Red states, blue states. Yankees and Red Sox. Cats and dogs. Sometimes it seems like everything is controversial. Even eating out. Sure, there are a few restaurants that wow everyone but the most perverse grumpuses. Others are almost universally rejected and close their doors just months after the grand opening. And then there's that select group of establishments that, for whatever reason, divide people right down the middle. Here's our list of Charleston's most controversial restaurants. Love 'em? Hate 'em? Either way, you're in good company.
It's in a ramshackle building tucked away down a hard-to-find lane off the banks of Shem Creek. The "dining porch" has a concrete floor. The spartan wooden tables are topped with white paper. Instead of air conditioning, there are a zillion ceiling fans overhead. No reservations, no children's menu, and no split checks. And you'll pay 20 bucks for a paper plate full of seafood. Is it worth it? You could say it all comes down to the food, but even on that there's no consensus. Either it's the freshest, crispiest fried shrimp, scallops, and oysters you've ever had, or it's mushy, flavorless dreck best dumped into the creek, or somewhere in the middle. It's also either overpriced or one of the best bargains in town, and the fried grit cakes are tiny disappointments or the most scrumptious things you've ever bit into. While you wait in line on the dock you can buy canned beer from a cooler, if that clears things up any. —Robert Moss
This one is being debated on a national scale, with Bon Appetit's Andrew Knowlton (a Southern boy) weighing in on the love 'em side, naming Husk the best restaurant in America and lauding Sean Brock for "trying to re-create the food his grandma knew — albeit with the skill and resources of a modern chef." Over at GQ, Alan Richman (a Yankee) took the other side, dismissing Brock's down-home designs as lacking sophistication and care: "Husk is proof that a restaurant isn't about what comes in the back door; it's about what goes out the kitchen door." Closer to home, the national hype has helped set high expectations for anyone dining at Husk for the first time. Some walk away raving about the cornbread, the pig ears, and the cheeseburger while others dismiss them all as overrated and overhyped. We suppose it comes down to a diner's expectations and whether or not you think serving fried chicken skins with hot sauce is the best idea ever. —Stephanie Barna
This year, Halls won Best Wait Staff, Best Restaurant When Someone Else is Paying, and Best Steak in the Best of Charleston awards. It's clear the upscale steakhouse has a loyal following, but many people are annoyed by the family's hospitality saying it's overbearing. There's always a Hall greeting guests at the door with a handshake and a smile, another family member going from table to table to see how dinner is going, and then there's the farewell at the door. Some people find this intrusive, while others think it's part of their great service. Regardless of the controversy, the restaurant is always packed and seems to be doing just fine. And love it or hate it, the steaks are good. —Eric Doksa
In a recent issue of the City Paper, I weighed in on the case of the grass-fed beef burgers at Triangle Char and Bar, which had received such mixed reviews from diners. I declared them "damn good burgers," but, surprisingly enough, that did little to settle the issue. From "gross," "dry," and "utterly flavorless" to "awesome and juicy" and "top-notch," the opinions are still all over the map. Maybe we'll just have to leave it at this: Triangle's burgers are the kind of thing you like if you like that kind of thing. —Robert Moss
It's a well-known fact that nobody goes to Hyman's because it's too damn crowded. What other Charleston restaurant has staff in fluorescent green T-shirts corralling the crowds out on the sidewalk? Or brass plaques on the tables naming all the celebrities who have eaten there? And what other Charleston restaurant can inspire such outright vitriol and loathing from a significant proportion of the local population? Visitors from all over — and even a few locals — rave about the whole fried flounder and the shrimp and grits. Many local residents, on the other hand, start with the phrase "tourist trap" and then proceed to get really nasty. One wonders how much someone's final impression of the place has to do with the food itself and how much is influenced by that long line out front. This winter, drop by at 11 a.m. on a rainy Monday morning and give it an unbiased trial. —Robert Moss
Ever since Butcher & Bee opened last year, we've received feedback in the form of both glowing praise and sharp rebuke from our readers. Certain haters take every chance they get to rip into every mention of B&B, and then their fans jump into the fray and defend them until the end. While some consider $13 to be a rip-off for a sandwich, others find the housemade bread and fresh local vegetables and meats to be a good value. Some think the location is horrible and sketchy, while others consider the ample parking a big bonus. Then there are the chairs: old and uncomfortable to some, vintage and appealing to the rest. Hipsters? Maybe. Locavores? Quite possibly. It's likely this debate will never end. —Eric Doksa
Operating in a tourist town does strange things to restaurants, particularly when they serve the basic food of the local populace. At Jestine's, Dana Berlin Strange memorializes her family's cook Jestine by presenting her food straightforwardly. It's country cooking served in paper-lined baskets, a meat-and-three vegetable kind of place where you can get some fried chicken or fried fish with Southern veggies on the side (ie. mac and cheese, squash casserole, cole slaw). City Paper readers still vote for Jestine's when it comes to Best of Charleston categories like best fried chicken and best sweet tea. But when tourists start lining up for places, when throngs of people mob the street corner at 2 p.m. on a random afternoon, well, then, that's when you get dropped like a hot potato by the snobby locals who will think you've sold out. Gayot, a travel website, sums it up this way: "A line of tourists filing out the door tells the tale of just-OK food." Does popularity equal mediocrity? Get in line next time you're at the corner of Wentworth and Meeting and decide for yourself whether it's worth the wait. —Stephanie Barna