Sorghum & Salt

A few weeks ago, we finally (finally!) found our way to Sorghum & Salt, which opened earlier this year on a quiet stretch of Coming Street.  While its location is a bit under-the-radar, its food deserves to be anything but – the rave reviews we’ve heard were absolutely accurate.  The restaurant’s menu focuses on locally-sourced, vegetable-heavy small plates, and while we’re not vegetarians, we might consider it if we could eat here every day!

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We were fortunate to be joined by one of our favorite guest eaters (thanks for coming, Laura!), so we were able to try a (some might say embarrassingly large) number of the night’s offerings.  Unlike some of the small plate-centric restaurants we’ve tried recently, the meal was expertly paced; we weren’t swamped with multiple dishes at once, nor did we wait very long between courses.  We especially appreciated the thought our server put into the progression of our meal – lighter dishes arrived first before giving way to heartier fare, preventing any of the more delicate selections from being overshadowed.

BREAD SERVICE ($5): First up was the bread, because we are fundamentally incapable of saying no to bread.  The brown sugar bread was perfectly baked and surprisingly large, though we wished the flavor of the short rib butter (infused with meat from nearby Keegan-Filion farm) was stronger.

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SOY CURED STEELHEAD SALMON – CUCUMBER – AVOCADO – SZECHUAN OIL – BABY SORREL ($14): Any minor disappointment we had over the butter was erased as soon as we tasted the salmon.  Imagine the freshest, fanciest bite of salmon sashimi you’ve ever had and you are mentally tasting this dish.  The soy cure flavor dominated but did not overwhelm, and the other ingredients worked in perfect harmony.    This is an absolute must order if you see it on the menu – next time, we’ll probably order two.

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GREEN TEA NOODLES – 6-MINUTE EGG – CHARRED BROCCOLI – HERB PUREE ($13): This was a very interesting dish, and one we ordered without being sure we were going to like it.  The cold, soba-esque noodles infused with green tea were good, unless you accompanied them with a bite of the jammy, sous vide egg – then they were fantastic.

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SMOKED GROWFOOD EGGPLANT – HOUSE MADE LAMB BACON – APRICOT MOSTARDA – WHIPPED FETA ($14): We smelled this dish before we saw it, and we knew we were going to love it.  We passed the plate around the table multiple times just so that we could smell the incredible lamb bacon.  The apricot mostarda’s sweet acidity cut the richness of the eggplant and bacon to make this dish much more than the sum of its parts.  This wasn’t a dish we all agreed on up front, but after it was gone we agreed it was the standout of the evening.

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CRISPY POTATOES – CANDIED SALMON – HOUSE MADE KEWPIE – PICKLED COLLARDS  ($13): We were very excited about the potatoes with house made Kewpie mayonnaise, but didn’t know what to expect with the salmon.  While we all enjoyed the perfectly roasted potatoes, we found that the salmon brought an oddly sweet taste to the dish.  This is one we’d pass on in the future.

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HOUSE MADE SAUSAGE – SMASHED PEAR – POPPED SORGHUM – FENNEL CREAM ($14):  Sausage and pear was an unexpected duo, but it ended up being an all-around hit.  This dish was more straightforward than most of what we ordered, but it’s hard to say anything bad about a great, homemade sausage that has been cooked to crispy perfection.  And the addition of popcorn certainly didn’t hurt!

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SMOKED CARROT RIGATONI – SALSA VERDE – SPICED PUMPKIN SEED – RICOTTA SALATA ($16): It’s a testament to Sorghum & Salt’s skill and ingenuity with vegetables that this meatless dish ended up being the heartiest of the evening.  This arrived at the end of a large meal and the three of us were slowing down a bit, but we managed to clean the plate.  The crunchy pumpkin seeds provided a nice textural counterpoint to the creamy carrots and pasta.  As with several of the evening’s courses, we would never have thought to combine these ingredients, but this was definitely a winner.

