Corn is a special kind of vegetable. Just take a look at its composition: rough green husks peeled back to reveal tiny silks and delicate golden kernels. It's the only vegetable my little sister didn't refuse to eat — sweet, buttery, and not green. It's a reliable time-keeper — when the stalks have reached knee-high, you can bet it's summer. And if you don't have memories of sitting on the porch shucking freshly plucked corn, or piercing the ends of a cob with little yellow handles and rolling it all over a melting stick of butter, well, consider your childhood just a little bit deprived. It's hard to beat the simplicity of a boiled and buttered cob, but a few local restaurants have taken on the challenge, embracing the crunchy kernels in their summer menus.
Caviar and Bananas
Downtown. 51 George St.
Street vendor-style corn ($2.50)
Charleston's newest gourmet grocery, nestled on George Street across from the Sottile Theatre, dishes out plenty of ready-made treats that put a creative, gourmet spin on classic dishes — think black truffle mac 'n' cheese and Mediterranean tuna salad with capers and roasted peppers. Their street vendor-style corn brings the zesty flavor of a Mexican roadside stand to the table. The corn cob is boiled in sweet vanilla coconut milk, then spread with a colorful chipotle mayonnaise and squirted with lime. It's then sprinkled with Cotija cheese, a sharp, aged Mexican variety. The cobs are placed fully dressed back into their husks, awaiting purchase at the prepared-foods counter. Upon ordering, they're popped in the microwave for a few seconds, making for a tasty snack — the crunchy, buttery taste of classic corn on the cob, with a kick both spicy and creamy.
Red Drum Gastropub
Mt. Pleasant. 803 Coleman Blvd.
Wood-grilled salmon with red pepper puree and sweet corn pudding ($22)
Upscale Mt. Pleasant eatery Red Drum Gastropub is anything but Native American in theme, but their corn-centric salmon dish had us imagining the original Thanksgiving feast. No doubt it's a stretch, but the presentation of the dish was more uniquely charming than any we tried. The flaky salmon steak was served atop a pool of slightly spicy red pepper purée, and crowned with slices of smooth, bright avocado and a lime wedge. The fish was delicious (and mixed with creamy avocado — perfect), but the best part was the corn pudding. Served up in a little corn husk canoe, the sweet corn paired nicely with the tangy, meaty salmon. The yellow corn is grown in North Carolina (local white corn tends to turn brown in the cooking process), and it's been a favorite on the menu since Red Drum opened three years ago. The corn is simply grated on a box grater and blended with a few whole kernels for texture, then baked in the oven. It's served with a sauté of butter, shallots, and cream, and sprinkled with freshly-grated parmesan. We guarantee you'll be scraping every last bit out of that corn husk canoe.
Downtown. 112 N. Market St.
Lobster and corn chowder with basil butter ($10.50)
Corn goes luxe in this mainstay dish at Peninsula Grill — it's been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 1997. The corn, grown on Johns Island, is boiled down into a stock — cob and all — then little chunks of Maine lobster, corn, and tender vegetables are stirred in. It's topped with a fresh dollop of basil butter. This incredibly rich, creamy soup isn't remotely chunky, as you might expect a chowder to be. Even so, with a basket of fresh bread it could stand as a gourmet meal by itself. Besides the soup, Chef Robert Carter often features corn in his daily specials. When we visited, they offered a sweet corn flan with pecan- and cornmeal-encrusted fried oysters and a smoked aioli sauce. The flan was cool, refreshing, and smooth with intermittent pops of fresh kernels.
Downtown. 462 King St.
Lamb Lollipops with fried blue corn polenta ($14)
Chai's lamb lollipops really aren't as crazy as they sound, but the dish uses corn in one of the most innovative ways we encountered. The "lollipops" are in fact two small rib bones topped with tender medallions of meat. The bone-end sits in a pool of mint pesto, while the lamb rests on top of two triangular polenta cakes, created with soft blue corn polenta. It's all topped with a vinegary kalamata olive and tomato salad. The cakes are seared in a skillet like cornbread, but not for long — they're hot and crunchy on the outside and smooth and almost bland on the inside. The texture and grits-like flavor is complemented well by the flavorful sauces.
Huck's Lowcountry Table
Isle of Palms. 1130 Ocean Blvd. 2nd Floor
Cinnamon rum brined bone-in pork chop with succotash of sweet corn, bacon, onions, peppers, pimiento cheese brulee ($17)
The old One Eyed Parrot on IOP has been transformed into a clean and attractive place called Huck's Lowcountry Table. The dining room is low-key and stylish, intimate yet open, with an unbeatable ocean view. They're South Carolina certified, meaning that at least 25 percent of the food they use is grown or produced in-state, and their pork chop with corn succotash is a great example of their dedication to local products. The pork is from Caw Caw Creek Farms, and it's perfectly sweet and tender. It sits atop a generous helping of corn succotash, which uses pinkeye peas instead of the traditional limas. Chef J. J. Kern says he prefers the consistency in size offered by the tender field peas. The local corn is smoked in-house and pairs well with the pork, but still gives that enjoyable crunchy-and-soft juxtaposition of textures. The whole thing is topped with a homemade "pimiento cheese brulee." Kern describes it as "slap your grandma good."