Charleston Trip Report: Rarebit, Kudu, Xiao Bao Biscuit, Two Boroughs Larder, Hominy Grill, The Belmont, Virginia's on King, Poogan's Porch, Proof, The Ordinary, The Grocery, Farmers Market, Leon's, Jeni's Ice Cream, Gin Joint, Cypress, Husk
Me, solo diner from NYC, in downtown Charleston for a conference, time constrained, no vehicle. Walked a lot. Took the DASH. Got some blisters. Ate A LOT. The shrimp! The oysters! The produce! The cocktails! The humidity!
Onto the report...
The Rarebit: Late lunch on a Weds afternoon at the bar after a multitude of flight delays and rebookings. Nice bartender, formerly from NYC (of course, I always end up meeting people who used to live in NYC when I go out of town). Gorgeous, perfect grilled shrimp on my Cobb salad. Not ashamed to say I wiped the plate clean. Deliciously spicy Moscow Mule. Beautifully weathered mugs. Loved the space. Conveniently located to the Hampton Inn. Would love to have this spot in my neighborhood. Reminded me a bit of the retro venues in Palm Springs, CA.
Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer: Lovely spot to sit on the patio & drink am iced coffee between conference session breaks. Very peaceful, just off King St. Liked the building it was in; didn't seem like a business at first.
Xiao Bao Biscuit: A little piece of Brooklyn in Charleston? Extremely hip. Interesting drink list. Had dinner here at the bar, friend met me here, and wasn't too crowded or busy. It was Wednesday night, though. I'd been bracing myself for bigger crowds. I had a Taipei Storm with Goslings, sloe gin, coconut milk. Crispy mapo duck with greens and savory broad bean chili sauce was good but hard to eat as it was 1/2 a duck and not cut up into smaller pieces. Felt a bit medieval tearing apart the duck leg, thigh, etc with my hands. Well prepared and tasty though. Couldn't finish my food. Probably best to come here with a group. Friend later raved about a biscuit sandwich he'd had during lunch.
Two Boroughs Larder: A short walk off of King Street. Nice lunch here with a small group. Clammer Dave's clams were fresh, briny, meaty, paired well with ramps and pancetta and peas. The arugula salad with snap peas, fava beans, shaved duck egg yolk and some shaved ham was also good, but very heavy on the peas. More of a pea salad than an arugula salad. Inadvertent lunch of mostly peas! Pretty quiet here on a weekday for lunch. Charming space, good fresh food, but I could see how some feel the portions are too petit.
NB: While I had read that much of "Downtown" was walkable, the area directly west of King St where XBB, Hominy Grill, and 2BL are located didn't seem to have electronic walk signs at more than a few signaled intersections (at least those that I I encountered), and the sidewalk was very narrow / uneven / broken up in places.
Hominy Grill: I ate dinner on the patio here. Humid! Short wait, maybe 10 minutes. Groups of two or more were quoted long wait times of 45-60 especially if they wanted to sit inside. Super sweet host and servers. Reservations definitely recommended. Perhaps because of the Penn and Teller show, or just general tourist traffic, on a Thursday. Loved the silky she crab soup, with just the slightest hint of spiciness at the end of the cup. The fragrant and savory shrimp and grits with bacon and mushrooms were wonderful but too large a portion size for me. No room for dessert. Great spot.
The Belmont: Quick nightcap of a Shark Week. Deliciously refreshing, with rum, citrus, dry vermouth, became more tart and dry as the Campari ice cubes melted. Liked the way the menu was set up with icons describing the drinks. Would definitely come back.
Virginia's on King: Solid breakfast here of biscuit, fried country ham, eggs. Convenient to my hotel and conference, decent coffee.
Poogan's Porch: A friend really wanted to go to Husk for lunch this day so we hightailed it down King St from John St only to be quoted an hour long wait. Went next door instead as we were short on time. The special of fried okra with Parmesan and balsamic was awesome. Great combo of flavors. Famous fried chicken salad was solid but not revelatory. Liked the creamy jalapeño dressing. Enormous salad, couldn't finish. Thought my friend's she crab soup was good--thicker and more creamy than Hominy Grill's (not necessarily a good or bad thing, just different). Biscuits here also seems rather sweet; not sure if that's a stylistic thing?
Proof: Fun bar around the corner from the conference. Had a Charleston Buck which was gingery and refreshing. Soup du jour was the Tears of Our Enemies. I didn't try any. :) Happy hour seemed very quiet.
The Ordinary: Phenomenal. Amazing place. Beautiful space in a former bank with lofty ceilings. Sat down at a mainly empty bar around 5:30 on a Friday. The bar slowly filled with more people but wasn't at full capacity while I was there. Had a few wonderful Caper's Blade oysters. Briny, delicate, as big as my hand. I knew I had to order them when the bartender mentioned they'd be out of season soon. Next was their famous banh mi style slider with a fried oyster. Tasty but perhaps over hyped? I thought the sweet Hawaiian roll was a bit much. But oh those hickory smoked oysters with butter & old bay saltines, coriander aioli, and housemade Fresno chili pepper sauce. Damn. That is one fine dish. Would eat here again and again.
The Grocery: After having oysters three different ways, I headed across the street for some non-seafood snacking. The pork skin pad Thai was great. Very interesting concept, thinly sliced strands of pork belly. Chewy and meaty, with peanuts, sprouts, lime, some chili sauce. Rest of the menu looked good as well.
Charleston Farmers Market: Breakfast on a warm sunny day was a crispy chicken biscuit with jalapeños and three year pimento cheese from Outta My Huevos. And lots of iced coffee on a very humid day. Definitely hit the spot. The other options looked great as well.
Leon's Fine Poultry & Oysters: Grabbed a cab here for lunch. Nice char grilled oysters, perhaps a touch heavy on the butter and Parmesan, but that might just be me. Also had the iceberg stack salad with shrimp. (The shrimp in Charleston is just so dang good.) A delicious buttermilk dressing with tons of fragrant fresh dill. Very good if slightly over dressed.
Jeni's: A little ice cream sandwich with salted caramel and toasted almonds was refreshing on a muggy, rainy Saturday.
Gin Joint: After a walk along Waterfront Park, grabbed the last open bar stool here for a Yosemite Sam (a citrusy drink with tequila, lime, grapefruit, Aperol, and red pepper jam). Vegetal, refreshing. The lone bartender holding down the fort on a busy Saturday evening was doing a great job.
Cypress: Made my way over to the bar in the mezzanine at Cypress for a snack. Three spreadable salamis with grilled bread. The spicy, dark nduja was my favorite though I did like the sweet fennel spread and the salsa verde. It was a lot of food for one person, and I was starting to get full... The rest of the bar menu looked amazing, though.
Husk: Finally, Husk. Got a seat on the balcony as the sun was setting. Wonderful, charming setting. I could move in here. I ordered two appetizers, hoping I could squeeze in more food. The crispy pig's ear lettuce wraps were sweet and crunchy and porky, served with kimchee style cucumber. I noshed my way to 3 and 1/2 out of 5, wishing I'd packed a second stomach. Tried some of the pimento cheese with crispy ham on benne crackers. Creamy and savory and delicious but I ended up taking most of it back to the hotel, having seriously misjudged portion sizes.
Sat a while on the balcony marveling at the enchanted setting, and then strolled back up King St, happy but exhausted, and not looking forward to the early morning flight home.
Thanks for a wonderful four days, Charleston!
Great report and thanks. Only to note that you have made it to Jeni's before me. And I live here. The Husk balcony is the place I love the most. It is Charleston. Just happens that the food is also tops. Had the Shishito peppers there last week and have been cooking them at home since.