Jet Blue has been offering some low one way fares from JFK to Charleston, South Carolina. I checked some dates to find it at $59 at one point and went for it. This also gave me the opportunity to visit with my niece, Dawn who lives about a half hour away. It was like a “take your niece to work week” as we spent four days romping around and especially my wanting to focus on the cuisine as well as a bit of history.
Dawn met me at the airport where I took Charleston Green Taxi (www.charlestongreentaxi.com) to Governor’s House Inn, located at 117 Broad Street. The house is the former residence of Governor Edward Rutledge, the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence. There were a few rooms located on the terrace level, which was down a few steps, on the side of the main house and having my own entrance and private porch.
Having arrived at around 11 a.m. I was able to check in early. We then walked to the nearest trolley stop as the city utilizes a free trolley system as one of the means of getting around both the historic district and an area on the west end.
Vendue Inn at 19 Vendue Range, located near Waterfront Park, was the destination as lunch was scheduled at their restaurant, The Rooftop. It had a great view
but with the day being rainy and cold, we sat inside and met with Bryan Hunter. I wanted to get a decent sampling of the menu first choosing three appetizers (We all shared). Holy City (as Charleston is known as) Heirloom Tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and baby lettuce was one of the appetizers.
Ceviche of local seafood had wonton chips for scooping. Braised Short Rib of Beef came along with heirloom tomatoes and a parmesan basket.
I was also interested in their Cuban Sandwich, an item that I wouldn’t expect to be on the menu. The waiter said that the roast pork was made with cumin, something that I cannot eat. The chef offered to use chicken instead. Now you have the chicken, smoked ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles. We all thought that it was a great alternative. I’m calling it the Cubicken!
Had to have dessert. Chocolate Ganache Torte with berries and hazelnut cream was one. We also sampled the Mason Jar Pies of chocolate cream, strawberry and rhubarb, and chocolate cream. Of the four desserts, the Torte topped the taste buds.
On the way back to the trolley stop, we were passing a sort of “space”…rather than a store…where a woman was weaving baskets made from sweetgrass. I read, “One of the oldest handcrafts of African origin in the United States is the hand-woven winnowing sieve, a shallow basket that was used during the Colonia Era to separate the rice seed from its chaff.
Made in Charleston from indigenous bulrush, a strong yet supple grass that thrives in the sandy soil of the coastal region, sweetgrass baskets are now among the nation’s most prized cultural souvenirs.” I did not purchase anything as I have too many things I’ve collected over the years. I later found many places where both men and women were weaving these baskets and all for sale.
In fact, we boarded the trolley and headed for the Charleston City Market. Mostly to get out from the rain. The market stretches for four city blocks from the architecturally-significant Market Hall, which faces Meeting Street, through a continuous series of one-story market sheds, the last of which terminates at East Bay Street. There seemed to be more than 30 tables of baskets. Variety of items all certified to be made in Charleston.
Taxied back to the hotel to relax and have “tea” and some other tasty offerings before going to dinner at the Blind Tiger Pub at 30 Broad Street. Since we were on Broad Street I didn’t realize how many long blocks it was and after doing all that walking around the market it was a bit of a schlep for me…but not for Dawn. Oh, to be in my 30s again. If it weren’t for the weather we would have eaten in their outdoor area in the back. Great spot!!! Pub-ish. Wanting to take in the low country cuisine we had: fried pickles, fried green tomatoes, crab cake, and fresh tuna. The tomatoes were topped with goat cheese, basil aioli, and cucumber roasted corn relish.
End of the day and enjoyed that much needed night’s sleep. I don’t know if they had mosquitos or what but between the room I was staying at and going to that outdoor area, I was bit all over my arms.
I could have had breakfast delivered but opted to go to the main house to take photos as well. Breakfast consisted of: white cranberry juice, eggs over easy, biscuit, bacon, diced potatoes, fresh fruit, and tea.
Dawn arrived and now off to Palmetto Carriage Works for a tour. A must to check out the Big Red Barn. Very cold morning! Was given blankets. Thank goodness I was wearing a long sleeved corduroy shirt and my NY Giants heavy jacket with a hood! Dawn required two blankets. We loved the tour. Great way to hear the history of the area and opportunity to view all these history homes and mansions. There are other carriage tours but this particular company is well known for taking great care of their horses. www.palmettocarriage.com
Lunchtime but not really hungry. Dawn wanted me to try the pizza at this particular place just across the way from Palmetto Carriage Works. Thin but not crispy crust like the way they make in Naples, Italy.
Taxi back to Governors House Inn, pick up luggage and go to my next overnight, Two Meeting Street Inn located at 2 Meeting Street and South Battery. Who wouldn’t want to stay here? Here is the history. “According to tradition, Waring Carrington, a successful Charleston SC jeweler, experienced love at first sight when he saw young Martha Williams in the late 1800s. The two were married in 1890 in a celebrated society event for which 2500 invitations were sent. Fittingly, the bride's father, wealthy merchant George Williams, bestowed an incredibly beautiful wedding gift on the newlyweds.
