the (weeklong) charleston foodie

Isle of Palms 2010 286Yes, it’s always good to come. But coming home after being on vacation for a week is hard.

We spent our summer vacation on Isle of Palms, about 15 miles outside Charleston. Last year, we went to Kiawah which is just a bit further from Charleston and absolutely fell in love with the city. So this year we decided to be a bit closer since our plan was to spend more time in Charleston. If you’re looking for a good vacation spot, I highly recommend either. At Kiawah, we stayed at The Sanctuary and inside Wild Dunes resort at Isle of Palms.

Charleston is an absolutely charming city to explore. From its rich history to the architecture, shopping, waterfront and of course, food. We still didn’t see as much as we’d like since our days were spent at the pool and beach. But we did walk around the parks, Rainbow Row, King Street and random bits and pieces before and after dinner. What a super friendly, clean and simply charming city. We loved everything about it – except everything seems to close ridiculously early.

Obviously it was a family vacation so Natalie, now 20 months and can’t quite grasp the concept of sitting still, was withNatalie us. And while it’s not as easy to dine out with her as it was when she was quiet and snug in her carrier, we still choose to go out and expose her to the places we like. And for the most part, she’s quite the trooper. We go early, still ask for the check when the food is dropped, bring plenty of props to entertain her and she must, at all times, face people (and if possible, the kitchen). She likes to chat with everyone and thinks it’s a big party for her. Yes, we have to eat a bit faster than we prefer but in the end, it’s worth it. Her current phase is to “cheer” you as soon as she has a drink. So a few nights, we spent most of the meal saying “cheers” and clinking our glasses (along with fellow patrons she reached out to) but it entertains her – and us – and makes for a great family night out eating local. Another aspect we so enjoyed about this city was just how family-friendly it is. Kids are welcome in all the restaurants. We were not the only family out with toddler(s) in town we saw kids each night and the patrons and staff were all welcoming, we even went to a 24 Hour Diner and had no problem at all.

Isle of Palms 2010 026Our favorite meals hands-down was at Fig. This restaurant could open here tomorrow and be crowded every night. It actually reminded me of one of our places. Great atmosphere, music, service, heavy commitment to local and sustainable food and of course, the amazing eats. I had the fish stew en cocotte with Carolina golden rice and Jamie had the local chicken schnitzel with faro piccolo, heirloom tomatoes, field peas and basil pesto. For Natalie, the sheep’s milk ricotta and mint gnocchi appetizer with lamb Bolognese and a side of roasted beets with sherry vinegar and sea salt for the table.

Isle of Palms 2010 022I don’t think I can describe for you how good this meal was. I can’t recall a time when I haven’t offered Jamie a bite of my meal (I love sharing my dish). But not this time – I wanted every last morsel. The white wine base of the stew was pure heaven. I was close to pouring some in Natalie’s sippy cup to enjoy later. And thankfully, Natalie wasn’t very hungry and I ended up eating her dish, too. Wow. This was one of the best plates of food I’ve ever had. Sorry Natalie, you missed out. Even the beets, so simply prepared and yet quite memorable. Our only regret was that we didn’t eat there once more during the week.

Next up for memorable eats was a trip back to the perfect patio at Hominy Grill. This time we went during the week.Isle of Palms 2010 087 Smart move considering every local and fellow tourist flocks there on the weekends leading to long wait times. Last year, I had (and loved) the shrimp and grits. This time I tried the huevos rancheros. Again, no bites offered to Jamie! I’d love for someone to replicate this dish here. Poached eggs atop a bed of black beans, rice, salsa and an extra crunchy tortilla. Whatever they do to make this dish is well worth the wait people usually face. I simply can’t wait to go back for more. It was hands-down the best plate of breakfast food I’ve ever had. Ever.

McCrady’s is another place I’d gladly revisit on our next visit. I wasn’t overly hungry, so I made a meal out of a few apps, including the sweet corn soup topped with shrimp spaetzle, heirloom tomato and bread salad and poached and chilled scallops with yuzu yogurt, melon and uni. These starters were good, really good. But I look forward to going back and taking advantage of what they can really do with a meal.

Isle of Palms 2010 242We also checked out 82 Queen (grouper with pesto), lunch at Fleet Landing (king mackerel and one seriously good bloody Mary) and Il Cortile Del Re (pappardelle with wild boar). Each of these places was good, not great (though Jamie was quite happy with his dish at 82 Queen and we both thoroughly enjoyed the patio and nonstop jazz and blues in the background). While I felt the food was just ok (I had to keep adding salt to my pasta and I don’t think I have ever used table salt on a dish out), I really liked this place. The atmosphere was great, something I’d like to see in Little Italy. Very laid back, charming and made me want to order a few bottles of wine and just sit back and enjoy the night (and if we were sans toddler, that’s just what we would have done). Gourmet wrote about this place a few years ago, which prompted this visit. Either a lot has changed in a few years or it was just an off night.

Closer to where we were staying, we visited Poe’s Tavern (an Edgar Allen Poe-themed restaurant – he served at nearby Fort Moultrie) and High Thyme, both on the uber laid back and super tiny Sullivan’s Island, about five minutes from where we were staying.

I had the fish tacos at Poe’s and a burger for Jamie. Nothing great, but this place still was. I was a big Poe fan in high school and enjoyed the overall theme, plus sitting outside and chatting with all the locals. It was the quintessential vacation night and I’d recommend it just for the fantastic atmosphere.

Across the street is High Thyme. What a great find this place turned out to be – a true hidden gem that we almost didn’tIsle of Palms 2010 431 go to. Again, wonderful atmosphere inside and out and we were taken back by just how good the food was. At first, I was hesitant to go because I really wanted to check out either La Forchette or Al di La in Charleston but due to a long day at the pool and late nap schedule, we opted to stay close. After the first bite of my grilled scallops with cous cous, prosciutto, melon salsa and citrus yogurt appetizer, my tune quickly changed. For dinner, I had the yellowfin tuna with black rice, julienne squash and zucchini and ginger mustard vinaigrette. Jamie had the pork over smoked gouda grits. I am so thankful I don’t live in the south because I am not strong enough to resist those smoked gouda grits and there was nothing healthy about that dish, which is why it was so sinfully good.

And that’s how we spent our summer vacation. But it’s not over yet – we still have a week off where we’ll be lazy some days and tourists in our own city on others. Two weeks of uninterrupted family time with my two favorite people. Life is good.


  1. Posted September 7, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    It sounds like you had a wonderful vacation. I hope you enjoy your stay-cation week as much as your week in SC. Isabel, our 16 month old, loves to cheers too! Too cute.

  2. Posted September 7, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I adore Charleston. I’ve had the huevos rancheros at Hominy and now I can’t stop thinking about the dish! Poe’s is such a fun place to hang out, too.

  3. Posted September 7, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    it’s on my places to visit for sure.

  4. Dennis
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Watch out for the tarballs and corexit flowing up the East coast from the Gulf.

  5. Jen
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like a great trip! Love the picture of you and your daughter on the beach! We went to Kiawah many years ago and this seems like the perfect encouragement to head down that way again soon:)