Ahh the Ashley River, from the banks of Lowndes Plantation.
I often find myself daydreaming about Charleston, South Carolina. Its historic homes, its Southern charm – plus I can never get enough of the Lowcountry landscape. In mid-October we found ourselves in Charleston for a 3rd visit. Seven days of picture perfect, sunny, 70 degree weather! While it’s unusual for us to fly the same city so many times, we have happily witnessed the arrival of more and more great food & drink options over the past few years. I’m grateful we had an entire week to get to know Charleston a little better. Once my work obligations ended, we found ourselves eating well – visiting old favorites and finding several new ones.
Two oyster spots opened up since our last trip.
As big fans of FIG on our last visit, we wanted to try Mike Lata’s The Ordinary. But it’s not open for lunch, and I wasn’t sure anyone wanted to to see a toddler at happy hour, so we went with Leon’s Oyster Shop instead.
Traveling with a toddler means you need a place to burn off some of that endless 1 yr old energy.
After scanning a map of the city, I quickly noticed the 60+ acre Hampton Park. It’s a beautiful spot to get outdoors for a picnic, stroll or a run.
Very close to Hampton Park, you’ll find The Park Cafe. It’s one of those unexpected gems – a comfortable neighborhood spot, serving up great food. I wish we had something like it here in my hometown in Connecticut. In concept, it reminds me a little of Sugar and Olives in Norwalk, CT. We liked it so much, we returned for a second breakfast later in the trip.
Here we are, back at The Glass Onion, chasing down Southern staples like gumbo and okra. I love the Glass Onion. If I’m in Charleston, eating here is a priority. It’s a casual spot, but the food is fantastic. You’ll need a car, but the quick drive from downtown is well-worth it. It’s a small parking lot, so we like to visit on the early – or late – side of lunch or dinner.
Bowens Island Restaurant is even a little further afield (about a 30 min drive from Downtown Charleston), but I’ve always wanted to try this Lowcountry mecca for seafood. It’s truly a dive, but we loved the view, the oysters and even the somewhat surly oyster cook in the dungeon-like area below the restaurant. Like true rookies we sat out on the deck for sunset and got eaten alive by bugs the second the sun dropped below the horizon, but we still enjoyed every second of our experience.
There’s still a little effort involved with getting to your oysters at Bowens Island, but certainly nothing as difficult as shucking a raw oyster. I usually don’t like “working” for my meal, but I found this to be just enough of a challenge to make the entire oyster experience even more fun.
Wiser customers, eating inside the enclosed main dining area.
And down in the basement, the oyster cook hard at work.
If you enjoy eating at The Place in Guilford, CT and you like oysters, Bowens Island is for you.
We visited a plantation on our last trip, so this time we decided to stop at Charles Towne Landing instead. There’s a lot of ground to cover at this historic site on the Ashley River and we didn’t grasp its size until after we set off on foot. There are bikes available for rent and I’d definitely recommend it – looks like a great way to explore.
Taking a break from downtown Charleston, we drove over to Sullivan’s Island and headed for a playground across the street from the Obstinate Daughter. We had no luck calling for a last minute reservation, but instead got lucky, walking up right as it opened.
We started with pizza for the little one and tried a few other small plates.
During our comings and goings in the car, we kept noticing a little park not far from our Marion Square apartment. Our last night in Charleston, we made sure to walk through Wragg Square on our way to dinner.
Our final meal in Charleston was at Xiao Bao Biscuit and was pleasantly surprised to find myself ranking it among my favorite meals in the city. While I was planning our trip, I kept ruling out any kind of Asian food while we were down South, but this menu is full of surprises from Japan, China and Vietnam and I’d recommend this hip, relaxed spot to anyone. It’s situated in a former gas station (much like Fuel, which is just a block away). We were wowed by XBB’s beautiful cocktails – both in appearance and taste. And for our early dinner, our small plates came out of the kitchen at lightning fast speed. This spot gets quite a bit of national press and I can easily understand why!
The okonomiyaki: Order it and don’t forget the add-ons.
A few more stops.
sorry – no photos (aka: I didn’t want to carry my dSLR)
- Outta my Huevos Food Truck
Find them at the Saturday Farmers’ Market in Marion Square
- Butcher & Bee
If we had dined here earlier in the trip, I’m sure we would have been back again for lunch or the late night menu. The last time I ate a sandwich this good it was at Bunk in PDX.
- Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit
Get your hot little biscuit sandwiches served up in this sliver of a retail space. Do not leave without Callie’s awesome pimento cheese.
So you just got at biscuit at Callie’s. Glazed is right across the street, calling your name. I’m sure you’ll still have room for a doughnut, especially one with a maple glaze and bacon.
When we arrived in Charleston, Chef Sean Brock was in town promoting his new cookbook, Heritage and had recently opened up a new casual Mexican eatery. We stopped in at this spot off-hours and grabbed a cocktail and a few tacos. We would have been back for more, but we spent most of our time further north.
Like Xiao Bao Biscuit this fun eatery was once a gas station and has a great casual vibe. We loved the outdoor seating, what a perfect perch to hang out and watch Sunday football with friends. I repeat, why can’t we have more spots like this in Connecticut?!
- Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream
I love splurging on Jeni’s when it’s in stock at Whole Foods, but this was my first opportunity to visit one of the retail shops for this charming brand. I found out it’s really difficult to make a decision when faced with so many sweet options.
- Sweeteeth chocolate
On a whim, I picked up a Sweeteeth bar at Caviar & Bananas. I held it in reserve until a few weeks after the trip and I deeply regret not stockpiling an ample supply of these chocolate bars. Moral of the story: don’t just buy one.(PS: While you’re at the George Street location, Charleston Bloody Mary mix is another local favorite)
If you’ve traveled with me, then you know I love my Google Maps. Click on the little square icon on the top left corner to see my Charleston picks in list format.
Finally, a few more recommendations if you’re considering a trip to Charleston:
- More Charleston photos – from our last visit in 2010
- Garden & Gun – a beautiful tribute to all things Southern, this magazine is based out of Charleston
- Eater Charleston – stay on top of the comings and goings in the CHS food scene
- Under the Radar – CHS chefs share their favorite under-rated eating experiences
- Fed Guides: Downtown Charleston- don’t believe me? see what Find. Eat. Drink has to say…
- Olivia Rae James – a photographer, but also a food lover and blogger residing in Charleston
One final shoutout to Janie of Life Writing Photography who shot a quick set of family photos for us. We did a 30 min session at Rainbow Row and couldn’t have been happier. This is just the ticket for anyone who’s always taking the vacation photos, but who never winds up in any of them (aka: me)