“Your hotel room has been canceled.” Not exactly the email you want to receive an hour outside Charleston, South Carolina, the weekend after Valentine’s Day. Let’s back up a bit. Planning a trip to Charleston already presents an array of first world problems. One quick request for recommendations on Facebook and my head was exploding with a month’s worth of mouthwatering options to visit for food and drinks. And, I was going for a Saturday and Sunday night—meaning some of my options might be limited on Sunday—what’s a lover of fine food and drink to do? Start strategizing tout suite.
Back to the hotel issue. A moment of what-the-heck-are-we-going-to-do panic, a frenzied call to Hotels.com, a few transfers and holds, and our trip was transformed from a weekend at a typical downtown Charleston hotel to a luxury Charleston weekend at the new Dewberry Hotel. Here’s how I jammed as much as I could into the rest of the weekend.
The Marco Style Charleston Eating Itinerary
Saturday (Day 1):
Stop 1: Feast, Isle of Palms, SC
When your friend who’s a chef that used to work at Husk gives you places to hit on your visit to Charleston, you listen. Thanks Shawn! So on our way into town, we swung around to beautiful Isle of Palms and stopped by Feast.
Off the small menu of made-with-love sandwiches and salads, we chose the Roast Pork sandwich. A ginormous sesame roll was packed with tasty pork perfection, caramelized onions, gruyere, and arugula pesto. If you’re a sandwich fan, this is a must.
Stop 2: Spero
From there, we looped into actual Charleston and took a suggestion from another friend of mine, Hungry Asian, stopping by Spero for a few snacks. Also, after reading the website, we had to go meet these guys in real life. To start, because I can never resist a carb, we tried the bread and butter, which gets you schmaltz biscuits with malted maple butter, sourdough pretzel bread with ham mustard butter, and cornbread with burnt honey miso butter. As the menu description states, “try all three, because why not, you deserve it.” And you do, because they all are delicious.
We also went for the scotch egg, which was a runny egg wrapped in Szechuan peppercorn sausage fried to crispy perfection and served over an herb salad and some A.C.E. Basin Blade raw oysters topped with the restaurant’s signature yellow mustard and chopped bread and butter pickles. I know it sounds crazy, but it was oddly satisfying. Spero is casual and a little off the beaten path—definitely glad we stopped by for something different!
Stop 3: High Wire Distilling Co.
This artisan distillery produces gin, whiskey, vodka, and my favorite, a Southern Amaro Liqueur that’s a Southern take on an Italian classic made with regionally grown and foraged ingredients, such as Charleston black tea, yaupon holly, Dancy tangerine, and mint. You can sip it solo, on the rocks, or include in cocktails like a Manhattan or Boulevardier. You can tour the distillery and enjoy a tasting for $8 or just stop by and choose individual spirits to taste for a small fee per sample.
Stop 4: 167 Raw
This adorable oyster bar can be tough to squeeze into during busy times, but it’s worth dropping in for a snack in between popular meal moments. We dropped by around 5 and after a short wait were able to grab a sampling of oysters and an amazingly delicious 10-hour pork carnita taco on the lovely little patio.
Stop 5: Sean Brock Dinner 1 of 2 In One Night: McCrady’s Tavern
Like many established Sean Brock fans, my initial dining preference for my Charleston vacation would have been a prime-time dinner reservation at Husk. But, since I didn’t actually plan my Charleston trip until about a month out and I went the weekend after Valentine’s Day, there was no way that was happening. I was, however, able to procure a reservation for 10 p.m. In Marco Style world, what does this mean? Two dinners!
For both budget and stomach room reasons, the McCrady’s tasting room option did not seem like a good one, so instead we went with the more casual and relaxed McCrady’s Tavern. The first standout on our little sampling tour was the Oysters McCrady. A Southern twist on oysters Rockefeller, six oysters were baked with country ham and mushrooms to rich, creamy perfection. Equally impressive was the escargot stuffed marrow bone with grilled bread and parsley—yes, I always like a marrow bone, but the addition of the escargots and the preparation was indulgent perfection. We also split a steak, which was flavorful and delicious, but my favorite part of the main course was the potato puree with roasted chicken drippings and black truffle butter. This little tub of potato goodness was rich, creamy and absolutely amazing. For dessert, the crème brulee was one of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Stop 6: Fig
With a few minutes to kill between McCrady’s and Husk, we decided to pop into Fig for a carefully crafted cocktail. This romantic, dimly lit restaurant has also won numerous dining awards and has a fantastic looking menu. The cocktail menu here is extensive and changes seasonally, making it just as popular for drinks as it is for dinner.
