I had booked a trip to Charleston in 2020 just as the pandemic was in it’s early throes. Needless to say, we had to cancel the trip, but the city stayed on my mind all throughout the winter. Once spring had sprung, and fully vaccinated, two friends and I booked a trip to the charming southern realm and got to experience the town in its absolute glory, an awakening on so many levels. Read on to hear the details of what turned out to be two trips to Charleston 2021. [See more Charleston 2021 Dining Trip 2: May]
April 2021: OMG, it felt like the old days. Even though there were still precautions in place, like social distancing and lots of outdoor venues, the city felt alive. The weather was absolutely sublime, t-shirts during the day, a light jacket at night. To err on the side of caution, instead of a hotel, we booked an AirBnB carriage house, in which we each had a bedroom and bath to ourselves. It was located in the cutting-edge neighborhood on Upper King St, so we were delighted to be only a 2 block walk to all that was happening. I highly recommend doing this, we not only saved money, but were able to share a home. Plus, it was lovely to catch up and hang out in our kitchen/living room with a few bottles of wine after dinner and still feel a bit safe.
Just 2 blocks from our house was the extraordinary, The Ordinary, a seafood restaurant housed in a former bank. Originally opened in 2012 by the team who run FIG, Charleston’s tasting-menu-uber-foodie joint, this place was totally happening. We were dying to eat outside, and had to wait a bit for a table, so had our first course (oysters: Single Ladies) at the oyster bar while we watched the shuckers go at it. One of my favorite bites here, which was highly recommended by our server was the Smoked Oysters (seen in the photo at the top of this post) which were local and served with Old Bay saltines, Fresno hot sauce, and crème fraîche. Now this is the way to exit a pandemic, if I say so! Above, the facade of the restaurant and the oyster bar. Loved the high ceilings.
The Ordinary has a lovely side garden patio, which is where we had our ample Caesar Salad Spring Vegetable Salad, buttermilk blue cheese dressing.
As you enter, there is a long bar. Note, though the bar was open, they still honored the six-foot distancing. Both Bob and Jude ordered the Soft Shell Crab as all aficianados do when it’s available.
Fried Oyster Sliders, with nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce), fresno mayo, served on a fresh baked Hawaiian roll. So fresh and light. It was kind of like a Bánh mì but with fried oysters. Right, nautical decor abounds.
I was so happy to be eating out, especially in such an elevated setting.
The space is rather large and accommodating. Right: Swordfish, risotto and spinach.
Smoked King Mackerel Pâté, radish, benne-buttermilk crackers. Beautiful and a joy to slather on the crunchy crackers.
They offer two desserts, and we tried both. Chocolate Hazelnut Budino, with caramel, bulls bay sea salt. If you love caramel, this is the one for you, it absolutely tipped the scales in flavor. Also wonderful, the Carolina Gold Rice Pudding with fresh strawberries.
The Ordinary, 544 King St (at Cannon St), Charleston
East Bay Deli
We were looking for something open on a Monday, which is tricky in Charleston. Found the East Bay deli and sat outside with a very substantial BLT for a late breakfast/early lunch. Hit the spot. Great assortment of sandwiches in a casual setting.
East Bay Deli, 334 E Bay St in Ansonborough Square, Charleston
The Rooftop at Vendue
Went for a pre-dinner snack and cocktail at The Vendue, which is a first-come, first seated bar and roof space with a view of the Ravenel Bridge and surrounding charming homes. It was nice to be in the shade and there was a sensational light breeze that added to the ambiance. Part of a hotel, and located smack in the middle of the action, it might be a challenge to get into at prime time, we went late afternoon and it was already full—this place is popular.
Fantastic cocktail: Strawberry Basil Lemonade made with Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka, house-made basil strawberry lemonade, with fresh basil leaves. Right, Greek Meze is always a welcome snack for sharing: hummus, pita, cucumber, feta, olives, tomatoes, peppadew peppers, artichokes, ancient grain tabbouleh
The Vendue, Charleston’s Art Hotel, 19 Vendue Range (east of East Bay St near the fountain in Waterfront Park), Charleston
As stated earlier, most restaurants in Charleston are closed on Monday and Tuesday. So though we would have liked to go to The Ordinary for the second night in a row, they were not open. Luckily, right next door is Felix, which embraced total French flair and attitude. It was kind of a sexy, romantic laid back spot which also features long tables for a group or for meeting new people. They did have a nice selection of French wines.
The beet salad with goat cheese. Right, classic French bistro style.
This wine was offered by the glass, and was a total hit with our group. It has a freshness that was surprising and complex. Winemaker tasting notes: Brilliant with pale yellow with green hues. The nose has hints of citrus fruit and white fruity like peach. The palate is fresh and lively attack, notes of grapefruit and lemon. Persistent freshness on the finish. Right, a righteous Caesar salad.
A long table echoes the bar. Later that night, a solo guitarist came in to entertain on the space to the right.
Felix, 550 King St (above Cannon St), Charleston
Babas on Cannon
We felt very fortunate to have this spot so close by. Only a block from The Ordinary, Babas on Cannon was our regular breakfast spot (except on Monday!!). This European-style all-day café focuses on pastries and a limited breakfast/lunch item menu during the day, then switches up to cocktails and apertivos for the evening crowd. Avocado toast on sourdough, with lime, aleppo and flaky salt started the day.
