You know the saying “Focus on the journey, not the destination.” Well, for us, it’s about both. Each year when we begin our 1455 mile drive up to the lighthouse in Maine, we try to pick a few strategic stops along the way. It’s my sneaky way of getting a few extra mini-vacations on our way to what is a dream vacation destination for most. This year, our first stop was a return trip to Charleston, South Carolina.
We both love charming, history-rich towns like St. Augustine, Savannah, Boston, and, of course, Charleston. We try to visit and revisit them as often as possible. We first stayed in Charleston on our way home from the lighthouse last fall. Not only do we get to enjoy exploring an amazing town, we also get to visit with former (and future) Cuckolds guests turned friends (Michael and Catherine) who relocated to Charleston a little over a year ago. They have been fabulous city guides on our visits and have done a great job of ferreting out the best places to eat.
If you love good, Southern cooking as much as we do, Charleston should definitely be at the top of your vacation bucket list! We haven’t even scratched the surface in our two short visits.
For a history buff, there are many sight-seeing options to choose from! We visited Battery Park on our first visit. This shaded, waterfront park is home to statues and monuments which give visitors insight into the town’s history. This trip, we drove over to Patriot’s Point, located just across the river from Charleston. Patriot’s Point is home to the USS Yorktown (navy aircraft carrier) as well as a submarine, USS Clamagore, and USS Laffey (destroyer). You can tour each ship and learn about the significance each played in history. Mark especially enjoyed the World War II planes displayed on the Yorktown.
Did you know that scenes from the movie “The Notebook” were filmed in Charleston? Well, being huge fans of the movie, we had to track down a few of the locations. On our last visit we visited Boone Hall, just outside of downtown. Boone Hall is a gorgeous plantation which was used for the outside shots of Ally’s (Rachel McAdams) parent’s summer home. A beautiful, tree-lined drive leads to a regal pre-civil war era mansion. You can walk the grounds and get an idea of what the slave living conditions were like, as well as tour the grand main house.
This visit, we toured the Calhoun Mansion, which is another grand three-story residence. The Calhoun house is rich with history and open to tours. The current owners are huge collectors of anything and everything from the Gilded Age, from all around the world. The opulent collection of antiquities fills every nook and cranny. You could visit this mansion every day for weeks and still notice something new every time. (A nod to this historic mansion was weaved into the movie through the main character’s name – Noah Calhoun (played by Ryan Gosling).
Of course, in my opinions, the best part of Charleston is the FOOD. Wow… I wish I had more than one belly… cause I just want to eat EVERYTHING when I visit here. I knew going in that we were going to be there for two dinners and one lunch… so I had to plan my eating strategically!
On our last visit, we had an amazingly memorable dinner at Eli’s Table. They hold the record for the best Fried Green Tomatoes I have ever tasted in my life. So, I had to return there this time, just to make sure! I was not disappointed. They take thick slices of green tomatoes and bread them in a coarse mixture (‘m guessing some cornmeal blend) and fry them to absolute perfection! Then the tomato slabs are layered with a creamy pimento cheese and served with a tomato coulis with a balsamic drizzle. I’m not nearly a good enough writer to properly describe this appetizer and give it credit. Just go there and try it! Trust me.
We also had the shrimp and grits at Eli’s Table and they were also to-die-for! I consider myself a bit of a shrimp and grits expert, as I eat them as often as possible at most any restaurant that serves them. I have been “perfecting” my own version and will be giving it a test run on the Cuckold’s Dinner Menu this season! The grits were creamy and flavorful, the shrimp were perfectly seasoned and prepared and it was topped with a rich, tasty gravy! Another five-spoon rating from this Southern girl!
For lunch, Catherine was able to get us into the uber-popular, farm to table restaurant named Husk. It’s easy to see why this place is in such demand! Situated in a charming old mansion, this restaurant creates its menu daily, based on the freshest ingredients they are able to procure. Mark had the Country Fried Steak (YUM!) and I went for the quail. Talk about a little bird with a big punch – my quail was absolutely amazing! It boasted a spicy seasoned skin and was cooked to tender perfection. It came with an asparagus and potato salad that was the perfect cooling accompaniment. We also sampled the pimento cheese crisps and mushroom toasts as appetizers. Michael was nice enough to share a bite of his fried chicken, and I can definitely add that to my list of recommendations! I can’t imagine going wrong with anything you order from this menu.
Between meals and tours, we relaxed and imbibed in a few specialty cocktails at The Rooftop Bar at Vendue. Guests enjoy hand-crafted cocktails while taking in one of the best views of the city. This place had my approval immediately – when I saw Pimm’s Cup at the top of the drink menu!
Our second evening, we dined at Paw Paw, which lived up to its distinctly Southern sounding name! After the bite of fried chicken I got at lunch, I was craving a full plate of my very own! I got four perfectly crispy pieces of fried chicken, served with mashed potatoes, collard greens, and Nashville Hot Butter. OMG… my Southern tastebuds were singing! Mike shared again and let me try a bite of his pork chop and it was also amazing. I might just start having whatever he’s having! My husband, on the other hand, had a salad… and in the words of Forrest Gump “That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”
I can’t make any dessert recommendations, as I never had room for any. A few notes that I will add – if you are looking for a more romantic dinner location – I would go with Eli’s table. Our next trip, we want to try out 82 Queen (we only had cocktails this trip) and Hominy Grill (James Beard award-winning). I would strongly recommend reservations to any of the restaurants I’ve mentioned.
Charleston is a city that leaves you wanting more – more of the history, the culture, the charm, and most definitely more of the food.