This gift, presented on a rose colored pillow, was a check for $75,000 to be used for the couple's new home at the corner of Meeting Street and South Battery, one of the most desirable locations in Charleston, SC. This gift would be generous even by today's standards in the depressed post-war South, the loving gesture was truly extraordinary. Little did George Williams know that his gift would one day become the honeymoon destination for future newlyweds seeking a romantic getaway at an exquisite Charleston bed and breakfast. In 1946, the mansion at 2 Meeting Street was purchased by Minnie Spell Carr, aunt (and great aunt) of the current owners, who established a guesthouse. The Spell family has been welcoming guests to its elegant Charleston home ever since. The guesthouse eventually became Two Meeting Street Inn, now known worldwide as a symbol of the city's grace, beauty and hospitality. Today the historic Charleston Bed and Breakfast is owned by Mrs. Carr's youngest nephew, Pete Spell, along with his wife and two daughters.”
I was fortunate to have a room on the first floor, The Music Room. High canopy bed (stepstool along side), 12-foot ceiling, hardwood floors. Lots of wonderful furniture in this inn as well as antique items to look at. Living room area and dining room for breakfast.
It was quite cold out and decided to hang around the inn. We did go out to view the White Point Gardens, referred to as the Battery. Many of the guns and mortars which were in service during the Civil War are still on the grounds. Dawn pointed out Fort Sumter in the distance. A fifteen hundred feet seawall led to the Southern point of East Bay Street. Our walk was a short one and took photos of the outside area of the inn as well as inside the premises.
We relaxed until tea time where we indulged in tea and some tasty morsels as well. It was someone’s 2st birthday and had a small celebration.
We couldn’t figure out where to have dinner as I was most interested in trying out the she-crab soup. Amen Street Restaurant. I settled for a cup of what I thought was the best. Aside from the taste, it was full of crab as if the lump crab was pulled apart. Dawn was raving about a kale salad with shrimp while I chose a calamari “steak”. Rather than rings or tentacles, it was the body coated, fried and made into strips. It was accompanied by a combo of corn, bacon, tomato, and onions, topped with a lemon aioli.
While there I met the Food and Beverage Manager of the Hyatt Hotel at Grand Central Terminal. I will certainly follow up on this.
Robert picked us up, dropped me off and took Dawn home.
Today we are off to the South Carolina Aquarium, located at the Charleston Harbor, 100 Aquarium Wharf. Fish are great to look at. They are colorful, calm, and seem to make funny faces. This is not the type of aquarium if you want “shows” but it does have an abutting building for 4-D movies. What is the 4th dimension? Physical such as rain, wind, and vibration. We didn’t experience that as I had other things planned for afterward.
Birds are great to look at. An area called Mountain Forest had this wonderful bald eagle.
Another area sat this darling bird that I forgot what it was. I was so busy talking to it and forgot to look at the sign.
The same area had an albino alligator standing on its feet. It looked as if it were fake. Stare at it long enough and you’d see the feet move a bit. Sea turtles are a specialty at this aquarium, especially when it comes to rescuing them. www.scaquarium.org.
Hopped on the free trolley to Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, at 90 Hasell Street, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the US and founding Reform Jewish Congregation in the US. (1749) and having the present sanctuary built in 1840. The original building, appearing more “church like” was destroyed in a fire with the present architect of the 1840 building being Greek Revival and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1980. Incidentally, the present head rabbi is Stephanie Alexander.
Charleston is referred to as the “holy city” due to it being one of the few original colonies to tolerate the Protestant religion. Carolina allowed Jews to practice their faith without restriction. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim was founded by Sephardic Jews (escaping from the Spanish Inquisition) from London while Brith Shalom Beth Israel being the oldest Orthodox synagogue in the South founded by Ashkenazi German and a Central European Jew, by the name of Sam Berlin, in the mid-19th century.
When first entering we went directly to the building housing the gift shop and museum to wait for a docent to give us a tour of the sanctuary. Arriving early, I made it a point to visit the museum which follows the history of the congregation and its members. There was certainly much to look at with art and history along the wall leading into the museum itself.
The docent led the 30-minute tour into the sanctuary while sharing its unique history. There is no cost for either the museum of tour and a free pocket guide is given as well.
Time to pick up luggage from Two Meeting Street and go on to the last overnight…The Francis Marion Hotel, located at 387 King Street. It was named for General Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox” of the American Revolution. The hotel opened in 1924 as the largest and grandest in the Carolinas. I was given a quite up-to-date deluxe room on the eighth floor with great views of the city.
