In the 1890’s, a journalist from Washington D.C. made this observation to describe Charleston’s genteel bourgeoisie. Still reeling from the “war of northern aggression,” as some here still call it. the city had a tired feel and look. A century later it’s a changed place-alive with re-developing neighborhoods, a thriving restaurant scene and an economy under pinned by educational institutions, shipping, tourism and growth industries such as aeronautics and energy research.
Modern day Charleston is home to The Citadel, College of Charleston and the Medical College of South Carolina, one of the largest ports on the eastern seaboard, Spoleto (a festival of music and dance), and a soon to open Boeing assembly plant. Main thoroughfare like King Street, Market and East Bay are packed with retail stores (local and national names) as well as a wide variety of bars and restaurants. While you can still find she crab soup and shrimp and grits there is a growing community of ethnic restaurants and award winning farm to table spots highlighting the bounteous local seafood, meats and fresh vegetables.
Among the recent highlights of a weekend trip were Mistral, a thirty year old French restaurant in the middle of the market area, featuring a lively bar scene and smooth listening jazz music. John, the bartender, is a font of local knowledge from tips on how to survive a hurricane to the hottest neighborhoods to find a good real estate deal. Across the street is Mercato, a three year old contemporary Italian restaurant. Among the menu highlights were a wild mushroom risotto and locally caught black bass. If you go, ask to be seated on the second level, a bit quieter than the noisy bar and seating area below.
Charleston is a walking city. Start out with a stroll along the Battery, home to the city’s most historic and elegantly restored historic masterpieces. From there it’s a short stroll to Market street, featuring numerous vendors selling everything from touristy t-shirt to homemade jewelry and reed baskets. Nearby East Bay has a multitude of restaurants, a favorite is Pearlz featuring a terrific seafood gumbo and fresh oysters (steamed or on the half-shell.)
The culinary highlight for us was McCrady’s, housed in a building from the 1780’s and continually operated as a bar or restaurant ever since. Now under the command of Chef Sean Brock, the restaurant features the freshest local ingredients down to the point of retaining their own fish and oyster man. Later this spring Brock is planting a 4 acre garden featuring pre civil war heirloom plants that will be incorporated into the daily changing menu. If you go, have the 7 course tasting menu.