As the parents of a three-year-old whose energy levels equal those of a tornado, we are big fans of the fast-casual dining trend. We’re fortunate that Charleston has several high-quality, locally-owned options in this category (see below for some of our favorites), but we’re always excited when a new place opens up. So when we recently found ourselves in Mount Pleasant with a hungry tornado toddler, we headed to the recently-opened Kairos Greek Kitchen for a quick bite.
We’ll confess that we initially assumed Kairos was a chain, given its large size and location in a big-box shopping center (Bowman Place) – and we would have enjoyed it all the same. However, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that Kairos is actually the product of John Ondo, who was formerly the chef at downtown’s much-loved, now-closed Lana. While Lana always had some Mediterranean-influenced dishes on its Italian menu, Ondo has now headed east and firmly embraced healthy Greek fare.
Kairos’ concept is essentially Greek Chipotle: choose a base, protein, spread and toppings and watch as your meal is assembled in front of you. Kairos offers falafel, lamb, chicken or meatballs in pitas, rice bowls and salads, which can be piled high with as many fresh, veggie-focused toppings as you wish – we recommend the red pepper feta and tomato cucumber salad in particular! A deliciously lemon-y hummus (paired with crisp pita chips) can also be ordered as a side item, and there is a small beer & wine selection.
The space is as clean as the flavors, with Aegean-blue chairs and light wood floors, tables and paneling. Service is also very friendly, with workers patiently explaining the menu to first-timers and helping people who’ve ordered too much food (yes, it was us) get it all to their table without dropping any food (or their child). High chairs are plentiful, and the reasonably-priced kids’ menu offers variations on the standard menu. We’ll definitely be back the next time we’ve got a hangry kid and a hankering for Greek food!
Since one of us (ahem, Nina) likes making lists almost as much as she likes making dinner reservations, we’ve kept a running list of Charleston restaurants we’ve tried since first visiting the city in 2009. The list is far from scientific, but we have a few rules: (i) we include any restaurant we’ve tried in Charleston County, (ii) we don’t include bars unless (or until) we’ve tried their food offerings, (iii) we don’t double-count restaurants with more than one location or that have closed and re-opened (e.g., Taco Boy, The Granary), and (iv) we don’t include large chain restaurants (where we rarely eat anyway) but will include smaller chains with only one or two Charleston outposts (e.g., Mellow Mushroom, Urban Cookhouse).
Our pace has slowed since Jack was born (between restaurants 138 and 139, if we remember correctly), but we’re nearing 200 individual restaurants. Our list ranges from the finest dining the city has to offer to the most casual dives and covers just about every price point and cuisine in between, which is as much a testament to the breadth and diversity of Charleston’s food scene as it is to our love of eating out! Discussions as to which restaurant should be #200 are underway – hopefully we’ll hit that milestone later this summer!
We’ll keep this list updated on the “Charleston Restaurant List” page (see sidebar) – we like to add to it as often as possible!
If you forced us to choose one drink for the rest of our lives (please don’t!), it would be red wine, hands down. From simple mass-market bottles on our weekly pizza-and-Netflix night to beautiful, earthy Burgundies to accompany a fancy French meal, red wine is our jam. That said, as the mercury starts creeping higher and higher in Charleston every spring, we find ourselves looking for something a bit crisper and colder. Often that’s white or rosé (what can we say, we love our wine!), but we’re always on the lookout for new options – so when, on the hottest day of the year so far, Tyler came across a Bon Appétit video about a fermented Mexican pineapple drink called tepache, it seemed like a perfect time to broaden our horizons!
Tepache (pronounced tuh-PAH-chay) is a popular summertime agua fresca on the streets of Mexico, where it is often homemade and served in large plastic bags wrapped around a drinking straw. Very lightly alcoholic (usually 1-2% ABV), it is made by fermenting pineapple rinds, piloncillo (unprocessed cane sugar) and spices for 2-3 days before being consumed. It can also be bottled and sent through a secondary fermentation, which will produce a carbonated version.
