In my last post, I shared my top five favorite things that we did when in Charleston, South Carolina. Today, I offer my thoughts on the hotel where we stayed and most of the restaurants where we dined. As always, I did a lot of research on both of these things before our trip…and it paid off.
I knew that Charleston boasts some good restaurants, but I had no idea just how good. The city is really stepping up their gastronomic game – and you will have a long list of very highly-rated eateries to choose from. Most of them are decidedly not cheap, but the ones we went to were simply outstanding and well worth every penny.
Before I delve into all the deliciousness (be warned: if you’re hungry, you may not want to read this right now!), I’m going to tell you about the fantastic hotel we stayed at – the King Charles Inn.
King Charles Inn
Everything about the hotel was wonderful (well, except for the people in the room next to us who had dozens of screaming children that kept throwing themselves against the wall…at least, that’s what it sounded like to us). The location, the rooms, the staff – everything was simply top notch.
Located right on Market Street, the hotel is only a couple of blocks from the City Market, a block away from King Street, within easy walking distance of tons of restaurants and shops, and about a 15-20 minute walk to East Bay Street and the Battery.
Even though we walked almost everywhere, we did rent a car. Therefore, I made sure we stayed in a hotel with free parking. There is a parking lot connected to the hotel, but it is not very large and seemed to be pretty full while we were there. However, guests can also park in a small lot across the street from the hotel, so it’s not a big deal.
The hotel is nicely decorated and very clean. The reception area is on the first floor, and everyone we talked to at the front desk was extremely friendly and helpful. On the second floor, there are three separate sitting areas (one shown below), which were very comfortable and a nice place to spend some down time instead of going back to your room (which were large and comfortable).
The hotel also has a small restaurant, which only serves breakfast (pretty basic fare at hotel prices). Every day, there is an afternoon reception with complimentary cheese and crackers, and an evening reception with complimentary tea and cookies. There’s also a small outdoor pool, which didn’t get much use when we were there, but was nice to sit by and relax after dinner.
I would highly recommend the King Charles Inn to anyone.
And now, on to food! I’m going to review these in the order that we dined. Also, as a side note, I made reservations on Open Table at all of these places about two weeks in advance, and some of them already had very limited times available…so plan ahead!
It’s hard to pick which dining experience was my favorite, but if I was forced to choose, I think I’d have to say it was the Peninsula Grill. We went there for dinner our first night in Charleston, and it set the bar very, very high. The weather was beautiful, and when we were given the choice of dining inside or outside, we elected to sit outside on the terrace. Service was so friendly and attentive, the wine was sublime, and the food…oh, the food.
For starters, we had buttermilk oysters, which were a special-of-the-day. They were breaded to perfection and incredibly flavorful:
Next, for my main course I had the pan roasted jumbo sea scallops with diced lobster, garlic-chive mashed potatoes and a citrus lobster broth. I think that I moaned out loud after every bite, just like Bill Murray in “What About Bob?”.
My mom had another special-of-the-day for her main course, which was seared grouper with risotto and a broccoli coulis. I had a bite of it, and all I can say is that the coulis tasted like Spring. Truly. It was so fresh, so vibrant, so absolutely, simply amazing. If they sold it by the bottle, I would have drunk it straight…with a side of scallops and lobster.
For the finale, we ordered a slice of their famous Ultimate Coconut Cake. Again, WOW. On their website they describe it as having “twelve towering layers of delicious, Southern perfection”, and to that, I say “Ya’ll are right about that!”. Holy moly, it was just incredible.
Since we weren’t able to move for a while after eating so much amazing food, we sipped coffee and enjoyed the beautiful evening as thousands of little lights sparkled on the trees around us. There is not one single thing that wasn’t perfect about this experience!
We went to Eli’s Table on a Thursday evening, when they have live jazz. When I made reservations, I didn’t request outdoor seating because I didn’t know what the weather would be like. It turned out to be another beautiful night, and with the jazz band set up on the patio, we asked if we could have an outdoor table instead of sitting inside. The hostess was very nice and apologetic when she told us that we could sit outside, but only if we finished and left within an hour. Since we didn’t want to rush, we sat inside – it was still quite nice, but we really couldn’t hear the music at all.
Okay, now down to the business of eating!
To start, we ordered the prosciutto and fig crostini, and it was fabulous! The crostini were sprinkled with a deliciously tart pomegranate syrup that balanced the flavors perfectly.
Along with the crab cake Benedict that they offer at breakfast, Eli’s Table is known for their award-winning shrimp and grits. I will be honest here and tell you that, although I have always had a deep adoration for southern grits, I had never had shrimp and grits before this night. I figured that there was no better place to rectify that situation…and I was right!
Both my mom and I had the shrimp and grits (smoked Gouda grits…yummmmm). The waiter asked if we wanted to add lobster to dishes and, not being a fool, I said yes. However, while the dish was absolutely, mouth-wateringly delicious, it actually did not need the lobster. I’m not saying I didn’t eat it, but it wasn’t really needed on a dish that was already fabulous and extremely filling on its own.
So while I would definitely get the shrimp and grits again when we go back to Charleston, I’ll pass on the lobster next time around. (Boy, I never though those words would come out of my mouth!)
I must admit that I was hoping for more than just great food at Poogan’s Porch. You see, the restaurant used to be a private home, and is famous for being haunted. Hundreds of sightings or encounters with a former resident named Zoe have been reported by restaurant staff, patrons and neighbors. The restaurant has even been featured on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures program.
