DAY ONE: HELLLOOOOO, CHARLESTON!
Start your Charlestonly Two Fork Safari beneath the mural that proclaims “Grits are Good for You,” which is painted on the side of the red house that houses Hominy Grill. Over the next 72 hours, you will quickly discover that grits are better than good, particularly when prepared by by James Beard Award-winning Chef Robert Stehling.
Don’t let the name deter you from ordering this spot’s best-known breakfast option: the Charleston Nasty Biscuit served with fried chicken, cheddar cheese, and sausage gravy. But if you’re not ready to dive into the deep end of Southern breakfast foods, we recommend the fresh house-made granola with bananas and yogurt.
With his delicate microgreens touch and consuming passion for heirloom seeds, it’s fair to say Chef Sean Brock’s heart is in the garden. It’s also fair to say Chef Brock wears his heart on his sleeve. The vibrant garden tattoo that covers his arm has appeared in Vogue, Wall Street Journal, PBS, and all sorts of other places.
But you’re not going to Husk—Chef Brock’s contribution to the pantheon of great Southern institutions, which was named Bon Appetit’s 2011 Restaurant of the Year—to eat a salad. You’re here to eat the Husk Burger.
It begins with a house-made buttermilk and benne seed bun. Steamed, then griddled. Two—yes, two–hickory smoked Benton’s bacon-infused 100% chuck patties get smothered in American cheese and topped with shaved white onions, bread & butter pickles, and a dash of Brock’s special sauce, which is a time-saving blend of ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, and jalapeños.
Hank’s Seafood Restaurant
Step right up and order the Seafood Castle, a delectable selection of oysters, mussels, crab, shrimp, and lobster all nestled on beds of ice. Hank’s Seafood Restaurant was the first to introduce the community table to Charleston, and it’s been a lively party nearly every night since opening in 1999. Sit here or at a two-top in the center of the dining room and you’re in the thick of the action.
In the 1970s, this building housed the Garden & Gun Club, the outlandish disco that served as “the place to see and be seen” in Charleston, and the wildly popular Garden & Gun magazine was named for the nightclub. Today, Hank’s Seafood Restaurant offers a convivial experience that often turns into a lively party atmosphere.
Weave your way through the bar and grab a seat close to the live jazz. Sit back and order the Charleston Cocktail, a smooth blend of Maverick vodka, Madeira, sweet tea, lemonade, and mint-infused syrup.
Charleston was one of the top importers of Madeira, an intensely flavored fortified wine from Portugal, for more than a century leading up to the Civil War. When it seemed that General William T. Sherman would likely burn Charleston following the fall of Savannah, barrels of Madeira were moved inland to Columbia, hours away.
DAY TWO: EARLY BIRD GETS THE BEST BITE
Mercantile & Mash
Fuel your day with locally roasted coffee and grab-and-go provisions at this gourmet food emporium located in the historic Cigar Factory.
Butcher & Bee
Although the menu changes frequently, a few perennial favorites show up on the blackboard with regularity—like the pulled squash sandwich, described by Food & Wine magazine as one of the Best Sandwiches in the U.S. with its “thin slices of perfectly cooked squash get tossed in house-made barbecue sauce and piled with hickory-smoked cabbage cole slaw onto a freshly baked hoagie roll.”
At this urban café, guests sit at one of three community tables, so you are bound to brush elbows with a few locals. And one last tip—if pickled peaches appear on the menu, get a double order. Trust us.
Chef Jeremiah Bacon (yes, really) has serious chops in the kitchen. After opening in 2011, this restaurant quickly found itself on the James Beard Foundation Best New Restaurant nominee list, while Chef Bacon earned a James Beard Best Chef Southeast Award semifinalist nod. The Macintosh offers a soulful menu inspired by Lowcountry farmers and purveyors.
But you are going for one specific reason: Bacon Happy Hour, a special small plate of pork prepared to suit the chef’s whim. On our last visit, we practically inhaled the chorizo crostini with Bechamel, English peas, and shaved egg yolk. Pace yourself here as dinner is in three hours.
Put a little pomade in your hair and shine your shoes—it’s time for supper at the Mobil Four-Star and AAA Four-Diamond restaurant located inside Charleston Place hotel. While the dining room has a distinctively gentlemen’s club atmosphere, it’s two flame hair dames who give Charleston Grill its sense of panache.
Behind the bar, Teresa Whims is a source of spot on recommendations. Meanwhile, Chef Michelle Weaver puts forth a four-part menu that is described as Pure, Lush, Cosmopolitan, and Southern. A bit of insider knowledge will serve you well here. Although Chef Weaver is an Alabama born and bred gal who speaks Southern food fluently, she has a keen talent for preparing cuisine with Thai flavors. For the best of both worlds, you’re having the six-course tasting menu this evening.
Virginia’s on King
Kick start the day with another round of delicious local flavors. Order the country ham and collard greens biscuit benedict! This family-owned restaurant was opened in honor the matriarch Virginia, and the menu celebrates the foods enjoyed during traditional Sunday Suppers in the South. The ham has a brown sugar glaze, the okra soup has been simmered to perfection, and the tomato pie tastes like summer.
Experience a taste of the city’s unique architecture along with a delicious lunch at this tucked away café inside an 18th century Charleston single house. Sunny days call for a seat on the porch although the intimate dining room is just as charming. The duck confit and arugula salad with caramelized pecans, tomatoes, and fried onions in a port wine vinaigrette is one of our favorite dishes.
After lunch, stroll one block south to the Charleston City Market, where you’ll find a variety of savory souvenirs such as benne wafers, cheese straws, dried okra, and stone ground grits.
For your final meal on this Two Fork Safari, we are sending you somewhere special. At Circa 1886, the horse-stable-turned-fine-dining-restaurant situated in the Wentworth Mansion’s garden, Chef Marc Collins puts a sophisticated spin on southern ingredients. He also takes a healthful approach to his signature cuisine—less butter and cream, more whole grains and lean proteins. Explore the Circa 1886 menu with the knowledge that you will be eating delicious and nutritious food for your finale meal in Charleston. Curious about Chef Collins’ menu? Check out these highlights:
Like South Carolina flounder served with romaine, smoked scallops, macadamia nuts, pimento, dijon nage, and black quinoa in a white caesar dressing.
And Southeast Family Farms pork tenderloin with pumpkin seed granola, sour yuzu glaze, corned beef sweet potato chipotle hash, greek yogurt, and baby bok choy.
And sake brined salmon with Carolina Gold rice, honeydew, pickled ginger gel, Thai pepper coulis, “C” weed salad, and shiitake mushrooms.
Now that you have dined your way through Charleston, we wish you shrimp & grits dreams and hope you will return again soon. Safe travels home!