You're treating yourself to a few days in Charleston and, knowing that its culinary star continues to climb toward the top among American travel destinations, you want to chow down right. Here are some suggestions for brunch, dinner and late-night: All are finalists for 2015 James Beard Foundation awards. They include Husk, where Sean Brock is in the running for "outstanding chef" as well as best American cook book; FIG, where executive chef Jason Stanhope is vying for Beard's Best Chef Southeast honor; and, McCrady's, which, along with FIG, eyes an "outstanding wine program" plume.
Here on a Sunday morning? Head to Husk for its Sunday brunch (10 am-2:30 pm). Its menu changes daily and on Sundays depending on what's fresh, but something like wood-fired French toast with Bourbon Barrel vanilla cream, Florida strawberry syrup and Kentucky mint sugar just may be in the offing.
Husk is bathed in a historic setting: a building complex that dates to the late 19th century. Visitors are greeted by a rustic wall of firewood that fuels the wood-fired oven, and a large chalkboard lists the artisanal products that Brock and Travis Grimes, who co-leads the kitchen, are currently provisioning.
Brock's recipe book, "Heritage," was released by Artisan Books this past October and offers his Southern-inspired recipes. Should the book or outstanding-chef nomination nab a Beard win in May, it wouldn't be the first such feather in the often-present cap that sits atop Brock's head. He was honored as Best Chef Southeast by the Beard foundation in 2010.
Along with its lauded, 1,000-plus-bottles-of-wine stash, McCrady’s is another Brock spot that changes menus daily, based on freshness. But you'll find something like warm Calico scallops, Charleston Gold Rice porridge, Swiss chard, peanut and dried goat cheese teasing those taste buds.
Named after Edward McCrady, a man who built the four-story Georgian house and named it McCrady's Tavern in 1778, McCrady's Restaurant moved into the building in 2006, after the structure had been restored and placed on the National Register of Historic Places and Landmarks in the 1980s. Brock was soon named executive chef, and his brand of Southern fine dining quickly became the rage of the Charleston culinary scene.
Wine offerings are just as good as the food, as the Beard nomination would attest. There are a number of California and Pacific Northwest varieties and an even more impressive lineup of global offerings, not only from France, Germany, Austria and Italy, but also Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Chile and South Africa.
Open till 11 pm Fri-Sat (better get there earlier, though), FIG (Food Is Good) is where you might pair your choice from the outstanding wine racks with a razor clam ceviche appetizer and a Heritage pork schnitzel entrée. Or try, in the laid-back, artsy atmosphere, a High Society cocktail—"a zippy little gin and citrus number" that blends gin, tonic, Licor 43, lime, Jerry Thomas bitters and ginger.
Other Lowcountry-fresh-inspired entrees include fish stew in cocotte, featuring shrimp, squid, mussels, Carolina gold rice and rouille, and Suckling Pig & Carolina Gold Rice Bowl, with peas, prune, benne and morel fricassee. The lengthy drink menu also allows guests to make their own Manhattan; rotating taps feature such local draught beer as Coast, Freehouse and Revelry. And items that tease from the dessert menu include Meyer lemon pie, served with hazelnut ice cream and Bulls Bay sea salt.
Stanhope, the Beard nominee for Best Chef Southeast, began working at FIG with its chef/partner Mike Lata in 2008 after graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco and working at restaurants in Peru and Kansas. Just a couple of years into the FIG gig, he was accompanying Lata to New York to help his colleague fight it out on Food Network's "Iron Chef America."