Lowcountry Ingredients: The Heart and Soul of Charleston's Best Southern Restaurants
By Clare Sweeney
Charleston Local Expert
Charleston is a culinary destination of the deep South, with its own unique style of Southern cuisine that stands out from other regional foodie hotspots. Charleston chefs and restaurants take advantage of a warm climate and an unseen bounty of local produce, meats and, of course, seafood from the surrounding Atlantic Ocean inlets and harbors. This ideal combination of lowcountry ingredients come together from Charleston's wet, warm and bountiful seaside environment, a setting sourced by local restaurants, cooks and residents for centuries. This system of exceptional, accessible food sources makes it easy for Charleston to provide the memorable farm and sea-to-table dishes enjoyed at any restaurant in the area.
It's Charleston's long standing cultural traditions, however, that define the unique preparations of the lowcountry harvest. These traditions are present in the perfectly fried chicken, hoppin' john, shrimp and grits, and freshly caught fish served daily in Charleston's best Southern restaurants. For a sampling of the Holy City's finest Southern dishes in a fine dining setting, head to critically acclaimed Husk, by local celebrity chef Sean Brock, or its Queen Street neighbor, the lovely Poogan's Porch. A Southern style breakfast is mandatory when visiting Charleston. Get your biscuits and gravy fix at James Beard Award-winning Hominy Grill, or the tiny yet wildly popular Callie's Hot Little Biscuit on Upper King Street. Off peninsula, look for the Early Bird Diner in West Ashley, known for their Chicken & Waffles, or Page's Okra Grill in Mount Pleasant for truly dedicated Southern meal experience.
Cru Cafe, conveniently located on Pinckney Street across from the carriage tour companies of Charleston, offers gourmet style preparations of traditional Southern dishes and ingredients, at a very reasonable rate. The menu at Cru represents a modern, artful take on Southern classics alongside ethnically influenced appetizers and entrees, each presented beautifully. Stop into Cru post carriage tour or Charleston City Market shopping for one of Charleston's best kept fine dining secrets. Some of Cru Cafe's most delectable Southern dishes include the Cru Barrata with heirloom tomatoes, Fried Green Tomato with pork belly croutons and the Pecan Fried Brie with local honey. (843-534-2434, 843-534-2433)
Whenever the line at a soul food restaurant wraps around the block, you know there's something special going on inside. In Jestine's Kitchen, timeless comfort foods like Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo, Pecan Fried Chicken, and Meatloaf Sandwiches are served with country vegetables like Fried Okra and Collard Greens. The salty-sweet pickle starters on every table should hold you over long enough make a choice from the generous menu. Expect at least a 30-minute wait, and maybe even a chance celebrity spotting - the likes of Anthony Bourdaine and Rachel Ray have visited Jestine's cozy digs. (843-722-7224)
The Early Bird Diner
This approachable, budget-friendly West Ashley diner offers the true Southern experience to both locals and visitors to Charleston with a wide variety of breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night hot plates. The Early Bird Diner, living up to its name with late night service til 4am on weekends, is a dependable choice for affordable Southern food in the Charleston area. Look for such Southern menu items as their famous Chicken & Waffles, Fried Pork Chop with Pepper Jelly, Blackened Catfish and Meatloaf to satisfy your comfort food cravings. If you're heading out to Early Bird for weekend brunch, head there early! Lines often form in reflection of the demand for an Early Bird Diner hangover cure! (843-277-2353)
Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe
Dixie Supply & Bakery lives up to its unique name: this corner restaurant and bakeshop has supplied locals and visitors alike with classic Southern foods since 2007, and the family owner-operators can trace their family's local roots back to the late 1600's! This small hardware store-turned Southern eatery delivers massively tasty plates of breakfast, lunch, and dinner items, along with menu specials that are updated daily (check their website). Dixie Supply & Bakery is perhaps best known for its belly-busting breakfast menu, which includes favorites like Sausage Gravy biscuits and Lowcountry Shrimp & Creamy Stone-Ground Grits. The likes of fried green tomatoes, pimiento cheese, tomato pie, and southern BBQ are all regular features on the Dixie Supply menu. ((843) 722-5650)
