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Charleston Rain History Graveyards Museums and the Tasting Menu at McGradys

This morning we woke up a lot later than we did the day before.  First, we went to bed a lot later and second, our dinner involved whiskey – so we were doomed from the get go to be early risers.  When we did manage to gather ourselves up this and get it together the 90% chance of rain transformed into solid sheet of water falling from the sky.  Thus, going anywhere on foot was a wee bit difficult and extremely wet.


A little downpour and flash flooding did not stop my parents from leaving town before the Friday afternoon rush – I was alone in my new timeshare apartment before noon, even after a luggage change and little shopping trip to the Charleston market to look for the wooden bowl my mom fell in love with at Husk.


This is supposed to be a picture of the downpour that happened today, but it just looks slightly wet.  Believe me the water was coming down in sheets from the sky – we stayed under the cover of the market shopping and waited for our luggage to catch up with us.


The new room grew a fireplace, but lost a loft, a kitchen, and most functionality.  It is a great room for two people- hopefully it works out when my sister and neice show up on Saturday. It stopped raining in the early afternoon so I ventured out with the mission of –  seeing all the possible museums in three hours or less, on foot.  I started at the Old Slave Mart Museum just down the street from the hotel.


Slave Mart is as bad as it sounds.  From 1850 to 1863 one of the largest, busiest, and profitable indoor slave markets ran just 4 blocks from where I am currently staying in Charleston. Charleston, in fact, was infamous for being a successful slave port and having multiple rich slave owners (because of the rice plantations that required a lot of labor to be profitable) so the slave trade florished in Charleston until it was abolished at the end of the civil war.  The civil war and abolition of slavery also effectively ended the Carolina Gold rice industry because it eliminated the labor required to bring the rice to harvest.

Ryan's Mart, as the slave mart was called, and 40 other indoor markets for human beings existed in the 1850's because abolitionist sentiment pushed the selling of slaves from public streets to behind closed doors. When looking at a map of the abolition of slavery across the americas, the 1850s is late in the game, and it was not practiced in most places (except for Brazil) that were not the soon to be confederate states that relied on the cheap labor of slavery to make their agrarian enterprises profitable.  Slavery was also a completely domestic market by the 1850's – the trials of the Middle Passage no longer brought African peoples across the ocean.  Thanks to laws of states like South Carolina slavery was hereditary and perpetual, thus born a slave, always a slave and the domestic slave trade had the ability to continue.  In 1860, 57% of the population of South Carolina was enslaved black people. Furthermore, only 15 people in the US at the time owned more than 500 slaves, of those 15, 8 of them lived in South Carolina.  There is a reason that South Carolina was the first to succeed and succeeded unanimously – its entire wealth was built on the backs enslaved human beings.


The Old Slave Mart Museum is build on the showroom of the former slave trading house and all of the materials speak directly what trade in humans entailed from the how to, to the how much.  For example an extra man (which means "a 20 yr old man, in peak physical condition, with skills) would cost $1500, the equivalent of $27,000 today.  The rest of Ryan's Mart, besides what you see in the pictures above, was demolished in the 1950s and turned into a parking lot.  Before it was a parking lot it had a slave morgue, slave jail, and cooking/domestic area for the medical and food needs of the slaves currently being held and shined up for market.  The process of being sold was not an overnight ordeal – it could take weeks for the trader to bring a slave to decent health after the transport from the plantation to market.  The trader would feed, cloth, provide medical care and literally shine the skin and hair of the slaves to provide the semblance of health.  Another detail of note, is that slaves waiting to be sold were made to dance for exercise so their muscles did not atrophy.

The second floor of the museum (photos are not allowed) is an exhibit and history and abolition of slavery.  Fact of note, the transatlantic slave trade funded the European Rennaissance.  King Charles the second created the company Royal Adventures, or Royal African Adventures as it came to be called, for the express purpose of transporting slaves to the Americas. A ship full of slaves brought in more money to the crown than "galleons and fleets put together."  


