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Dinner Alone in Charleston--Single-Friendly Restaurants?

r
RF0220 Jan 4, 2014 08:58 PM

Hi All,

I'm a NY eater going to Charleston for a few days next week. I'm interested in the following places for my 3 dinners. Please help me decide which ones I should go to based on the food and atmosphere--I'm totally okay with eating alone, but that said, I don't want to stick out like a sore thumb, either. Thanks!

Husk
McCrady's
The Ordinary
The Grocery
The Macintosh
Circa 1886
(FIG: not this time)

  1. lynnlato Jan 15, 2014 12:58 AM

    I ate at Two Boroughs Larder this past weekend and had the porchetta with house-made mustard and fried potatoes. It was divine. It's calorie-free I swear it. ;) I also had the fried cauliflower with fish sauce and fresh mint - again, well done. We went for lunch so I had a mimosa with hops & elderflower and it was leaps and bounds better than the traditional oj. Nice atmosphere, it feels like an old 1950's neighborhood grocer. Cozy and a toss back in time.

    Also, Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer is a great local spot for morning coffee & pastries. They do lovely works of art with the cream they pour into your coffee. In the afternoons it's a great place to grab a local beer (the Palmetto IPA is nice) and, if you're lucky, they'll be a local jug band or the like playing there. I'm told Bill Murray frequents the place and is the friendliest dude evvva. He is co-owner of Rutledge Cab Co, a restaurant in town. We ate there on Friday and enjoyed it also. Nothing mind-blowing but a simple menu and nice atmosphere. The staff was great too.

    4 Replies
    1. re: lynnlato
      r
      RF0220 Jan 24, 2014 09:29 AM

      Hi Lynn and everyone else,

      Thanks for all the suggestions!

      So here's the run-down:

      Wednesday: I had to work late the night before and then my morning flight got cancelled, so I only got into Charleston around 4pm and was groggy. So take my reactions from the first day with a grain of salt.

      Late Lunch at Two Boroughs Larder
      I had the bowl o' noodles with pork confit and egg. The extremely nice server (woman with glasses, thank you!) recommended it with greens and/or kimchi, but I got it plain. The the pork was delicious, but the egg could have been a little less cooked. The soup was very flavorful, but I wished it were a little fattier--I guess I was expecting something like ramen, rather than say chicken noodle soup.

      What really won me over was the warm service. I wish I had been in good enough shape to take advantage of their great happy hour--I did want to try the Palmetto Espresso Porter for $4!

      Happy Hour: The Macintosh
      I went to the happy hour to suss out the RW menu. I had a ginger vodka cocktail ($5) that was nice and refreshing. I also ordered the hot honey pork belly appetizer. The pork was deliciously fatty and rich. It was supposed to come with curds, but the cheese was definitely just regular ricotta. Under that was a HUGE bed of fries. Ultimately, the richness of the appetizer, the dark ambience, and the general menu offerings made me decide against having dinner at The Macintosh.

      Snacks: The Grocery
      So I went to The Grocery instead to see if I wanted to have dinner there instead. I sat at the bar, which unlike others on this thread I actually preferred to The Macintosh's: it was brighter, which I actually prefer when I'm eating alone rather than drinking and hanging out with friends. After assessing how I felt (still groggy, kinda full from the pork belly and fries) I decided to just order a drink and a snack off the bar menu. I had the Engine #6 (cinnamon and Szechuan peppercorn infused whisky), which was delicious, and fish collars, which was the leftovers from the red snapper on the RW menu and a great deal for $7.

      Dessert: Hominy Grill
      I was felling pretty full, but wanted something sweet to end the night, so I stopped by the Hominy Grill to carry out their chocolate pudding. Quite frankly, I wasn't impressed: it was creamy, but too milk chocolatey for me. I actually ended up sprinkling some sea salt on top to bring out more flavor.

      But again, the service was super sweet. You Charlestonians are sure nice.

      Thursday:

      Breakfast: Hominy Grill
      Went back to HG for their shrimp n' grits, which was delicious. The portion size was just right, too. And the coffee was as strong as people say it is: I can see it would make great redeye gravy.

      Elevenses: Glazed and Kudu
      I went to Glazed, but they were out of the apple bacon fritter! The super nice (notice a theme here?) guy told me that it usually sells out by 11am but I could call ahead. He recommended the raspberry glazed instead.

      I then ran to Kudu (yup Lynn!) for a cortado.

      Both were delicious--the doughnut was the fluffiest I've had and the icing wasn't cloying, and the cortado had excellent crema and the coffee itself was pitch-perfect.

      Tea: Middleton Place
      I tried the Huguenot Torte ($7) since it sounded so historically interesting. It was, but extremely sweet--basically a nut and flour and sugar blend bound by treacle, I take it.

