We ate our way, one appetizer at a time, through more than 30 restaurants. Join us on our quest for the best―and try it yourself.
We’re writing this from our treadmills.
After all, eating heaping amounts of rich Lowcountry cuisine at nearly every restaurant in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, is no small task. But we sacrificed our waistlines to map out a fun way for you to taste the town: an appetizer crawl.
The cast of characters in this adventure includes Lyda, culinary school graduate extraordinaire; Jennifer, pork enthusiast and all-around food maven; and Shannon, a registered dietitian with a weakness for mac and cheese. We dove palate-first into one of the South’s foremost culinary meccas, tasting literally 197 dishes―we swam in shrimp and grits, slept on beds of plump foie gras, and all but bathed in she-crab soup. All for you, dear reader, to arm you with everything you need to sample the best of the best in Charleston.
Here’s your road map to choosing your own roaming culinary adventure.
photo: McCrady's long bar
This Lowcountry retreat, with distressed columns, buttery yellow walls, and oil paintings of palmetto trees and crumbling
lean-tos, gets portion sizes just right. It’s a great place to sample a host of regional specialties without overloading on
the fried factor.
Don’t Miss the traditional favorite, shrimp and grits. Anson masters simplicity with perfection: grits (stone-ground in-house) married with tender certified Wild American Shrimp, shrouded in a light sauce, studded with bacon and roasted tomatoes. 12 Anson Street; www.ansonrestaurant.com or (843) 577-0551
Local boy chef Jeremiah Bacon brings a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and seven years of experience in lauded
New York restaurants, such as Thomas Keller’s renowned Per Se, back to the Lowcountry. This is the place to try a variety
of dishes. We happily chomped through our personal buffet of seasonal foods: shad roe with blue cheese grits, glazed quail,
and a delightfully tender chunk of honey-lacquered bacon. The kitchen is open for lunch, but the real culinary magic doesn’t
happen until the 5 o’clock witching hour.
Don’t Miss the Magnolia Plantation Old Fashion cocktail. Made with Russell’s Reserve bourbon, peach nectar, muddled orange, and lemon, this refreshing libation is a sip of Southernness. Be careful though―it’s so easy to drink, you might forget it packs a punch. 10 Exchange Street; www.carolinasrestaurant.com or (843) 724-3800
photo: At Carolina’s listen to your server call out the specials of the day so you don’t miss out on delights such as shad roe over blue cheese grits.
This is fresh food like it was meant to be served. Pay attention to the in-season specials, and listen to server suggestions.
We were talked into ordering a veggie plate and were aptly rewarded for taking the advice. Consider making FIG as your last
stop; while many kitchens close earlier, it’s late-night friendly.
Don’t Miss the cauliflower, seared in a cast-iron skillet and roasted with mustard butter, is a revelation. 232 Meeting Street; www.eatatfig.com or (843) 805-5900
photo: Mike Lata, executive chef and co-owner of FIG, has helped strengthen the local food movement in Charleston with fresh fare and a respect for the seasons.
Quirky in design, with a long bar of communal seating and lots of French flair, the restaurant was made with a crawl in mind.
This great-value favorite is an ideal spot to indulge that sweet tooth with a smorgasbord of desserts and a French-pressed
café crème, served with a scoop of ice cream in place of heavy cream.
Don’t Miss the chocolate mousse cake. Its chocolate cookie crust and fluffy filling hit the spot, without sending you into insulin shock. 98 Broad Street; www.fastandfrench.org or (843) 577-9797
photo: Stop for dessert at Gaulart & Maliclet French Café, also known as Fast & French. The warm Bourbon Butterscotch Cake is crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside, served with a scoop of ice cream. Enjoy it even more with a cup of café crème.
Local food at its finest―homegrown, organic, and delicious. Chef Sean Brock is so dedicated to quality control he and the
staff tend to a farm daily to biodynamically raise 21⁄2 acres of vegetables and a posse of pigs. “We start the day playing
with tractors, and then we come here and play with the food,” says the ruddy-faced Sean. We like the bar area, which used
to be part of an alleyway, with alcove table seating crafted from converted horse stables.
Don’t Miss the charcuterie platter. There really wasn’t anything that didn’t elicit a “Wow, you have to try this!” but Sean’s selection of house-cured meats (salami, coppa, soppressata) is a porcine dream. 2 Unity Alley; www.mccradysrestaurant.com or (843) 577-0025
photo: McCrady’s long bar and alcove seating offer guests room to mix and mingle.
Although the mahogany-paneled, three-story monolith is dressed to impress, froufrou dining this is not. Chef and owner Brett
McKee, with his cue ball haircut, Brooklyn twang, and landscape of tattoos, has an almost cult following among local patrons
for his brash (but endearing) attitude and killer steaks.
Don’t Miss the decadent lobster-and-shrimp mac and cheese. Gooey, rich, packed with buttery tail and claw meat―it disappeared fast at our table. Technically it’s not an appetizer, but with a crawl, you can order any dish to share. 17 Broad Street; www.oaksteakhouserestaurant.com
photo: Chocolate Indulgence is the name of this dessert at Oak Steakhouse. It’s six layers of devil’s food cake and chocolate buttercream served with a shot of ice-cold milk.
Beams of natural light paint the crowded oyster bar in this happy hour go-to. Start your crawl here with a glass of Champagne
(a steal at $3) and a selection of fresh raw oysters, including briny Carolina Cups from nearby waters and creamy Quonset
Points from coastal Rhode Island.
Don’t Miss the corn fritters. With a fried crispy coating and a dusting of powdered sugar, they taste like a funnel cake at the fair. 153 East Bay Street; www.pearlzoysterbar.com or (843) 577-5755
photo: Don’t leave Pearlz without trying the melt-in-your-mouth corn fritters, served piping hot in a wire basket lined with faux newspaper.
If you’re in the mood for down-home flavor, this is the place. The menu, a collection of family recipes and Southern cooking
traditions, offers everything from fried chicken to deviled crab. Go hungry―the portions are generous, something to consider
when planning your crawl.
Don’t Miss the tomato aspic or the fried chicken livers. The aspic envelops a poached shrimp and takes us back to Sunday lunch on the grounds. The chicken livers with caramelized onions and bacon lardons showcase why sweet and bitter work so well together. 412 King Street; www.virginiasonking.com or (843) 735-5800
photo: Comfort food at Virginia’s is what we all crave. Fried chicken and deviled crab were two of our favorites when we visited.