During the day, Marion Square is ground zero for the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival. If you’ve got a $75 ticket to the culinary tasting village, you’ll be getting plenty of samples and swills, but there comes a time when you need to find a quiet table, a full glass of wine, and a well-prepared plate of food, and that’s what this list is for. Within a few steps of Marion Square, there are some great restaurants, a beloved coffee shop, a gelateria, and a renowned dive bar that cater to the locals, but we know they’re always happy to show visitors a good time, too.
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A gourmet beer garden that serves food like pork rinds, poutine, and the Pork Slap sandwich, which our food critic Jeff Allen proclaims an instant classic in his review on p. 46. They also sport a bodacious fried fruit pocket pie. Overall, the emphasis is on the beer, with stuff you’ve never heard of on tap, and rare liquor, like 15-year-old Pappy Van Winkle behind the bar. Open for lunch and dinner.
A Neapolitan pizza joint that focuses on fresh local produce, and the pies ring true with local flavor — in a very good and very Italian manner. Get a free-range egg from farmer Celeste Albers cracked on your pie before it hits the oven, and you won’t be sorry. Open for lunch and dinner.
Virginia’s on King
Virginia’s on King serves up soulful dishes like okra soup, pimiento cheese, fried chicken livers, collards, and baked ham in an upscale setting. They’re open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch too.
Muse is a special little gem located on a quiet side street in the heart of the peninsula. It has 100 bottles of wine by the glass, a creative kitchen, and a menu that delves into Mediterranean food. They’ll be hosting a private Wine + Food luncheon on Thursday afternoon, but they’re open for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch, and they’ve got a late night bar menu that’s worth remembering.
Yes, there’s a Starbucks on the corner of King and Calhoun. You can see it from the big tents on Marion Square, but if you’re a locavore who wants to find a coffee shop that’s unique to Charleston, then Kudu is it. Barely a block away from Marion Square, this local favorite has strong coffee, a cozy vibe, and a quiet place to check your e-mail with the free WiFi.
Caviar & Bananas
If you need a quick lunch and a glass of wine, this gourmet grocery/café is a great choice. Fast and fresh, Caviar and Bananas has a full range of options from sushi and sandwiches to prepared foods and tossed salads. Plus they’ve got coffee and pastries, too. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
A.C.’s Bar & Grill
Sometimes, particularly if you’re a chef, you need to lay low in a dive where you can sit in the dark, nurse a cold beer, and chow down on a greasy burger. This is your place. A couple blocks north of Marion Square, A.C.’s has cold beer in abundance, plenty of corners to hide in, and one of our favorite burgers around — the Grand Ma, an inspired creation that’s flambéed in Grand Marnier. They’re open until 2 a.m. and serve a killer Sunday brunch where you can get stuff like chicken and waffles.
Sometimes you just need an ice cream cone, and this is the best place to get authentic Italian gelato in the city.
Pane e Vino
Massimiliano Sarrocchi and his wife Natasha serve lots of wine and tasty, rustic Italian fare in this quaint little garden spot off Upper King. The seductive menu has plenty of hearty pasta dishes and Italian seafood preparations. If the weather’s nice, their outdoor patio can’t be beat. Open for dinner and closed on Sundays.
This tiny Upper King Street dining room focuses on being authentically French — from the signature cassoulet to a great wine list featuring distinctive French regional selections. We’re usually drawn to the seasonal specials and the signature frites, deep-fried in duck fat. Always packed and lively, La Fourchette is only open for dinner and is closed on Sunday.
Chef Nico Romo makes cute little dim sum dishes (four for $6) and deliciously simple seafood preparations of locally caught fish. During W+F weekend, they’ll be featuring a 100-mile prix fixe dinner for $35. Everything — eggs, milk, vegetables, protein — will have been sourced within 100 miles. Reservations are recommended for that one.
Sometimes you get to a point in Charleston where you can’t eat one more Southern biscuit, and when that happens, we head to Basil for a fragrant fix of Thai food. Open for lunch and dinner, Basil serves all the Thai classics in a cool, modern setting.