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BEET CREMEUX – ESPRESSO – ELDERFLOWER – COCOA NIB – PISTACHIO ($12) – Oh these beets.  Hands down the best course of one of the best meals we have had in quite a while.  We weren’t sure that the eggplant / lamb bacon dish could be topped, but this dessert was unbelievable.  As we learned from the kitchen, the beets were roasted with a ton of butter, and then infused into form that was not quite cake, not quite panna cotta, not quite pudding, not quite fudge – but exactly perfect.  This was definitely a dessert that makes you think, as it’s rather different from most restaurants’ standard offerings.  But you will be richly rewarded if this is how you choose to end your time at Sorghum & Salt.

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Our only regret with Sorghum & Salt is that it took us so long to try it!  We will definitely be back sooner rather than later – this is an amazing restaurant doing incredible things with local ingredients, and we can’t wait to see how its menu changes with the seasons.


Info:

Sorghum & Salt website
186 Coming Street, Charleston, SC
Open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday; closed Mondays

 

 

 

 

Workshop

Over the last few months, we’ve made several trips to Workshop, Charleston’s first “fancy” food court.  Located on way, way, waaaaaaaay upper King Street, Workshop features a rotating set of kitchens – some there for the long haul (like Bad Wolf Coffee and Juan Luis) and others for a few short weeks or months (Beech Test Kitchen, we miss you!).   From crowd- (and kid-) pleasers like Slice Co’s New York-style pizza to more exotic fare like Sambar’s Indian street food, Workshop’s varied restaurants offer something for every palate.  With so many diverse dining options – not to mention ample free parking (a rarity in Charleston!) and a ton of indoor and outdoor seating – Workshop is a great gathering place for a group.  So when we were asked to come up with a fun, casual spot to grab a bite to eat after a group tour last weekend, our recommendation was easy: Workshop and its six restaurants in one!

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Last Sunday, we joined about 25 fellow William & Mary alumni and guests (Tribe Pride!) for a really interesting and informative tour of the H.L. Hunley submarine in nearby North Charleston (locals, this is worth your time if you haven’t been!) before making the short drive over to Workshop.  While we were a bit disappointed to discover that the very popular Juan Luis is closed on Sundays and that the Asian-inspired Slider Gold was only offering a limited menu that day, everyone quickly found food to their liking at Workshop’s other stalls.  Sambar and the Vietnamese-focused Pink Bellies were the big hits of the evening.

Sambar is a very welcome addition to Charleston’s limited Indian food scene, especially since its offerings are a bit more adventurous than the standard chicken tikka masala.  On our visit, several W&Mers enjoyed the thali – a variety of delicious dishes served on a single plate.  Perfect for sharing (though not quite large enough to constitute a full meal for two), Sambar’s thali plate comes with basmati rice, vegetables, sambar, green and mango chutneys, raita, dosa and a choice of pork vindaloo, coconut cashew curry or chicken curry.  It’s a great introduction to Sambar’s cuisine, as is the “dosa and dips” (Indian flatbread served with a variety of chutneys and sauces).  The lamb meatballs, served with curried lentil hummus, eggplant and cherry tomato masala, gingered turnips and naan, were another favorite, and we’ll definitely be ordering these again on our next visit.

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Thali plate and lamb meatballs

Pink Bellies offers Asian-inspired noodle and rice bowls topped with a variety of meats, onto which you can (and should!) add a delicious, 63-degree sous vide egg.  The chicken thigh rice bowl and pulled pork-laden garlic noodle bowl are particular favorites – both offer heaping portions of perfectly-cooked rice or noodles topped with pickled vegetables and a mound of the meat of choice.  It’s tough to go wrong with anything on offer.

While several of the Workshop stalls serve alcohol, the selection is limited (though thoughtfully selected to pair well with their food).  Luckily, Workshop is right next door to, and shares its outdoor space with, the newly-opened Edmund’s Oast Brewing Company.  Our crew had no trouble ordering beer and wine at the brewery and bringing it back to enjoy at Workshop, making both spots all the more appealing.  We can envision many more group gatherings in this great new space … we’ll definitely be back soon to work(shop) our way through its many offerings!


