We've begun an annual tradition of meeting our dear friend Kristi in her home state of South Carolina each summer to spend a few days exploring Charleston and taking in their food and shopping culture. Jim and I have been going to Charleston on and off for over a decade and each time we are there we find more interesting things happening in this quintessentially charming historic city.
The scale makes the city perfect for walking and exploring, Charleston is just big enough to have a lot to offer - but still remains small enough to radiate a quaint coolness.Our go to hotel is The Zero George (pictured left). Tucked just a few blocks off the main drag of King Street, the hotel is comprised of several historic buildings - two of which were relocated - all centered on a quiet tree-lined courtyard. The rooms are traditional, comfortable and contain all the modern amenities you look for during a weekend away. The rate includes a continental breakfast (think fresh baked biscuits and gourmet quiche not frozen waffles and cereal dispensers) which is just perfect when enjoyed with a cappuccino on one of the lovely outdoor spaces scattered throughout the property. It also includes nightly wine reception with gourmet cheese board hosted in the property's tiny bar. If you want to stay in the Zero George has a well rated restaurant that delivers delicious complex food made out of a closet sized open kitchen in the hotel lobby. Service throughout is top notch and friendly. Seriously this place is heaven.
During our last two trips we've dined at Husk - an early incarnation of the gourmet farm-to-table southern heritage food trend. Housed in a historic house it is very charming and always packed (reservations made well in advance are a must). After our last dinner there we felt they had kind of jumped the shark - but the award winning burger is truly top notch. So I would go back for lunch. Another spot F.I.G. has become a true institution in the city. They were doing farm to table long before it was a thing. Jim and I had a wonderful meal there on our first visit to the area in 2004 and it still remains on every "top list" for the city, and many national ones as well. And for good reason - they keep adapting and evolving to stay on their game.
This trip our two stand out meals were lunches at two places that also seem to be on everyone's list of go-to spots. One was Leon's Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop located in the very Brooklynesque area of Upper Upper King Street. Housed in a former auto repair shop it has a very cool and open vibe. The food has a Southern focus. The fried chicken sandwich was so good - crispy and a bit spicy - on a soft roll with house-made bread and butter pickles. The Salads were fresh and creative and Leon's makes their own ranch dressing (which is heaven). The hush puppies were light and crisp and oysters casino were melty with the oysters not overly cooked. The drink menu has the expected craft cocktail slant - but they also serve Frozen Rose Slushies. #hello #lunchperfection. We had a similarly terrific lunch on our way out of town at Butcher & Bee.This place has relocated from a tiny location on King Street to a large modern space on the outside edge of Downtown. The food is Mediterranean with a Southern Influence. It was hard to get my head around that concept until after I had experienced it. The Menu has a whole section of Mezze (Small Plates). The standout here for us was Whipped Feta with fermented honey and cracked pepper. It was so smooth and delicious with all the right contrasts in flavor and texture. They also had a wonderful chilled pea and avocado soup and a wide assortment of grilled a pickled fresh vegetables. The Pita are super fresh and toasted atop the burners on the gas range (you witness this happening in the open kitchen). The Lamb Pita with spiced yogurt was simply delicious - it sounds boring - but the sandwich was executed so well. And the house Roasted Beef sandwich with smoked onion jam and miso mayo was also a standout. Again all the flavors and textures worked so well together.
During this last stay we also discovered a terrific new place - The Dewberry Hotel.They have been getting a lot of press because their concept is so unique. The developer converted a 1960s era government mid-rise building into a Luxury Hotel. The vibe is very Mad Men Mid-century - which is a noted departure from all of the classic architecture and style you find almost everywhere else in town. We didn't stay there - but a friend who has reports that the rooms albeit modern are very comfortable with may small touches that make them very appealing. They are what we at SPACE 519 like to call "happy modern" vs. the expected cool starkness. Before our dinners each night we sampled both of the bars located on the first floor. The first was housed in Henrietta's the hotel's french Brasserie. The second we checked out was the lobby bar. Both were a lot of fun and provided top notch cocktails and service. Henrietta's for sure had a more old school vibe with the black and white checkered floor and Parisian cafe feel. The lobby bar is a super glamorous brass semi circle nestled amount the notable collection of new and old Mid-century furnishings in the lobby. The hotel does a great job of paying homage to it's 1960s heritage but it also feels very warm and today. It is for sure a must see on any trip.
The city is filled with several different areas for shopping. The majority of the city's stores are housed along King Street - the central boulevard bisecting the city. The middle area of King holds lots of local stores as well as huge national players like J Crew, Louis Vuitton and GUCCI. On Lower King you will find more locally based businesses including some great antique and home stores. There are also some really cool men's stores in this area. Way atop King Street is the more emerging area. It is where you will find Leon's. The whole area for sure has a very Brooklyn/Logan Square/Silver Lake feel throughout with lots of young families remodeling old houses and a focus on independent locally owned business. The majority of the shopping in this area is West of King on and around Cannon Street. This area is officially called Cannonborough Elliotborough - it is largely residential with shops scattered throughout. Another cool assortment of shops is located East of King in Cigar Factory. The majority of the shopping here is within Fritz Porter (pictured) a huge loft space that houses dozens of independent design themed booths/showareas curated by local merchants and designers. There was so much to look at here - with a lot of finds at many different price levels. This is for sure a must stop for anyone interested in interiors. All in all the main fun about the city is the ability to walk and explore - every area listed here is walk-able from one to another.
That concludes my report for now. But one of the great things about visiting Charleston is that there is so much to explore that you are always left wanting to check out a few new things next time around. The places left on my "to-do list" include Hall's Chop House, 167 Raw and Xiao Bao Biscuit. So go and explore and be sure to report back next time you're in the store.
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