Babas on Cannon stole a little bit of Cannon St, since they did not have any tables inside. and created a lovely sanctuary with pretty striped umbrellas. Right, a latte to remember.
A quaint outdoor spot sat tucked between the buildings was just right. Right, the Very Tall Quiche had deliciously roasted mushrooms plus gruyère, rosemary, and a parsley salad for refreshment. This was my go to.
Inside sleek and minimal. Right, a view of Cannon St facing west.
Babas on Cannon, 11 Cannon St (a block from King St), Charleston
The Sanctuary Hotel
We took a drive to Kiawah island, just to get a glimpse of the Atlantic. In order to be admitted on the island, which is private, you had to have a destination. So we chose here. The hotel is quite grand, traditional and wonderfully laid back. Though the hotel is relatively new, it has a feeling that it’s been there. The resort planted over 400 trees, including huge live oaks to maintain that feeling of old time Southern grandeur. There’s nothing like that view of the ocean, the straight line of blue that puts your mind at rest. We spent some time on the beach and out back facing the ocean before an early dinner by the pool at Jasmine Porch.
Left, the lobby at The Sanctuary. Right, chips and guacamole gave it an extra beachy feel.
Gorgeous shells in the lobby of the hotel. Right: Part two of the dinner, mahi mahi tacos.
The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, 1 Sanctuary Beach Drive, Kiawah Island
Grand Bohemian Wine Bar
While walking up to the Charleston Museum of History, we noticed this nice looking wine bar that opens at 4pm, so we made a pit stop on the way back from the museum. They had a great selection of wines by the glass from around the world, enhanced by the Wine Station system, which allows wine to be drawn without allowing oxygen in. We also ordered some fine charcuterie to go with our sips. The bar is on the street level of the Grand Bohemian hotel, and surrounded by a cool gallery off the lobby.
The bar around 4 pm, we had it to ourselves for a moment. Right, Élevé, is a nice place to grab a drink or dinner. See my dinner in part two of the Charleston report [Charleston 2021 Dining Trip 2: May]
Wine Bar at the Grand Bohemian Hotel, 55 Wentworth St (at Meeting St), Charleston
Tempest is another seafood-centric restaurant sublime, which Charleston seems to have a lot of! Opened in August 2020 by chef partners Jamie Lynch (of “Top Chef” fame) and Adam Hodgson, the menu gives seafood a royal treatment. Seen in photo above, the Umami Tuna “Bombs” were highly recommended and a dynamic way to start the meal. Each “bomb” was paired with a different flavor: truffle, tuna, avocado, all three sensational.
Oysters, of course, and a hot-from-the-oven bread. Right, we sat at the corner of the bar for the first time in over a year. So good to be back.
Ranunculus (one of my favorite flowers) on the bar. The salad was served with blobs of a fresh, soft cheese. Fin Star Green Leaf: stracciatella, cashew, Asian pear.
A view of the downstairs dining room. Right, a great bottle of white from Cotes du Rhone. Tasting Notes: Light straw color. Intense floral aromas with scents of peach and melon followed by herbal and mineral notes. On the palate, this is a complex, crisp, and well-balanced wine with flavors of stone fruit, citrus and pear. A food-friendly wine which perfectly matches grilled lamb, pork, and assorted cheeses.
Not sure, but think this might be the Snapper: Apricot, spring onion, rooftop greens. Right, Swordfish: allium crunch, umami bearnaise, spinach
I am guessing this is the Local Grouper: Nuoc Cham vinaigrette, middleneck clams, fiddlehead fern. Right, roasted cauliflower with romesco, almond, garlic aioli.
Great dessert: Some More: Bailey’s chocolate ganache, cookie butter mousse, toasted marshmallow, graham cracker We will have some more. Right, this is how the check arrived, atop a book in which you could sign and comment in.
Tempest, 32 N Market St (corner of East Bay St), Charleston
Right across the street we eyed a rooftop with a row of umbrellas and attempted to go up, but it was booked. So we stayed in the lobby of the hotel and eventually the security guard alerted us that the roof was open for nightly imbibing. Drinks only, that is, after 9pm.
Upon entering the roof was a pool which changed colors on a rotating basis. We stayed here for one glass of wine, and my friend was now hungry again (for more dessert!) so we made our way back to ground level.
View from the rooftop to below: Tempest, on the right, is located in the former Harriott Pinckney Home for Sailors, it attaches to 5 Church restaurant, once a church. Since I wanted to get some photos of the church, we headed over.
Market Pavilion Hotel, 225 East Bay Street (at Market St), Charleston
This spot beckoned from the second we walked past. At last we had our moment to view the design. And have more sweets! It was on the late side and we were delighted they were still serving drinks and food. The dessert: another twist on S’mores, this one a S’mores Brownie: which consisted of a chocolate brownie, chocolate sauce, house-made toasted marshmallow, and a graham cracker tuile. I am loving the s’mores trend!
I’ll try anything key lime, to me it’s one of the most refreshing way to partake in sweets. Key Lime Semifreddo has lime mousse, a blackberry glaze, whipped cream and candied ginger.Next time I will have to go for dinner, the menu hosts a jumble of creative dishes, and the space is just breathtaking.
5Church, 32b North Market Street (near East Bay St), Charleston
This ends my initial trip to Charleston 2021, in mid April. I loved it so much I went back again in May to get to some of the places I missed. I noticed things more opened up and lively. [See more Charleston 2021 Dining Trip 2: May]