A little less than a year ago I booked a trip to Charleston, South Carolina to use my timeshare points and visit my sister. When I booked the trip my sister lived in Sumter, South Carolina, but no one else from my family lived nearby. Now everyone, with the exception of my father, all reside in South Carolina and everyone is coming for a few days in Charleston. So it seemed very appropriate to call this trip a family visit AND a food pilgramage – what else can one do when visiting Charleston? It is a mecca of Southern cuisine, seafood, and heirloom truly american ingredients.
My timeshare is a points based system that I can use all over the United States and the world, as long as my company or its partner company has a resort there. I went to India under the belief that I was using my timeshare points at a "five star" resort in Goa, needless to say, that didn't work out but I have had great luck with the resorts in the United States and now know better than to ever book anything sight unseen in India. Check out this amazing pad I've got in Charleston with my parents for a few days.
As I did my research to come to Charleston I became obsessed with its food scene. Thanks to Anthony Bourdain, and the PBS television series Mind of Chef I am now enlightened to the mind of, and devotee to the food philosophy of chef Sean Brock. I may have even made an entire food agenda for the family around going to Sean Brock's restaurants, as well as experiencing the finest seafood and heirloom variety grains possible – but primarily Sean Brock. The beginning of that story really starts tomorrow because Wednesday was about getting our barings, exploring downtown Charleston on foot, and oyster happy hour and seafood at The Ordinary.
To get to Charleston I traveled from Seattle on a red-eye via JFK airport in New York. I just want to note to the world that reads my blog that JFK airport is not a pleasant airport to travel through. It could be a great airport to leave and return to, but its low on my list of places to transfer flights at for various reasons including very cold shuttle rides, lack of available snacks besides Dunkin' Donuts, and the queing habits of New Yorkers at 7 in the morning. My prejudice against New York aside – my trip started out super awesome because in Seattle I recieved the fine priviledge of going through airport security with my shoes on and my laptop and liquids still in their bags. I'm still reeling from the simple pleasure of not having to do all the things I have had to do going through security for the last 15 years, and no one yelling at me and my traveling compatriots to do it. I do not remember signing up for TSA Pre-check, but apparently I did and bless my past self who waived whatever privacy rights to do so. I have a blog and use social media, so I have already made my life public, at least by selling my privacy at the click of a button I get to keep my shoes on going through airport security. It truly is the simple things in life.
On the other side of things – if you ever travel in Charleston and use a credit card to pay for your taxi trip from the hotel to the airport – note that you cannot tip your driver unless you have cash in hand. I totally stiffed my cab driver today, and I shall forever feel bad about it – but in most cities of this country you can add tip to a cab reciept on top of the fare. This is not my first cab rodeo. This was my first cab rodeo in Chareston however, and my cab driver suffered from my ignorance. I could blame Uber, but I will take the personal responsibility. Just carry cash from the airport in Charleston so you can tip your cab driver.
PSA complete – parents joined me at the Lodge Alley Inn in Charleston about an hour after I managed to get there from the airport and disappointed my cab driver. The three of us decided to go out and explore the city on foot for our first day and wander around until dinner time at The Ordinary.
We saw private libraries blocked by beautiful trees covered in moss
an empty farmer's market filled with grass basket, boiled peanut and candy vendors
and many horse drawn carriages seeking tourists.
I learned that mules are actually quite large. These handsome fellows are mules, btw.
We also saw pretty old houses transformed into restaurants with gardens
real cobblestone streets
in front of pretty old looking firehouses
and churches. Lots of churches.
Then we went to dinner and watched the most amazing sunset through the windows of The Ordinary.
You can't see the sunset in this picture – but believe me it was really pretty. The Ordinary's home is a converted old bank building so it is lofted with the huge windows. We got the bird's eye view from the loft with our reservations and very attentive service. I wanted to take my parent's to FIG or Food is Good – but during the week we are here they are completely renovating the restaurant, so instead I chose The Ordinary, their sister restaurant that specializes in local South Carolina seafood, but still had amazing heirloom food options on the menu.
The local South Carolina oysters from just "north of us" and just "south of us" did not disappoint. They tasted of briny seashore dancing on the tongue. We didn't use any of the four sauces except the horseradish to dip our homemade potato chips in because we didn't want to spoil the taste of the beautiful oysters.
We followed the oysters with fresh little neck clams and the most unique but extremely tasty razor clam dish.
The raw littleneck was chewy in a good way and finished with this savory note, that was like nibbling on the ocean. Meanwhile, the razor clams came with sliced apples, jalepeno and cilantro – it was bright, the clams were the perfect size and texture and the flavors combined were the most wonderful thing I can remember tasting in a long time. Pure flavor junkie satiation in a dish. We decided they could just bring us a giant bowl of the mixture and we would be extremely happy campers. But instead we got even more goodness – red snapper ceviche followed (but I didn't take a picture) by more oysters because – why not? more oysters were followed by this lovely amber jack pate and a squash stuffed with farro, mushroom risotto.
The squash was mind blowing. So much so that I forgot to take a picture of it. It was quite simple looking but inside was this joyful mixture of chewy farro, umami bursting mushroom and cheesy goodness. It was a perfect dessert – but we still had to get the key lime tart just to top everything off with a bit of cream and sugar.
We walked home joking that The Ordinary could "not cook" for us anytime because the majority of our meal was raw seafood. My step-dad shook the waiter's hand and thanked him for the amazing experience. The combination of thoughtful service, beautiful food and local freshness of ingredients made it one of the best seafood experiences I have ever had, made even better that my parents enjoyed themselves immensly. Food pilgramage goal number one accomplished.