By Taylor Young
My mother and I went on a girls’ trip to the city where I was born: Charleston, South Carolina. My family didn’t live there much longer after I was born, so this trip gave me my first memories of this wonderful city. One item that is always on the itinerary when mom and I would go on trips together is to try the food and love the food. We certainly fell in love with the food we had in Charleston. Our trip was almost fully dedicated to trying out the lowcountry cuisine that Charleston is known for. Lowcountry cuisine refers to the style of food associated with low elevation and often coastal areas of the Southeast United States. It is a blend of seafood and Southern classics that are known all over the country. Charleston is one city historically associated with lowcountry cuisine. Here are 5 of the places we went to, and they were all fabulous in their own way.
Hank’s Seafood Restaurant
If you want seafood while in Charleston (and why wouldn’t you?), Hank’s Seafood Restaurant is one of the best places to go. Located in the historic downtown area, Hank’s has everything a seafood restaurant can offer from a raw bar to decadent desserts that you would have a hard time choosing from. The ambiance reminds you of the inside of a grand dining room of a cruise ship.
My mom and I went there on our first night in Charleston, and boy did we enjoy the food. I had a shrimp themed meal with shrimp cocktail for an appetizer (the cocktail sauce was cool and delicious), and I had my first shrimp n’ grits. It had a spice to it that wasn’t overwhelming and was buttery and creamy.
Mom had their She Crab soup, a source of competition in town. Hank’s is in competition for recognition of best She Crab soup in town with another great restaurant which we were able to visit later.
For dessert, we had yummy pies; my mom, a key lime; me, a banana cream pie that reminded me of banana nut pudding. Hank’s certainly provided a nice evening with great seafood. I would definitely recommend Hank’s to anyone who wants a nice evening with incredible food.
Charleston Culinary Tours
The next three restaurants we went to were a part of a tour we went on provided by Charleston Culinary Tours. We took their Downtown tour, which is certainly recommended if you want to get to know Charleston’s cuisine scene. It was a 2 ½ hour walking tour that features 3-4 restaurants that are in the heart of historical Charleston and are the epitome of the local culture. People on this tour will get samples from every restaurant to try, and each group is small, giving people on the tours ample opportunity to interact with their tour guide and the people at the restaurants.
We had a great experience with this tour. Even though the tour was mostly about the food, we also got a taste history mixed in which gave us an opportunity to learn along the way. We got to know the people who went on the tour with us, and the tour overall was a very genuine experience that I would recommend for anyone who wants to see what some of the best restaurants in downtown Charleston are.
Southend Brewery & Smokehouse
Southend Brewery & Smokehouse is where the tour met and is also the first restaurant we got to sample. It is a two story restaurant that shows off its beer brewing equipment with pride. You can see some of the brassy and coppery equipment encased in glass in the center of the main dining area. Southend Brewery has the charm of a remodeled and repurposed warehouse with a mix of modern and rustic style that makes you feel comfortable.
We sat down at our table next to the encased machinery and had a friendly chat with the other tour goers. Then, we were given a sample sizes of dishes that Southend selected for us to try. We got to try their fried green tomatoes and a miniaturized steak, and both of those definitely got our mouths watering. Since Southend Brewery takes pride in the fact that they brew their own signature beers, they gave us a sampling of them ranging from the stout to the light. We could instantly taste what was behind that pride and the grand machinery display.
Southend Brewery is definitely a great place to start off a food tour, and it definitely set the mood for the other restaurants we visited.
Lowcountry Bistro is a relatively new restaurant (only 2 years old) that is catching the attention of Charleston because of its uniqueness. They serve the kind of food you could find in the comforts of a Southern home, but serve it in the refined why that typical bistros are known for, on clean white square plates. On the tour, we got to sample their most popular dish, chicken and waffles, and we also got to taste some of the best cornbread I’ve ever got to taste. We also ate a sample of their fried okra with rice. Lowcountry Bistro definitely captured the region’s best known foods well and even added a refined quality to it. To add to the unique and authenticated experience, one of the people on our tour tried a drink of sweet tea flavored moonshine served in a mason jar! Mom and I agreed that if we ever had a chance to take my great-grandmother there, we would not miss it. Bistro is definitely a restaurant to look for in Charleston for its unique charm and presentation with down home classics that will satisfy your appetite. It has gained a lot of popularity in the little time it has been opened.
Located at one of the oldest French Quarter addresses in Charleston (300 years old!), 82 Queen is the epitome of historical Charleston charm. The sister restaurant of Lowcountry Bistro, this restaurant delivers an elegant and classic setting to try the best of lowcountry cuisine and other diverse flavors. The tour was led to the outdoor courtyard. It was a lovely setting with arched windows, soft pink exterior walls, and elegant white patio tables and chairs. While we got to enjoy the warm fresh afternoon air, we got to try their award-winning She Crab Soup (rivaled by Hank’s). Mom told me the differences between the two versions of the soup, and she said that one was creamier and that the other tasted saltier. Maybe you could try both of them to find out which one consistently wins the award!
Another highlight of the small meal we got at 82 Queen was the dessert. We had their banana nut pudding, and it was sweet and decadent and some of the best that I’ve had. They took a dessert that could be made at home and took it a step up! After our third miniature meal, we were definitely satisfied with what we had and were relaxed by our surroundings. 82 Queen was definitely the perfect climax and end to our tour.
Downtown Charleston has made its own unique impression on the culinary world with its lowcountry cuisine and historical and local charm. This tour definitely gave us a peek into what it is like to experience the best of Charleston.
Sticky Fingers Smokehouse
If you want a taste of Southern barbeque, then you should definitely try Sticky Fingers Smokehouse! It is a chain that started in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina (near Charleston) in 1992 and since then has spread over to other locations in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida. My mom and I went to the original location in Mt. Pleasant, and we definitely experienced the sticky fingers that comes with eating barbecue. Their menu features everything from burgers to ribs to pulled pork platters and more. They also have a great selection of side dishes including fried okra, coleslaw, and macaroni and cheese. Sticky Fingers even makes their own signature barbecue sauces from the more vinegary sauce to the sweeter sauce. Overall, this chain of restaurants delivers the different types of Southern barbecue all in one location and provides the smoky taste you’d expect from great barbecue.
Charleston provides a unique brand of cuisine that people from all over love to try. My mom and I certainly loved the food aspect of our vacation, and we would definitely take another trip to Charleston the next time we have a chance. When you get a chance, you should go ahead and give lowcountry cuisine a shot!
All images provided by Kimberly Young unless otherwise noted.
Taylor Young is currently a senior at Western Carolina University. She is pursuing a degree in English with a professional writing concentration. Taylor has an enthusiasm for classic literature and editing all types of work. She pulls from her own experiences in her writing and likes finding facts to support any claim she makes. She is a freelance writer who has been published via Author’s Boutique, PubSmart Author, Whereandwhatintheworld.com, and Luxe Beat Magazine. Taylor is the Production Editor at Paranormal Galaxy Magazine.
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