By Mike Lintal
Hunting? Exploration? Investigation? Give me a food safari anyway.
As with any big trip, it’s best to start at the beginning. A few years back I chose to start pursuing excellence in food, and that choice, paired with my ability to always find #TheHeater when it comes to menus, restaurants or tasty treats, created my passion for sourcing.
I’m the person who always asks when he hits a new place:
- Where’s the best butcher in town?
- Who has the tastiest pho?
- What time do I need to be in line to be guaranteed some Doughnut Vault?
And in case you needed credentials, Day 3 … just sayin’.
This all started in the place that also happens to be my favorite food-safari destination and the place where I grew up: Charleston, S.C.
After moving to Charleston in the late ‘90s, I learned quickly that my love of food had found a home. The Lowcountry’s blend of quality ingredients, superb produce and meats combined with a hospitable nature make it great for novice diners and seasoned gourmands.
With that said, here are some of the trophies I landed in my most recent trip to the Holy City.
The Ordinary/Husk/Cypress: These restaurants are in a class of their own. Relatively new compared to Charleston staples like High Cotton, Slightly North of Broad and Poogan’s Porch, all are led by wildly talented culinary minds whose commitment and vision are unparalleled. You’ll need OpenTable if you have any hopes of entering these temples of gastronomy, but it’ll be well worth it. When it comes to the best in Charleston seafood, it’s The Ordinary, and I’ve spent enough time discussing what and why you should eat there. Cypress is all about artisanal cured meats. Chef Craig Diehl is a mashup of a charcuterie Jedi and a salami Ninja. As for Husk, you will not find a chef more committed to the idea of local and heritage than Sean Brock. Husk’s appetizer of house-made hot sauce, local honey and chicken skins (left) makes me proud to be an omnivore. A meal at any of these three will leave you 18 inches from the table and smiling.
Two Boroughs Larder: This is the culinary equivalent of seeing Bigfoot riding a unicorn; it shouldn’t be possible, but there it is. Incredible attention to detail in dishes that most times feature a few expertly sourced ingredients allowed to stand for what they are: that’s TBL. On my first visit, I had local carrots simply roasted with some spice and a cool yogurt sauce to balance the flavors (pictured at right). One bite and I was dumbfounded by the symphony of simplicity playing throughout the dish. The menu changes frequently, but the veteran moves are Tuesday Noodle Night and Wednesday Burger Night.
Xiao Bao Biscuit: Go here if you’re adventurous and appreciate a good scene. Fusion done right can be a thing of beauty. Asian comfort food with a southern tinge never disappoints, and the cocktails, like the Hanoi 75, are the perfect cooler for some of the spicy delights. Enter hungry and eat with an adventurous spirit, and XBB will reward you.
Pearlz Happy Hour: Best happy hour on the peninsula, but rest assured you are not the first one to hear this information. At 4 p.m., locals and tourists descend upon Pearlz for oysters and beer, a real Lowcountry tradition.
Gin Joint: They have a system here: Choose three words off a list and the bartender will make you a custom cocktail guaranteed to be delicious. That system is two-for-two in my book. Pair it with an encyclopedic collection of spirits and you won’t find a more committed cocktail establishment in town.
Edmund’s Oast/: These two belong together for their shared ownership and shared vision of craft-beer excellence. CBX came first, and for many years was the source of delicious craft beer in the Lowcountry. CBX turned that success into the Oast, a cavernous temple dedicated to the brewed arts (left), with 48 taps and beautifully sourced food. Its nose-to-tail charcuterie program is the perfect compliment to the awe-inspiring beer list, with heaters from near and far. Be warned: These guys know beer, so think twice before trying to B.S. (Beer Snob) them.
Kudu/Black Tap: Your precise location on the peninsula will dictate which coffee spot works for you, but consider nothing else when it comes to that morning (or anytime) cup of java. Kudu gets the slight advantage because it also sells food and draft beer, but you can’t go wrong with either.
Lost Dog/Rita’s Seaside Grille: Both of these breakfast/brunch spots take you out to Folly Beach, and for good reason. You certainly can find breakfast elsewhere if you don’t want to make the trip, but sneaking out to Folly for a quick bite before spending the day on the water is a time-honored tradition. Lost Dog Café is more laid-back and family-friendly, while Rita’s Seaside Grille is the perfect place for a few breakfast cocktails with your eggs. Go with the daily specials; the last time I did, I was rewarded with in-season softshell crab and asparagus in a benedict situation.
Freehouse/Westbrook/Frothy Beard/Holy City/Coast: One of my favorite ways to pass the time between meals on a food safari is visiting places that celebrate craft beer. I touched on a few of those earlier, but if you want to go straight to the source, check out these exciting, up-and-coming Lowcountry breweries. All are tagged on the Food Safari: Charleston map, and any would make a great afternoon tasting adventure. Check their websites for tasting-room and tour info, but if it’s a nice day head straight to Freehouse and enjoy its facility on the river.
Finally, if you know anything about Charleston, you know I left off some places. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments or just simply make suggestions on Twitter to @BHTP with #FoodSafari.
Mike Lintal is an avid beer hunter, seeker of tasty treats and Event Coordinator at The Chopping Block in Chicago.