Stop 7: Husk!
We made it, finally. Maybe a little less hungry than in my original Husk dining fantasy. That’s okay, though, appetizers are usually the most interesting part of the menu so we decided to go with apps and cocktails to end the evening.
The Kentuckyaki crispy glazed pig ear lettuce wraps topped with cucumber and red onion salad and togarashi were smoky, spicy, crunchy umami goodness in every bite. Also delicious were the slow smoked pork ribs with bourbon-ginger barbecue sauce, candied lime and puffed pork skins.
If you like cocktails, you absolutely must visit Husk or the Bar at Husk. The creations are distinctive and unparalleled. It took me just as long to decide what to drink as it did to choose what to eat. I finally settled on the Valencian Overcoat to pair with a chocolate hand pie served with bourbon-infused vanilla ice cream for dessert. The cocktail featured rye, Ancho Reyes ancho chile liqueur, pecan cereal milk and Mexican chocolate, making for a milky, boozy, nutty concoction with a light kick on the finish. It paired perfectly with the gooey, indulgent dessert. And yes, at this point, I rolled home and practically fell into my luxurious Dewberry bed.
Sundays in Charleston must be carefully planned. While there are numerous brunch options, many restaurants are closed for dinner even though it’s a tourist town, limiting your options for dinner and drinks. Here’s how we planned the day.
Stop 8: Quick cocktail at Henrietta’s
Ready early for my brunch reservation in Charleston, what’s a girl to do? Sip a cocktail of course! And the brunch selection at Henrietta’s in the Dewberry had exactly what I was looking for. My rose sangria was so elegant and eye catching that several other diners asked what it was and ordered one as I sat the bar sipping mine.
Stop 9: Brunch at 492
If you were a fan of the now closed and much acclaimed Two Boroughs Larder, chef Josh Keeler landed at 492. I stopped by with high expectations and was not disappointed. The menu changes regularly, is streamlined and quite delicious.
I started with one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails, The Maximilian Affair. Plata Tequila, Pamlemousse, Elderflower, orange bitters and salt foam combined for a citrusy concoction that was perfect for brunch even if it wasn’t on the day drinks menu.
I also snagged a sip of the Monkeys in a Barrel. This combination of bourbon, vanilla, banana, ginger and Angostura might sound a bit stiff for brunch, but it tasted quite creamy and smooth. To eat, we started with the warm sourdough sticky bun topped with cinnamon and pecans, which was every bit sweet, gooey and glorious as a sticky bun should be.
Other amazingly indulgent dishes included a rich twist on biscuits and gravy; eggs baked in a cast iron skillet topped with prosciutto; a variation on poutine with cheese curds, peas, and bits of bacon; and eggs with rich roasted pork and greens. Each dish was unique and flavorful making for a brunch that was both delicious and differentiated from your typical brunch selection.
Stop 10: The Obstinate Daughter, Sullivan’s Island
After a little digestion break, we picked up the car and headed out to Sullivan’s Island for a quick look at this beachy town and a snack at the beach-chic, upscale The Obstinate Daughter. Since we were near the water, the Palmetto Log Colada with rum, coconut, pineapple and strawberry seemed fitting. We also sampled some local cheese and a daily special that combined fried oysters with crudo for a deliciously unique texture combination.
Stop 11: The Bar at Husk
One of my favorite recipes to make for parties back home is Sean Brock’s pimento cheese, so I was a little disappointed not to see it on the menu at Husk the night before. Upon hearing that it was, in fact, on the menu at the bar, I decided a quick stop in for a sample was necessary. And it was just as delicious as expected. If you are a bourbon lover, the Bar at Husk is also a must-visit. The menu is wide ranging with flights, specials and an all-around amazing selection.
Stop 12: The Chef’s Counter and Tasting Menu at Edmund’s Oast
Edmund’s Oast is a combination microbrewery and restaurant that’s a little off the beaten path, but certainly worth a visit in Charleston. With bar snacks, an extensive house-made charcuterie selection, small plates, entrées, desserts, craft cocktails, house-made beers, a beautiful interior and a sprawling patio that often hosts bands, what’s not to like?
