*The House of Crazy Decor*
Last weekends trip to Charleston was a doozy, for starters I drove more in the five days we were there than I have in the last four years and stayed in by far the most over the top house I have ever seen! Walking into the house I became engulfed in a world of glitter, life-size pirates, dinosaurs, and kitsch. After an initial “omg” moment I ventured to the pool where the rest of the crew were enjoying a little sun and a whole lot of booze. I only wish I had counted how many six-packs, cheese, and peanut butter was consumed over the course of the weekend.
*The Starfish I Saved*
Last week’s mission of checking off every restaurant on my list came up a little short but I am quite proud of what I was able to see, eat, and do in the span of five days even with a glorious wedding thrown in the mix. Two of the restaurants I ate at came on recommendations from friends (Jacks and 17 North) and one came from my never-ending quest to find Chefs who are garnering significant buzz outside of the city (Husk). With two nights free from wedding related activities, I set off to experience the flavors of the South and found the food of Charleston to be just the southern comfort that I needed.
First night in and we headed for a local joint, Brett McKee’s 17 North Roadside Kitchen… a few miles away from our house on Isle of Palms. The bride and groom wanted a sort of welcoming dinner for those staying at the house and secured a reservation for 20 of us at 17 North. The backyard patio (where we sat) encompassed a bar, stage for live music, dining area, bocce court and their own vegetable garden! Upon walking out I nearly gasped with excitement; the restaurant vibe was so relaxed and inviting! I ran into the chef, Brett and after a quick chat headed for our private table next to the garden and grabbed a beer ($4.50 for a quality craft beer!). It wasn’t hard to single out my choices for dinner as they caught my eye right away so I ordered fried chicken livers and waffles, fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese, and a boneless fried chicken breast with mashed potatoes, braised greens and tasso gravy (I shared the two appetizers with friends). My meal at 17 North was the first of many great meals in Charleston and definitely started the weekend off right.
Friday found us strolling along the beach where we found washed up jellyfish and starfish scattered amongst the waves. The jellyfish could not be saved but I threw in a few starfish that needed a little push back into the water. Hayes (my date for the weekend and best friend since 6th grade) and I quickly partnered up with my friend Seth Wilcher and his wife Holly for an afternoon of exploration at Drayton Hall, a historic plantation and National Trust Historic Site just outside of Charleston. But before we stepped back into time we headed for Jacks Cosmic Dogs, another roadside restaurant off of Highway 17 just a few miles away from the house.
A few weeks before heading to Charleston, Hayes mentioned hitting up Jacks Cosmic Dogs sometime over the weekend. The vibe is roadside shack meets fifties diner; it’s very casual, fun and funky. You order first, wait and then pay at the end. A great place to eat in, very relaxed, comfortable and fun.
The menu is lengthy and there are just too many items to choose from, luckily my mind knew we had a big day ahead of us and convinced my stomach to take it easy this time. The two that jumped out at me immediately were the cosmic dog (with blue cheese slaw and sweet potato mustard) and the Astro Dog (with their zippy onion relish and spicy mustard). When I saw that you could substitute a tofu dog for a regular dog I decided to give it a go and put it on the Astro Dog. Here’s the thing about the cosmic dog… who’da thunk that blue cheese slaw and sweet potato mustard would blend so seamlessly together? It’s hard to explain the flavor explosion that resulted in my mouth when the tang of the slaw collided with the goodness of sweet potato mustard. Individually they are unique but together they are complete. Hayes promptly bought two jars of the sweet potato mustard it was soo good. As for the astro dog, I could barely tell that a tofu dog was taking the place of a real hot dog…. it was unbelievable.
The only carbonation I drink on the regular is seltzer; I reserve sodas when they are absolutely needed (like when I eat a pizza) and in this case a homemade Jacks Root Beer was a necessity. If you go and do not try this, you will regret it. The root beer is a must order; it is not overly carbonated and is silkenly sweet with just the right amount of bite in it. I nearly ordered a gallon of it to go as I knew we had about an hour car ride till Drayton Hall, but did not want to subject my friends to the resulting burps that would come out from my body from even just another sip.
