A weekend of food, friends and fun in Charleston

Last weekend some friends and I headed to Charleston for the Charleston Wine & Food Festival. After a fun, but exhausting trip to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival the previous weekend, this little southern get away was just the trip I needed to relax and get re-energized.

While the Grand Tasting and After Dark events of the festival were very well-done and enjoyable, the best times of the weekend were sharing some of my all time favorite spots, discovering new favorite spots, and enjoying a relaxing Sunday full of fresh caught seafood with some of my favorite friends.

Old Time Favorites

Seafood Over Grits from Magnolia

After 15 years, the Seafood Over Grits at Magnolia’s is still on my top five favorite dishes list. It’s right up there with the Octupus at Le Bernardin and the Melon Salad at Blue Hill at Stone Barns – all perfect dishes.

Cypress is an old favorite, but this trip was the first time I’d tasted Craig Deihl’s House cured Lamb Bacon. It’s hands down one of the best morsels of charcuterie I’ve put in my mouth. Rumor has it he offers an Artisanal Meat Share. If you live in the Charleston area, I’d get in on that.

BBQ Shrimp and Grits from 82 Queen

The She Crab Soup at 82 Queen is definitely the best she crab soup ever ladled into in a bowl. But their Barbeque Shrimp and Grits will blow your mind with an explosion of sweet, smokey, tangy, and salty among both creaminess of the grits and the crunch of the bacon.

Okra and Shrimp Beignets at Hominy Grill

I hate to leave Charleston without a stop at Hominy Grill. Luckily, our flight was delayed yesterday leaving some extra time for a quick lunch before we came home. Though Robert Stehling’s shrimp & grits is a fan favorite, I must say that my favorite snack of the many we ordered was the okra and shrimp beignets. They’re outstanding. As was the pimento cheese platter with pickled okra, country ham, and pickled eggs. And being with Elissa as she tried both boiled peanuts and sweet tea for the first time was an event in itself.

New Favorites

Pimento Cheese & Housemade Sausage from Jim 'N Nicks

A trip to the South isn’t complete without pimento cheese. And I made sure the trip was more than complete by eating pimento cheese every day I was in town. As I mentioned before, the pimento cheese at Hominy Grill was tasty, but the pimento cheese from Jim ‘N Nicks is amazing – especially when topped with a slice of their house smoked sausage and some jalepeno slices.

My only regret is that I didn’t have a chance to enjoy a meal by Mike Lata, 2009 winner of the James Beard Best Chef Southeast Award. Though I was able to enjoy many a cocktail at Lata’s restaurant, Fig, at the unofficial festival after party on Saturday night. The bourbon and champagne were flowing. A trip through the kitchen into the back-yard put me in front of a gigantic roasted pig and in the ompany of Matt and Ted Lee, some of my favorite Charleston chefs, a number of familiar faces from NYC, and Carla Hall, who is just as awesome in person as she is on Top Chef.

FRIED. CHICKEN. SKINS. from Husk

Saturday’s fun turned into Sunday’s hangover – a plight that was easily cured by my first trip to Husk. Three words – Fried. Chicken. Skins. Oh my lord, they’re good – especially when dipped into the accompanying bowl of hot sauce and honey. The spicy Bloody Mary served with a pickled dill pickle and a slice of shaved country ham helped as well. As did the bowl of Black Pepper Biscuits with Sausage Gravy and a steaming serving of the best butter grits I’ve ever tasted.

Husk has been called the most important restaurant in southern cooking. Now I know why. I blown away by Sean Brock’s food, but I was most excited about what he’s doing for southern cuisine, ingredients, and dishes. Everything that’s used in the kitchen is a product of the south – even the salt and the olive oil – taking the term local to a new level.

Later on Sunday afternoon I bumped into him at a party, telling him I appreciated all he’s doing for southern food. His response, “Well, I appreciate all that southern food has done for me.”

Favorite way to spend a Sunday

Low Country Boil courtesy of the lovely Soa Davies and Jeremie Kittridge

After leaving Husk we wandered over to a dinner social hosted by my friends Angie, Soa and Jeremie. They’d rented an old Charleston house on Broad St and invited in town chefs, out of town chefs, local foodies and writers, and our motley crew from NYC for a lazy after noon involving two porches, a dozen rocking chairs, mint juleps, and a table piled high with the goods from a low country boil.

It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.

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