Looking back on our recent trip to Charleston, I’m quickly blown away by the town, the history, the culture, the architecture, the drinks, and that oh-so-delicious food. Charleston is one of those cities that you could see yourself visiting often and staying for a very long time. The town holds a special place in Michael and my hearts, as it was the destination of one of our first trips as a couple, but in the 7 years since then, so much has changed that we found ourselves repeatedly saying “this definitely wasn’t here before” throughout our stay. Obviously the neighborhood South of Broad is still chock full of colorful, grand Charleston single houses (think long row houses with full-length porches to relax on in that hot Southern sun) that will make your jaw drop, and East Bay still has its fair share of tourist-packed storefronts and restaurants, but now areas like Upper King, Elliotborough, and Cannonborough are seeing an explosion in unbelievable eateries, craft bars, stylish shops, and scrumptious bakeries. Charleston has always been a town with plenty of culture, but this new-to-us side of Charleston makes us want to stay awhile.
We were there for four full days of eating, drinking, and exploration, but we feel like we only scratched the surface of what Charleston has to offer. Have a read through some of our favorite parts of Charleston, and please don’t hesitate to let us know if we missed anything that should be added to our list for our next return trip – there will definitely be one.
Simply put, staying at Zero George was an absolute delight. It is the perfect mix of classic Southern charm, style, comfort, and convenience. Our room was perfect for the two of us – just the place we couldn’t wait to return to between meals and meandering expeditions through the city. View pictures & read more about Zero George.
We came to Charleston to eat – no question about it – so we hit the ground running by trekking up to Butcher & Bee for our first meal together. I’d read about the sandwich shop in numerous publications, so there was really no question of whether or not we’d swing by for what promised to be an amazing lunch. Michael devoured his roast beef sandwich, and my carrot salad was pretty scrumptious, but the real show stopper was the bowl of curried brussels sprouts. We ate more than a dozen meals in Charleston that week, but my mind keeps coming back to those perfect brussels.
After seeing that The Rarebit made Thrillist’s list of The Best New Bars in America, I immediately put it on our dauntingly long list of places to try. Thankfully we were able to make it there on our first night. We had quite a few cocktails in Charleston, but those first two – an Aviation and a Corpse Reviver – certainly stand out as some of our favorites. Our meals that followed – the country fried steak and the vegetable rarebit – hit the spot for the casual comfort food we were craving.
We could lie and tell you that we only visited Brown’s Court once during our short stay in Charleston, but then you might not believe just how much we loved it. Even after visiting three (!) other bakeries in the city (go ahead and judge – we kind of deserve it.), we still managed to come back to Brown’s Court three times. Everything – the croissants, the sticky buns, the cinnamon rolls, the charming building, and the friendly staff – made Brown’s Court the perfect bakery experience.
I dare you to walk by Mac & Murphy and not stop in. It’s that adorable. Michael and I are suckers for a creative selection of paper products, and Mac & Murphy and its friendly staff does not disappoint.
While preparing for our trip, this men’s shop popped up on our radar from their mention in Kinfolk and we couldn’t wait to see their collection in person. Of course upon walking inside, I immediately wished they had an equally well put together shop for women, but I happily settled on shopping for Michael. The store showcases some of our favorite brands – General Knot, Makr, Jack Rudy, Raleigh Denim… the list goes on – and does it all in a visually beautiful setting. Michael picked up a sweatshirt from Saturdays Surf that I’ve contemplated borrowing for myself, and after a helpful conversation with the owner Brett, we headed out to try some of the suggestions on our quickly growing list.
If you’re a fan of sweet confectionery bakeries like Michael, Sugar Bakeshop should catch your eye (if the large blueberry cupcake painted on the building doesn’t). After a number of people recommended it, we stopped in to try their deliciously sweet lemon curd cupcakes and ginger molasses cookies. A new friend from our trip pointed out that their mini cupcakes make the perfect pick-and-chose party treat, and if you’re having a hard time making a selection, do as we did and ask the extremely helpful bakers behind the counter.
The few blocks encompassed by Cannon, King, Spring, and Rutledge are home to a number of very cool shops, bakeries, and restaurants that are somewhat off the beaten path. We spent a chunk of our first full morning in the area, and found ourselves returning for one thing or another each day. One of those very delicious ‘things’ was Xiao Bao Biscuit, where we met one of Michael’s coworkers for lunch one afternoon. The casual ‘Asian soul food’ restaurant struck us with its bold style and amazing dishes. My paratha and Michael’s bo bo ji were creative, flavorful, and fresh, and the cocktails we washed our meal down with left us with smiles on our faces as we walked the streets back down to our hotel.
Food Is Good. The restaurant says it in the name, and sticks to it with their cooking. While Charleston has no shortage of great restaurants, FIG was the one that seemed to always be first on the mind of every Charlestonian we spoke to. Their reputation was well-earned, as our meal here – a gracious gift from some close friends in Maine – was easily one of the best we had on our trip. Our friendly waitress pointed us in the right direction with every course selection, and between the drinks, handmade gnocchi (aptly described as pillows of heaven), and fresh local seafood, we left that evening in a flavorful stupor of smiles.
While Michael was in Charleston for work the week prior to our trip, he went to The Gin Joint with coworkers to fulfill their search for a proper southern mint julep. Michael enjoyed his drink (the Beauregard) that evening so much, that he was insistent that we return once I arrived. We enjoyed an evening of tasty drinks with family in the comfortable space on East Bay Street, and if you were wondering, Michael reports that their Julep is done right – bourbon, fresh mint, and plenty of crushed ice in a silver julep cup.
