I Ate My Way Through My Bachelorette Party in Charleston
I wanted to eat all of the food. I didn’t want to wear a tiara or take shots of tequila or dance with men half of my age. I wanted to eat all of the food.
That was what I told my friends when they asked me if we could have a bachelorette weekend before my upcoming wedding in September.
Brides-to-be are historically tyrannized by a very specific set of rules in the six months leading up to their nuptials, the most important of which is the wedding diet, which restricts you to kale, lettuce, lemon water, and pictures of Kendall Jenner.
I knew that my plans would break all of these rules, still, I began to make inquiries about the best place to eat all of the food in the continental United States. I was immediately pointed in the direction of Charleston by several people who ought to know. The Southern city is having a real culinary moment right now. It’s true that Chucktown is even starting to become something of a bachelorette cliché in the vein of its Southern cousins, Nashville and Austin. But I wasn’t going there for the bars, the debauchery, or the hope that someone might make out with a cast member of “Southern Charm.” I was going for the pork belly, the barbecued oysters, the grits, and the pickled shrimp.
What does it mean that I want to have a bachelorette party where I just eat for three days straight?” I asked my fiancé Nick.
“Are you pregnant?” he asked me.
I’m not pregnant. My wedding dress is very small. I bought it off the rack at BHLDN and left it in Philadelphia until my wedding. There will be no altering of it.
People who aren’t really my friends cringed when I told them my plan.
“You should take it easy before your wedding.”
“Aren’t you worried about back fat?”
I didn’t want to hear the words back fat ever again.
I took a red-eye flight into Charleston and started my day with a heaping breakfast of duck confit hash at Bull Street Gourmet and Market. The potatoes in any hash should be fried to a crusty brown, while the meat should remain juicy, tender, and coated in just the right amount of fat. Bull Street’s hash did not disappoint.
Slightly North of Broad, or S.N.O.B is the place to see and be seen and to Instagram delicious things for lunch in Charleston. Occupying a renovated warehouse, this eclectic low-country bistro boasts midday favorites like the blackened catfish sandwich and the shrimp and grits.
I was quickly introduced to the concept that in Charleston a salad is so much more than a salad. Why doesn’t the rest of America combine fried chicken with watermelon in their salads? It makes me believe that the rest of America is truly missing out.
Slightly North of Broad
With food like this, you would expect the residents of Charleston to weigh as much as that Honey Boo Boo family on television. That isn’t the case. The women of Charleston are immaculately beautiful and terribly fit. They either must not go out to eat very often or they have wonderful diet pills.
For Friday night my motley crew of bachelorettes — the single girl, the married girls, the lesbian, and the eight-month pregnant chick — made reservations at The Grocery, a new American spot that prides itself on locally sourced ingredients. The pairings of local produce here will blow you away. The shishito peppers are combined with roasted peaches. The summer melon soup is accompanied by a pickled shrimp salad. (How anyone lives without pickled shrimp in their lives I have no idea.) Okra comes both roasted and fried in the same dish with a smattering of cotija cheese. The fried oysters are married with a deviled egg sauce and bread and butter pickles.
We had a late night snack at the restaurant in our hotel, the Sea Island Grill in the Wild Dunes resort. It was some of the very best she-crab soup, a low-country specialty, I’ve ever tasted. Sure its main ingredients were crab and butter, but both things were put on this earth to make us happy — and so it was a good decision.
On Saturday, we tucked into lunch at Closed for Business, a neighborhood bar in downtown Charleston serving great food and 42 taps of beer, which they will conveniently organize into very ladylike tasting flights.
We began the some beer-battered onion rings, pork rinds, and pimento cheese, a situation which began my weekend-long love affair with pimento cheese, a staple on almost every menu in Charleston.
Pimiento cheese is often referred to as the caviar of the South. I reckon it’s tastier than the caviar of the North. Made with sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos, salt, and pepper, the cheese is blended into a chunky dip and then spread onto Ritz crackers or celery.
When you are the bride, you get to try everyone’s entree. And so I sampled the pork-slap sandwich, a fried pork cutlet, house-smoked ham, swiss cheese, green tomato chutney, and house sauce served on a soft white bun, and the Southern fried chicken sandwich with pickle slaw and mayonnaise.
Do you want BBQ pulled pork on your grilled cheese, the waitress asked us?
“YES,” I hollered with excitement.
Our bellies full, we took to the streets for some shopping.
“Hey, I forgot to eat dessert at the last place,” I said to my girlfriends. They looked at me like I had three heads.
And so we made a quick stop into Cupcake Down South on King Street for a salted caramel chocolate bit of goodness and heaven.
I could only eat half of it knowing that our most exciting meal of the weekend was on Saturday night. We had (very early) reservations at Husk, one of the most celebrated restaurants in Charleston.
One thing that you should know about Husk is that the warm biscuits they bring to the table before the meal are like crack. You will eat seven of them and you won’t once think about how gluten is the devil. You will simply continue putting these biscuits in your mouth until no more biscuits exist.
Husk’s Queen Anne façade, constructed in 1893, is a throwback to turn-of-the-century Charleston, with the kind of porch you could sip sweet tea or punch on for hours on end.
The menu at Husk is “hyper local,” which seems competitive with the ubiquitous “local.” We were told that the addition of hyper means that it changes almost daily and there are no specials.
It was at Husk that my friends Meg and Meg (a married couple who live in Seattle) introduced me to the concept of the “side entree.” When you can’t choose just one entree, you should almost always opt to order an additional entree for the entire table to share. It is the most brilliant concept I have heard all year long. It allowed me to indulge in both the pork belly and the fried catfish.
We finished the meal with the preserved peach rice pudding, a melt-in-your-mouth delight served with summer berries and topped with honeycomb ice cream, best enjoyed with a neat Old Forester 100 Proof.
The next day we left the environs of downtown to have a classic Southern brunch at Edmund’s Oast. If you are staying in one of the cozy B&Bs within walking distance of King Street and the cobblestone alleyways you may be loath to leave. Get in an Uber. I promise that Edmund’s is worth the 10-minute ride.
“That is the sexiest butter I have ever seen,” Meg said when the cornbread arrived at the table. With its almond shape and glossy gelato-esque finish, it was indeed.
With planes to catch in less than three hours we went all out at Edmund’s. Perched on picnic tables in the beer garden outside we ordered two orders of the pickled shrimp on toast, yet another pork belly for the whole table, a large platter of fried chicken and seconds of the corn bread.
I rolled onto the plane, happy, stuffed, and full of promises to fast on kale and lettuce for the next five weeks. Still, I didn’t regret eating all of the food.