      Dinner: Circa 1886
      I had been vacillating between here and McCrady's; in hindsight, I probably should have gone with the latter. Circa 1886's location far off King St was a drawback on what was a cold night. The service was formal but at times awkward. I had the following:

      Amuse bouche: antelope tartare
      This was my favorite dish--I know the chef is known for it.

      Bread: rice flour rolls with orange zest butter
      This was delicious; a great combination of flavors and aromas.

      Appetizer: gas house egg
      Too many elements--there was a brioche crouton, a balsamic vinegar sauce, something else, something else...the flavors did not meld. The Bellini 2011 Pinot Grigio pairing was great, though--Circa 1886 did live up to its wine reputation.

      Main: beef short rib
      Again, I felt the chef had too many things going on: a pile of smoked paprika, here, sauteed apples there, zucchini here. The short rib itself was perfectly cooked and was a giant portion. It went very well wit the Oberon 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.

      Dessert: duo of cheese
      Rogue Oregon blue cheese and a goat cheese, with cheese sticks, dijon crisps (very good), membrillo, pecan preserves (?), marmalade, berries with Cockburn port. I prefer tawny to ruby, but the wine pairings were a great deal for an extra $25 to the $40 RW menu.

      Nighttime Snack: benne wafers and American Tea Company tea
      Yum! I felt like I was having a classic Charleston pairing.

      Friday:

      Breakfast: at my B&B. It was awful : (

      Lunch: Cru Cafe
      I loved my lunch there. The owner (I think) was super nice about letting me sit outside on the porch since the only other seat available was a bar stool and I have super short legs. I got the soup and sandwich set: butternut bisque and the shrimp BLT. The soup was creamy, perfect for what had been a chilly morning, and the BLT was perfectly grilled and buttered and surprisingly didn't fall apart.

      I can see why the place was filled with locals.

      Coffee: Black Tap Coffee
      Another Cortado. Hard to say if I preferred Kudu's or vice versa, but I liked the sunny space of BTC. Odd location, though.

      Happy Hour: Bar at HUSK
      I had decided against lunch at HUSK as planned because the menu posted that morning didn't speak to me, so I went to the Bar to at least get some sense of Sean Brock. I had the HUSK Holy City Brewery stout, which was the best beer I've had, period. Perfectly poured, so rich and loamy. It went great with my pulled pork sandwich, which was delicious (the sauce wasn't too insistent) and came with excellent crispy potato wedges.

      Dinner: Xiao Bao Biscuit
      XBB reminded me of Brooklyn eateries--no surprise since I spoke to the very nice owners, who said they lived and worked in Brooklyn for a while. I ordered the Sun Wukong, which was just as great a drink as I had read it to be: a balance of hot and sweet. I loved the snow pea salad for its combination of soothing coconut milk and fresh shredded greens and its textural contrasts of crispy wonton and sausage. I was not as enamored of the lamb belly salad, partly because it was filled with cucumbers, which I detest (I had asked the server about it but he didn't warn me and I was also guilty of assuming) and partly because I thought the cold lamb belly was just fatty and not particularly good in terms of texture or flavor.

      However, one of the owners who was manning the bar was great about taking care of me--he offered to let me try something else. So I had the green papaya salad, which was delicious--certainly spicy, but very fresh.

      The married couple who are the other owners were super nice, too, and were making their rounds, accommodating everyone. It was clear that XBB is one of the hottest, if not the hottest, restaurant in town.

      Dessert: Peninsula Grill Coconut Cake
      I had stopped by after HUSK to pick up a slice, and boy was I glad I had. It was the best coconut cake I have ever had...the icing was not too sweet, the crumb rich but light, the coconut crisp and fresh...ahhh.

      Saturday

      Brunch: Hominy Grill
      I went again to try their she-crab soup and the Big Nasty (or whatever it's going to be called). Both were very good--I liked that I could see the roe in the soup, and that the chicken fillet was very crisp, not at all greasy.

      Snack: Glazed
      Got my apple bacon fritter! AND a beer cream donut which was just as delicious.

      Thanks again all for your suggestions! I'm looking forward to going back again sometime--I want to try out FIG, McCrady's, HUSK, and revisit some of the restaurants from this past trip.

      1. re: RF0220
        lynnlato Jan 24, 2014 02:01 PM

        Wow, what a great report. Thanks so much! It sounds like you hit some highs and lows but overall had a nice trip with some good food.

        I hate that your only MacIntosh experience was their happy hour. The happy hour is geared toward mass production on the cheap. Dinner, however, is a whole different ballgame. But it's cool.

