Charleston Appetizer Crawl
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Three’s a charm: Limit your crawl to three stops. Any more than that, and you’ll end up racing the clock, not to mention reaching for the Pepcid.
- Keep it small: Tables for eight aren’t routinely available at a moment’s notice. Go with a small group―or be willing to split up.
- Make a reservation: Every place we recommend readily accommodates walk-ins. However, if you don’t want to risk eating at the bar, reserve at least one table along your route.
- Money matters: Crawling for appetizers can be cheaper than eating a full meal at a single restaurant (but not always). For the evening, expect to pay about $65 per person for a group of four. Cock¬tails and wine can escalate the bill significantly.
- Dress code: Charleston restaurants range from white tablecloth haute cuisine to laid-back cafes. Business casual is dinner-appropriate no matter which combination you choose. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes―cobblestones and stilettos aren’t friends.