Info:

Workshop website
1503 King Street, Charleston, SC
Open daily for lunch & dinner (though individual kitchens’ hours may vary)

 

 

 

The Cook’s Atelier

Hi there – sorry it’s been a minute! Life (not to mention a jerk named Irma) has 86’ed a lot of our dining plans over the last several weeks. So while we’re working on new content (i.e., stuffing our faces around town), we thought we’d tell you about one of our favorite foodie experiences to date: the day-long market tour, cooking class and lunch we enjoyed last fall at The Cook’s Atelier in beautiful Beaune, France.

Founded by an American ex-pat mother-daughter duo, Marjorie Taylor and Kendall Smith Franchini, The Cook’s Atelier is a small cooking school and culinary/wine boutique in the heart of Beaune.  About a decade ago, Marjorie and Kendall did what so many foodies and Francophiles (us included!) have dreamed but not dared do – moved to the French countryside to pursue their passion for French food and wine (and help others enjoy it as well!).  Kendall’s French husband has since joined the team and manages the wine shop and culinary boutique (and can make you a killer espresso!), making The Cook’s Atelier a true family affair.

We’ve been following The Cook’s Atelier’s progress for several years (we studied abroad in the south of France with Kendall in college), so we registered for a course as soon as we decided to make Burgundy the centerpiece of our trip to France last September.  While the Atelier also offers dinners and multi-day courses, its flagship experience – and the one that worked best with our itinerary – is its “Day in Burgundy” market tour, cooking class and lunch.  Offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays (market days in Beaune), the Day in Burgundy begins with a tour of Beaune’s incomparable open-air farmer’s market, continues with a hands-on cooking class in the Atelier’s copper-filled kitchen, and ends with a “long French lunch” in a beautifully-appointed dining room.  Capped at ten guests, the day offers an intimate, informative and indulgent insight into Burgundy’s rich culinary culture.

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Ready for the long French lunch

Shortly before 10am on a sunny Wednesday morning, we met Marjorie, Kendall and the day’s other guests in front of Fromagerie Hess, Beaune’s renowned cheese shop.  Inside, we sampled a variety of local cheeses – including the infamous Epoisses, a soft, super-smelly cow’s-milk cheese – before wandering our way down the street to the farmer’s market.  Despite its prominence as the center of the Burgundian wine world, Beaune is much more of a town than a city, and that community feeling was very evident at the market – everyone seemed to know one another.  Marjorie and Kendall introduced us to some their favorite purveyors and artisans, several of whom generously shared samples with us.  We’re still thinking of the incredible strawberries and expertly-cured meats a year later!  Along the way, Marjorie and Kendall also purchased many of the ingredients that we’d use to prepare our lunch back at the Atelier.

Upon arriving in the Atelier’s kitchen, we donned aprons and got down to business. Marjorie and Kendall explained each recipe and offered helpful cooking tips as we all lent a hand in preparing each dish; from chopping vegetables to preparing batter to piping madeleines, each guest took part in preparing the day’s meal.  It was exciting to see lunch begin to take shape from the ingredients we had acquired less than an hour earlier at the farmer’s market.

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The Cook’s Atelier kitchen
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The day’s bounty, plus a row of vintage Sabatier knives
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Copper, copper everywhere
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Hard at work!
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Slightly less hard at work
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Charolais beef, ready for roasting
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Gougères fresh out of the oven

Once the gougères were baking and the beef was roasting, we headed upstairs to the dining room to enjoy the fruits of our (very mild) labor.  Marjorie and Kendall handled the heavier lifting in finishing each course as we kicked off our meal a glass of bubbly.  One by one the courses – all Burgundian classics – materialized on the beautiful zinc-topped dining table: gougères made with local Gruyère cheese, fresh tomato salad with basil, chèvre (goat cheese) and a balsamic reduction, an incredible Charolais beef roast, a large spread of cheeses from Hess, and an olive oil cake with wild strawberries and jam.  The wine also flowed freely all afternoon; Kendall, who studied viticulture in Burgundy after college, perfectly paired each course with a bottle available in the shop downstairs.