Below is Marion Square, a park with much history and monuments including a holocaust memorial located on the corner of Calhoun and Meeting Street. Three main design components define the memorial. The North side is a rectangular, sunken lawn framed by graded steps, a place of contemplation and a meeting ground for the annual Yom Ha Shoah (National Days of Remembrance) ceremonies. The West side facing Calhoun Street features a concrete and bronze inscription wall, that details the history of the Holocaust and lists names of survivors living in South Carolina. The center or heart of the memorial is a space defined by an impressive four sided iron screen measuring 25 feet wide, 60 feet long, and 17 feet high. The screen is intended to create a space that is sacred as well as “to signify the place apart occupied by those who perished”. Within the screen rests a 12 foot bronzed tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl.
I am also able to view the harbor but due to both the weather and time constraint, unable to take a Harbor Tour. As for location, most of the historic building and public places are in walking distance with the free trolley only steps away. The hotel offers a booklet, “Charleston Old and New and its Francis Marion Hotel”.
I must interject that the staff at this hotel are most welcoming and helpful. Although there is free wifi in the rooms, there are two computers in the lobby free of use. Very smart of them to provide a bottle of hand sanitizer as well as having the station situated next to the desk of the concierge.
Dawn and I had the opportunity of doing a small tasting with the chef from the Swamp Fox Restaurant located at the Francis Marion Hotel. Aside from experimenting with four drinks that they were looking to make choices about, their She-Crab Soup was the second one to try. It was just as delicious, more “soupy” with a decent amount of lumped meat used more as the garnish.
The highlight of this tasting was the Shrimp and Grits served in a martini glass. Aside from the perfectly creamy cooked grits and fresh shrimp, the recipe called for cured ham, bell peppers, and onions garnished with sliced scallions and shredded pepper jack cheese. A mascot stuffed toy of a fox made its way back to my suitcase.
A third She-Crab Soup was devoured at Henry’s Bar and Restaurant, located on North Market just across the way from The Charleston City Market. Their soup was kind of in between the two textures and equally delicious. Hey, an hour or so passed and feeling a little weak. Dawn, being “local” recommended this restaurant. The atmosphere is a “local hangout” with excellent food. Due to the weather, I was unable to enjoy eating at their famous Rooftop bar. We were also there on a night that was without the live jazz. At least the food was savory and tasty.
We sampled Fried Green Tomatoes with pimento cheese, southern hot chicken with a sweet tea glaze, some very salty collard greens, and fried grits cake.
Forgot to charge the battery in the camera. Requesting a late checkout, I awoke early as Bulldog Tours was the only thing scheduled for the day with a 9:30 a.m. tour. Bulldog Tours offers a walking culinary tour focusing on what is termed, “low country cuisine” beginning with Dixie Supply Bakery and Café for some good old plain creamy grits, a bite size sweet potato corn bread, and sweet tea. Sweet tea is not a simple iced tea with sugar. Sugar is added to the brewing tea, chilled and then served as iced tea. Personally, I would call it “pre-sweetened iced tea”.
Continuing on to Charleston Cooks, a kitchen supply store, our guide, Fran Bennett, talked about Tomato Pie and Pimento Cheese. Pimento cheese is one staple that is served on top of a dish or as a dip. It is basically a combo of shredded cheddar, sometimes other cheeses and pimentos along with other ingredients to flavor or spice it up.
Charleston Cooks introduced us to Benne (sesame) wafers. Sesame seeds were brought from Africa in the 17th and 18th Century (along with peanuts, sweet potatoes, okra, black-eyed peas and collard greens). The wafers are a combo of the toasted seeds, sugar, butter or margarine, and egg whites. Just think…if we hadn’t gotten sesame seeds Joyva would not be making halvah.
Market Street Sweets was preparing a batch of peanut brittle as we tasted it just as they cooled off. We then had pralines, sugar coated pecans, and bear claws, their take on those chocolate “turtles”.
Onto the Spice and Tea Exchange for mostly whiffs of a vast amount of products. We did have a sample of whatever tea was being prepared, some dips, and a few green tea mints.
Our next tasting was at A.W. Shucks, where we had blue crab dip, hush puppies with praline butter and fried green tomatoes. Actually the restaurant is well known for their oysters of which there are some briny and delicious local ones.
Jim and Nicks was the final foodie. They are all about barbecue. We sampled some of their pulled pork, collard greens, and cole slaw. Finding the collard greens much too spicy for me, I requested a small glass of milk to ease the pain.
Taxi back to the hotel (although in walking distance if one was in shape to do so), pack the bags and off to the airport via Green Taxi.
I later found information on their CARTA transportation system where you can hop the NASH express shuttle to the airport for $3. I am told that the trip takes about 30 minutes from the airport and stops at the Visitors Center, 375 Meeting Street, where the free trolley stops as well. Considering baggage, it pays to call Green Taxi for a $7 fare, if you’re staying in the downtown area. The shuttle does not go directly to the airport on the way back. It makes a stop in North Charleston where the Coliseum and Performing Arts Center is located as well as Tanger Outlets. Service frequency is about an hour.