I can barely hold myself down to write to you today. I mean, I am wiggling and quaking with excitement. Because I am going to Charleston (!) for one night only on our way to somewhere else. As I mentioned, I have been to a lot of places, and I enjoy many of them, but none of them are Charleston, South Carolina and everything else pales in comparison to the truly special and dignified City of Steeples.
You are going to find a half a dozen good food bloggers out there who do nothing but drool on and on over Paris. And it can be argued that if you are to be any good at the food blogging game, now business, you had better know a thing about French food and its capital. It is hard to have a point of comparison for truly remarkable cuisine had you never encountered such a thing, I suppose. I have. When I tell you I have been there, wherever it is, I have: I have fine-dined all over Europe, Asia, and the Americas. But as those of you who read with me often know, that fact does not impress me about myself nor anyone else who blogs ON AND ON about Pierre Hermes. The macaroons are good, okay? But they sho' aren't Miss Jane's Pecan Chicken Salad in Charleston and in my eyes there is precious little they can do to stand up in the face of my Mom and Grandmother's Roasted Potatoes. And those two ladies are responsible for my culturing and my sensitivity to what makes a thing wonderful and perfect, so maybe that is why the commerical macaroon is a little special to me than the cookies we make in our kitchens at home.
I will tell you what my idea of great food is: It is on the kitchen and dining room tables of real Americans in the melting pot all across this nation. It is Margaret's Roast Beef, Dottie's Pickled Horseradish, Brandon's Sunday Crepe's, Christine's Grilled Lamb and a million dishes created by virtue of the legion generations we travelled from everywhere to arrive right here, together. I have enjoyed to no end the immaculate white peach dessert I once ate in Shanghai, an unbelievable foie grois temmpanakki in Taiwan, and an Alsatian stewed feat in Paris. I have consumed great pastries everywhere. In fact, I nearly staved to nothing eating French pastries one season thinking the reverse would be the effect. But the best food, is the one you made for me and put on your own table with the palpable pride of the generations from whence you sprung.
I don't often get lucky enough to see that intrinsic quality appear in fine restaurant settings because many dine out in order to feel decidedly as though they have gone somewhere different and special. I am not one of those diners and Charleston is a city where the traditions of a million fine cooks have converged to make some of the restaurants there as comforting as a home very dressed up for company and the food as lovingly prepared as it might have been if the ladies of my family or yours had dropped into the kitchen themselves.
So, when you tell me I can go to Charleston, I sit back in my chair and run through them again, the places where my heart goes for great Southern restaurant food. If I am given only one night I cannot chance some new venture to satisfy the way I long for the food back there where we lived for too short a time. This Sunday night, if you are looking for me, you will find me at one of two places: Carolina's or SNOB (Slightly North of Broad). I will be in a back corner table with my handsome Husband who I have missed terribly all the time he has been gone overseas. I cannot imagine a better evening than one that I can sit across the table from my him for the first time in seven months, in my favorite cheerful and glorious old city, at Carolina's where the food is somehow both modern and old-school Southern all at once, the wine list lovingly fussed over, and where Brendan, the world's most wonderful waiter, will swing by the table.
Let me tell you two things about Carolina's: The first is, the place is just perfect for a lovely, quiet Charleston evening: Find it down a cobbled path towards the harbor. As you go, you feel as though you have a secret old city hideout no one else might find. But you do find it and you are glad because you can collapse into their care as you might have your Mother's on that first weekend home from college. For my husband, I cannot imagine a better place at which to end a war, at least for a while. They are going to fuss over you quietly, you will barely notice because they are all Southern nuance and slight of hand. And they are going to make you some food that will make your heart warm and your mind feel safe.
The second thing you should know is that you should go see Brendan. I don't know this gentleman from Adam really. I know that he waited on my Mom and I not long after my Dad died and we just wanted to tuck in with my four month old daughter and have it go easy. That is the tallest of orders; Been through a tragedy and bringing with us a new life and still wanting to love dinner. But he and their magnificent chef pulled it off. We did kind of slump into our chairs that night. It had been a long trip and even longer journey back to Charleston, finally. "Just leave it to me." He said. And so we did: The food, the wine by the glass, everything so refined and gentle. I asked about the pork and thought longingly about the shrimp and grits. And that is just what came: Lacquered pork belly and some gorgeous red wine. Then shrimp and grits and some jaunty white wine. Then two (!!) desserts and a deep dark coffee. Somewhere they agonized over this perfection, but it was somewhere else. Because, at that table everything sang with ease, pride, refinement, and good old-fashioned manners. When I think of Charleston, that dinner stands out and I say to myself, "Hmmmmm, yum, take me home."
Now, SNOB is another game altogether but good for another set of reasons and really not to be passed up unless your consciousness is inextricably chained to one place as mine is to Carolina's.
SNOB is big, loud, sometimes very obnoxious, but never fails to deliver on some truly gussied up Southern dishes and some out of this world new things that one will remember. I don't drink the coffee there because it is not well selected nor thoughtfully brewed and as you know, I can be a smidge picky about quality. But I will eat everything else there without question or pause. I have once had to eat alone (sad face) in Charleston, and I found SNOB the best place to do so because they have a low reading bar looking onto the kitchen. But I defy you to read anything there while witnessing the frenetic pace of that kitchen. It is far too consuming.
Enjoy them both, and I hope I catch you there. Or maybe not this time, I have not dined with my Husband in too long. Wink, if you see us at Carolina's. Won't you?
How to find the good guys:
SNOB (Maverick Southern Kitchen)