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Though we were all started out as strangers, the shared love of food (plus, let’s be honest, the copious amounts of wine) made fast friends of all the guests gathered around the table.  Since all good things sadly must end, we eventually said our goodbyes and headed back out into Beaune.  We left happy, inspired, a little drunk and a lot full, though not so much so that we couldn’t stop back at Fromagerie Hess for a selection of cheeses and a bottle of wine to enjoy as a light dinner – you only live once, after all.


If you find yourself in Beaune, we wholeheartedly recommend The Cook’s Atelier for a sophisticated yet extremely accessible and convivial foodie experience – or feel free to experience it vicariously through the Atelier’s beautiful online shop and Instagram photos as well as their forthcoming cookbook:

The Cook’s Atelier
43 rue de Lorraine, Beaune, France
Website
Instagram: @thecooksatelier
Cookbook pre-order (coming April 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinco Tex-Mex

Thanks to our son’s busy schedule (seriously, he’s only three but already way cooler than us), we usually find ourselves in Mount Pleasant for dinner one night a week.  We typically rotate among a handful of restaurants (Kairos, Papa Zuzu’s and Five Loaves are our standbys), but this week we felt like trying someplace new.  Scrolling through Yelp, we came across a well-rated place neither of us had ever heard of: Cinco Tex-Mex.  Since we’re always down for tacos and Cinco was less than half a mile away, the decision was a no-brainer.

As we learned from our server, Cinco opened early this summer with purposely-little fanfare.  Run by a couple from San Antonio, the restaurant focuses on Tex-Mex classics – chip-and-dip appetizers, a handful of soups, salads and sides, and fajita, carnita, enchilada, quesadilla and taco entrées – all made to order.  Cinco’s flour tortillas, which form the backbone of most of its dishes, are made from scratch and pressed in a small, glassed-in prep area in the dining room (a bit of a show with dinner!), allowing the restaurant to demonstrate its attention to detail and dedication to authenticity.

The drink menu tends toward Mexican beer and tequila-based cocktails, many of which are discounted during Cinco’s 5-7pm weeknight happy hour.  We happened to be there on “Margarita Monday” and enjoyed a delicious, not-too-sweet peach marg for a mere $6 – reason enough to return!

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Peach margarita

The food also helped secure Cinco a spot in our Mount Pleasant restaurant rotation.  To start, we ordered the totopos con salsa – a heaping basket of house-made chips with red, green, and pineapple habanero salsas ($5).  The red and green were good, but the pineapple habanero was great; the chile’s kick was accompanied by a burst of sweetness from the pineapple, which proved to be the perfect counterpoint to the chips.  And the chips – ohhh, the chips.  Warm, salty and fried to golden perfection, they were simply outstanding.  Our server offered to refill our basket multiple times; we reluctantly declined lest we not have any room for our main courses, but it’s doubtful we’ll be so restrained next time!

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We will fight you for these chips.

For our entrées, we ordered several tacos and the steak fajitas.  The seven taco options are offered à la carte ($3-4.50 each), and we went with the asadero con rajas (cheese and pepper), beef fajita, and camarones (shrimp) – plus a chicken fajita taco for our son, who was none too pleased that he couldn’t have a chips-only dinner.  The asadero and fajita tacos were a little underwhelming; the strong flavor of the asadero cheese overwhelmed the flavor of the sparse poblanos, and the fajita-based offerings were perfectly fine but nothing special.  The camarones taco, however, was excellent, with nicely-fried shrimp, crispy corn salsa and a pleasantly spicy chipotle crema.  We’d be curious to try the other taco offerings (beef barbacoa, chicken tinga and chorizo), but we’ll probably favor the more substantial entrées in subsequent meals at Cinco.

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L-R: asadero con rajas, camarones, beef fajita

Speaking of the larger entrées, the fajitas ($16-18) ranked right up there with the best Tex-Mex Tyler has eaten in Texas.  The beef fajitas came to the table in the classic style: a sizzling skillet of beef, peppers and onions, a separate plate of black beans and elotes (Mexican street corn), and a foil pouch of the awesome house-made tortillas.  The fajita fillings were all grilled simply but perfectly, and when layered into a tortilla and slathered with crema and pico de gallo, they helped showcase Cinco’s strength and potential.  The black beans and street corn were also excellent, though both played second fiddle to the deliciously simple fajitas.

