So after doing some Saturday morning shopping at Charleston’s Le Creuset Boutique, it was time to head to the first Charleston Insiders Weekend event of the day. Another Travel & Leisure event was taking place both Saturday and Sunday called “Eat and Drihnk Like a Local.” The idea was that you would be able to sample food from 10 different restaurants in Charleston, focusing on the up-and-coming Upper King area. King Street is the main street of the downtown Charleston peninsula, filled with restaurants and other businesses, and it is split into two halves – southern or lower King is the more established half, packed with lots of high end shops and restaurants, and Upper King is in the process of being developed, and thus the neighborhoods are full of college students and the restaurants cater more to a college crowd.
To start off, we had to go to the Charleston Visitors Center and get our “passports” – to receive samples at the various restaurants, we needed to be wearing a little book on a tether around our necks, that was filled with information about each of the restaurants. Also, as you went to each new restaurant, they would stamp their page in the book, and the idea was that you would try to fill up your book with stamps.
Some of the restaurants involved opened only for dinner, so we looked for a couple that might be open for lunch. We found two, and conveniently, they were not far from each other. The first was Artisan Meat Share, on Spring Street just off of King.
Their offering was a local beer and a chunk of a classic Italian sub sandwich. It came with provolone cheese on it, which I took off and gave to Therese (she loves being able to have double cheese on occasion because of my allergy!).
This was a great sandwich, with salami and ham and Italian seasonings. I talked with one of the guys who was overseeing the Eat Like a Local cart in the restaurant, and he told me how meats are cured in the restaurant. I walked to the back of the restaurant, and saw the many salamis and hams and such, which looked beautiful. A counterman asked me if I wanted to try one of the salamis or hams, so I picked one out, and shared the slice with Therese. If you are into meat, you will love Artisan Meat Share.
Next we walked further up King Street to Butcher & Bee.
Butcher & Bee is in a quirky setting. It is a building at the far end of a parking lot, beyond two other industrial-looking buildings. Actually, it reminded me a lot of New York City’s hip neighborhood, Williamsburg, which similarly features lots of industrial buildings that have been re-purposed into restaurants and bars. Therese and I walked up and got ourselves some drinks, and I went inside to order our food.
At Butcher & Bee, you had a choice of two salads and two entrees, so we decided to get one of each. And that was lucky, because as it turned out, just one salad and one entree was dairy free. Namely, I had a kale salad and a mushroom Banh Mi sandwich (while Therese ate a strawberry salad with cheese on it, and a Cuban sandwich – also with cheese).
I am not usually a fan of kale, but this salad was really good. And the portobello Banh Mi was wonderful.
There were a couple of other restaurants we could’ve visited not far from Butcher & Bee; but I was feeling a little tired. We had been walking a lot the last two days, and the previous night there had been tons of wine with dinner. So it being my birthday, I elected to go back to the hotel and chill for a while, and then go back out again for dinner in the evening. And that’s what we did.
Now I should say that originally, our plan for that night was to attend a Pig Roast in a park in the Mount Pleasant area (which is to the east of the Charleston peninsula, accessible over the Ravenel Bridge). But I wanted to go back to a restaurant where we had eaten during our previous Charleston visit during Christmastime of 2013 – namely, a Vietnamese restaurant called Co. That way instead of having to go for a car ride in each direction, we could simply walk.
On this night, Co was not as good as we had remembered it from our first visit. Apparently, the manager was working the bar, which probably meant that the regular bartender had called in sick at the last minute. Without the manager on the floor of the restaurant, the wait staff seemed a little at loose ends. Therese ordered Vietnamese coffee, only when it came it didn’t seem to have any condensed milk in it. She sent it back, and when the waiter returned, it still didn’t have any condensed milk in it. Finally, after she made a fuss, she got it with milk.
The food wasn’t bad, but it honestly was not worthy of a birthday dinner, either. I started with fried wontons.
For my main course, I had a Banh Mi (I know, my second one of the day), with pulled pork. Again, it was not bad.
The most interesting part of our time at Co was negotiating the bathrooms. Instead of saying “Men” and “Women” the doors have the traditional symbols for the two genders.
I couldn’t remember which one was which – thankfully a waiter walked by and told me. Do you know which one is which?
On Sunday midday was the last event of the weekend, the Gospel Brunch at Halls Chophouse. Halls is an institution in Charleston, and you can see why. Mr. and Mrs. Hall and their son all greeted us as if we were their best friends. And the food was good, and in pretty huge portions. I had the blackened salmon salad.
As we were eating, we were entertained by the Plantation Singers, a group in traditional dress that sang old Gospel tunes (like “Old-time Religion”). A photo of the group’s performance is at the top of this post. The center of the group is three women who are grandmother, mother and daughter. The grandmother and mother have deep rich contralto voices and form the core of the group’s sound, while the daughter sings back-up and plays the drum. Then there is a singer who provides a descant to the melody, and one male singer who doubles the melody. They were wonderful to hear – I especially loved the improvisatory style of the descant singer.
And that was it. What a weekend! And what a town. No wonder that Charleston is listed by Conde Nast as number one city in the U.S., and number two city in the world, as a tourism destination. We can’t wait to go back, and I’m sure we will be back there very soon.