Getting Low In South Carolina

Charleston Pineapple Fountain
Charleston Pineapple Fountain
Charleston Pineapple Fountain

The region along the coast of South Carolina, suitably called lowcountry, is a fascinating place. Rich in history, geographically intriguing and culinary wise, offers some of the most soul satisfying food you will ever try.

Cruising around lowcountry is an attraction in and of itself. At low tide a sea of tall grasses shoot out of the muddy marshland for as far as the eye can see. At high tide the grasses disappear and the water fills in just about to street level like a sheet of glass.

Lowcountry marshland
Lowcountry marshland

A mix of lumber farms and palmettos line the highways and mossy oak trees and magnolias can be found in neighborhoods and along side streets.

The intercostal waterway provides channels, inlets and rivers that snake through dozens of sea islands. Oyster roasts and lowcountry boils (also known as Frogmore Stew) are common gatherings here. Crab nets hang off residential docks and cluster oysters can be harvested all along the muddy banks of the marshland.

South Carolina Intercostal waterway
Part of the South Carolina Intercostal waterway – Dataw Island (St. Helena Island)

My trip through this area started real low, working my way up the coast with a grand finale in Charleston eating some of the best soul food I’ve ever tried in my life. The trip looked like this….

St. Helena Island –

This is where my trip started. It’s known for its plantation homes, Gullah influence and the community of Frogmore (yes, like the stew). I was particularly weary walking around the ponds on this island, which were inhibited by very large alligators. The “no see ems” are relentless here so a daily dousing of bug spray is a must. But don’t let the gators and the bugs deter you, St. Helena Island is a lovely place to visit.

Dataw Island (St. Helena Island)
Dataw Island (St. Helena Island)
Carolina Cider Company
Carolina Cider Company – coffee bar and great selection of locally made foods and pastries
Sunset on Dataw Island (St. Helena Island)
Sunset on Dataw Island (St. Helena Island)

Port Royal Island –

Right next-door is Port Royal Island where I visited local events like the Saturday farmers market and the Soft Shell Crab Festival.

At the farmers market you can find local vegetables like collard greens, and locquats, vendors selling everything from iced tea to periogis and chinese food and live music. My favorite food stand was Hank’s lowcountry. They sell local favorites like she crab soup, Charleston crab dip with saltine crackers and crab cakes the size of softballs.

local collard greens
local collard greens
Local loquats
Local loquats
Crab dip
Crab dip at Hank’s Lowcountry
Port Royal Farmers Market
Port Royal Farmers Market

The annual Soft Shell Crab Festival is where you’ll find deep fried soft shell crab, more local live music and an antique car show.

The car show at The Soft Shell Crab Festival
The car show at The Soft Shell Crab Festival

Beaufort –

Located on Port Royal Island with its cannon lined shore is the town of Beaufort. Antebellum style mansions, horse drawn carriages and a few nice restaurants. But the town’s biggest commodity now days is local artwork.

Beaufort
Beaufort

Many films have been shot throughout the years in this region of South Carolina. The Great Santini, The Big Chill and The Prince of Tides were just a few that were filmed in Beaufort. Scenes from the movie Forrest Gump where shot all over Port Royal and St. Helena islands.

Folly Beach –

Probably one of the biggest and nicest piers I’ve ever been on. Come to fish, take a stroll or shop. There’s even a full bar. Down below is an enormous sandy beach and a lively main strip with fun little dive bars like Planet Follywood and the Sand Dollar Social Club that the local’s charmingly call “the dirty dollar”.

Folly Beach
Folly Beach
Folly Beach Pier
Folly Beach Pier

Charleston –

Come ready to walk and eat because you will want to do a lot of both here.

A particular highlight for me was The battery, a long stretch of historic mansions and parks all along the water. Start down at King St. and Murray blvd., walk all the way up Murray as it turns into East Battery and eventually into East Bay St. Weave in and out of museums if you like, eventually making a right on Exchange street and a left at Concord St. ending up at the infamous pineapple fountain.

Historic mansions along East Battery
Historic mansions along East Battery
The Battery, Charleston
The Battery, Charleston
One of the many beautiful gardens in Charleston
One of the many beautiful gardens in Charleston

If it’s a nice day another awesome thing to do is take the water taxi across the river. There are 4 stops the boat makes and there are things to see and do at each one. Although, I think the boat ride is enough in and of itself. The captain is a great guy and you will more than likely have a few dolphins swimming right along side you almost the entire time.

Charleston river taxi
Spencer and I on the Charleston river taxi
Charleston River
Charleston River

Catch the sunset at the Vendue rooftop bar. It’s a lovely way to wind down your day and get ready for the evening. There are 360 degree views of the city and the river from up there.

Sunset at Vendue rooftop bar
Sunset at Vendue rooftop bar

People are super friendly in Charleston. Small talk is encouraged and a “hi, how are you” to strangers is common when walking down the street. I had to laugh when a local complimented me on my “Gamecock tattoo”, the University of South Carolina’s basketball team mascot. I smiled and said thank you. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was a Kauai rooster.

