the front reception area of the restaurant was crowded.
All three of us felt that the overall experience (food, ambience, service) was clearly the best at SNOB, where we would go back in a heartbeat. While we enjoyed the dinners at Hank’s, Monza, and Fat Hen, we would first like to try other Charleston restaurants for dinner before returning.