Just down the street from the Old Slave Mart is a portion of the French Quarter of Charleston with very well preserved houses, such as this lovely example.   Just down the street from this is St. Philip's Church and graveyard.


I started taking pictures of the pretty trees, then realized I was also taking pictures of gravestones.


This cemetary houses a signer of the United States Constitution and a signer of the Declaration of Independance.  Charleston, or Charles Towne as it was known before the Revolutionary war was an essential rabble rouser incubator against the crown – and the work of those individuals eventually helped lead to United States independance from England. 


It is also a beautiful old cemetary with really cool shiny trees.




St. Philip's is a national monument and the oldest parish in Charleston, established in 1680.  The church building itself however is not that old as it experienced hurricanes, earthquakes and war so it has been rebuilt, renovated and preserved.


This building on the other hand, is the original building with the help of some preservations efforts.   This is The Powderhouse, built over 300 years ago when Charleston looked like this.


You can see the powderhouse in the top right quadrent of the model – or in this drawing below of the first plan of Charles Towne. 


The Powderhouse was built to store powder, the predecessor of gunpowder.  In 1686 every ship entering a Carolina port was required to "pay and deliver the full and just quantity of half a Powder for every and each ton" of the ship's weight.  That powder was stored at the powder house, a storage container specially designed to dampen an explosion if for some reason the powder caught on fire.  In 1719 it was legal for citizens to keep up to 25 pounds of powder at their business or home, but anything above and beyond need to deposited at the powder house for the rent of a shilling per cask.  Safety first.


On the way to the Charleston museum I walked by the Confederacy museum. 


By the time I walked to the Charleston Museum I had serious museum fatigue and my feet hurt because I made a bad shoe decision.  This photo is of the replica of the civil war submarine the confederates used to try an get throught Union blockade.  This particular ship was successful in sinking a boat, but the original submarine was lost, I'm assuming with its crew.


Because of my museum fatigue I took no pictures or notes inside.  I should have chosen to go to a historic house instead of the inner museum but I was committed to finishing my mission.  Highlights of the exhibit inside the museum is the history of the low country starting before European settlement, acknowledging that people lived here before Europeans colonized and that colonization caused the extinction of those peoples.  There is an exhibit showing the furniture used to sign the succession proclamation from December 20, 1860. There are also really cool computer modeled representations of the ironsides that were created in the Charleston area during the civil war.  If you are a civil war history buff this part of the museum could keep you occupied for some time.  I was tired and it was time to give up, but I had to walk through the natural history exhibit to get out.  I took a picture of this big guy as a farewell photo (I wanted to take a picture of the extinct Carolina Parakeet but there was curator looking at me funny).


After a slow walk home in my now painful shoes I freshened up for dinner, changed shoes, and headed to McGrady's where my tasting menu awaited.  With it just being me, and my mind made up to try the tasting menu I didn't even look at the regular menu – but from the friends I made next to me it appeared to be bigger portions of the dishes I sampled on the tasting menu.  It was the heaviest tasting menu I have ever eaten, but was amazing.  I probably need to be on a diet of broth and salad for the next month however.


The meal started with "snacks" the first of which was a slice of pine nut rosemary salami and a slice of bread made with heirloom grains and grits.  I was worried I was going to be rushed at this stage because before I even took a picture of everything my second snack was out.


Pork rind with katsuobushi.  It tasted exactly like pork rind with japanese dried fish stuff on it (that is what katsuobushi is).  I washed this down with the sparkling Chenin Blanc I was provided as a palate cleanser by the Sommelier.  Who, by the way, is a genious.  Best wine pairing I have had (Dill in Iceland comes in second to this guy) anywhere in the world.


 This was the last snack, a sunchoke stuffed with bone marrow and a sprinkling of greens.  This was the tastiest snack of the snack series – it had rich sunchoke earthiness highlighted with creamy greenness. Two delicious bites of fun flavor combo.


