Thinking about a long weekend getaway? Head to Charleston!
After a kooky 4th quarter (Girls’ Nights! Holiday Guide!), Laura and I desperately needed a few days of R & R. I’ve always wanted to go to Charleston, and the new direct flights from Bradley or New Haven beckoned.
Armed with suggestions from friends (thanks, Mimi!) and a few reservations made in advance, we boarded Breeze airlines out of Hartford (and sprung for 1st class because it was only $150 RT!).
We’ve heard a bunch about New Haven’s Avelo but nothing about Breeze, helmed by the guy who started Jet Blue. We were delighted with the spanking new plane and our roomy, cushy seats! Off to a great start, and with only a two-hour flight, we were on vacation in no time!
After researching hotels, we decided on The Dewberry, a 50’s modern landmarked building, elegantly renovated, in a great neighborhood that was easily walkable to everywhere. It checked all our boxes, including a gym to work off the fried chicken and biscuits we would be indulging in. There’s an in-house spa that we sadly didn’t make use of. We did, however, make good use of the house car that chauffeured us to our dinner reservations! We loved the spacious rooms and bathroom, the classic lounge (with white-jacketed waiters!), and the stunning views of the hundreds of church steeples from the rooftop bar. It was the perfect retreat after walking for miles (an average of six a day!) during our stay.
Other hotels that are on our list: the classic (and expensive) Zero George, or the new, groovy well-priced Ryder, (definitely stop by their bar, The Palm), or the classy Pinch.
Where we ate and you should, too:
We tried all the best dishes of Charleston, from amazing fried chicken and crabby rice to an elegant oyster bar for, yes, oysters, plus an indulgent bit of caviar and blini (it was the holiday season, after all!).
Leon’s Fine Poultry and Oyster Shop was our first stop and such a fun find and intro to the Charleston food scene. The sprawling space is a renovated body shop with a festive atmosphere, hip vibe, and the sweetest wait staff. Upbeat music, vintage paintings lining the walls, and possibly the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. It comes bronzed, salty, and slightly spicy (get a side of the cooling cucumber salad). Do NOT miss the roasted oysters or the slab of cheesy potato gratin. Intriguing cocktails (coconut daiquiri, anyone?), plus a menu of various champagnes and sparklings wines (Leon’s believes that the effervescence stands up to the richness of fried chicken, and who are we to argue?). We loved it here so much that we came back for our last meal.
Miller’s All Day
After walking up and down every block (and through every fascinating graveyard) of Charleston’s Historic District, we were STARVING and headed to Miller’s All Day. This adorable spot has a diner feel and offers tweaked versions of Charleston’s regional specialties for breakfast and lunch (they close at 3pm). I dove into my bowl of shrimp and grits; our northern renditions just don’t compare. This was a delicious combo of toothsome Jimmy Red Corn Grits, Tasso ham, and local shrimp. Laura had the crazy fried chicken sandwich served up on a glazed donut! Wow. The sweet and salty combo is a winner. We washed it down with Bellinis, which are available by the carafe!
Our friend Mimi said not to miss this place for breakfast or lunch, and we do what Mimi tells us! More of a neighborhood cafe than a restaurant, the quality of the baked delicacies and perfect cappuccino had us hooked. Because I cannot resist a Jambon Beurre when it’s on offer, I had to have it. In my book, a crusty baguette with French ham and slathered with butter is the ultimate sandwich. Their version was sublime. Yes, there’s the ever-present avo toast, but you’ll also find a caviar sandwich on brioche on the menu. Do not skip a slab of toasted pecan banana bread.
Two locations: https://www.babasoncannon.com/
Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit:
No trip to Charleston would be complete without a snack at this legendary biscuit shop. You can order a rather large biscuit sandwich or do as we did and order up a selection of tiny ones filled with country ham, cheese and chive, and of course, the perfect buttermilk. Gluten-free available. Two locations and online shopping for biscuit mixes.
We kept hearing that crabby rice is the DISH to have in Charleston, and Hannibal’s Kitchen, a local soul food spot, is the place to have it. We walked, but it’s out of the way from the downtown area, so we suggest an Uber. Crabby Rice is a revelation! Ours was a mix of shrimp and crab meat and precisely what it says, all mixed up with garlicky Carolina rice. Although famous for seafood in both Geechee and Gullah traditions, we tried the fried chicken here, too, and it was superb. Classic down-home spot for lunch, and order what the staff tells you.
