Charleston, South Carolina is a lowcountry city, meaning that it resides below sea level on the Southeastern coast, where the lifestyle is gracious, welcoming, and a little slower at times. Lowcountry South Carolina is home to abundant wildlife, particularly in the form of fish and shellfish that make up so many of the region's most beloved traditional dishes. The region's storied past of plantations and enslaved West African peoples has, without a doubt, shaped the Charleston of today, and their influences are very much apparent in the Gullah culture of their descendents, and of course, their local cuisine.
This now well-known lowcountry palate of local rice, grits, seafood and produce is celebrated by many news and media publications for its savory, satisfying, comfort-food style flavors.
Thankfully, you won't have to look for long to seek out Charleston's many lowcountry restaurants, as they are spread throughout the city, both off and on the peninsula. Diners can enjoy these coastal dishes in both casual and fine dining settings across the city. Be sure to make reservations in advance for dinner at the elegant Circa 1886 restaurant located within Wenworth Mansion, or for any meal at Charleston's celebrated Queen Street restaurants, Poogan's Porch, Husk and 82 Queen. For a more casual bite of lowcountry fare, stop into Lowcountry Bistro, conveniently located for a quick meal after exploring the Charleston City Market.
This casual yet classic eatery serves up some of the best takes on traditional lowcountry cooking on the peninsula. The Lowcountry Bistro menu sets out to combine familiar Southern comfort foods with creole and French flavors, sourcing locally and changing the menu seasonally to account for ingredient availability. Expect to see such Southern favorites as Fried Green Tomatoes, Shrimp and Grits, Frogmore Stew and Carolina Crab Cakes on this simple yet delicious menu. Lowcountry Bistro is open 7 days a week for brunch, lunch, and dinner, and offers both indoor and outdoor porch seating. Check out Lowcountry Bistro before or after perusing the many vendor stalls of the historic Charleston City Market, as it is located just across the street. (843-302-0290)
A sister restaurant to East Bay neighbors Mangolias and Cypress, Blossom serves up traditional lowcountry fare with an emphasis on locally sourced seafood. Headed up by executive chef Adam Close, Blossom consistently delivers intricately flavored and beautifully presented dishes to lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch guests, both indoors and on its small outdoor patio. Enjoy Chilled Seafood or Appetizers such as East Coast Oysters, Peel & Eat Shrimp or Buttermilk Fried Calamari to prepare your palate for the main event. Lowcountry influences are evident in the variety of Blossom's Small Plates and Entrees, including Shrimp & Grits, Batter-Fried Chicken and Cornmeal Fried Catfish. (843-722-9200)
Cypress Lowcountry Grille
This lowcountry restaurant, a sister to neighbors Magnolia's and Blossom, presents a modern take on many classic Southern dishes, serving up dinner only in a beautiful historic East Bay building. Headed up by James Beard Award nominee Craig Deihl, Cypress seeks to impress, with a well known charcuterie selection, the Artisan Meat Share, as well as a stories-high wine wall and Caesar Salads made tableside. For a taste of true lowcountry cuisine, opt for one of Cypress's hearty meat or seafood dishes, fried, grilled, or smoked to perfection and presented elegantly. Reservations are highly recommended for this fine dining restaurant, especially during the weekend. (843-727-0111)
Best known for its now-famous head chef, Sean Brock, Husk has established a well-deserved reputation as one Charleston and the Southeast's best restaurants. Expect a twice daily-changing menu here, strictly dependent on the fresh catch, fresh-picked ingredients available to the restaurant that morning. Here at Husk, you'll sample the best of what the lowcountry has to offer, in the form of classic Southern dishes and some new modern takes as well. Many lowcountry plates are best for sharing at Husk, such as the cast-iron skillet of cornbread and cheddar Geechie Boy Grits. Don't miss trying the crispy pig's ear lettuce wraps, or any fried chicken entree appearing on the day's menu. (843-577-2500)