Cinco does not offer desserts yet (though we hear some are in the works), but we were too full for more food anyway!  We’re glad to have stumbled across this under-the-radar spot – it’s clearly still working out some kinks and refining its recipes, but we’re excited to see how it evolves and improves on an already-winning formula.  Keep those chips coming, Cinco, and we’ll keep coming back!


Info:

Cinco Tex-Mex website
1035 Johnnie Dodds Boulevard #B7, Mount Pleasant, SC
Hours: 5-10pm Monday-Saturday; closed Sundays

King Street Crawl

Earlier this year, we spent an incredible week eating and drinking our way through Bilbao and San Sebastián, Spain.  In the Basque Country, pintxos (Basque for tapas), rather than traditional meals, rule the restaurant scene.  It’s very common to hit up several spots in the course of an evening, having one or two pintxos and glasses of wine at each before moving on to the next stop.  Our nightly pintxos crawls were the highlights of our trip, enabling us to try a huge variety of restaurants and food in a limited amount of time – essential in a foodie mecca like San Sebastián.

Here in Charleston, we have a similar embarrassment of culinary riches.  There are so many incredible restaurants in town, but with a three-year-old and two full work schedules, our time is fairly limited.  So on our most recent date night, we decided to turn our evening into a pintxos crawl.  We picked three favorite Upper King restaurants we hadn’t visited in a while, ordered small plates and wines by the glass at each, and then capped off our evening with a refreshing dessert at a new-to-us popsicle shop.  It was a great – and delicious – change of pace (and palate)!

Stop #1: The Ordinary

With temperatures in the nineties and humidity to match, we knew we wanted to start our evening with something (or several somethings) COLD.  The Ordinary – with its raw bar and impressive wine list – fit the bill perfectly.  With two glasses of white firmly in hand (Muscadet for Nina and Chenin Blanc for Tyler, both French), we began picking our bartender’s brain on the evening’s oyster selection.  With her advice, we went with an even dozen, divided equally (and in increasing order of potency) among Single Ladies from South Carolina, Savage Blondes from Prince Edward Island and Pemaquids from Maine.  The local oysters were great, reminding us of the Ace Basin Blades we enjoy as much as possible during the “R” months (i.e., the typical South Carolina oyster season).  The Savage Blondes, though noticeably smaller, offered a bit more salinity.  Our favorites were definitely the Pemaquids, which had a nice heft and a good punch of saltiness.  House-made horseradish, cocktail sauce, red wine mignonette and a seasonal cantaloupe mignonette accompanied the platter; each was delicious and enhanced the oysters in its own way.

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Clockwise from top: Single Ladies, Savage Blondes, Pemaquids

The Ordinary is one of our favorite spots to kick off an evening out, though it’s worth noting that the pleasures here don’t come cheap – our order came to $66 before tip, so we chose to continue on to for our second (and third) courses.  That said, the oysters and wine were exactly the refreshing, light start to our crawl we’d wanted, and we definitely plan to return soon.

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The Ordinary’s oysters of the day

Stop #2: The Grocery

After a thirty-second walk across King Street, we grabbed seats at The Grocery’s bar and ordered two more glasses of wine (a Spanish Granatxa for Tyler and a Californian rosé blend for Nina).  We arrived right at the end of happy hour pricing for bar snacks, so we quickly ordered the shishito peppers and the burrata.  The shishito peppers came exactly as we’d hoped, in the classic Spanish preparation: blistered on a screaming hot skillet, then liberally seasoned with quality olive oil and flaky salt.  Needless to say, it didn’t take us long to reduce them to a pile of oil-stained pepper stems.  The burrata dish came with a golf ball sized mound of the cream-laden cheese, surrounded by sauteed lunchbox peppers, black currants, slivered almonds and a simple herb salad.  Toasted garlic bread served as a useful, delicious accompaniment and was quickly devoured after being slathered with cheese and heaped with the pepper mixture.  We debated putting in an order for a second portion but instead decided to make our way southward along King Street.