We were SO excited about our reservation at Husk and equally enthused when we arrived at the historic home. This spot, made famous by chef Sean Brock, serves the best quality local ingredients crafted into creative versions of regional dishes. Nothing makes it into the kitchen that’s not from the South. We began to get nervous as they led us upstairs and away from the cozy first floor with its open kitchen. The second floor feels very much like a dead zone. There is almost nothing notable about the decor (or absence of it), and the waitstaff, though professional, was woefully slow. Worse yet, my dinner of Cornmeal Fried Catfish, Dirty Jefferson Red Rice, and Kimchi Brussels Sprouts, which sounded incredible, was just downright average. Granted, award-winning chef Brock no longer owns the place, but it still gets rave reviews. Hopefully, we just hit it on an off night. Expensive and disappointing.
However, we went on to two spectacular dinners:
Quinte is a chic new oyster bar and we went all in with a seafood tower plus caviar and blini. It was our fancy holiday dinner out and we savored every bite. Highly recommend if you’re after fresh, raw seafood. https://thequinte.com/
Our second fancy(ish) dinner was at the petite and glorious Chez Nous. This spot features dishes from France, northern Italy, and northern Spain, and offers 2 choices of an appetizer, entree, and dessert at lunch and dinner. Chandeliers, ancient beams, and white tablecloths added to the cozy but elegant atmosphere. The menu is hand-written by the chef daily. We loved it here, down to the waitstaff’s Brittany-striped uniform tees. We started with a delicate smoked salmon tartine topped with salmon caviar, and I had a perfectly pan-seared bass in a mussel broth with roasted tomatoes, fregola, and olives. Fresh and unusual. This meal made up for our disaster at Husk. Everything was plated beautifully, and service was attentive but unrushed. As is our way, we closed the place! https://www.cheznouschs.com/
We checked out The Ryder Hotel for a possible stay next visit, and tasted holiday cocktails at The Little Palm, their hip poolside bar and cafe. This time of year, the pool was lined with snug and decorated cabins for light bites and warming drinks. https://www.littlepalmbar.com/
What we did:
Mainly we walked around, ogling the breathtaking antebellum architecture, and the over-the-top holiday decor. They do it UP in Charleston! We also visited two historic house museums and signed up for Tommy Dew’s walking tour, which I HIGHLY recommend.
Tommy Dew’s Walking Tour
Tommy is a font of knowledge about Charleston and its complicated history. We toured cemeteries, churches, and secret cobblestoned streets of the walled city that we wouldn’t have found on our own. We visited St. Michael’s Church, the oldest in Charleston (where President George Washington worshipped in 1791) and viewed the Tiffany windows while perched in ancient cedar pews. The walking tour continued to Rainbow Row and its Instagram-worthy townhouses and finally to The Battery at the very tip of the city, lined with pristine antebellum mansions and a promenade along the seawall. An excellent way to orient yourself, so reserve this tour at the start of your visit.
Aiken Rhett House:
This historic house remained in the same family for 142 years before being sold to the Charleston Museum. It has been carefully preserved but not updated, and includes the original back kitchen and slave quarters. The house, complete with bits of old wallpaper, grand chandeliers, and a few sticks of the family’s furniture, offers a distressing glimpse of how slave-owning families lived in the middle of the 19th century. https://www.historiccharleston.org/house museums/aiken-rhett-house/
The Nathaniel Russell House Museum
This mansion has been restored as closely as possible to its 1808 grandeur, down to recreating (with forensic analysis) the original wallpapers and carpeting. The three-story cantilevered “flying” staircase is a remarkable feature of this grand home. If you’re interested in learning how the wealthy lived in antebellum Charleston, this landmarked manse is a don’t miss.
Specialty retail is thriving in Charleston. We spent a day wandering and shopping around the Old Town. Here are a few shops that we loved.
Chocolat by Adam Turoni: This tiny temple to chocolate is as gorgeous as it is tasty.
Buxton Books: I never visit a new city without stopping into their local independent bookseller, and this is a great one. https://www.buxtonbooks.com/
House of Nomad: An artfully merchandised furniture and housewares shop with a global accent. https://houseofnomaddesign.com/pages/
Alexandra Antiques: Fans of painted Swedish and French antiques and objects will have a field day here. Check out their Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alexandraantiques/
Amanda Lindroth: An island-inspired shop full of block-printed linens and unusual wicker accessories. https://amandalindroth.com/
James Hampden: We happened to catch this designer boutique during their end-of-season sale, and it’s a doozy. Find collections, shoes, and accessories from the likes of Marni, LA Double J, Isabel Marant, and more. https://hampdenclothing.com/
Vignette: We stocked up on quirky cards and stocking stuffers at this moody and creative home and gift shop. https://vignettehometablegarden.com/
Clorinda Antinori Shoes: This chic shop has every shoe you need, from sporty sandals to Venetian slippers and woven slides, all manufactured in Italy. https://www.clorindaantinori.com/venetia slippers
ETU Home: We wanted EVERYTHING in this inspirational, European-accented home and furniture store. If I was getting married, I would register here. https://etuhome.com/