Friday, May 15, 2009

Doin' the Charleston

I love New York, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I just need to escape the city. So, I made plans to go to Charleston, SC – a place I’ve been wanting to visit for many years after listening to natives speak so lovingly about their home. I was ready to explore the city and most importantly dine on low country cuisine. We arrived in the afternoon and we parked ourselves at Pearlz Oyster Bar on East Bay Street and sampled oysters while drinking cold martinis. Sitting at the front bar, we were perfectly perched to enjoy the parade of Charlestonians and tourists alike as they passed by. The oysters were silky, briny, salty and fresh. The addition of a little mignonette or cocktail sauce complemented the plump treats.

I’m always open to recommendations so when a local suggested Jestine's Kitchen – a quirky unpretentious restaurant on Meeting Street - I rushed over. It serves the kind of comfort food you would expect in the South; crispy fried chicken, mac n’ cheese, collard greens, and more. I just couldn’t pass up these favorites and finished my soulful dinner with a peach and berry cobbler... delicious!

But I really wasn’t going to be satisfied until I had shrimp and grits, and I was lucky to enjoy them at Virginia’s on King. The shrimp sat atop creamy grits mixed with smoky sausage. I savored every bite and daydreamed about making the same dish back home with my own variation on the theme. Low country cuisine well suits the laid back gentility of this city where the air is perfumed with the scent of delicate jasmine flowers. The architecture and lush gardens are a wonderful canvas for any visitor to enjoy while dining or walking off a grand meal.

We spent languid days shopping, eating and sightseeing. Tall palmettos swayed in the breeze and mornings were spent on the loggia with freshly brewed coffee and toasted sweet black bread.

We were lucky to spend our downtime at the Joseph Aiken Mansion and sleep in one of the oversized bedrooms in “the big house." Built in the Greek Revival style in the late 1840's the stately mansion took us back to a time when proper manners and good family names were de rigeur.

My memories of Charleston and its food will linger with me like the sweet scent of jasmine hanging on the breeze.

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