        You went to Kudu - yesss! I love that place. And Cru too. You so smart in your choices. ;)

        I will be certain to hit you up for some NY advice the next time I visit one of my favorite food cities - NYC. Cheers!

        1. re: lynnlato
          ipsedixit Jan 24, 2014 02:38 PM

          Re: the Mac.

          One should not judge a restaurant's offering -- any restaurant's -- based on RW menus. It's amateur hour, for those who have 90 minutes.

          1. re: ipsedixit
            r
            RF0220 Jan 24, 2014 03:04 PM

            Well, actually, the RW menu was a selection of their regular menu, including things like the ricotta gnudi, that I've heard good things about. So it would have been a great deal if I had been in the mood to eat the offerings. I just thought that the menu seemed very similar to what I find at many restaurants of the same type in New York, where I live.

            I agree that RW can be amateur hour, but I don't think it's necessarily so. You can easily tell which places are just phoning it in with chicken and salmon and which places actually want to introduce people to their food.

            Lynn, Kudu had a great vibe and great coffee. I particularly liked that it was bi-level. Definitely let me know when you're visiting New York, although I'm afraid I haven't been able to get out to eat much at home as of late. : (

    2. lynnlato Jan 6, 2014 12:28 AM

      I highly recommend The Mac. Its got a lovely and lively bar where you can dine - perfect for a solo diner. One of the best meals I've had in Chucktown was at The Mac. I think its got an edge over Husk, honestly. That being said, I haven't yet been to The Ordinary or The Grocery. The Ordinary doesn't look as though it has that warm and inviting feel, and I think FIG is a bit cold too, although warmer colors than The O. Of course, that says nothing about the food (I love FIG). I'm pretty certain you cannot dine at the bar at Husk(housed in a separate bldg). I've had country ham paired w/ bourbon at the bar, but no other plates.

      When I dine alone I enjoy sitting at a bar... I just enjoy the atmosphere, generally speaking.

      P.S. I second Expat's rec of Two Boroughs Larder and Xiao Bao Biscuit. But note that XBB is closed through 1/12/14 for travel over the holidays.
      Enjoy your visit!

      12 Replies
      1. re: lynnlato
        r
        RF0220 Jan 7, 2014 04:03 AM

        Hi Lynn,

        Thanks for the Mac recommendation I think I may then do Husk for lunch (maybe it would be warm enough to be out on the porch one of the days I'm there and Mac for dinner. Good to know also that the bar doesn't serve a full menu--I like eating at the bar, too.

        I'll be there from 1/15-1/18, so I'll definitely try out XBB too.

        I think my plan then is:

        Wednesday
        Lunch: Two Boroughs Larder
        Happy Hour and Dinner: The Macintosh

        Thursday
        Breakfast: Hominy Grill or Wildflour Pastry or Glazed
        Dinner: Circa 1886

        Friday
        Lunch: Husk
        Dinner: Xiao Bao Biscuit

        Saturday
        Brunch at Cru Cafe

        1. re: RF0220
          lynnlato Jan 7, 2014 06:53 AM

          Sounds like a mighty fine plan to me! I hope you'll let us know how you make out. Cheers!

          1. re: RF0220
            e
            Expat1234 Jan 7, 2014 03:31 PM

            I like your plan. Thought you would be interested in this article: http://charleston.eater.com/archives/...

            Try the noodles at TBL for lunch.
            I like Hominy Grill and the Bloody Mary's should be sampled. At Husk, the Catfish or The Burger but the Catfish is my favorite.
            XBB: the Cabbage Pancakes and everything else.
            The Grocery: I just had awful soft crab there but I shouldn't judge by that; my friends had the roasted fish and it was delicious. But I am not just turned on to The Grocery as The Others.
            My new favorite lunch spot is Korean food at Ko Cha in West Ashley. No atmosphere but remarkable spicy food.

          2. re: lynnlato
            ipsedixit Jan 7, 2014 03:47 PM

            Second the rec for The Mac.

            If their happy hour is at all indicative of what they can do for a full meal, it's a can't-miss.

            1. re: ipsedixit
              r
              RF0220 Jan 7, 2014 03:55 PM

              Thanks all!

              I'm wondering...should I cancel my Circa 1886 reservation for Thursday and go to The Grocery instead? It doesn't seem like Circa 1886 gets much love online...is it too dated?

              Lynniato, I'll definitely report back!

              Expat, yep, I largely based my plan on that Eater article. I noticed that The Grocery made it on in the July edition but fell off the list in the October one...more reasons to have dinner at The Macintosh, I guess.
              Hominy Grill--any particular recommendations? I was thinking either the Big Nasty Sandwich or the Shrimp n' Grits. (Incidentally, how is Husk's? I do want to try shrimp n' grits somewhere....)

