In Charleston, the mechanic shops, 19th-century would-be-tear-downs, and old beach houses are being revamped as dinner spots. Who can keep up with all these new choices? My friends and I are trying. In downtown neighborhoods from the Market to the East Side, to islands west of the Ashley and east of the Cooper, new restaurants are opening by the dozens in this old city. Brewed, fried, French, raw, fermented, pickled, roasted, southern—it’s all happening here. Some of Charleston’s best chefs and restaurant big shots are behind some of the most talked-about properties. That includes second kitchens for several chefs. Craft beer and food fans got their wish when founders of Brew-vival opened Edmund’s Oast. And we’re all still waiting for the street taco palace to open on East Bay Street. Chef Sean Brock (Husk, McCrady’s) is behind it, and says he’s been working out tortilla techniques after a research trip to Mexico City.
Oops, we stayed more than two hours for lunch (again), ordered three courses, and drank coppery-colored rosé. I just don’t want to leave this one-room-wide house on an alley—or the trout in butter sauce or squash blossom beignets. Upstairs, downstairs, and on the patio everyone’s clinking wine glasses and supping with real silverware, too.
Leon’s Oyster Shop
Char-grilled oysters in a former auto body shop, that’s what we come here for. Garage bay open, this is comfort-food-central, serving up scalloped potatoes (layered like tarte tatin), black-eyed pea salad, and fried chicken (mmm, is that Old Bay seasoning?). Owner Brooks Reitz made sure there’s soft-serve vanilla ice cream on the menu, too.
Chef Frank McMahon already has a following for his fish cookery at Hank’s Seafood nearby, but this place goes Parisian—with tile floors and café chairs and smoked (on purpose) mirrors. A wonderful night here, I think, includes Veuve Cliquot or one of the Belgian beers, shrimp Provencal, a hot baguette, and monkfish bourride.
Brighter, lighter, and beach-ier than his wildly popular Wild Olive on John’s Island, Chef Jacques Larson’s Obstinate Daughter is drawing even more crowds—if that‘s possible—to the restaurant scene on Sullivan’s Island. If you like local ingredients and plates to share—seafood, pizza, oysters—this is the spot. One of my faves is the Frogmore chowder.
The bartender recommends the fresh charcuterie (they also have a cured option), and we think the catfish rillettes are smoky-incredible. Another sure thing, I think, is the lamb meatball dish in a light broth, along with saison-style beer. Or order something else from the taps’ ever-changing line-up of lagers, ales, sours, and darks.