Next up Friday night found us driving to town for drinks at my “Aunt Rebecca” and “Uncle Cress” house and dinner at Husk nestled deep in the narrow corridors of historic downtown Charleston. Rebecca and Cress may not be blood, but they are certainly my aunt and uncle. Rebecca and Cress have been in the Mahoney family long before my birth (my mother went to school with her here in NYC), and it was a trip to visit them in NYC at the tender age of 11 that made me realize I had to live here when I grew up! After many years of living in NYC, Rebecca and Cress moved to Charleston and have for the past seven years have created a fabulous life for themselves. Cress is the Senior Pastor at the Second Presbyterian Church in downtown Charleston and Rebecca is the President and CEO of Garden & Gun Magazine. If ever there was someone to look to for advice and inspiration, it would be them. Along with their two adorable daughters, they galivant all over the city as the most stylish Southerners from the North.
After a quick drink and generous helpings of pimento cheese smothered on top of crackers, we set off for Husk, Sean Brock’s love letter to true Southern food. The menu changes daily and Chef Brock is true to his southern roots stating that, “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door!” Every item on the menu is laid out right at the front door on a gigantic chalkboard (see below) for guests to see. I noticed some familiar vendors that can be found in NYC (Bentons, Anson Mills) and Hayes found that his friends chocolate company from Nashville was featured on the board and on the menu as an ingredient in the pecan pie dessert!
The restaurant is housed in a restored two-story house complete with front porch on first and second floor for outdoor dining. The decor is understated and modern, it looked as if it could be in House Beautiful Magazine or something!We were sat on the second floor next to the patio and immediately served drinks and wine. The bourbon list and the wine list are pretty darn impressive at Husk – especially the bourbon list, and Hayes (a bourbon addict) was in heaven! I went with a deliciously crisp Pinot Grigio that helped cut the oppressive heat of South Carolina. Our server was that earnest sort of friendly that I really enjoy and rarely find in New York, it really helped solidify the “Southern Charm” everyone talks about and it was a breath of fresh air.
After a quick perusal of the menu, I found it hard to choose! Thankfully my dining companions were all about sharing and we ordered a southern style feast. Appetizers included an Heirloom Beet Salad with grilled South Carolina Peaches and Goat Cheese, Blade Oysters with Lemon, Cucumber and Coriander (the cleanest and freshest oysters I have ever tasted), a North Carolina Blue Crab and Georgia Sweet Corn Soup with Jalapeno Marmalade and Yogurt, and my absolute favorite dish of the weekend Crispy Pig Ear Lettuce Wraps with Bread and Butter Pickled Squash. Yes, you heard right… crispy pig ear lettuce wraps. I was in HEAVEN! For our entrees we went with a Carolina Wreckfish with Vidalia Onions, Sweet Peas, Roasted Cauliflower and Brown Butter, a Cornmeal Dusted Catfish with Heirloom Squash, Zucchini, Tomatoes and a Crispy Squash Blossom, and a Wahoo with Eggplant, Broccoli, Sungold Tomatoes and Olive Oil. I sat back and nearly wanted to cry. I had been waiting patiently for weeks for my meal at Husk and it was everything I wanted it to be and more! If Sean were there that night (he was taking a much deserved night off), I think I would have leapt into his arms and hugged him tight nervously telling him how much I enjoyed his food and how excited I am for his sojourn up to NYC for Meatopia.
Husk takes it up to another level in regards to farm to table dining hat I didn’t know existed. If you want to eat something affordable, you can…..if you want to go empty your wallet, you can. For me, Husk is as good as it gets. If you are visiting Charleston and only have time for one restaurant, I’d make it Husk.
*Hayes and I at the wedding*
I thought I would go down there, have some fun and after five days find myself pining for a return to my city life but I didn’t expect to dread getting back on that plane! I couldn’t have asked for a better trip to Charleston and cannot wait to go back. Sean Brock and Brett McKee are just two of many culinary visionaries down in Charleston and those wanting to get a real taste of the south should haul ass to their restaurants!
*Just before Caroline Collins became Caroline Allman*
Matt and Carolines wedding weekend extravaganza was amazing, just like them. It was what every destination wedding should be like. I wish them a lifetime of happiness, laughter and success and cannot wait till the next time I see them! Hopefully their wish to rent the house again next year and bring everyone back will come to fruition…I will be the first to sign up!
*The Groom and I*
*Wedding Reception Sunset*