Foodies love Charleston. Our town is literally chock full of James Beard Award winning chefs, but how did they all come to gather here and what are some dishes indicative of the region?
Johnson & Wales University, the well-known and respected culinary school based in Providence, Rhode Island, had a branch in Charleston for many years. The doors to the Charleston campus shut after the final class graduated in 2010, but the school turned out world-class chefs for years and opened their eyes to the easy going lifestyle and the abundance of fresh proteins and vegetables available here in the Lowcountry. Many of the graduates stayed to work in long standing and established restaurants or to try their hand at starting their own.
As for Lowcountry foods of Charleston, one has to understand what the term Lowcountry means. You will see the term spelled as one word and as two, there really is no rhyme or reason to the variance in spellings and locals are used to seeing it both ways and using it whenever possible to name businesses. In any event, Charleston is at sea level and the land along the coast of South Carolina is very flat. The coastal region is called the “Low” country because of the lack of the hills and mountains found in the “Upstate,” or where the mountains and land poke upward toward the sky.
Shrimp and Grits is a delicious dish which is acceptable to eat at any time of day. You will find it on Sunday Brunch menus as both a breakfast and lunch item and it shows up on pretty much every nice dinner restaurant menu, as well. It is a delicious dish with shrimp and andouille sausage nested on a bed of freshly ground grits (finely ground corn meal) and swirled with a delicious gravy.
She Crab Soup is another Charleston staple. The restaurant 82 Queen gained its fame from it’s delicious recipe for the this soup, but you will find it at almost every restaurant in town. Traditionally, the soup used the meat and the row from gravid crabs, but now the soup is made with just the crab meat cooked in a tomato and cream base and should always be topped with a drizzle of sherry upon serving.
Oysters are in season during every month whose name contains an “R,” however most of the local oyster roasts kick off in September or October and go through January to February. One of the largest and most well known oyster roasts takes place in January at Boone Hall Plantation. This year, it will be on January 26. Pearlz, a restaurant and bar on East Bay Street, is a great place to enjoy an oyster shooter, raw oysters, and steamed oysters and it turns into a fun place for a nightcap.
Fresh Fish from flounder to mahi mahi and redfish to many other varieties will always have a feature spot on every Charleston restaurant menu. The ocean is just 3 miles from our inner harbor and the fishing is good!
Check out some of these Lowcountry foods and more on our Charleston Food Tours.