The food in Charleston is great, although at times a bit heavy. For a list of places to eat make sure to check out my top 10 best restaurants in Charleston SC list. I cover everything from lowcountry soul food to innovative Asian cuisine.

A final thought on Charleston. If you’re in the restaurant industry the industry shot here (surprisingly) is Grand Marnier. So, when someone offers you a “Grandma Shot” that’s what you’re in for. An awesome industry bar if you’re looking for one is The Recovery Room. This bar’s claim to fame is that they are the #1 seller of PBR in the country. I met one of the most talented bartenders I’ve ever seen in all my years of dive bar hopping there. He ran circles around the other bartender maintaining complete control while remembering multiple orders at a time, cracking jokes and swapping stories with customers from all sides of the large square bar. All while slamming back shots one after another. He was hysterical and had us entertained all night.

So whether you are a history buff or enjoy hanging out on a picnic table cracking crab, lowcountry has something for you. Just be careful if you are planning your trip during the summer. It’s hot as hell and you can cut the humidity with a knife. Spring or fall is the way to go!

Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.

My Top 10 Best Restaurants in Charleston SC

Husk
Husk Restaurant
Broadbent country ham with buttermilk biscuits and Carolina Heritage pork with local vegetables and sunflower romesco at Husk

Whether you are looking for soul food or fine dining Charleston has you covered. Most menus are pork and shellfish heavy and you’ll be hard pressed to find a restaurant that doesn’t serve at least a couple of deep fried items on the menu. Many chefs have impressive charcuterie programs and you’ll never eat collard greens as tasty as you will eat here. This is country southern cooking at its finest.

Here are my Top 10 Best Restaurants in Charleston SC:

  1. HuskAsk any tourist walking down the street where they are going to dinner while they are in town and they will say Husk. It’s everyone’s favorite here, including the locals and rightfully so. Chef Sean Brock is the man in this town. You can’t get food much more locally sourced than here not to mention the dramatic plate presentations and southern hospitality are also exceptional. The menu is very pork heavy offering southern staples like Broadbent country ham with buttermilk biscuits to innovative craveable bites like Kentuckyaki glazed pig’s ear lettuce wraps with sweet vinegar marinated cucumber. My favorite guilty pleasure on our visit was the southern fried chicken skins with pimento cheese “ranch” and Espelette pepper. I had to finally step away from these crunchy, salty bites smothered in that addictive sauce so that I could eat the rest of my meal. Come hungry, order as many dishes as you can and save room for dessert. There isn’t a bad choice on the menu and selections change daily. There is some serious talent in the kitchen here. **Important tip – Make a reservation well in advance or show up at 5pm and stand in line to put your name on the list. They’ll shoot you a text when your table is ready (which could be 2-3 hours from then). 76 Queen St. Charleston, SC 29401 (843) 577-2500 
    Husk
    Husk
    Husk
    The Southern fried chicken skins with pimento cheese “ranch” and Kurios Farms bibb lettuce salad at Husk

    Husk
    Dessert at Husk
  2. Xiao Bao BiscuitI was beginning to feel the wrath of southern cooking when I stumbled upon this place. I felt like I was back in San Francisco. Once an old gas station now a beautiful eclectic space filled with succulants and Asian imports offers up an exciting menu of what they call Asian soul food. Classics from Korea, China, Japan and Thailand are reimagined and refined using local ingredients, modern techniques and elegant yet rustic plating style. We ordered every dish on the menu I kid you not. Words cannot describe the complexity of flavors you will experience. I think the photos speak for themselves. Enjoy this one. 224 Rutledge Ave. Charleston, SC No reservations – first come, first serve    
    Xiao Bao Biscuit
    Local spring vegetable salad with creamy yuzu, tempura and cured egg yolk at Xiao Bao Biscuit
    Xiao Bao Biscuit
    Thai style minced beef at Xiao Bao Biscuit
    Xiao Bao Biscuit
    Okonomiyaki – Japanese cabbage pancake with farm egg at Xiao Bao Biscuit

    Xiao Bao Biscuit
    Mapo dou fu – Spicy Sichuan pork and tofu at Xiao Bao Biscuit
  3. Bertha’s Kitchen – Bertha’s and Martha Lou’s are a dead tie in my book. Both restaurants offer the best no frills soul food I’ve ever had in my life. Even though they are equally good they do have their differences and that is why you must try them both. Bertha’s is a little bit further out of town but worth the cab fare. Customers line up everyday before the doors open and once they do the line remains there all day long so just be prepared to wait. Don’t worry it goes fast. Once you get up to the front of the line there is no menu. You point and they scoop. Every plate comes with cornbread and 2 sides and their offerings are subject to change on a daily basis. Their fried chicken is a must – it’s the best I’ve ever had. I also recommend their okra soup, lima beans, hopping johns, collard greens, red rice and braised cabbage. You can not go wrong with anything you order here so go crazy. 2332 Meeting Street Rd. Charleston, SC 29405 (843) 554-6519 
    Soul food at Bertha's Kitchen
    Soul food at Bertha’s Kitchen