              Ipsedixit, I'm really excited about the Bacon Happy Hour!

              1. re: RF0220
                lynnlato Jan 8, 2014 01:51 AM

                I like Hominy Grill's shrimp n' grits. And I haven't tried their Big Nasty, but damn, it looks good. Interestingly, they are running a contest right now to rename the big nasty. It seems they got a not-so-friendly letter from McAlister's Deli advising them to stop using their trademarked sandwich name.

                http://charleston.eater.com/archives/2013/10/22/the-end-of-the-big-nasty-in-name-only.php

                If you want to enter the naming contest, see the details here:
                http://hominygrill.com/contest/

                1. re: lynnlato
                  JayL Jan 8, 2014 05:44 AM

                  I got about 7 or 8 certified letters from Chick-Fil-A attorneys once because an old online menu for a business that I had purchased listed a "Chick Fillet". Evidently you can't even say that word since it sounds like their company name.

                  They took no explanation I offered...it was not our restaurant's site, it was a menu that a person not even affiliated with the old restaurant has taken upon themselves to post online, it was an old out-of-date menu with 10 year old prices, etc. The web site was so old that the listed web master was unable to be contacted. I had actually purchased the old business, closed it down, and reopened a new legal business that shared the old business name. Technically they were barking up the wrong tree.

                  Finally, after many threats of lawsuit, they asked for permission to take the site down themselves. My response was simple, "Do as you please...for the seventh time, it's not my site, my menu, or even my restaurant."

                  Then you have a restaurant chain here around Charleston called the Kickin' Chicken. So far Zaxby's has not become offended by that...yet.

                  1. re: JayL
                    lynnlato Jan 8, 2014 07:26 AM

                    Oy vey! It's mindboggling how companies can trademark the vaguest of words, ideas, etc. Chickfila are some powerful deep pockets, man.

                    I like how Hominy Grill turned it into a positive and ran with it. The contest is a great marketing idea.

                2. re: RF0220
                  w
                  Worldwide Diner Jan 8, 2014 03:30 AM

                  I had the big nasty. Not particularly good. Dry tasteless chicken topped with gravy with green bell peppers (I grew up in Atlanta and never had gravy with bell peppers, which ruined the gravy for me). The shrimp and grits were really good.

                  1. re: Worldwide Diner
                    r
                    RF0220 Jan 8, 2014 03:48 AM

                    Shrimp n' grits it is then : )

                    The noodles at TBL look amazing--cannot wait.

                    If anyone has an opinion about Circa 1886 v. The Grocery, please let me know, thanks!

                  2. re: RF0220
                    e
                    Expat1234 Jan 8, 2014 04:11 PM

                    Shrimp/Grits @Hominy; Big Nasty is a NO; I thought Shrimp/Grits were too rich @Husk. Catfish or Burger @Husk or anything else. Listen, Hominy isn't a perfect but the overall experience is good. There is a fine line between touristy and local and Husk and Hominy tread both. If you drink wine, let the staff @Husk decide for you based on your preference; you'll be pleasantly surprised.

                    1. re: Expat1234
                      r
                      RF0220 Jan 8, 2014 04:20 PM

                      Thanks Expat--I was wondering about the Shrimp and Grits at Husk. I'll definitely order wine at Husk, lol.

                      Any opinions on Grocery v. Circa 1886? I've done my research on Chowhound and elsewhere, and it seems people either love Circa or find it too stuffy.

              2. e
                Expat1234 Jan 5, 2014 04:08 PM

                You will have no problem dining single at any of these restaurants. I do it all the time. As for your list, I love Husk, especially sitting on the balcony which you can do often without reservations (balcony only), but it is Winter (or Winter is Coming) so unless it is a nice day, not possible. Ordinary had fantastic food but VERY noisy and overprice in my opinion. Ate at McCrady's for Christmas Eve: Service was 5 star but I lacked food fulfillment. I suggest adding Two Borough Larders to your list and Tues is noodle night; Noodles are great there but everything at TBL is a culinary experience. XBB also should be added to your list. I didn't love The Grocery but I am in a minority on that; if you do go, roasted whole fish would be a good choice based on what my friends state.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Expat1234
                  r
                  RF0220 Jan 7, 2014 03:53 AM

                  Hi Expat,

                  Thanks! It's good to know that McCrady's lacks food fulfillment--I got that kind of feeling from reading up, too, and so was leaning towards Husk for my Sean Brock restaurant. And good to know that The Ordinary is noisy--I might peek in at 5 to see if I can grab a drink and an appetizer and go somewhere else for dinner then. I was actually thinking of going to Two Boroughs for lunch--do you think that's okay? I'll add XBB to my list. And lastly, what didn't you like about The Grocery?

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