Following the Bon Appétit recipe, we fermented our first batch of tepache using whole pineapples instead of the rinds only. The pineapple’s skin plays host to its own source of natural yeast, which allows the beverage to self-ferment without introducing additional yeast. The pineapples are mixed together with piloncillo (if you can’t find it, you can use dark brown sugar and it will still turn out great), cinnamon, a habanero chile and water before being left to ferment. After three days of resting in a warm, dark closet, the tepache will be ready to be sipped on its own or enjoyed in a summery cocktail.
To get more bang for your buck, you can easily make a second batch of tepache once your first batch has been strained off of the fruit and spices in your fermenting jar. Simply top off the jar with water and add 1-2 tablespoons of additional sugar to reinvigorate the yeast. At the end of the experiment, we ended up with a little over three liters of tepache to enjoy over the coming days and weeks.
If you prefer a bit of fizz in your drink, you can bottle your tepache and send it back to the closet to carbonate during a secondary fermentation of 24-36 hours. A word of warning: our first batch underwent a 48-hour secondary fermentation and was so strongly carbonated that opening the bottle was like unleashing a geyser in our kitchen sink – so we would recommend definitely maxing out your secondary at 36 hours.
Tepache is great on its own over ice, but it’s also a refreshing mixer if you’d prefer something a bit stronger. So far, we’ve enjoyed it mixed with Corona in a spicy homemade michelada, on the rocks with a splash of Diplomatico rum or Espolon blanco tequila and as a substitute for plain pineapple juice in piña colada. Whatever your pleasure, tepache gives you the makings of a fantastic tropical drink – just add your favorite spirit and a bit of ice, put on some Jimmy Buffet, and enjoy! Salud!
A large, fermentation grade glass vessel with a flip top lid
Two 1-liter fermentation grade glass bottles
A wide mouth funnel
A muddling stick, or something that can break down the pineapple in the jar (we used a rolling pin stood on end)
A mesh strainer
2 large whole pineapples (preferably organic)
1 cup piloncillo or dark brown sugar
1 whole cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 habanero or other chile (optional)
Water to fill the vessel
Begin by removing the top and bottom of each pineapple, being sure to leave the skin on the pineapple. It is very important that the pineapple remain unwashed as to not remove the naturally occurring yeast on its skin (hence our recommendation for organic!). Split the pineapple in quarters lengthwise, then cut each quarter into 1” wide triangles.
If using a chile, split it lengthwise (do not remove seeds or membranes) and add to the jar along with the cinnamon and piloncillo/brown sugar.
Add approximately 1.5 cups of water to the jar, close the lid and shake vigorously to dissolve the sugar.
Add the pineapple chunks to the jar and then fill until 1” of space remains in the jar. Since this is a fermented beverage, it is critical to leave room at the top of the jar as the fermentation will produce carbon dioxide – not doing so can cause the vessel to explode upon opening due to the buildup of pressure due to fermentation.
Cap the jar, secure the lid and place in a warm, dark environment for 2-3 days. Check daily to ensure that white foam is gathering on top of the liquid, which means that your tepache has begun fermenting.
After three days, carefully open the lid of the jar and skim off any foam that has accumulated. Pass the tepache through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth.
At this point, the tepache can be consumed right away. If you would prefer a carbonated tepache, bottle it and stash it away for a secondary fermentation of 24-36 hours. Once complete, re-bottle and refrigerate.
Way back in October 2009, we made our first trip to Charleston. Leaving the airport, we were greeted with a blast of heat (a welcome change from chilly New York!) and one of our best friends, who immediately took us to Folly Beach and one of her favorite restaurants, Taco Boy. Sitting on the back patio, soaking up the sun and a few margaritas in the middle of a weekday, we instantly fell in love with the restaurant. That love extended to Charleston as a whole over the course of the weekend, and a little less than two years later, we were back in the city as residents instead of tourists. We’ve been to almost 200 restaurants in the city since then, but Taco Boy will always hold a special place in our heart as the first – and so it seemed only fitting that it should be the subject of our first real blog post!
