Heavy on Flavor: The grilled deckle is a signature dish at The Macintosh. Cut from the rib eye, deckle is a rare menu find, but a reliable choice at this Charleston joint.
Charleston, South Carolina, has long been known for its Southern charm. Historic mansions and plantation homes are the background for famous ghost tours, and exquisite beaches lay within a half-hour drive. But it’s the food here that really makes the town worthy of a visit. With great chefs and a variety of cuisines, Charleston is like a mini New York City. Tourists are flocking to Charleston to get a taste of the Southern cuisine that goes far beyond fried chicken and biscuits. (Although it serves up some pretty mean bird and bread.)
Standard menus in Charleston are rare. They change so frequently that most restaurants have resorted to chalkboards featuring the day’s specials—often made with only what’s in season and fresh that day. Husk, Charleston’s golden child of restaurants, was one of the first to pioneer this trend, and others soon followed. In the case of Martha Lou’s Kitchen, a small cinder block of a chicken joint, there’s no menu or chalkboard; you simply lend an ear to hear what’s on tap for the day.
Between freelance pieces for 417 Magazine and Saveur magazine and my weekly foodie column, it’s safe to say food is always the focus of vacations for my husband, Nate, and me—and Charleston was no exception. On a recent trip to the historic city, I started taking notes on the restaurants we visited, and the result is this guide to the best eating in Charleston. Use my tips to plan your own visit, and come prepared to loosen your belt a notch and feast like a true carnivore.
Sweet & Savory: Bone marrow bread pudding is a one-of-a-kind dish at The Macintosh. It’s a savory delicacy.
This new kid on the block has been on everyone’s lips since landing a spot on Bon Appétit’s “50 Best New Restaurants List.” The large, upscale space, filled with reclaimed wood and massive iron chandeliers, draws in a casual but hip crowd—like most hot spots in this town. Fresh, seasonal dishes make up a menu that celebrates a Southern focus with a farm-to-table bend.
If roasted okra’s on the menu while visiting, don’t miss a chance to enjoy—rather, devour—it. This preparation is a welcome riff on the typical fried version and enhances the flavor with smoky char. And while The Macintosh serves its share of delicious pork dishes, it’s the marrow bread pudding that’s worth a visit. Soft pillows of bread are rippled with creamy swirls of bone marrow—making for the ultimate upscale savory delicacy.
The bar upstairs is the perfect place (try the roof deck) for a pre- or post-dinner cocktail. It serves up carefully curated libations that are often laced with ingredients snipped from potted herbs that grow on the bar. The Bourbon Wedding Punch is concocted of bourbon, grapefruit, pineapple, honey and sage and packs a punch, indeed. They also have a bacon happy hour during the week, and a weekly changing small pork dish, like chorizo on a baguette with lemon-chi butter, for $5—it’s foodie heaven.
Finger Food: This luscious burger from Butcher & Bee comes topped with pimento cheese.
Butcher & Bee
The vibe inside Butcher & Bee mixes modern with vintage: An antique cooler is filled with soda bottles, and a stainless steel communal table lives alongside an antique cabinet holding cookbooks with cherished Southern recipes. A chalkboard features a short and simple sandwich-centric menu, including a fried green tomato sandwich served on crunchy multi-grain bread that’s made in-house. The tomatoes are topped with bacon (naturally) and a spicy mayo, and it pairs perfectly with the hand-cut fries and a side of fresh fruit, drizzled with local honey. Owner Michael Shimtov has added Friday Night BYOB dinners to the mix, showcasing international cuisines, like the bahn mi (a traditional Vietnamese sandwich) filled with purely Southern ingredients like pork shoulder and veggies harvested in the garden out back.
Despite its spot in a completely nondescript, mall-esque location, you won’t miss the place. Bearded locals wearing Toms and skinny jeans sprawl on the vintage chairs out front, while sipping cans of craft beer and inhaling the famed sandwiches.