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Shishito peppers and burrata

Stop #3: Indaco

We again headed back across King Street to Indaco, which we were surprised to see was nearly full to capacity at 8:00 on a summer Wednesday evening.  We quickly snagged the last two seats at the bar and ordered our final round of wine (a Vespolina from the Piedmont for Nina and a Nero d’Avola/Merlot/Syrah/Cab Franc blend from Sicily for Tyler).  Indaco offers up a creative menu most akin to a classic Italian trattoria, with antipasti, pastas and wood-fired pizzas filling the menu.  We don’t come here often (as we mentioned, so many restaurants, so little time!), but we’re always impressed when we do.

We originally planned to share a pasta dish, but after perusing the menu, we called an audible and went with the polpette and a grilled corn pizza.  The polpette (Italian for meatballs) came out first and were nothing shy of fantastic.  The meatballs were straight out of a nonna’s kitchen: slow braised in a San Marzano tomato sauce with a big hit of rosemary and a healthy dusting of Pecorino Romano.  This was hearty and comforting fare, lacking only a few slices of bread to sop up the incredible sauce.

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Polpette

Shortly thereafter, the pizza emerged from the wood oven with a bubbling and blistered crust, studded with grilled corn and sliced shishito peppers and covered in a thick blanket of mozzarella and Taleggio cheese.  The unexpected preparation of the shishitos was delicious; their slightly acidic bite and heat perfectly counterbalanced the richness of the cheese, and the roasted corn added a nice, sweet crunch.  Even after so many previous plates, we had no issue devouring the entire, generously-sized pie.

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Roasted corn pizza

Stop #4: Crooked Crown

After five dishes at three restaurants, we chose to end our evening with a quick, fun dessert.  Crooked Crown, the brick-and-mortar outpost King of Pops (a local favorite popsicle cart), offers both alcoholic and non-alcoholic pops, cocktails with pops (next time!) and a small, rotating food menu.  We went with boozy popsicles: watermelon mojito and apple cider.  Light and refreshing, with both sweet and tart flavors and a noticeable but not overpowering punch of alcohol, they were the perfect accompaniment on our short walk back to the car through the humid Charleston air.

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Watermelon mojito popsicle

Our pintxos crawl may have been more substantial and expensive than a similar jaunt through San Sebastián, but it was a great way to re-acquaint ourselves with a few of Upper King’s great restaurants.  Even better, thanks to Charleston’s restaurant density, we were able to do maximal eating with minimal walking!  We’ll definitely be trying it again soon – donde vamos la próxima vez?


Info:

The Ordinary website
544 King Street, Charleston, SC
Open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday; closed Monday

The Grocery website
4 Cannon Street, Charleston, SC
Open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday and Sunday brunch; closed Monday

Indaco website
526 King Street, Charleston, SC
Open for dinner daily

Crooked Crown website
21 Spring Street, Charleston, SC
Open daily; hours vary by season

 

Dum Spiro Spero

In our last post, we talked a bit about the geographical expansion of Charleston’s restaurant scene over the past few years, so we thought we’d feature another of our favorite off-the-beaten path spots: Spero.  The look and feel of this under-the-radar restaurant (and we mean “under” literally – it sits in an unassuming strip mall in the shadow of the Ravenel Bridge) are incredibly casual, but its food is seriously good.

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Casual vibe, serious food

We first tried Spero not long after it opened in 2015.  We’d planned a quick date night and promised our babysitter we wouldn’t be long.  Cut to three hours later and a text asking when we’d be home – the food was so good and shareable and reasonably priced, we just kept ordering more.  And more.  And more.  Since then, we’ve visited Spero every few months, sampled their market-driven menu in all seasons and come away raving every single time.   Our most recent visit last week was no exception – the summer menu was refreshing and adventurous, the $4 happy hour Sauvignon blanc was tart and delicious, and the entire staff couldn’t have been nicer to us (our son is still talking about “Mr. Rob” and his high-fives).

Spero’s menu focuses on small plates (per the menu, “share it, don’t share it.  it’s your food, do what you want”) but also offers a selection of larger sandwiches and a few entrees (or “big shares”).   We’re often tempted to order ALL of the small plates, which would bust our guts but not our wallets – on last week’s menu, the 9 small plates tallied under $75 total.  We typically restrain ourselves and choose the bread flight, 3-4 small plates and a sandwich.

