There is no such thing as a bad restaurant in Charleston. This is a phrase I have heard on multiple occasions from friends and strangers. I closed out 2014 and welcomed 2015 in Charleston, one of my top five favorite foodie cities in the US. The four days and three nights I spent in the charming city felt like a food festival… and I’m not complaining. My days were methodically planned around my meals, while in between, I took beautiful morning walks on the beach, shopped downtown Charleston, admired the city’s historic architecture and visited festivals on both Marion square and James Island County Park. Although Charleston is so much more than food, I will focus on my experience and thoughts about the restaurant venues I visited on my trip. This includes Martha Lou’s Kitchen, Slightly North of Broad (SNOB), Toast, The Glass Onion and Magnolia’s.
My food adventures began on a Monday afternoon with Martha Lou’s Kitchen, after a four hour drive from Morrisville, North Carolina. Martha Lou’s Kitchen is a quirky pink building covered with a mural of colorful drawings, including large fish and Martha Lou. When you walk in the restaurant, expect little seating and a full house. Although Martha Lou’s appears to be a humble venue, this Charleston institution attracts locals and travelers as far as Sydney and Japan and has been praised by the New York Times, The Travel Channel and Martha Stewart! The restaurant is opened from 11 am to 5 pm. In error, we arrived at 3 pm, so here is a tip – get there early or expect that several items will be sold out. Again, let me stress, Martha Lou’s provides fresh food and it sells fast, so get there early. Here are three reasons why you should experience Martha Lou’s Kitchen: 1) The fried chicken. You owe it to yourself to try it. 2) The warm service. Martha Lou was very gracious and took a selfie with me! It felt as though I was visiting my sweet grandma for lunch. She made sure to give me a hug before I left and thanked me for visiting her. 3) The sides. You can’t go wrong with any of the sides listed on the menu. Try the collard greens and the bread pudding, if available. The bread pudding, a side not dessert, will surprise you. I describe it as a marriage between cornbread and fruit cake. After having lunch at Martha Lou’s Kitchen, I knew it was going to be a tough act to follow.
Monday night’s dinner was reserved for SNOB, officially known as Slightly North of Broad. Here is what you should know: make a reservation. You will find that this tip will be helpful at all restaurants in Charleston. SNOB serves products sourced from local farmers and they are proud of it. You can find a list of these farmers on their website and at the hostess desk. If you have the opportunity to dine at SNOB, try the grilled pork chop with sorghum & whole grain mustard glaze. It’s served with crispy confit potatoes and cabbage. The meal was hearty and the pork chop was cooked to perfection. I was two for two, an excellent day.
Toast was my first and only breakfast meal in Charleston… on a Tuesday at 2 pm. I ordered the Eggs Meeting Street, which was a fried green tomato topped with a pan seared crab cake, soft poached egg and low country remoulade sauce. The accompaniments were a biscuit and creamy grits. Here is why I must come back to Toast. My dish was delicious and the biscuit was a meal on its own. However, there is a Deluxe French Toast on the menu that comes recommended by the New York Times, which I have added to my food bucket list. This French toast is a thick-cut currant bread stuffed with cinnamon apples or peaches and topped with apple or peach cider syrup. Currant bread? Wow. I will warn you, there was a long wait and some of their top selling items, including the She Crab Soup, were already sold out. Next time, I plan to go to breakfast earlier.
After Toast, I strolled the streets of downtown Charleston and yes, did a little shopping. I came across Tee’s by Tina’s and bought a sexy fur poncho and one of their signature crinkle black dresses. I can’t wait to wear both! I also stopped by Victoria’s Secret to buy some red undergarments – these are a must have in my culture on New Year’s Eve…for good luck, of course. Once my shopping was done, I had to go back to the hotel for a little rest and relaxation.
Once Tuesday dinner time rolled around, it was time to visit The Glass Onion. Here is what you should know: the fried chicken is only served on Tuesdays and to guarantee your fried chicken, you should call ahead and make a reservation 24 hours in advance. Make sure to specify if you want dark or white meat. I also recommend you get an early reservation. My party and I arrived at 8 pm and several side dishes were already sold out. The staff, however, was incredibly gracious and accommodating and did their best to make it up to our table. The Glass Onion’s World Famous Bread Pudding with Whiskey Cream Sauce is another reason you must visit this venue. I added a scoop of their locally made vanilla ice cream to the bread pudding and it was super delicious-divine. I am crossing my fingers that this recipe is available in their recipe book. I have to give kudos again to the staff at Glass Onion for their outstanding customer service. I appreciate when restaurants go above and beyond to create a memorable dining experience.
Bread Pudding with Whiskey Cream Sauce and vanilla ice cream
My last foodie experience was on New Year’s Eve at Magnolia’s. This was the perfect place for my Wednesday lunch. The venue was beautiful, the customer service was excellent and my food experience was delicious from start to finish. As a starter, I had the house made Pimiento Cheese and Charleston Flatbread as well as the Fried Green Tomatoes with white cheddar, caramelized onion grits, country ham and tomato chutney. These fried green tomatoes are a leading contender as a top favorite fried green tomato during my entire trip – so definitely try it, if you can. For my entrée, I ordered the Shellfish over Grits. This included sautéed shrimp, sea scallops and lobster, all smothered in creamy white grits, lobster butter sauce and fried spinach. Although it sounds indulgent, it was light, balanced and perfectly portioned. This worked out well for me because I was able to order dessert. I sealed my experience with Magnolia’s Southern Pecan Pie drizzled in bourbon caramel sauce and served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. In my opinion, you must have pecan pie with a scoop of ice cream. Although I love pecan pie, I sometimes shy away from ordering it at restaurants because my favorite is made by the North Carolina’s Sweetwater Pecan Orchard. I don’t regret ordering Magnolia’s pie though, because it has become my favorite in South Carolina. Now I know where to go for a pecan pie craving. The gooey sugar filling was thick, decadent and had a beautiful texture. If I was alone, I would have ordered a second slice…with ice cream of course.
I closed my food adventures with a bang; however, this did not mean the fun had ended. I still had a full night of festivities ahead of me, starting with a celebration on Marion Square in downtown Charleston. There was music, a petting zoo, fireworks, hot cocoa and other snacks to get you in the New Year’s Eve mood.
After that, we ventured off to the Holiday Festival of Lights at James Island County Park which featured an impressive driving tour of 700 displays and 2 million lights. We actually drove around the display three times to absorb and admire all the intricate details of the various light displays. After the driving tour, we parked in the designated areas at James Island County Park and ventured off to some more fun. There were two large bonfires where visitors could roast marshmallows. If you fancy shopping, there were a couple of Christmas shops that had gingerbread houses on display and plenty of Christmas items and souvenirs for purchase. Giant greeting cards created by local students were also on display at the park. If you seek adventure, there was something for you, too. A rock climbing wall was available for all and for the less adventurous, there was a beautiful Victorian carousel offering free rides.
If you ever visit Charleston during the holidays, you must visit the Holiday Festival of Lights. This festival was a memorable ending to a wonderful whirlwind of food, shopping and fun. I can be superstitious and I believe it’s important to be in a good and happy place while ending and starting the New Year. I have to say, this is one of my most memorable years and I am grateful I was able to spend it in Charleston with the one I love. 2014 was full of peace, friendship, love and food and I hope for the same blessings in 2015. Here’s to a great year!