High Cotton is a reliably delicious lowcountry restaurant, located on busy East Bay Street, and managed by the well known Maverick Southern Kitchens. Specializing in southern hospitality and fresh, lowcountry ingredients, High Cotton for dinner daily and brunch Saturday and Sunday mornings from 10am through 2pm. While this restaurant is stylish and service is attentive, High Cotton remains approachable, within a budget of $22 to $38 per dinner entree. Some High Cotton menu highlights include the Buttermilk Fried Oysters and Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs to share, as well as the High Cotton Shrimp & Grits and Braised Elk Osso Bucco. High Cotton is also an idea date or family gathering spot, due to a lively ambiance and extensive wine list. (843-724-3815)
Located just outside of Charleston's historic French Quarter neighborhood, 82 Queen is named for its address on quiet Queen Street downtown, where it has served for over 30 years. This old Charleston classic is well known for its food and service to both Charleston locals and visitors alike, and is very dedicated to its elegant decor and atmosphere. The dishes at 82 Queen are equally as elegant, beautifully plated and put together. Dine at 82 Queen for lunch Monday through Friday, Dinner seven days a week and Brunch on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Menu items such as Fried Green Tomatoes, BBQ Shrimp & Grits, Lowcountry Gumbo and Carolina Crab Cakes highlight 82 Queen's commitment to lowcountry traditions and ingredients. (843-723-7591, 800-849-0082)
Opened in 1990, this Charleston classic is a beloved favorite for many Holy City locals, as it is consistently delivering top-notch lowcountry dishes as well as attentive and welcoming service. Seafood dishes are a highlight of the Magnolias menus, with such items as Lowcountry Bouillabaisse, Spicy Shrimp and Sausage over grits, Blackened Catfish, and Buttermilk Fried Chicken Breast serving as authentic representatives of lowcountry style cuisine. For a cheaper Magnolias dining option, opt to visit this East Bay Street restaurant for lunch or Sunday brunch; each of these menus shares at least a few options with the regular dinner menu. (843-577-7771)
Circa 1886, nestled within the massive Wentworth Mansion bed & breakfast, is a destination in itself, drawing diners from both the property's guest list and those staying elsewhere. This elegantly appointed restaurant offers high class service and expertly crafted and presented lowcountry cuisine, alongside frequent culinary and holiday events. Dishes like the Tasting of Broccoli, Poach Salmon and Flounder highlight local lowcountry ingredients and traditional preparations. Don't skip dessert at Circa 1886; this restaurant is known for its artistic dessert plates that wow in both presentation and flavor ingenuity. Not sure what to order? Try the Chef's Tasting Menu, available daily for $75, $110 with wine pairings. (843-853-7828)
Poogan's Porch is one of Charleston's most beloved restaurants, and is especially celebrated for its authentic lowcountry dishes and elegant setting in a restored historical Victorian home. The lowcountry theme is apparent through all meals and courses served at Poogan's Porch, from Brunch to Lunch and Dinner, starters to entrees and desserts. For a true sampling of lowcountry cuisine, opt for dishes like the She-Crab Soup and Pimento Cheese Fritters to start, and entrees such as the Shellfish and Grits, Wild Caught Roasted Catfish, and Sweet Tea Glazed Salmon to complete your Poogan's Porch experience. Reservations are highly recommended at this popular Queen Street restaurant. (843-577-2337)
Slightly North of Broad
Managed by the Maverick Kitchens group alongside High Cotton and Charleston Cooks!, Slightly North of Broad, or S.N.O.B. as its sign reads, is named for the area of the peninsula historically reserved for those slightly less wealthy than their South of Broad Street neighbors. Today, this fine dining restaurant named for the dividing line certainly caters to all of the peninsula's residents and visitors, serving up traditional lowcountry dishes with modern style and flair. Expect dishes such as the Carolina Quail, Maverick Shrimp & Grits and the beloved Pan Seared Duck Breast, a local favorite, to satisfy both in portion size and flavor. (843-723-3424)
About Clare Sweeney
A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare also ventured abroad to Spain and north to Boston before returning to Charleston and her beloved Lowcountry.
Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days enjoying the city’s perpetually sunny weather, nearby beaches and ever-growing food and craft beer scene.
Follow Clare on Twitter @LocalExpertCHS for the latest in local happenings!
Read more about Clare Sweeney here.
Connect with Clare via: Twitter | Google+ | Pinterest