Let’s start with the bread flight ($6.50).  Oh, the bread flight.  We’ve eaten a lot of food in Charleston, and to be honest we can only think of one dish (the gnocchi at F.I.G.) that we talk about more.  This is probably the best restaurant bread in Charleston.  Order it and you’ll be treated to three different, homemade breads or rolls, each served with its own specially-paired butter.  On our most recent visit, we had a schmaltz biscuit with maple butter, cornbread with burnt honey miso butter and a sourdough pretzel roll with ham and mustard butter.  Each was fantastic, but for us, anything paired with Spero’s fantastic ham and mustard butter takes the proverbial cake.  This is always our first order, no matter what the day’s breads are.  (You can also order each bread individually, but really, why limit yourself like that??)

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L-R: cornbread, pretzel roll, schmaltz biscuit

Our favorite strategy at Spero is to order a lot of smaller things to share, and our first plate after the bread was the roasted beets ($7.50).  This is not the beet salad you can find on any menu in town.  These beets were roasted to soft perfection and paired with bleu cheese, buttermilk and a raspberry sauce.  We’re not usually big bleu cheese fans, but its funk nicely balanced the sweetness of the raspberry sauce.

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Beets, berries, buttermilk, bleu cheese, battlestar galactica

Next up was the simply named “Radish” dish ($7), which was definitely the most interesting plate of the night and would not be out of place on the menus of the finest-dining restaurants in Charleston.  Raw, roasted and pickled radishes were served with rosettes of tahini butter and anchovy bread crumbs.  We’ve never even thought about including radishes when roasting vegetables, but they were so good we may have to start.  The light dusting of anchovy-infused breadcrumbs gave the whole dish a fantastic extra boost of umami.

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Beautifully-plated radish dish

The North African-spiced chicken sausage was one of the two meat dishes we ordered and came with middlins rice, pickled raisins and mint ($9).  The punch from the berbere in the sausage was nicely offset by the sweetness of the raisins and the creaminess of the rice.  This was perhaps the simplest dish we ordered, but simplicity of this level is hard to execute this well.

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Chicken sausage with middlins rice, pickled raisins and mint

To complement the small plate selection, Spero offers several sandwiches that are fairly substantial and perfect to split.  This time, we broke from our standard order of the lamb barbacoa sandwich and opted to split the “Not Fried” chicken ($9.25) instead.  “Mojo-ish” chicken, tasso ham, sauerkraut and roasted red peppers on a toasted honey roll was a delicious combo, though we both agreed that it did not eclipse the lamb.

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“Not Fried” Chicken Sandwich

At this point, we were stuffed, but we had promised our tiny human dessert.  In his opinion, there’s no finer option than Spero’s milk and cookies: two chocolate chip cookies served on a silver platter with a goblet of cold milk.  (Parental pro tip: the cookies are made fresh to order, so request them when your last course is served to avoid a long wait and a lot of whining.)  Warm and gooey, the cookies were a perfect, comforting end to an adventurous meal.

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Little hands couldn’t wait!

What’s not to love about a place that looks like a dive bar, makes fine-dining-quality food and serves Miller High Life in champagne flutes and milk and cookies on a silver platter?  Spero takes its food seriously, but it has fun with it.  Beneath the colorful bird mural that dominates the restaurant’s decor is the phrase Dum Spiro Spero, which means, “While I breathe, I hope.”  (Probably not-so-coincidentally, this is also South Carolina’s state motto – thanks, Google!)  You can sure that while we breathe, we’ll hope that Spero keeps wowing us with its inventive, delicious food and boundless hospitality.  Until next time!

 

 

 

Quick Bites: The Harbinger

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.

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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.

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Oh Snap!

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.

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Garden Party (in your mouth)

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.

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Local Lunchbox

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!


Info:
The Harbinger Café & Bakery website
1107 King Street, Charleston, SC 29403
Monday-Friday: 7am-7pm; Saturday-Sunday: 8am-3pm