In the past few years, the food scene in Charleston has evolved tremendously. Some of that evolution has been culinary (like an increased focus on locally-sourced ingredients and a proliferation of barbecue restaurants), but the most noticeable change has been a geographic one. When we first moved here, downtown Charleston’s restaurant scene was heavily concentrated on East Bay Street and the southernmost blocks of Upper King Street; you could pick one of these areas and restaurant-hop to your heart’s content, but options elsewhere were limited and somewhat isolated.
Today, good restaurants stretch across the peninsula (and over the bridges!), with frequent openings in areas that just a couple of years ago were well beyond even the fringes of the traditional dining districts. From the beloved Park Café and the forthcoming Herd Provisions by Hampton Park to the always-packed Edmund’s Oast and Butcher and Bee (among others) in NoMo, delicious options abound wherever you find yourself in the city. On King Street, “restaurant row” has been expanding steadily northward into the North Central neighborhood with the addition of hotspots like Leon’s Oyster Shop, Little Jack’s Tavern and Workshop. A few weeks ago, The Harbinger Café & Bakery joined North Central’s ranks, and its name perfectly encapsulates the promise of this new food frontier.
The Harbinger has a half-French, half-hipster feel, with blue-and-white dishware, handmade coffee mugs, and pleasantly muted farmhouse decor. It’s feminine but not frilly, and its food strikes an equally appealing balance. The menu is seasonal and local-minded, and a list of the restaurant’s numerous local suppliers is proudly and prominently displayed on a mirror in the front room. The order counter is a feast for the eyes: it’s covered in a rotating selection of beautiful baked goods, savory tartines and inventive salads, all of which can be enjoyed à la carte or combined into a more substantial meal. The coffee options range from the standard fare to creative offerings like honey and maple lattés, and a small cold case offers drinks and to-go items. There’s also a small wine and beer selection for the Harbinger’s weeknight happy hour.
We’ve now made two lunchtime visits to The Harbinger to try several of the dishes on offer, with the tartines being particular favorites. The “Oh Snap” tartine featured broccoli pesto, sugar snap pea salad, pink radishes, sumac sprinkle and microgreens on Carolina gold rice sourdough from local Root Baking Company. The vibrant pesto and sweet peas were nicely balanced with the slight sharpness of the lemony sumac, all perched on a thick slice of sourdough from (in our opinion) Charleston’s best bread producer.
The “Garden Party” tartine was our resounding favorite, with sweet onion and snap peas paired with bright cherry tomatoes bursting with summery flavor. A thick smear of rich herbed aioli paired well with the fresh, seasonal veggies topping the same fantastic bread.
Our most recent visit found us enjoying the “Local Lunchbox” tartine and its thick slices of local yellow tomatoes, bell peppers and chives under a layer of sweet potato cilantro hummus. Despite its heft, it was light enough that we nearly ordered a second.
The Harbinger also offers a number of house-made pastries and cookies, which never fail to catch the eye of our three-year-old. He usually enjoys the “Best Friend” cookie, a riff on a classic chocolate chip cookie with three types of chocolate, pearl sugar and Bulls Bay sea salt; it makes us think of a mashup between a chocolate chip cookie and an Oreo in the best possible way. As parents, we particularly like that the cookies are big enough that our kid doesn’t ask for a second one, but not so big that he’s bouncing off the walls after finishing it (well, no more so than usual). We’d show you a picture, but on both visits he devoured his “special treat” as soon as we placed it in his hot little hands – you’ll just have to head to the Harbinger and try one (or more) for yourself!
The Harbinger Café & Bakery website
1107 King Street, Charleston, SC 29403
Monday-Friday: 7am-7pm; Saturday-Sunday: 8am-3pm