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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Charleston, SC - 5.30

  • Toast Restaurant
  • Heyward-Washington House
  • Edmondston-Alston House
  • Savanna Bee Company
  • Jestine’s Sweet Shop – coconut pie
  • Slightly North of Broad 

Today was our last day in Charelston.  Toast restaurant was a 5 minute walk from our hotel.  It had excellent reviews on TripAdvisor.  It seemed to be quite popular every time we walked by.  We decided to check it out for brunch.

After a short wait, we got our table.  H ordered "Eggs Meeting Street", a fried green tomato with crab cake, poached egg with low country remoulade sauce.  I had "Low Country Eye Opener", shrimp etouffee served with grits and fried green tomato.  I was not sure if it was all the low country cuisine had gotten to me or we just ordered the wrong dishes, but I was not impressed with Toast at all.  The food was greasy and heavy with too much sauce.  Honesty, I felt the restaurant is more of a tourist trap.  In comparison, I enjoyed our breakfast at Joseph's the first day much better.

After breakfast, we definitely needed to walk off all the calories we consumed.  We walked through Church street on our way to the Hayward-Washington House.  It was such a lovely quiet street with beautiful trees and quaint houses.  Charleston downtown is truly charming and romantic.   Every corner was picturesque.

Before we knew it, we had arrived at Heyward-Washington House, another historical house built in 1772.  Unlike other historical houses we saw, this one allowed us to take pictures inside.  The restored 18th century kitchen was also the only one open to the public. The house also had a lovely garden in the back.

After the tour at Heyward-Washington House, we walked towards Battery park.  Once we turned to East Battery street, the houses turned to grand mansions.  We soon arrived at the Edmondston-Alston House.  Edmondston-Alston House was the most grandiose among all the houses we saw.  

We continued walking to Battery park and turned back on King's street.  We took many pictures along the way.  The walk was so relaxing and enjoyable.  We went shopping on King's street and came across an interesting store, Savanna Bee Company.  The store sold all kinds of honey bee related products.  There were many different flavors of pure honey that you could sample.  After tasting every flavor, I bought Tupelo & winter white honey.  (Unfortunately the 12 oz honey did not pass airport security in the carry-on suitcase, and we had to check in our luggage.)

We stopped by Jestine's Sweet Shop to get a coconut pie as recommended by our hotel bartender, and got some coffee at Starbucks for a much needed break.  The coconut pie was light and creamy.  I wanted to go back to the shop to get a second pie.

After the coffee break, we headed back to the hotel to pick up the car and drove around different streets of Charleston.  Before dinner, we stopped by Charleston Cooks.  I was interested in taking their cooking class but did not book one because I was not sure if we had enough time.  Looking back, I wish we could have taken the cooking class.

Tonight's dinner was at Slightly North of Broad, with modern twist of Low Country Cooking.  We had Gazpacho and Pork Belly for appetizers, Duck breasts and Grouper for main courses, and Chocolate pie for dessert.  The Pork Belly and the chocolate pie were delicious, but everything else just fell short.  The Gazpacho was sour, the duck breasts was chewy, and the grouper was bland.

After dinner, our trip to Charleston was officially over.  We returned the car at the airport, checked into Sheraton hotel, and hung out by the pool for a while before we called it a night.  The next day, we would have an early morning flight to catch and a full day of work waiting for us in New York.

Charleston is a perfect destination for a long weekend or girls' getaway. Car is optional depending on how long you stay and how bad you want to visit the plantations.  The visitor center has many combination discounted tickets for the historical houses and coupons for other tour companies so it is worth making the visitor center your first stop.  If there is any popular restaurants on your "Must eat" list, be sure to make reservations a few days in advance. 


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Charleston, SC - 5.29

  • Magnolia Plantation, House tour & River Boat
  • Drayton Hall
  • Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
  • Jestine’s Kitchen
  • Hank’s seafood restaurant

Before coming to Charleston, I had read that it was not necessary to rent a car if you stay in the city center.  My mistake was to assume that all the major sites were within the city center.  We quickly found out that we needed a car to visit all the plantations.  There were plantation day tours from the city, but the thought of going on a tour absolutely repelled me. 