Page's Okra Grill
Page's Okra Grill of Mount Pleasant is a casual, Southern eatery, serving "Local Food for Local Folks" since its opening in 2006. Owned and operated by the Page family, Page's Okra Grill is run by executive chef Ashleigh Page and her sister, General Manager Courtney. This laid-back restaurant offers a warm and welcoming atmosphere, outdoor seating, and consistently delicious Southern plates at a great value. Daily specials appear on the menu for each meal of the day, and biscuits are made from scratch by the hundreds each morning. Order the Hungryneck Pimiento Cheese or the Redneck Rolls for your appetizer, but leave room for Ashleigh's Famous Shrimp and Grits, Country Fried Steak or Fried Chicken Livers for your main course! (843-881-3333)
Callie's Hot Little Biscuit
Stop by Callie's Hot Little Biscuit for breakfast, lunch, or even a late night snack when you're craving fresh, made-from-scratch Southern biscuits. This tiny bakery-restaurant boasts a wide variety of topped and filled biscuits, priced at just $5 for three or $19 for a baker's dozen. Choose from 7 types of hot little biscuits: Buttermilk, Cheese & Chive, Shortcake, Blackberry, Cinnamon, Black Pepper Bacon, and Country Ham. In addition to the regular biscuit offerings, Callie's Hot Little Biscuit's daily specials often include biscuit bowls of soup, shrimp and grits, tomato pie and more! Check their Facebook page for today's offering - you won't be disappointed! (843-737-5159)
Located just across the Ashley River from downtown Charleston, The Glass Onion attracts both locals and visitors with its classic Southern comfort foods and family-friendly atmosphere. The Glass Onion shares its name with a White Album Beatles' song, and is perhaps just as popular for its Tuesday Fried Chicken Suppers. This weekday dinner special is in high demand, and reservations are required at least 24 hours in advance, and the fried chicken itself is first-come, first-served. Tuesday Chicken Suppers are sold as plates with two sides ($13 for white meat and $12 for dark meat). When it's necessary to reserve your fried chicken in advance, you know you're in for an authentic Southern meal! (843-225-1717)
Hominy Grill, at home in a historic 19th century house, features a giant wall mural of waitress "Rosie" serving up a steaming bowl of grits. James Beard Award winning chef Robert Stehling serves up classic southern staples for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch, like the Catfish Sandwich, Pecan Crusted Pork Chop, and quite possibly the best Shrimp & Grits in all of Charleston. An addition was completed in summer of 2011 to add a full bar and courtyard, making long waits a little easier. Very popular with locals and visitors alike, be prepared to wait, especially during Sunday brunch hours. (843-937-0930)
Poogan's Porch is an iconic culinary landmark in Charleston, serving up some of the lowcountry's best Southern fare for decades from its quaint cottage setting. Expect beautifully prepared plates of traditional Southern dishes, served with a modern flair, made from locally sourced ingredients. Poogan's Porch is open 365 days a year, making this memorable restaurant the ideal destination for a gathering of friends and family, a holiday celebration, or even a quiet romantic date. When visiting Poogan's Porch, opt for the tried-and-true local favorites, such as the She Crab Soup, Pimento Cheese Fritters or Fried Green Tomatoes to start your meal. For the main event, highlights include the Crispy-Skin Snapper, All Natural Fried Chicken, and of course, the Shellfish & Grits. (843-577-2337)
You'll find Husk, one of the Southeast's most critically acclaimed restaurants, tucked into a quiet stretch of Queen Street downtown just a few blocks from the waterfront. The unassuming home style building is an ideal setting for the warm and welcoming service, as well as the true-to-tradition plates being served inside. From brunch to lunch, dinner and dessert, you'll find that you really can't make a poor menu selection. Menus change twice daily according to what's in season or available locally, so be sure to check the Husk website before your mealtime visit. An order of the Skillet of Cornbread with Bacon is not to be missed, and a true representation of Husk's ability to master simple Southern fare. When Shrimp 'n Grits appears on the daily menu, it's an opportunity that should be seized, along with fried chicken or catfish entrees. Reserve a porch patio table if possible! (843-577-2500)
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.