Monday, May 11, 2015

Oh, Husk!

Oh, Husk.  So full of approachable perfection and so delicious!  I was looking forward to eating at Husk the most out of all of the restaurants we went to and I was not disappointed.

Just like its neighbor 2 doors down, Poogan's Porch, Husk occupies an amazingly renovated mansion.

Of course they had me with the haint blue porch ceilings.

They also have a fun little mystique, too, seeing as their menu changes daily to maintain a commitment to using seasonally available produce, etc.  If you study the menu (like all the cool people do), you can definitely see a pattern or get a general idea of what will be available.  

We had reservations for 5:30 which was actually the first reservation time for supper.

The inside was just beautiful!

The table setting was so cool!  The glasses are actually repurposed wine bottles that were cut down to size and then smoothed.  

The bottom right picture up there?  Yeah, I took a picture of the bathroom because I thought the sinks were cool!  

Additionally, in a commitment to utter awesomeness, Husk chefs preserve and can seasonal foods to use throughout the year.  The top right picture is one of their pantries.  

Our server was so wonderful.  She explained the menu to us and answered any questions we had without making us feel silly.  

There were so many servers, too.  We had what we would think of as our waitress, then there was a water filler up guy and a food bringer out guy.  I'm sure there are technical or industry terms for the helper guys, but this midwestern mama doesn't know what they are :)

So, the food.

We started with pimento cheese on homemade benne crackers.  Benne crackers are sesame seed based, and these were so crispy and light while being able to hold an insane amount of pimento cheese.  The crispy country ham topping was awesome!

They brought out perfect buns...very lightly crispy on top and perfectly tender on the inside.  We slathered on the pork infused honey butter.  I don't know how one goes about infusing pork into honey butter, but I feel like it's something we should all look into.

The buns were served in a little linen bag.  The bread bringer out guy removed the bag about 45 seconds after we put the buns on our plate.  All of the service was like that.  We never had to ask for more water.  They removed used plates immediately.  Our server even gave me the correct knife to use for the entree right after I ordered.  They were super attentive without hovering.  Such amazing service and hospitality!

Anyway, Aaron ordered an appetizer for his entree.  He had southern fried chicken skins with honey and hot sauce.  I realize that sounds like the weirdest thing ever, but it was amazing!  Crispy and salty and lightly spicy and sweet all at the same time.

I had the best pork of my life.  It was a really lean pork chop, so it was lightly seared on each side on a skillet and then finished in a wood burning oven.  It was served with a cider reduction which made the best possible broth.  The vegetables on the side were a tiny bit smokey and cooked to perfection.  I had the best pest pea pods and asparagus that weren't the least bit stringy.  Seriously, so amazing.  

We also ordered sides of cheesy grits and cornbread.  When it comes to plain grits, I'm not a fan.  But, when grits serve as a vehicle for cheese, butter, and cream, I am leading the grits fan club.  Phenomenal.  The side of cornbread was also ridiculous in all the best ways.  Baked in a cast iron skillet, it was crisped just right on the outside and delicate on the inside.  

Husk exceeded every expectation I had and was definitely the second best meal of my life.

You might be wondering what the first best meal of my life was!

Well, that would be a fish fry from Culver's. 

When I was pregnant with Maggie, I was craving a fish fry like nobody's business.  I was home with Leah and didn't want to drag her to Culver's, so I called Aaron and he brought fish fry home to me for lunch.

I still smile thinking of the happy crispiness of the fish, the lovely creaminess of the coleslaw, and the sweet contrast of the ketchup with the crinkle cut fries.  

While I may be a foodie, I'll never be a food snob :)

What's the best meal you've ever had?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Where to Eat in Charleston

There are not enough hours in the day or days in a month to eat at all of the amazing restaurants in Charleston!  Seriously, Charleston is totally a foodie town!

Here are 3 little tips to bear in mind.

#1:  I thought Charleston's water tasted a little weird.  I'm sure it depends on where you're from and what you're used to, but I thought it was a bit gross.  I just started asking for a lemon wedge with my water and once I squeezed some lemon in the water, I thought it was fine!  I think it had to do with the city, because the water tasted the same everywhere.  

#2:  Eating outside is awesome!  It is less awesome when other customers are actively feeding the birds, in which case the birds then swoop into the dining area and kinda creep you out.  Just something to bear in mind :)

#3:  Make reservations!  We made reservations about a month out at 3 places (Husk, Poogan's Porch, and Fleet Landing), and I'm so glad we did!  We wanted to eat at Husk on the weekend, but it was already filled, so we ended up eating there on Monday instead.  I would probably make reservations 6-8 weeks ahead of time if my schedule wasn't very flexible.  I was also glad that we didn't make reservations for every meal.  It was fun to be able to try restaurants out that we didn't know about ahead of time.  Seeing as we weren't traveling with our daughters, it wasn't a big deal if we had to wait.

Oh, and here's the food ordering philosophy I went in with! I will order food that is:
  • a specialty of Charleston
  • typically southern
  • fresh (like the seafood)
  • something I wouldn't make at home
This served me really, really well!

I cannot stress enough that there are so many amazing restaurants in Charleston.  The places we went merely scratched the surface of the rich culinary culture of the city.

As promised yesterday, here's where we ate!

Toast 155 Meeting St.

Toast was the restaurant I wanted to eat at when we first arrived in Charleston, and come to find out, it was actually attached to our hotel!  That worked out well :)

Shrimp and grits is a traditional dish in the low country of southern coastal areas.  It's actually typically a breakfast dish, but I had it for supper.  I wanted to kick off our stay in Charleston with something very typically southern and thought shrimp and grits would be just the thing!  So, like the food nerd I am, I studied menus.  

