The BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival is finally here, and we couldn’t be more excited. Since this weekend is all about the food, we put together a list of the top 10 iconic Charleston dishes that you must try while in town.
Shrimp and Grits. Even if you’re not from the South, shrimp and grits should be an obvious choice. The best shrimp and grits in town, hands down, can be found at Hominy Grill off of Rutledge Ave. Chef Robert Stehling’s version features sautéed shrimp with mushrooms, chopped bacon, and scallions served over house-made cheese grits ($18). It’s simple, pure, and good.
Cornbread. This Southern staple is an essential side with most soul food, and we recommend heading to Husk for a not-so-classic version. Chef Sean Brock is nothing short of a hero for his take on cornbread, which is Southern through and through (in other words, there’s nothing sweet about it). His cornbread skillets ($7) are baked in the big wood-fired ceramic oven, giving the dish a smoky taste, and it hits the spot every time.
She Crab Soup. The only place to stop for this classic is 82 Queen, which has won the City Paper Reader’s Pick for Best She Crab Soup three years in a row. The soup recipe is available online, so you could try replicating yourself, but we recommend stopping in for dinner and slurping up a bowl ($7) Just don’t try counting calories with this one — there’s a whole lot of butter and a whole lot of heavy cream (which is why it’s such a whole lot of good).
Fried Chicken. The New York Times deemed Martha Lou’s Kitchen a must-visit spot when you’re in Charleston, and we couldn’t agree more. She really does have the best fried chicken in town — it’s got a salty crunch on the outside and sweet, juicy meat on the inside. She always makes the dish to order, and you can tell as soon as you take that first bite.
Okra Soup. Bertha’s Kitchen on upper Meeting St. has that classic Southern food that you wish your mama made, including her famous okra soup ($2.50). The soup contains stewed tomatoes thickened with fresh okra, seasoned with bacon, spotted with corn, and garnished with a little bit of love. Bertha’s version is truly authentic and makes for a remarkable dish.
Roasted Oysters. This time of year, you can pick any weekend and attend multiple oyster roasts, or even host your own. If you don’t want to deal with the cold weather, but still want steaming oysters, Bowens Island Restaurant is the only place to go. Not only will you received quality local oysters, but you’ll get to experience a real Lowcountry landmark — Bowens Island has been serving locals and tourists the freshest catches since the 1940s.
Coconut Cake. And you thought we were going to leave out dessert. It just wouldn’t be a proper visit to Charleston without trying a slice of Peninsula Grill’s Ultimate Coconut Cake ($10). The 12 layers of yumminess are infused with coconut and fresh vanilla, then topped with a deliciously addictive icing and coated in freshly toasted coconut. If you can’t make it to Peninsula Grill, for $100 you can have one shipped right to your front door anywhere in the U.S.
Coddled Egg. Once you try FIG’s iconic dish, you’ll be dreaming about coddling your own eggs. Lata takes a Sea Island Farm Egg and bakes it with celeriac cream and brown butter in a cocotte until the yolk is runny and the white is set. The dish can be presented in different ways, but one of our favorites is when it’s prepared with parmesan-topped stone crab, English peas, and morel mushrooms, then finally garnished with croutons and sea salt ($15).
Oyster Shot. Get your Charleston party going by downing an oyster shot or two at Pearlz ($3.50). Brace yourself for black pepper vodka, an oyster, and cocktail sauce, all together in one shot glass. This one is not for the faint of heart, but so worth the experience. During happy hour, you can get them for a dollar cheaper.
Benne Wafers. The sesame seed was brought to the South from Africa many generations ago, and is the vital ingredient in the oh-so-delicious Charleston Benne Wafers. Many Southern recipes call for sesame seed, but it’s never as beloved as it is in the benne wafer. These thin cookies are made with toasted sesame and vanilla, and some recipes date back well over 100 years. Although this Southern sweet has been known to pop up on menus at McCrady’s or Husk, we recommend making a special trip to Olde Colony Bakery in Mt. Pleasant and picking up a tin for the trip home.
Support the Charleston City Paper
We’ve been covering Charleston since 1997 and plan to be here with the latest and Best of Charleston for many years to come. In a time where local journalism is struggling, the City Paper is investing in the future of Charleston as a place where diverse, engaging views can flourish. We can't do it without our readers. If you'd like to support local, independent journalism:
Charleston City Paper Staff