Charming Charleston Welcomes Discerning Food-Lovers

Charleston has this bewitching quality about it; the moment you step inside the quaint town, you are captured in its spell. Just one stroll down a city block or along the battery will have you feeling mesmerized. For those who are looking for ambience, food, and an engaging nightlife scene in the South, Charleston has all of that and then some. If you couple that with the fact that, after a short drive out of town you will arrive at some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, it's a vacation destination made in heaven, particularly for this weary road warrior.

When I think of my perfect vacation itinerary, it is usually part food and wine, part interesting excursions or activities topped with a dash of beach and pool time. When all of those ingredients come together, there's no way I could not have had a stellar experience.  

I took my first trip to Charleston with my longtime friend Meghan who is herself quite the world traveler. We were choosing between several Southern destinations, but after asking for referrals from network of friends, we settled on Charleston. One word that everyone we spoke to chose to describe it as was "charming" and indeed, it is.

On our first night in town, we checked into the artistically leaning boutique hotel The Vendue where we were welcomed with drinks and a chance to tour some of the new artwork that was currently being showcased in the hotel. Soon after, we hailed down a rickshaw to take us across town to Upper King Street for dinner at Hall's Chophouse.

The family-run and operated steakhouse is a cut above the rest (pun intended). While the restaurant serves up classic dishes like a steakhouse salad, oysters Rockefeller, and a variety of top notch steaks, it doesn't have that stuffy vibe which we've all come to expect from such establishments. Hall's set itself apart for me in two ways, the first being the fact that it served a side that was the most amazing creamed corn that I have ever had. It was by far one of the most decadent things I've ever tasted so much so that I continue to dream about it. Secondly, the warm and friendly atmosphere put forth by both Tommy and Billy Hall set it apart. Both sons were as welcoming as could be to each and every customer that walked into their establishment. And from what I hear, if you're a local, you go to Hall's and not just for dinner but also for their Sunday Gospel Brunch.

The following day, we swung by Caviar & Bananas for a quick breakfast (try the pimento cheese and the gluten-free muffins, not necessarily mixed together) before visiting the historic College of Charleston founded in 1770. We strolled the grounds and then made a beeline to King Street for shopping where I picked up a few lovely costume jewelry pieces at Moon and Lola.

When the temperature began to rise above 90 degrees, we did what any smart sunbathers would do and we flocked to the beach. On the Isle of Palms we found the Wild Dunes Resort a beautiful respite from the heat of the city. This sprawling resort had the best of both worlds for a seasoned traveler like myself: both adult-only and family-friendly pools. When I needed some quiet downtime to read and recharge, I went right for the adults-only section. When I was feeling more social, I spent time on the beach and grabbed a light bite at the pool bar in the family section.

While there are a number of tourist attractions to choose form when visiting the area that go far beyond sunning yourself, we picked a select few to give us a flavor of the destination. One evening at dusk, we embarked on a Bulldog Tours Ghost & Dungeon walking tour. While some may have looked upon it as kitschy, we saw it as another way to get a true picture of Charleston's history as well as getting a great guided walking tour of the town. The grand finale of the tour was when our group found their way to the Provost Dungeon, located in the Old Exchange building on Broad and East Bay Streets. The dungeon, coincidentally enough, once housed prisoners during the Revolutionary War.

Next we visited the expansive Magnolia Plantation about thirty to forty minutes out of downtown Charleston. We took a guided tour of the home on the plantation that dates back to 1676 built by the Drayton family with the oldest public gardens in the country on its property.

Sightseeing satiated, we turned to another one of our favorite recreational activities: wine tasting. Our tasting experience was like no other at Mira Winery's Napa Valley Education Center and Tasting Room. The tasting room links the wine growing region of the Napa Valley to the history and traditions of the South. Mira, established in 2009, partnered with prestigious growers in Napa including Stags Leap District, Los Carneros, and Rutherford. And today, while they do not have an actual vineyard in Napa to call home, they do have an exquisite tasting room where wine lovers can learn about their wine, their founders and their heritage, all the while sipping and tasting.  

One of my favorite, dare I say "foodie" moments of the trip was when Meghan and I walked into Husk, the casual concept eatery from famed chef Sean Brock. Brock, considered by most to be one of the best chef's in the South if not the country, made a true name for himself with his innovative and experimental cuisine at McCrady's Restaurant. However, we were looking for a welcoming experience over an exploratory one, so we chose Husk.

Upon entrance, we immediately noticed the oversized food board that literally spells out exactly where all of the food items come from, which just so happens to be all below the Mason-Dixon line. I was fascinated by the South's obsession with pimento cheese, so I ordered it wherever I could to see what all the fuss was about. I did very much enjoy Brock's pimento cheese dish with burrata, heirloom tomatoes, and black-eyed peas. I ended that night with a trip directly next door to Husk's bar in a separate house on the property. I ordered one quick specialty cocktail (Brock's take on a negroni) as we patiently awaited our Uber car home.

It was an enchantingly Southern way to end the evening and a true salute to the beautiful city of Charleston.

Hospitality was provided to the author.

Food writer by day, financial journalist by day-job, Kristen "Pasta" Oliveri began Pasta's Kitchen in June of 2009, a website dedicated to healthy gluten free living and her many travel adventures.