Oh, and if you’re looking for an extra special experience you can reserve a seat at the Chef’s Counter where you get a seven-course tasting menu for $80 per person with an optional beverage pairing for an additional fee and that’s just what we did. Highlights from the meal included house-made chicken liver pate topped with kumquats and radishes paired with Donnhoff Riesling; beef tartare with buffalo gorbonzola, black olives and charred toast paired with Orval Belgian beer; Parmesan and rutabaga brodo, which is a thick soup, with an agnolotti duo, one smoked turkey and one potato chestnut paired with Crooked Stave Dark Sour Ale; and coconut passionfruit cake with citrus, coconut whipped cream and basil paired with a semillon sauvignon blanc blend for dessert.
Stop 13: Proof
On the way back to our hotel, we swung into Proof, a serious cocktail bar for a quick nightcap. With over 30 cocktails plus beer and wine on the menu, it would be hard to not to find something you like in this swanky, dimly lit spot. I went with a variation on a classic: the Valkyrie with Wild Turkey 101 Rye, Cynar, Averna and St. Germain for a smooth, slightly spicy end to the night.
Stop 14: Caviar & Bananas
This is where you go for your daily caffeine fix, breakfast sandwich, plus any little local snacks you want to sample or take back home. I loved perusing the aisles while I waited for my espresso, Sunrise Sandwich (house-made turkey sausage, egg whites, gruyere, and “everything” spiced kale pesto on toasted ciabatta), and ricotta toast topped with rosemary-apricot marmalade and pistachios to go. If you happen to be at Caviar & Bananas on a weekend, the brunch menu (served Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) looks to die for as well. This market/café also carries cheeses, charcuterie, prepared food, sandwiches, sushi, and all kinds of snacks if you’re staying in the area.
Stop 16: Gin and Tonic in The Living Room at The Dewberry
Along with Henrietta’s Dining Room, the Dewberry has a swanky old-school glamorous bar complete with a lounge that’s outfitted to look like a mid-century modern dining room.
As we checked out of the hotel, I remembered I hadn’t tasted the gin and tonic the guys at Spero highly recommended, so we stopped for a quick tipple. The One Before Supper, as it’s properly called, features bay and turmeric infused gin, Jack Rudy tonic, grapefruit, lime and cucumber, for a refreshing libation that is worthy of the chatter.
Stop 17: Martha Lou’s Kitchen
You can’t go to the South without a little soul food. And again, thanks to chef Shawn, I knew exactly where to go to finish my trip. Martha Lou’s is a tiny pink building that has been serving up your favorite comfort foods for over 30 years.
I’m not sure exactly how old Martha Lou is, but she sat in the front of the restaurant commanding respect from every patron and staff member and keeping a watchful eye over every bite of food that came out of the kitchen. The menu is paper and the plates are Styrofoam—you pick your entrée and sides from the daily menu with two or three sides. If Ms. Deborah is working she just might sing your order or break into song while you wait for your food. It’s one of those restaurants where the genuine joy expressed by every staff member can’t help but put you in a good mood. As we waited for our food, I could see another little old lady in the kitchen hand breading chicken one piece at a time. When my food arrived it was crispy fried chicken, a big scoop of mac and cheese, a heaping helping of collard greens and light fluffy cornbread all made with plenty of love. Of course, we couldn’t skip dessert—homemade peach cobbler ensured we were stuffed for the ride back to Richmond.
Shopping in Charleston
Don’t you worry, I squeezed some shopping in between all that eating. These are some of my favorite spots.
King Street Shopping
Charleston’s Main Drag is packed with stores—chain, non-chain, cheesy souvenir shops, locally owned boutiques. You could spend a week just shopping on King Street alone. I hit different parts of the street in between other stops on my trip and these are a few of the stores that stood out to me.
This high end jewelry is designed on King Street and ranges from smaller, more delicate designs to chunky statement pieces. I like that although the pieces are quite beautiful and made with genuine stones, there are some options under $100, making it possible to take a genuine piece of wearable art home without totally breaking your vacation budget.
The company is actually based in Daufuskie, South Carolina, a small island only accessible by boat, and is designed to embody laid-back casual elegance. Spartina 449 is carried in stores across the country, but the King Street location is one of only four boutiques (with a fifth coming soon) and it is packed with adorable handbags, scarves, necklaces, bracelets, and more. If you have friends expecting baubles when you come home from your Charleston getaway, I’d get them all earrings or other jewelry pieces from here.
Unless you are the type of person who has $300 to spend on a cotton ribbed dress, you might not find a ton to purchase at Worthwhile, but you have to stop in for a browse. The inventory is sourced from around the world and is displayed extremely creatively in a nineteenth century seed house. You’ll find beautiful jewelry next to avant garde fashion pieces. Just browsing is an artistic experience.