    The line at Bertha's Kitchen
    The line at Bertha’s Kitchen
  4. Martha Lou’s Kitchen – Martha Lou is a culinary legend in these parts. At 86 years old she still takes orders and runs food. The restaurant is tiny, I think I remember it only having about 7 or 8 tables. The fried chicken (which you are going to get) is fried to order so it takes a while for the food to come out but it’s worth the wait. If you want a cold beer you’ll have to ask because they aren’t listed on the menu. She usually has a stash of Budweiser in the back though. If they aren’t already sold out order the chitterlings, she is known for those. I also recommend the lima beans, collard greens with rice, braised cabbage and mac and cheese – all ridiculously good. 1068 Morrison Dr. Charleston, SC 29403 (843) 577-9583 
    Fried chicken, mac and cheese, lima beans and braised cabbage at Martha Lou's Kitchen
    Fried chicken, mac and cheese, lima beans and braised cabbage at Martha Lou’s Kitchen

    Martha Lou
    Martha Lou
  5. The Ordinary – This is where you come if you are in the mood for seafood and especially shellfish. Their claim to fame are their shellfish towers. Huge trays piled with ice, oysters, clams, crab and whatever else they are throwing on there that day. They have an innovative selection of cold and hot small plates offering everything from vegetable crudos to oyster sliders. They even do caviar. I loved this place for wine and apps. 544 King St. Charleston, SC 29403 (843) 414-7060 Closed Mondays.

    Vegetable crudo at The ordinary
    Vegetable crudo at The ordinary
  6. The Butcher and Bee – When you are ready for something a little bit healthier cruise over to this place. They are open breakfast, lunch and dinner and offer a wide variety of choices. To drink you can get a cold-pressed juice, a finely crafted coffee, specialty cocktails, local beer and wine. Their bakery produces fresh daily pastries like donuts, croissants and cinnamon rolls. Try an avocado toast for breakfast, a brown rice and vegetable bowl for lunch and come back for Moroccan fish and grits or braised half chicken for dinner. The menu is loaded with vegetables, salads and whole grains. I wish I could have eaten here 3 times a day, every day of my trip to try everything. 1085 Morrison Dr. Charleston, SC 29403 (843) 619-0202 

    Avocado toast, cheesy grits and cold-pressed green juice at The Butcher and Bee
    Avocado toast, cheesy grits and cold-pressed green juice at The Butcher and Bee
  7. The Macintosh – With a name like Jeremiah Bacon you know this chef is going to have some pork on the menu. The “Bacon Happy Hour” Monday-Friday 5-7pm offers fun snacks like pork belly banh mi and totchos (tator tots served in the style of nachos). The menu is constantly changing to make room for new local vegetables and fish in season. Besides pork you will find interesting dishes like Asparagus with fish sauce, fried breadcrumbs and poached egg. I recommend grabbin’ a spot at the bar for dinner with it’s fun lively atmosphere. 479B King St. Charleston, SC 29403 (843) 789-4299 

    House-made Bratwurst at The Macintosh
    House-made Bratwurst at The Macintosh
  8. Cypress – I ate the biggest hot dog I’ve ever had in my life here. If you have sat upstairs in the bar and/or are in the industry you know what I am talking about. The chef here has a damn fine charcuterie program and makes things like mortadella, bresaola and headcheese. But he also makes amazing hot dogs! He serves them on a house made pretzel bun with bread and butter pickles and ballpark mustard. But beware this thing is massive. Oh yeah, and they have amazing other food too like Lobster Bisque and Steak Diane which you can enjoy in a very fancy high end dining room. I like to sit upstairs in the bar and look down into the kitchen to see what they are up to where it’s a little bit more casual. 167 East Bay St. Charleston, SC 29401 (843) 727-0111 

    House-made charcuterie at Cypress
    House-made charcuterie at Cypress
  9. Slightly North of Broad – Charmingly nicknamed, SNOB this restaurant has almost a cult like following in this city. Like almost all restaurants down here the place is packed daily so reservations are encouraged. Think upscale lowcountry cuisine with a party atmosphere. You’ll find classics like she crab soup, shrimp and grits and soft shell crab here. 192 East Bay St. Charleston, SC 29401 (843) 723-3424 

    Beef Carpaccio at S.N.O.B.
    Beef Carpaccio at S.N.O.B.
  10. McCrady’s – Located in a building established in 1778 this beautiful upscale bar and restaurant is an elegant place to come and enjoy a romantic dinner. The tasting menu created by Sean Brock (also of Husk restaurant) includes beautifully prepared, locally sourced ingredients like Virginia oysters, Ossabaw pork and Charleston ice-cream. 155 East Bay St. Charleston, SC 29401 (843) 577-0025 Closed Monday and Tuesday
Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.