we love buffalo wings. We really do. And we like fried mozzarella sticks and jalapeño poppers and the Recovery Room's tachos. Oh, how we love the tachos. But sometimes you need bar grub that is a just a little bit, um, classier. So we sent out two SWIG writers to find some new treats to nosh on when we toss back a few during a drinking session.
36-38 Broad St. Downtown.
Transcending predictable bar munchies, Blind Tiger's noteworthy menu offers a variety of affordable, carefully crafted dishes, ranging from a sumptuous shrimp bruschetta appetizer to a pulled-pork sandwich.
Within the diverse menu beckons a potato-based dish obscure to most Charlestonians: pierogies, a staple of Polish cuisine. During the first bite, I noticed the dish's complexity; caramelized onions and fresh applewood-smoked bacon bring forth hints of sweetness and mingle atop four hearty dumplings filled with creamy potatoes. Freshly grated cheddar cheese, parsley, and a rich and flavorful crème fraîche — a combination of heavy and sour cream — drape each pierogi, bringing balance to every bite.
Instead of pan-frying, Blind Tiger head chef Dan Israel deep fries the pierogies, creating a crisp exterior complemented by a soft, creamy interior. Israel also uses dough — veering from steeped unleavened dough in butter — and fries the pierogies in onion juice, producing a potent onion flavor.
Israel says the pierogies' robust, full-flavor will satisfy hungry guests. "It's a thick, steak-and-potatoes kind of dish," he says. Israel adds that when it comes to these fried treats, like most dishes on the menu, Blind Tiger tries to use fresh, locally sourced ingredients. "We try to get everything super local — really true-blue," says the chef, who buys spices from the Spice and Tea Exchange, as well as various cheeses from goat.sheep.cow, a cheese shop around the corner on Church Street.
The establishment's noteworthy dishes, plus its vast selection of beers and micro brews, are savored by guests in two full-bar sections with seat-yourself dining areas. The bar also sports a mystic, grotto-like outdoor area in the rear with a full bar and live music. —Jacob Flannick
76 Queen St. Downtown.
First of all, if you've never had fried pickles, you're missing out on one of the greatest bar foods of all time. Usually, fried pickles are dill spears coated in a thick layer of batter served alongside a spicy sauce of some sort. But like all things at Husk, their fried pickles are subtly and so perfectly different. The pickles are chips rather than spears, and they're not dill. They're bread and butter. This makes for that lovely salty-sweet combination that sits so well on your taste buds. And forget the thick, crispy batter; these pickles are fried in a light, yet satisfying layer of cornmeal with a pleasing texture. The sauce served with the pickles is an astonishingly smooth house-made buttermilk ranch. You'll find yourself dipping pickles until you don't have room for a main course. —Erica J. Marcus
Suede Supper Club
816 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. Mt. Pleasant.
Among a unique selection of fine, appetizer-portioned dishes, Suede Supper Club's $8 edamame hummus, a soybean-based hummus, produces a delicious Asian-influenced flavor. Borrowing the idea from Southern-styled butterbean hummus, Executive Chef Matt Martindale combines crushed wasabi peas with a creamy mix of spiced soybeans, garlic, and olive oil. The chef also mixes in tahini paste, a sesame seed purée prevalent in Asian cuisine, eliciting a smooth, peanut-buttery texture, complemented by sweet and crunchy balsamic vinegar-drizzled wonton chips. Upon scooping up the creamy concoction, bright notes of clove and star anise danced across my palate and accentuated a subtle licorice flavor. I slowly cleaned the plate, relishing every savory scoop.
In addition to $2 domestic beers and $3 house liquor and wine during happy hour, the club offers a $5 happy hour tapas menu, including Lowcountry egg rolls, chicken and mushroom quesadillas, hand-cut truffle fries, and calamari. —Jacob Flannick
Barsa Tapas, Lounge, and Bar
58 Line St. Downtown.
As a tapas restaurant, Barsa serves happy hour-friendly food. There's no shortage of delectable bites on the menu, from a steaming pot of garlic-drenched mushrooms to gazpacho. But for something a little more substantial, try the Steak Crostini. Three lightly toasted pieces of bread come generously topped with a scrumptious green olive hollandaise. On top is a quarter-inch thick piece of medium-rare steak that seems to melt in your mouth. And the crowning glory: a dainty little quail egg with a neon yolk that flows over the toast. The flavors are all familiar yet heightened, with nicely cooked steak, a uniquely dazzling hollandaise, and the buttery egg that lends a lovely softness to the texture of the crispy bread. The wrap-around bar area doesn't feel separate from the rest of the restaurant. Dark leather seats and oversized paintings of Spanish dancers line the walls, but you'll probably be too busy eating to notice. —Erica J. Marcus
Tamale of the Day
803 Coleman Blvd., Mt. Pleasant.
Fusing Southeastern and Southwestern cuisines, Red Drum's Texas-inspired menu features an array of innovative dishes, including the tamale of the day, a chef's choice appetizer prepared differently each evening.
Veering from traditional Latin American-styled tamales — consisting of a single cornhusk stuffed with various meats and cheeses, typically steamed or baked and reserved as a main course — Red Drum introduces an El Salvador-styled tamale, placing an open-faced banana leaf beneath a white-corn masa dough, a starchy tamale staple with a thick and slightly gritty consistency. The whole thing is topped with constantly changing fillings.
Presented with three freshly prepared tamales, I initially sampled a truffled chanterelle mushroom tamale coated with toasted local pecans. I'll admit, I despise everything about mushrooms. However, the dish's proportionate blend of earthiness and sweetness instantly won my praise. Second came a shrimp and avocado-salsa tamale, balancing the sharp spiciness of salsa with the avocado purée's coolness. Lastly, I tasted a hearty pork guisado tamale topped with crèma fresca reduction sauce and sprinkled pumpkin seeds. The succulent, tender pork perfectly complemented the pumpkin seeds' crunchiness.
Widely recognized for his Southwestern cuisine, Red Drum Executive Chef and owner Ben Berryhill surprisingly chose the avant-garde El Salvadorian tamale over a more Tex-Mex-inspired dish. "It's a whole other dimension," says Berryhill, referring to the gluten-free tamale's open-faced banana leaf, a canvas for Red Drum chefs' creative ingredients. "Tamales are a really incredible, versatile, and interesting food. You can take it in any different direction you want." —Jacob Flannick
1977 Maybank Highway. James Island.
El Bohio is one of those often-overlooked restaurants that deserves the recognition of any delicious downtown joint. Not only is the food good, but Cuban flavors are an infrequent find in Charleston. Stop in for some great bar munchies when you just can't stomach any more shrimp and grits. The Yuca Frita is a favorite that you have to try. Yuca, also known as cassava root, is fried to a golden brown and served with the house mojo sauce. Yuca is similar to potatoes, making this dish a little bit like french fries, but with a sweeter, distinct taste. The outside of the "fry" is crispy while the interior becomes soft, a pleasant difference in texture. The mojo sauce sounds simple enough; it has lime juice, garlic, olive oil, and cumin, along with a few other dashes of this-and-that. But it's so light, refreshing, and flavorful that you'll find you just can't get enough. If you choose to sit at the bar, you'll enjoy a no-frills atmosphere, but the cheerful patio is preferable.