Navigating Charleston’s Current Dining Scene: The Essentials
By Stephanie Burt
If you haven’t been to Charleston, S.C. in a while, I hope you’re hungry. The Charleston restaurant scene is getting bigger every day, and the openings don’t seem to show any signs of stopping.
As a local, it’s hard for even me to keep up. The choices can be dizzying, and if you are visiting, you don’t have endless lunches and dinners to make dining decisions. So we are going to break it down into some essentials eats. There’s never one correct answer to “What’s the best new restaurant in town?” It’s all about what your mood dictates, and the choices extend well beyond East Bay Street and the Market.
The biggest news of the summer in a season filled with openings was the brief closing and revamping of McCrady’s. Chef Sean Brock and his team said goodbye to the Charleston restaurant, then closed it to divide it into two: a McCrady’s tasting room (not yet open) and McCrady’s Tavern. The menu and new concepts were closely under wraps, but the intense anticipation paid off for diners. Brock has triumphantly recalibrated his direction again, and at McCrady’s Tavern you will see modern interpretations of Gilded Age dishes, such as Oeufs en Gelée with Trout Roe and Lettuces and Grilled Pork Porterhouse, Melted Onions, Herb Salad and Sauce Robert. But this is a decidedly modern approach, making it not a lesson in history, but reinvention. And although I’d still put it in the fine dining category, it does have a more relaxed feel than before. And yes, there’s a tavern burger on the menu.
A few years ago, you would not have been able to find good barbecue on the peninsula, but we are in the middle of a golden age now. The Washington Post recently featured some of Charleston’s barbecue restaurants (make sure and check out that whole list) but if you really want to eat at the hottest smoke joint in town, you have to go to Texas.
Really. Texas Celebrity Pitmaster John Lewis has relocated to the Holy City. Lewis Barbecue is smoking hot on the restaurant scene, and it’s in the middle of a blossoming development called Half-Mile North where you could easily spend an evening hopping bar stools for bites and beverages. At Lewis, it’s hard to decide between hot guts sausage, smoked turkey, and smoked beef brisket, so you can get all three if you want. Purposefully casual with paper-covered trays and picnic tables, this is nevertheless one of the most fashionable afternoon or evenings out you can have.
John Lewis of Lewis Barbeque Tries NYC Brisket
Burgers, Bolognese, and Beer
But of course, that’s just the beginning. There are still plenty of places serving high quality Lowcountry dishes, fresh and local seafood, and casual dining spots featuring local produce, but sometimes you might just crave a burger. If that’s the case, dip into Little Jack Tavern’s for the Tavern Burger and Lunch Martini, which just might be one of the most perfect combos in the city right now.
Pasta choices have expanded as well, from the classic Trattoria Lucca and Lana Restaurant, to the recently opened Le Farfalle. And the exploding craft beer scene in the region is worth exploration as well. Revelry Brewing has a newly opened rooftop patio and Lagunitas Brewing has opened on East Bay Street, but there are more than 12 other breweries in the area to visit, many who have solid snacks alongside the suds.
Stephanie Burt is the host of the weekly podcast The Southern Fork, available on iTunes and through her website. She is based in Charleston and writes as well for numerous publications, from Paste to Food Republic to The Post and Courier.
Photos provided courtesy of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.