Taco Boy is a funky taqueria/cantina that fits perfectly with Folly Beach’s laid-back atmosphere. It has both indoor seating – which offers a nice respite from the scorching beach heat in the summer – and outdoor seating on its front and back patios (with the latter being dog-friendly). Even the restrooms are quirky; each unisex stall is wallpapered in magazine covers featuring the head of “the Taco Boy” superimposed on the original cover model’s body.
As you might guess from the name, Taco Boy’s specialty is tacos. Over the years, we’ve tried almost all of tacos on the menu – from a standard American taco to more creative options like kimchi beef and chorizo & potato to great vegetarian options like tempura avocado and roasted cauliflower – and have been impressed with their breadth and creativity. Our absolute favorite, though, is the grilled fish taco: grilled mahi, greens, cilantro dijon sauce and salsa crudo wrapped in lettuce or a flour or corn tortilla. More often than not, our order is simply eight of them (four for Tyler, three for Nina and one for the boy), and on our most recent visit, our waitress referred to us as the “Fish Taco Family” – we’ll choose to take that as a compliment! The truly brave (or foolish) can add “Danger Sauce” to any taco for an extra fifty cents; we’re not sure what’s in it, but it is no-fooling HOT. All of the tacos are a la carte, so you can mix and match as much as you want.
Taco Boy’s appetizers are also solid. The salsa trio (jalapeno tomato, tomatillo and salsa crudo) is our favorite, and the queso and nachos are good, if heavier, options as well. Our one gripe with Taco Boy is that their guacamole is offered at “market price,” which we once discovered to be almost $10 – we’re not sure how much that varies, as that was not-so-coincidentally the last time we ordered the guac.
Mexican beer and margaritas dominate the drink menu. An ice-cold Sol, pineapple margarita or Taco Boy’s special “frozen screwdriver” is a perfect complement to a fish taco after a day at the beach!
Taco Boy is about as kid-friendly as you can get for lunch or an early dinner. The kids’ menu offers basic cheese and black bean tacos and quesadillas, but if you have a semi-adventurous eater, we’d recommend ordering from the regular menu. All of the “adult” tacos cost around $4, which is on par with the quesadillas on the kids’ menu, and are much more interesting! Jack will happily deconstruct a grilled fish taco and devour all of the mahi and tortilla (still working on the greens!). The restaurant also has plenty of high chairs, and the noise level is always high enough to drown out the occasional toddler freak-out. Taco Boy is visually stimulating as well, with colorful lamps hanging from the ceiling and Oaxacan masks adorning the walls. Jack always asks us to “name” the masks – now if only we could remember what we’ve called them between visits!
A few years ago, Taco Boy opened a second location on Huger Street downtown, with a similar vibe and an expansive outdoor area. It’s definitely worth a visit, though for sentimental reasons we’ll always prefer the original Folly spot!
So there you have it: our first post about our first Charleston restaurant. Cheers to many more!
Thanks for visiting our brand-new blog! Here’s the skinny:
Who: Tyler and Nina, food and wine lovers who’ve called Charleston, South Carolina our home for the last six years, and our three-year-old foodie-in-training, Jack.
What: We’ll share our thoughts on restaurants, recipes, cooking gadgets, food-centric books and films, and whatever else strikes our foodie fancy. As parents hoping to pass our love of food (no wine yet!) to our son, we’ll also highlight casual, family-friendly spots.
Where: Like the blog description says, Charleston and beyond. We love living in the preeminent food city in the South but are always eager to expand our horizons (culinarily and otherwise)!
When: As often as possible!
Why: Tyler loves to cook, Nina loves to write, and we both love to eat and drink! The “experts” always say to do what you love, so we thought we’d combine our interests into a new creative outlet.