It was a great sign when we told the barista at Black Tap that we were from Maine, and he immediately asked us if we were familiar with Tandem Coffee Roasters. Unbeknownst to him, we had left our hotel that morning in search of the “Tandem of Charleston,” and we’re pretty sure we found the closest thing to them in Black Tap. The space was beautiful and lively, and although they don’t roast their own, the coffee was delicious. If we were lucky enough to live in Charleston, this spot would be in our regular rotation.
Our time at the Old Road Mercantile and its sister shop, Lily, couldn’t have been more pleasant. We spoke with the shop owner, Kevin, for quite awhile and probably could have kept the conversation up for another hour. (Charleston business owners might just be the friendliest of any city we’ve ever visited!) The shop’s tagline – The World’s Smallest Department Store – is an apt description of this awesome collection of goods. We both gravitated towards their selection of cocktail mixers (from Charleston’s own Bittermilk), and more than a few of the home goods caught my eye.
We passed goat.sheep.cow during one of our many walks south of Broad Street and admittedly decided to stop in simply because of their branding. It didn’t take us long to strike up a conversation with the sweet shop owners about cheese – something we love dearly, yet know little about. After we’d sampled a few of their favorite selections and heard about their go-to restaurants in town, we left with great big smiles on our faces and a package of the best comté we’ve ever had.
Husk is a restaurant that Michael and I have wanted to visit for years – ever since they started making headlines in just about every national publication for their creative new American take on classic Southern cuisine and their ultra-local menu (essentially nothing on the menu is from further than 2 states away). Michael was lucky enough to get to visit Husk twice during his stay in Charleston, once for dinner with coworkers and once for lunch with me (dinner reservations were hard to come by and our list of restaurants was far from short). While he had plenty of good things to say about his slow cooked heritage pork dinner, we couldn’t have been happier with our lunch. My wonderfully savory and creamy shrimp and grits made for one of my favorite dishes from the week.
A Charleston-based photographer whose work I’ve followed for years, Olivia Rae James, listed The Belmont as one of her favorite spots for a good drink in town, and after passing the Carolina blue building more than dozen times during our walks up and down King Street, we knew we had to give it a shot. We stopped in for drinks before dinner one evening, and weren’t disappointed in our choice. The bar has an unbelievably cool vibe, and the bartender masterfully whipped-up two drinks for our pre-meal pleasure.
Stepping into The Ordinary is an almost surreal experience. The oyster hall on upper King St. has plenty of classic charm and many leftover details from its history as a bank (including the vault from which the raw bar is now served). With its spacious interior and timeless style, it’s no wonder that The Ordinary seems to be the place to eat in Charleston right now. Run by the same people as FIG, another Charleston icon, the food is not something to overlook. We loved our cocktails, oysters, shrimp hushpuppies, blue crab toast, and Wednesday evening lobster roll meal (eaten by the non-Mainer of course), and every few minutes, my eyes stumbled on some other unique detail to photograph. In a town full of tasty, stylish, and well-branded restaurants, The Ordinary has to be near the top of the list.
There were plenty of reasons for us to be excited about lunch at Two Boroughs, but after discovering that the owners incorporate their corgi, Walter, into their branding, we knew that this was the right restaurant for us. Michael’s Bowl-O-Noodle, served with pork conﬁt, a soft egg, and pork broth, sent him into a pleasant food coma, and thanks to a tasty kale salad with egg & boquerones, I discovered that I did, in fact, have an affinity for anchovies after all. Not only does Two Boroughs serve up deliciously flavorful food, they also feature a wall of carefully selected tableware, specialty food items, craft beers, and good wine available for purchase. And while you’re there, see if you can possibly resist picking up some of that adorable Walter paraphernalia – I know we couldn’t.
Believe it or not, by our fourth night in Charleston, we couldn’t bring ourselves to get excited about another filling, delicious meal. We had five or so restaurants we were considering for this final night of our trip, but after a sunset walk along the Battery we decided to grab a couple of tasty sandwiches from Ted’s and shared a picnic on the porch of our hotel. Made even more scrumptious by the rest of our cheese from goat.sheep.cow, this low-key dinner was the perfect ending to a food-filled few days, and one I honestly wouldn’t do over if I had the chance.
I ordered Michael a few bars of chocolate from the Charleston-based Sweeteeth for Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago. Picking up a few bars of chocolate on our trip was as high on my list of things to do as sampling the shrimp & grits at Husk. We ended up grabbing more than a few bars at Ted’s and have been nibbling on them since our return last week.
Meredith and I visited a bunch of restaurants during our stay in Charleston that would typically fall under the classification of “new American, Southern-inspired” – not the vegetable plates and fried chicken that your grandparents served up in the South, but rather new takes on older dishes and flavors. Don’t get me wrong, they’re delicious, but every now and then I just want a plate of fried chicken or catfish, shrimp and grits, and some collard greens with fatback. When that urge strikes, I’d highly recommend Hominy Grill, where tradition is strong, the food is delicious, and the biscuits come with honey :).
Of course we weren’t able to make it to every place on our list in the four short days we were in Charleston. Had Drayton Hall been open, we probably would have rented a car to visit the 18th century plantation, and while we were at it, we surely would have driven out to Sullivan’s Island for a walk on the beach. We were sad to miss out on the experience of drinking a glass of wine at Bin 152 or sharing a meal at The Grocery – both recommended to us by many of the friendly shop owners we met. Next time we’ll also be sure to grab some breakfast at Martha Lou’s and enjoy an Italian dinner at either Trattoria Lucca or Indaco. Can you think of anything else we might have missed?
Photos taken by Meredith Perdue for Map & Menu.