I knew I was in trouble when this came out as the salad course.  The white layer is a thin layer of fresh mozzarella cheese and underneath is kale and pumpkin.  It was earthy and tangy and really filling – especially paired with a taste of saison.  


This is ember grilled squid with field peas and fennel.  That shiny glaze over the top – lardo.  It is exactly what it sounds like, lard, but very finely sliced and allowed to rest over the dish like a butter-licious-lard-seran wrap.  I messed it up right away because as soon as you cut into the lardo, much like seran wrap it bunches up so I only got the full flavor combination in the first bite.  But the dish was still amazing and the even more amazing thing was the wine it was served with.  A Sicilian Rose' whose grapes are grown near the top Mt. Etna, an active volcano.  Nerello Mascalese I love you.  Best Rose' I have ever drank in my life and it paired like a twin sister with the squid.  I thanked the Somm for the experience, he was pleased because the wine is a total wine geek wine. 


Wreckfish with parsnip puree and foam.  Yum.  Wreckfish is amazing, fatty whitefish with solid structure, like the salmon of whitefish.  Move over halibut.  The parsnip puree and foam were a perfect subtle sweet earthy flavor to compliment the fat of the fish.  It was paired with a French Chardonnay that I noted was the first oaked Chardonnay I've ever liked. I thanked the Somm again.


They called this "the purple course" because everything used in it was purple except for the veal sweetbreads.  The veal sweetbreads are another way of saying veal brain.  I ate veal brain and I liked it.  It was the first time I've ever eaten brain where I could actually taste it, even the brain at Lyle's in London was fried so it was really hard to actually taste it.  This one was served with a fermented cabbage puree. My now four glasses of wine in tasting notes say "fluffly and savory! I can taste the brain!"  I didn't write what it taste like of course.  I did describe the purple sweet potato that you can see on the back side of the plate as "can taste the fire it was roasted in, so sticky joyful."  Then noted I did not like the "raisin stuff" unless one dips the sweetbread in it.  This was all washed down with the most beautiful Gamay that was the favorite of my server Tyler.  Tyler was delightful, and he really liked to use the word delightful, but thats OK it is a very happy word and it describes him perfectly.


Here is the pork course – grilled pork loin with black truffle and polenta of black italian rice.  I was already full when I started eating this but the black truffle made me eat the whole thing.  The subtle funk of the truffle permeated the dish and was offset by the pickled cauliflower in a way that made what was heavy seem light, and the tongue delight. The unclassified red wine described to me by the Somm as a Chianti that is purposely no longer a Chianti so it can remain true to form was smoky and medium bodied such that it danced with the pork and truffle flavor skillfully.  


This Jimmy Red Corn in the style of creme brulee came out next.  It is sitting on a bed of ginger puree with a molasses ice cream on top.  I am almost crying thinking about how good this was as I write this the next morning.  A-MAZING! Burnt notes from the crust of the corn pudding sang throughout the whole dish pairing with the savory sweet of the molasses and the herbel zing of the ginger.  My tasting notes say "perfect religious union of ginger & molasses.  I am so full. Totally smokey wonderful."


Then they brought me this with a glass of Madiera.  It about killed me but I ate it.  Pecan fluff, with flour-less chocolate cake, roasted pecans and speculoos ice cream.  Tasting note "pecan fluff is amazing, like a down pillow of pecan landing on your tongue – poof!"  and "I wish this was smaller, chocolate cake is nail in the coffin of my already full stomach."  But the chocolate and the roasted pecan and dreamy fluff around it were the perfect savory match to citris ice cream.  I also got to try Madiera in a context that made it really good paired with the chocolate.  

I thanked Tyler and the Somm again, and made my way home.  I decided to go for a late night walk to the grocery store to pick up some bubbly water to walk off the fullness then came back to the room and attempted to write this blog post.  Somewhere in the middle of the night I woke up on the couch holding my computer and decided I would have to tell the story of my day the next morning.  





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