So, first thing when we got up in the morning, H called Budget, the only car rental company in downtown that opened on Sunday.  The rate was more expensive than if we had picked it up from the airport, but I guess sometimes extra money had to be spent when we didn't do enough homework.

By 11 AM, I had purchased the combination tickets for Magnolia & Dryaton from the visitor's center, H had got the car from budget across the street, and we were on our way to Magnolia. Talk about efficiency!

The representative at the ticket counter in the visitor's center was a guy in his early 20's.  As I was asking him all sorts of questions mapping out our plantation trip, he was courteous, patient, and closing every other sentence with "Yes, Ma'am", "No problem, Ma'am"......  "Ma'am" is a funny word.  There is a condescending undertone to the women who is being addressed to, and an unexplainable authority to the person who says it whether such intention is there or not. I felt stupid and old when this young man was just being polite.

30 minutes later, we were at  Magnolia Plantation and Garden.  Magnolia was a big plantation and offered many tours for an additional charge.  We decided to take the additional house tour and nature boat.  It was a sizzling hot day.  The house was full of southern charm.  Unfortunately photography was not allowed.  The nature boat took us to a relaxing ride in the marsh.  We saw many birds and alligators along the boat ride.  After the tours, we took a stroll in the garden by the lake.

Next stop was Drayton Hall.  We chose to visit Drayton Hall because it was one of the oldest surviving plantations.  The house was kept very much as it was in its early years, and displayed unfurnished.  However, in retrospect, I would have probably picked Middleton Place over Dryaton Hall.

On the way back to Charleston, we decided to drive over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and checked out Sullivan's Island quickly. Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge was voted No. 1 out of 77 attractions in Charleston on Tripadvisor.  Naturally, I was curious.  While driving over the bridge, I must say that I was a bit puzzled.....  The bridge was nice to look at, but No. 1 Attraction?? I was not sure why.  Maybe other people saw something that I didn't see.  I did not get it.

After a quick drive to Sullivan Island, we headed back to Charleston.  We were starving.  Since Jestine's Kitchen was only a block away from our hotel, we decided to get something small to eat before dinner.  It seemed that there was always a line in front of Jestine's Kitchen no matter what time you went.  We ordered fried chicken with sides of Fried okra, corn bread with honey butter, and sweet tea.  I really enjoyed Jestine's Kitchen.  The restaurant was low-key and friendly.  The food was southern home cooking.  There were many other dishes on the menu that I would love to try.  

Before dinner, we walked over to the King's street and looked for bow ties for H.  H just recently started wearing bow ties to work.  Finding nice bow ties was quite a challenge in New York.  Stores carried only very few selections and even less nice ones.  We saw many beautiful bow ties in the men's store in Charleston.  After returning from the trip, H regretted that he did not buy more bow ties in Charleston. 

The dinner tonight was at Hank's, a seafood restaurant recommended by our waiter last night from Poogan's Porch.  The restaurant was in full swing when we arrived.

H ordered Low Country Bouillabaisse - a bowl of fish, clams, oysters, mussels, shrimp and scallops simmered in a light tomato, leek and garlic broth. And I had curried shrimp with white rice. It was a perfect contrast: H's seafood was fresh light and mine was full of flavor and heavy.  The Banana Cream pie was also really good.

I could not help but to compare Charleston to New Orleans, and felt that everything from food, clothing, to architecture just seemed more refined and proper in Charleston.

As we walked back to our hotel, a homeless/drunk guy passed by and said to me, "I like your blouse, young lady."  Now, it sounded much better being called young lady. And what can I say, even a homeless/drunk Charlestonian  has good taste!


Monday, July 11, 2011

Charleston, SC - 5.28

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Ever since the trip to New Orleans,  I wanted to explore other southern parts of the United State.  For this Memorial day weekend,  we decided to visit Charleston, South Carolina. 