As a dog lover (and a sappy story lover), I have to tell you why the restaurant is named “Poogan’s Porch”. In the mid-1970s, the former residents of the home moved away from Charleston – but a beloved neighborhood dog, Poogan, who had claimed the home’s front porch as his own – saw no reason to leave. He remained on his porch and served as the official greeter for the restaurant that bears his name until he died of natural causes in 1979. You will pass a memorial for Poogan just before you climb the stairs to his front porch.
Now that I’ve warmed your heart, let me warm your palate! Trust me, you will be drooling soon.
Another southern dish I hadn’t yet tried was fried green tomatoes. When I saw them on this menu, I knew I had to order them. My mom wasn’t nearly as keen to try them as I was, but as soon as she tasted them, she changed her tune pretty quickly. I was a little disappointed that she ended up liking them so much, because then I had to share.
The breading was wonderfully seasoned and the tomatoes exploded with flavor. So, so, so good.
For our main courses, I had the Cast Iron Pork Chop, which was served with green beans and smoked Gouda mac and cheese. To be honest, I probably would order an old shoe if it was served with smoked Gouda mac and cheese…but luckily, the pork chop was outstanding. I wasn’t expecting it to be breaded, and I did a mental happy dance when it was placed in front of me looking all crispy and fried.
My mom got the buttermilk breaded fried chicken, which was served with mashed potatoes, green beans and Texas-pete honey jus. I have no idea what that even means, but it was fantastic.
Sadly, there was no room for dessert!
The inside of the restaurant is very quaint and comfortable. There are a few tables outside in front and also in back. Service was excellent. I most definitely would come back here again…and maybe I’ll be lucky enough to have an encounter with Zoe next time!
I had Hall’s Chophouse on my list of places where I wanted to have dinner. However, I was unable to get reservations for anywhere close to the time we were looking for, so I figured I’d have to just keep it on my list for our next visit.
When we were on our walking tour with Tommy Dew on Saturday, I got a text from my brother. He said he came across something on Twitter that morning saying Hall’s Chophouse is not to be missed for their Sunday Gospel Brunch. I checked on Open Table right away, but unsurprisingly, there were no reservations available for the next day. However, when we got back to the hotel, I asked them if they could make a call and find out if there was any way to get us a table. Illustrating just how fabulous the staff at the King Charles is, they were indeed able to get us in. I am so glad they did, because the experience was outstanding in every way.
As soon as we walked in the door, were greeted by one of the owners, Billy Hall. It was raining that morning, and he gave us napkins to dry ourselves off, shook our hands, introduced himself, thanked us for coming and then brought us to the hostess. We were seated at a table near the front, so I was able to see that he did this with EVERY SINGLE PERSON who walked through the door. When he wasn’t greeting people, he was walking around the restaurant checking at each table to make sure people were happy with their food. Now THAT is excellent customer service.
So…on to the food. I had the biscuits and gravy (I mean, how could I not?) and my mom had French toast with two huge strips of the best bacon I have ever had in my life.
The food was just as good as the service, and we finished up with the best cappuccino I’ve had outside of Italy.
Now, some of you may be wondering why it’s called a Sunday Gospel Brunch, and I shall tell you. At the front of the restaurant is a piano and an area where various performers entertain the guests every night of the week and during brunch on Sundays. We had the absolute pleasure of having the Plantation Singers perform while we were there, and it was just fantastic.
I was really sad that it was the last day of our vacation, because based on our experience at brunch, I was dying to try it out for dinner. They were voted on Yelp as the best steakhouse in America, and I think I might go back to Charleston just to eat here!
When we were getting ready to leave, we asked the hostess to call a cab for us since it had started raining even harder. We waited just outside the door (under a covered awning) and, as we were waiting, Billy Hall came outside, hugged us, thanked us for coming and said he hoped that we will come back again.
Don’t worry, Billy. We will.
After all those fabulous food stories, I really hate to bring you down. However, it’s my “job” to tell you about the good and the bad…and, sadly, we did have one meal that was just plain awful. The biggest reason I want to tell you about it is because I have actually seen this restaurant recommended on several reputable websites, and it also has decent ratings on Yelp and TripAdvisor. I don’t know how either of those things happened, but I want to do my part to make sure none of you make the mistake of wasting your time and money there!
One day after walking around all morning, we just wanted to have a quick lunch somewhere close to the hotel. We had passed a restaurant called Hyman’s Seafood several times since it was right on Market Street. It was always crowded, with a line of people waiting outside, and had signs in the windows boasting accolades from magazines and websites. So, we figured, it’s probably good, right? WRONG.
We had to wait about ten minutes for a table, and when we walked in, we realized it was way bigger than it appeared to be from the outside. I mean, it’s ginormous. We were directed to a table upstairs by the window, which was nice. The atmosphere is very casual and it’s definitely family-friendly.
I love hush puppies, so we ordered those for an appetizer, and they were actually quite good. But that’s where the good ended. For my main course, I ordered a lobster roll and my mom ordered crab cakes. I can’t describe either of them as anything other than awful. The lobster in my roll looked like it had been frozen, thawed, and refrozen a couple of times. There was no flavor. I took one bite and wanted to spit it out…I sincerely thought it might make me sick (it didn’t, but probably would have if I had eaten more). My mom’s crab cakes were basically tasteless mush, and she didn’t eat them either. Even their sweet tea was bad…and how does that happen in the South?! It tasted like it was brewed in a dirty machine.
To be fair, when we expressed our dissatisfaction, they took the items off the bill, but seriously…YUCK. When we mentioned it to the front desk people at the hotel, they weren’t surprised. They told us it’s really a tourist trap and they don’t ever tell their guests to go there. I wish we had asked them about it first, but, lesson learned! There are SO MANY good restaurants in Charleston to choose from, so stay far, far away from this one.
So, how about you? Have you been to Charleston? If so, what were some of your favorite meals? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!