Top 10 Bites of the Year: Charleston Edition

Staff Writer
Here are the best things we ate in Charleston in 2015
Park Cafe Soft Shell Crabs

Park Cafe

Park Cafe;s soft shell crab was served over a bed of shaved beets, marble potatoes, fresh radishes, mache, and ramps.

It is hard when you go out and travel often for work to remember everything you eat and drink along the way. Thankfully we took a lot of photos along the way to document all of our food journeys this year. It has been another delicious year and here is the recap of our top 10 bites of the year in Charleston:

  1. The Ark of Taste dinner at The Grocery: It is hard to choose one dish that was our favorite at The Ark of Taste Dinner organized by Slow Food Charleston and The Grocery. Chef Kevin Johnson closed his doors and welcomed in some of Charleston’s most sustainably focused chefs for the dinner. Together they served items that are being preserved by Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste endeavors. Items like American Sturgeon, Cherokee Purple Tomato, Bradford Watermelon, Jimmy Red Corn, and Blood Beet were treasured and served on platters alongside thoughtful cocktails and Italian wines.
  2. Chef Jason Stanhope Crepes at Gibbes on the Street Party: Chef Jason Stanhope of FIG had literally just won his much deserved James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef Southeast days beforehand, but that did not stop him from working his tail off at the Gibbes Museum of Art annual fundraiser—Taking on the Street Party. Stanhope made cooked to order classic French omelet with fromage blanc, trout roe and sabayon which was by far the best dish of the night.
  3. Soft Shell Crabs at The Park Café: We participated in the annual Soft Shell Crab Crawl this summer organized by Grassroots Wines and went to almost a dozen places eating a variety of soft shell crab dishes. They were all amazing but one stuck out not only for the tasty crustacean but for what surrounded it. The Park Café’s version was brown buttered basted, not fried, crab served over a bed of shaved beets, marble potatoes, fresh radishes, mache, and ramps.
  4. The Gelinaz Shuffle Menu at McCrady’s: Charleston was lucky enough to host to one of the locations for the Gelinaz Shuffle at McCrady’s as Chef Sean Brock was snatched away to Italy to cook at Osteria Francescana and Chef Paul Cunningham from Henne Kirkby Kro in Denmark came to take over McCrady’s. Cunningham charmed the crowd and transformed the restaurant (staff trading suits for rock and roll t-shirts). His dishes represented his take on Lowcountry food as he served some delicious versions of shrimp and grits, heritage beans and bacon, and Johnny cake.
  5. Bread Plate at Spero: We were skeptical of the opening of Spero. The location is in one of the only “strip malls” located downtown and the décor is pretty scarce. Service is hit or miss but every questionable thought is wiped away when you start eating the food. One of our favorite items at Spero is the Bread and Butter Flight. The plate changes often but never leaves the menu. The flight allows you to fill up on gooey, doughy bread like the beef tallow biscuits, sourdough pretzel bread, and cornbread—all served with creams and butters.
  6. Country Captain at The Glass Onion: If you are ever looking for a solid southern meal, head to The Glass Onion. Chef Chris Stewart’s menu reads as a cozy, southern supper with catfish, fried chicken, pimento cheese, deviled eggs, and buttermilk pies. One of the most hearty and tasty dishes we had this year was the Country Captain. A version of a chicken stew with curry spices, raisins, and nuts, and served over a bed of Carolina Gold Rice, it is the perfect dish for the winter months.
  7. The Macintosh Greatest Hits Menu: We forgot how good some of the original menu was at The Macintosh and we were excited when Chef Jeremiah Bacon brought it back for a week with their Greatest Hits Menu. The staff served a menu featuring some of their favorite items from the last few years. We got to try items again like the braised rabbit, hot and sour pork belly soup, clam pudding, and stone crab gnudi.
  8. Lewis BBQ and Home Team BBQ Mash Up at Coast Brewery: Nothing can be better than when two of the hottest barbeque restaurants come together and serve you a platter of food. That is exactly what happened when newcomer Lewis BBQ and Home Team BBQ came together at Coast Brewery for their Brew and ‘Cue event. It was the one meal we stood in line for (over 45 minutes) and it was worth the wait. The two filled a plate full of brisket, sausages, pulled pork, collards, squash casserole, hash, pickles and white bread. All that was needed was a cold beer, and Coast had that covered.
  9. Jeff Allen’s Me So Ma La Chili at Basico Chili Contest: Food writer Jeff Allen blew our mouths away with his crazy, spicy, tongue numbing chili at Mixson Bath & Racquet Club’s annual chili competition. Served with rice paper crisp, the chili featured roasted peanuts and Sichuan chili oil. It won most original and was so unusual, made us keep on going back for more.
  10. Szechwan Chicken and Lowcountry Boil by Chefs Danny Bowen and Sean Brock: When it was announced that Danny Bowen of Mission Chinese Food would be in Charleston cooking with Sean Brock, we rushed to get a ticket. The two coupled up to cook Szechwan style fried chicken and Lowcountry boil. Two favorite southern staples, these two chefs made some of the best versions we have ever tasted.

Honorable Mentions:

  1. Chef Andy Ricker might have been delayed for over 24 hours due to weather issues getting him into Charleston, but the menu served at a Edmund’s Oast dinner during the Charleston Wine + Food Festival went off without a hitch. A standout dish of the night was the ball of sticky rice that came served in plastic and was used as a base to eat the northern Thai herbal sausage and grilled pork neck inside of. Paired with imaginative cocktails from the crew at the Kimball House and bartender Jayce McConnell, it was a really one-of-a-kind dining experience.
  2. We admit, the sorghum pie was the last thing we ate after an epic multi-course tasting at FIG at around 10:30 at night. It did not matter, despite the fact that everything we ate that night was outstanding, the sorghum pie is one of the tastiest desserts ever made.
  3. Everything Chef Ken Vedrinski serves at his two restaurants Trattoria Lucca or Coda de Pesce is bound to be delicious. He is one of the city’s most talented chefs but he tends to hide away from mainstream media and does not get the attention he deserves. The wahoo he served in the summer had those classic flavors Vedrinski does so well with fresh local fish, lambrusco sauce and pelle croquante, better known as pork rinds, had use longing for more.

 

  1. We had several out of town standout meals including those at three places on a 24-hour stop in Chapel Hill/Durham/Raleigh where we ate at Death & Taxes, Standard Foods, and Mateo—all exceptional places. We had one of our best meals of the year at Knife where Chef John Tesar filled our table with bacon and ham tastings, the Ozersky burger, and a 240 Day Dry Aged Rib Eye. We cannot say enough great things about Shaya in New Orleans, and nearby Balise is also a great new addition. Chef Amanda Cohen is a culinary hero and we love her philosophies on most things. We especially loved the carrot dog we had during a visit Dirt Candy this year. Who knew an all-vegetable meal would make you so full. And it was exciting to see Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman expand their Memphis foot print with nearby Porcellino’s where we stopped for lunch but got to watch the butcher prepare some impressive meat cuts of the day. 
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