To maximize our time in Charleston, we took a late night flight on Friday after work, returned to New York on Tuesday early morning, and went straight to work.  Because of our flight schedule, we stayed at the Sheraton Charleston Airport Hotel for the first and last night. The direct flight between New York  and Charleston was only 2 hours long, so the schedule was very doable. 

  • Joseph's Restaurant
  • Old City Market 
  • Carriage Tour
  • Marion Square Art Exhibition & Farmer's Market
  • Aiken-Rhett House
  • Kudu CafĂ©
  • Poogan's Porch

On Saturday morning, we quickly checked out of the Sheraton hotel and took a short taxi ride into Charleston.  By 10 AM, we had already checked into the King Charles Inn, and on our way to Joesph's Restaurant for brunch based on the concierge's recommendation.  H and I have become more and more efficient when traveling.  I love that!

One of the main focus for this trip is the southern cuisine.  I love the ingredients, the spices, and the rich flavors in Southern cooking.  It is an ultimate comfort food to me.  I soon learned that it is "low-country cuisine" in South Carolina. There is strong rich diversity of seafood with Caribbean, Asian, and African cuisine influences.
After a short wait, we were seated at the yellow dinning room with many locals - a very good sign.  We ordered egg Benedict served on Holland rusks with Canadian bacon & home made Hollandaise sauce, and sweet potato pancakes with toasted pecon butter.  The food did not disappoint.  I really enjoyed my pancakes.  H was never a fan of grits, but he could not stop eating it at this restaurant.

On our way to take the carriage ride, we quickly strolled through the old city market.  Vendors sold all kinds of junk, but nothing interesting worth buying.  We took the Mule carriage ride with Palmetto Carriage Tours.  The carriage ride took longer to start since every carriage had to be weighted and pay the toll.  The carriage ride took us through some tree shaded blocks with beautiful houses.  It was a relaxing ride and a lovely introduction of Charleston

After the carriage ride, we walked over to Marion Square.  The square was quite big.  There was the Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibition on one end and a Farmer's Market on the other.  There were some amazing artworks at the exhibition.

Both H and I always enjoy touring the historical houses and I was eager to visit them in Charleston.  After Marion Square, we took a short walk to visit Aiken Rhett House.  The house and the slave quarters were interesting, but what caught our attention was the Joggling Board on the piazza. Joggling Board was a green long wooden bench that you could bounce up and down, left to right when you sit on it, which originated in South Carolina in the early 19 century.  Too bad our apartment would not fit, I would love to have a joggling board at home!

After Aiken Rhett House, we stopped by the visitor's center to get some information about plantations that we wanted to visit the next day.  On the way heading back to the hotel, we sought out the Kudu Cafe for a snake.  The beautiful water fountain garden was perfect to relax and enjoy craft beers, coffee, or pastries.

We had a few restaurants in mind for dinner the first night, but had yet to make a reservation.  Poogan's Porch was recommended by the guide from our morning carriage ride and we were lucky to secure an 8 PM reservation.  Maybe it was because of the Memorial day weekend, many popular restaurants were fully booked that evening. 

Poogan's Porch served low-country cuisine in a lovely Victorian House.  It turned out to be our favorite meal in Charleston. The house honey butter was so delicious that I had to refrain from stuffing myself with the bread before the dishes came.  The she-crab soup is the southern version of New England Claim Chowder, only with Crab, more spice, and intense flavor. It was too rich for me though.

The scollops and pork belly was heavenly! I LOVED  my shrimp with grits.  It was hearty and flavorful.  H also enjoyed his buttermilk fried chicken.  The food was so good that we definitely overextended ourselves. By the time we finished the main courses, we were so stuffed that we sadly had to skip the dessert.

We took a walk after dinner and passed by the Dock Street Theatre. People at all ages made the effort to dress up going to the theatre.  A police car was in front of the theatre front to patrol the crowd.  Many older gentlemen wore blue pinstripe seersucker summer suits, and some with bow ties.  They were adorable.

NEXT: Charleston, SC - 5.29