notes on charleston

charleston, south carolina

While I've explored Charleston, South Carolina's streets before, I was anxious to visit as a newly minted Savannah resident. Savannah and Charleston have been rivals for centuries - at least in the tourism industry. Mentioning one city inevitably invites comparisons to the other.

Whatever your personal thoughts, something that can't be argued is the strength of the Charleston food scene.. some of the best restaurants in the South are in Charleston. Fortunately for Neil and I, our favorite thing to do when we go out is to eat. Here are some of the highlights of our trip.

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Black Tap Coffee: Located off the beaten path is Black Tap, a bright coffee shop on Beaufain Street. Black Tap serves Counter Culture Coffee and brews it in interesting ways, from single origin pour overs to coffee cocktails with mint and honey. Order the Japanese iced coffee, a pour over brewed doubly strong over ice: this method allows more pronounced coffee flavors than their cold brew on tap. The Shakerato is two shots of espresso lightly sweetened with ice, a delicious afternoon pick-me-up.

charleston, south carolina

Butcher & Bee: If you're looking for a solid sandwich destination with vegetarian options, you've found it. Butcher & Bee offers a blend of Middle Eastern-meets-Southern fare (the owner is of Iraqi and Louisianan descent) that works, all in a trendy atmosphere with counter service and communal tables. While the pulled squash with smoked slaw is a popular item, my personal favorite is the eggplant parm served on a homemade hoagie roll. Butcher & Bee also sports a wide soda selection, from Fentimans to Blenheim Ginger Ale to an interesting cucumber soda. Keep in mind, they're open for late night rambles.

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The Gin Joint: When we walked in to the dimly lit Gin Joint, all I wanted to do was grab a cozy booth and relax. Neil insisted on drinking at the bar, however.. and for good reason. A few minutes into the menu, we were discussing drinks with our bartender Jared and he filled us in on what's what. My first drink was the Antebellum: rye whiskey, Amaro Nonino, and green chartreuse with burnt sugar syrup, served in a lowball glass with one large square of ice. 

On our second round, we asked the bartender to order for us. He whipped something up on the spot: a mix of scotch, green and yellow chartreuse, and peach bitters. It was a cloudy lemon-colored liquid, a balance of smoke and citrus. It turned out to be our favorite drink of the evening - something we wouldn't have experienced at that cozy booth.

Walking the Battery: Charleston offers several walking and carriage ride tours but if you are short on time or funds, grab a free map at the Old Exchange and Provost gift shop and make the jaunt yourself. Once called Broughton's Battery, the Battery was originally a seawall built in 1737 to protect the southernmost coast of the Charleston peninsula. The seawall was later torn down then rebuilt using some of the old stone and materials, and an artillery battery was added during the Civil War.

Walk south along Meeting Street to the White Point Garden, then stroll the promenade from there. While the waterfront views are beautiful, be sure to reserve some time to explore the inner streets. Returning north via Church Street offers an unexpected and intimate glance at some stately homes from the 18th century.

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Heirloom Book Company: Nestled in a small courtyard off of Broad Street is Heirloom Book Company, a shop with an assortment of rare vintage and out-of-print cookbooks as well as glassware and other culinary items. When we stopped by, owner Carlye Jane Dougherty welcomed us in and generously shared advice on where to go in Charleston. Follow their Facebook for updates on book signings and other events.

Husk: Husk is housed in a 19th century white mansion with a double porch facade, quintessentially Southern and possibly the most charming restaurant exterior in the city. For lunch, we ordered the two most popular items on the menu - shrimp and grits for Neil, cheeseburger for me. There's a reason they're the most popular. When creating the burger, chef Sean Brock grinds Benton's bacon into the beef and serves it on a house-made buttermilk bun with melted American cheese. The result is smokey, gooey, and slightly sweet. If the weather is nice, be sure to request a table on the second floor porch.

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Charleston Beer Exchange: This legendary beer shop at 14 Exchange Street provides an excellent alternative to souvenir shopping.. skip the t-shirt, buy some local beer. The Charleston Beer Exchange makes excellent use of their small square footage, stocking their shelves with the best in local and around-the-world brews. They also host regular events from special dinners to meet and greets with brewmasters, and there is always rare and delicious beer on tap for take-home growler fills. Recently the Exchange collaborated with Westbrook Brewing to create Citrus Ninja Exchange, a double IPA brewed with fresh grapefruit that, despite its 9% ABV, is dangerously smooth.

FIG: Every vacation deserves a splurge meal every now and then, and FIG on Meeting Street is a solid choice for an extravagant yet easygoing Charleston dinner: intimate atmosphere, low country-inspired menu, and knowledgeable staff. FIG (Food Is Good) specializes in locally caught, fresh seafood, offering dishes like fish stew and scamp grouper. If you're in town during tomato season (June through October), order the tomato tarte tatin.

We didn't have time to do everything this go-round. Some places that are on the list for a future visit.. Drayton Hall, Two Boroughs Larder, Hominy GrillIndigo & Cotton, Xiao Bao BiscuitGibbes Museum of Art. If you have suggestions, let us know!