On Aug. 10, 2011, the City Paper published 101 Things to Slurp, Savor, and Suck Down in Chucktown, a listicle that attempted to catalog the best dishes in town. It started with she-crab soup at 82 Queen and ended with a post-2 a.m. slice of Gilroy's pizza. The subjective list was put together by our regular staffers, who prefer quality cheap eats, along with me and my food critics, who regularly dine at the more expensive restaurants around town. The list was fun, created lots of debate, and even inspired one young married couple to embark on an eating tour of Charleston.
"We saw the spread and immediately said, we have to try this," recalls Aaron Richard, a 30-year-old insurance adjuster who moved to Charleston in 2000 as a sophomore to attend the College of Charleston and be with his high school sweetheart, Elise.
Elise, 29 and a psychotherapist, remembers seeing the list and saying: "If we want to be foodies in Charleston, this is what we need to know."
The two dug in, going to several restaurants each week, gunning to eat the whole list within a year of its publication date.
I first heard about the Richards from Mickey Bakst, the general manager at Charleston Grill. They were dining at the Grill for the first time ever to sample the crabcakes. They told the server they had to order the crabcakes and asked for another appetizer recommendation. The curious waitress asked why they had to do that, and the Richards told her they were working their way through the City Paper's list. Word spread quickly, and before they knew it Bakst was at their table insisting that they stay for a full meal while simultaneously pulling out his cell phone to call and tell me about this incredibly fun story. "We had no idea he was going to call you right then and there," says Aaron, who promised Mickey they'd come back another time. They had plans to move on to Cypress and get the Sashimi Tuna and Oyster.
I caught up with the couple a few weeks ago at Basil, where they were digging into the duck. They were finishing up their list, saving the fried lobster at Oak for their last meal. Earlier in the day, they'd lunched on lima beans at Martha Lou's. It was actually their first time at Basil. Aaron says the perpetual wait always turned them away. As they ate the duck, which they found to be a worthy inclusion, we discussed their experience, the highs and lows of the list, and their favorite discoveries.
Ultimately, they agreed with 90 to 95 percent of our suggestions, which led them to many new places in town and even "unlocked the next level" in Charleston dining when it came to finding a certain item that never actually makes it to the menu anymore at one downtown trattoria.
Aaron's favorite dish turned out to be FIG's coddled egg. "I thought, 'A $15 egg!? What?' But we trusted the list," he says. "I even bought the same little cocette and now we make them at home, although they're not quite like FIG's."
Elise says the asparagus risotto at Al di La wooed her. Other new favorites include the Eggy and Leggy Pizza at Mellow Mushroom and the sticky buns at WildFlour Pastry. "That shit is the bomb," says Elise, the sweet tooth of the couple.
The worst? They hated the Coca-Cola Cake at Jestine's and thought the she-crab soup at 82 Queen was far too rich. They also didn't care for the Frogmore Stew at Gilligan's . "And Nirlep befuddled us," says Aaron, referring to the garden salad we picked, which they said was boring.
A couple of surprises for them included the Extraordinary BLT at Moe's Crosstown Tavern, a place where they'd hung and drank but never ate anything other than a burger. The butter bean salad at Monza, one of my personal favorites, was also an eye-opener.
Over the course of the year, they probably spent between $3,000 and $4,000 on their epic undertaking. In addition to the item on the list, they'd generally order a bottle of wine and a few other dishes. "We've tried to use it to give us an experience of the restaurant beyond just what's on the list," says Elise.
"Like at Martha Lou's," adds Aaron, "we couldn't have just gotten the beans. If you're gonna go, at least eat enough to form an opinion."
They finished up their list two weeks ago with the fried lobster at Oak Steakhouse, which they said was succulent and sweet.
"The funnest thing about doing this," says Elise, "is that we are almost always talking to somebody about what we are doing and the restaurants always get excited."
Of course, the biggest problem now that their year-long eating adventure has come to an end is figuring out what to eat next.