Calypso St. Barth has been one of my favorite apparel brands for years. The pieces are well cut and beautiful, but tend to stand alone rather than following current trends so you can wear them for years. I often find a few pieces at boutiques around Richmond, but have never seen a freestanding boutique before. Stop in the Charleston store and browse the beachy glam pieces.
This store is full of fun clothing, jewelry, accessories and gifts at a range of prices and it’s just fun to browse. On my trip I picked up an adorable embroidered dress for around $50 and a pair of Austrian crystal earrings by one of my favorite costume jewelry designers. It is easy to spend tons of time in here reading funny wine glasses and tea towels, ogling sparkly necklaces, and browsing unique books.
Lori + Lulu
I love this store, which caters to a laid-back luxury lifestyle. In fact, I may have fallen so much in love with a black leather bag at the Fernandina Beach Lori + Lulu store that when I didn’t buy it and couldn’t stop thinking about it I called them and had it shipped to me. The apparel and accessories here are definitely high end, but if you like the boho-luxe vibe you’ll enjoy drooling over all the beautiful pieces.
Handpicked is a regional jewelry chain with locations in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. I wandered in, and was impressed with the range, selection and price points. This is one of those stores where you can find something to match almost any outfit and you can probably find almost any jewelry style you’ve been wanting to add to your selection. I actually found a choker I liked after resisting the trend for a long time.
Other Charleston Shopping
Goat. Sheep. Cow.
If you’re staying in town and not spending every moment out stuffing your face, you need to go by Goat. Sheep. Cow. for snacks. The selection of cheese is amazing and the shop is beautiful. There’s also a wine bar where you can relax with a cheese plate and libation on-site.
Right near Husk, this little boutique is a must-stop for any lover of shopping. The boutique focuses on goods made in the South and includes a fun range of art, home goods, jewelry, and more. I drooled of an array of hand-hammered copper barware, then picked up a set of embroidered cocktail napkins by Texas-based August Morgan for a good friend.
House of Sage
I stumbled upon this clothing boutique while in search of breakfast snacks—it’s right by Caviar & Bananas. Being that it’s near the College of Charleston, the clothing skews a little younger, but I really liked the selection of dresses that skewed a bit more affordable than some of the higher end boutiques on King Street.
Fieldshop in The Dewberry
Of course the Dewberry comes complete with an elegant boutique. Fieldshop is actually two shops, “Hunt” and “Gather,” both of which are curated by Garden & Gun. As you might expect, both focus on luxury items, but “Gather” is more artistic and feminine and “Hunt” is more masculine. The merchandise in each shop is beautifully laid out, almost more like a gallery than a shop, but I was pleased to see that there were a range of price points represented. I wasn’t planning to purchase anything, but ended up falling in love with a pair of earrings by Hannah Keefe and deciding to bring them home with me.
Where to Stay in Charleston: The Dewberry Hotel
There are hotels where you pull in and you are asked if you want help with your bags. Then there are hotels where a bellman magically appears, unloads your bags and whisks them off to your room before you can even consider saying “no thanks.”
Upon check-in at The Dewberry Hotel, we were given hotel-branded bottles of water and then we were escorted to our room by our butler, who showed us around the room and made sure we had everything we needed. We then shut the door and I did a happy dance at our good fortune to end up staying in such a beautiful place. The rooms are outfitted with Stickley-crafted armoires, hand-painted wallpaper, marble bathrooms and Irish linen bedding.
Service at this hotel was impeccable from start to finish. Every time I stopped by the front desk the staff knew my name without me presenting a room key or any other identifying information. Any time I walked by I was offered a fresh bottle of water. The bathroom was filled with the hotel’s own line of spa products scented with the Dewberry plant. A request for a late check out due to a spa appointment was easily accommodated and moved back several hours so I wouldn’t need to rush. Every detail was perfect.
The Spa at the Dewberry Hotel
When we got the hotel upgrade, I figured I might as well see if I could squeeze in a spa appointment as well. Lo and behold, I was able to schedule a facial for Monday morning before we checked out. After conferring with my facialist, I ended up enjoying the Atlantic Ocean Facial—it’s billed for men on the spa menu, but can also be customized for women who want a deep cleansing and calming experience for their skin. As expected, every part of the experience exuded luxury from the special Dewberry tea (made with the leaves from the Dewberry plant) I was given after my treatment—I liked it so much I bought some to take home—to the luxurious private shower I was shown to after my facial.