See what I mean about the food nerd thing?  Who studies menus?  A food nerd, that's who.

Anyway, there are as many variations of shrimp and grits as there are chefs.  I decided on getting it at Toast because of the lobster cream sauce.  Yes, lobster cream sauce!  There was also some pan deglazing with white wine.  I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.

Toast's shrimp and grits did not disappoint.  I took my first bite and literally just sat there and smiled.  I'm lots of fun to dine with like that.  It was rich and creamy with the peppers and onions adding some lovely, crisp texture.  Simply divine!

Aaron had fried chicken with sweet tea glaze which was also delicious!  I would put sweet tea glaze on just about anything :)

Toast is super busy for breakfast and brunch, but it seemed pretty quiet for supper.  The service (and the Arnold Palmers) were also excellent!

The BakeHouse 160 East Bay St.

Like I mentioned yesterday, I wanted to find a place to get breakfast and coffee every morning, and The BakeHouse was just the place!  The coffee was great, and the environment was bright and cheerful.  All of the breakfast items we had were really good (not gonna lie, though, my scones are better :) ).  I ordered the coffee cake on the one slightly rainy morning and they asked if I wanted an inside piece or an edge one, which I thought was really nice!  I also like how the filling of the coffeecake makes a happy smile :)

We stopped by one afternoon for a drink and I had a frozen mint lemonade.  It was SO refreshing, and I loved that I could see tiny specks of fresh mint mixed in.

Taco Boy 15 Center St. Folly Beach, SC

Aaron's favorite food, by far, is Mexican food, and, if forced to choose, it would be mine, too!  Taco Boy did not disappoint!  We started off with a trio of salsas that were awesome!  Aaron was smart and ordered a fish taco.  It was so fresh, crisp, and delicious!  I got 2 tacos.  One was tacos al pastor (pork with pineapple salsa) and the other was an amazing braised beef with matchsticked radishes and jicama, toasted pumpkin seeds, and queso fresco.  I don't know how I can articulate just how amazing that second taco was.  I loved the variety of textures and how the light crispiness of radishes and jicama balanced out the richness of the beef.  Plus, the soft saltiness of the queso fresco was perfection.

Poogan's Porch 72 Queen St.

I am not under the impression that any of my food pictures are good, but the lighting was extra not good for taking covert pictures of food at Poogan's Porch.  Please don't hold these poor pictures against the utter amazing-ness of the food.

Poogan's Porch was housed in an impeccably restored mansion; it was so charming and beautiful!  They specialize in elevated southern cuisine, and, let's just say, they really excel at that!

We started out with what was, quite possibly, the best bite of the trip: pimento cheese fritters with green tomato jam.   They were perfection.  Pimento cheese was lightly rolled in a breading (panko maybe?) and fried enough to be crispy without being heavy and greasy.  Seriously, they were perfect!  

We also had the best biscuit I've ever had.  You know how you read about how biscuits should be fluffy?  The biscuits I make are fine, but I'd never call them fluffy.  Poogan's Porch sets the gold standard for fluffy biscuits.  Phenomenal!

I had pan fried duck with sweet potato gnocchi.  I've never had duck before, and I won't be making it at home anytime soon, especially seeing as my kids barely eat chicken without ketchup.  Anyway, it was really good!  I thought duck kinda tasted like a combination of steak and dark meat chicken.  It was soooooo rich!  The sweet potato gnocchi was awesome with the little bit of pecorino.

Aaron opted to get a couple of appetizers instead of an entree.  He got a cup of she crab soup (which is quintessentially Charleston) and what he described as "easily the best mac and cheese I've ever had in my life!"  I tried it, and he was right!  Mac and cheese with smoked gouda and crispy country ham is the way to go!

Minero 155 East Bay St.

I thoroughly enjoyed Minero!  We started with a trio of salsas here, too.  The salsa verde was the best I've ever had.  Aaron had a burrito which I forgot to photograph.  It was so good!  I especially liked that it was studded with avocado; it really cut the spiciness with the cool creaminess.  I got smart and ordered a fish taco!  I'm totally loving the crispiness of cabbage on fish tacos.  I also had a grilled steak taco.  The steak was tender.  I loved the pickled vegetables on top.

Oh, and in the picture on the right, you can kind of see the little drawer that's built into the table.  That's where you got your silverware and napkins.  Cutie cute!

Charleston Crab House 41 S. Market St.

Oh, the steampot!  Aaron and I split essentially a bucket of seafood!  We had crab legs, peel and eat shrimp, mussels, corn on the cob, and red potatoes.  Oh my fresh and delicious!  And I ate mussels.  Out of the shell.  Which made me feel awesome :)  I didn't take a picture of our appetizer:  hushpuppies with honey cinnamon butter.  Yum!

Hominy Grill 207 Rutledge Ave.

We had quite the time getting to Hominy Grill for brunch.  We needed to use the (free) public transportation to get there and had a hard time finding the second trolley we needed to ride.  So we walked and brunch ended up turning into lunch!

We got to eat on a patio that was remarkably bird-free, plus we were seated in the coolness of the shade.

I've read lots of great things about Hominy Grill, but I felt like our food was just okay.  Aaron had a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit.  I had a fried green tomato BLT with home fries.  The food was good, but both the biscuit and the bun were crumbly.  I had the feeling that the kitchen was probably rushed (it was insanely busy) and the quality of food may have suffered a bit.  

But, that brownie sundae you see up there?  Pure awesomeness!  The chocolate sauce was more like a marriage of chocolate sauce and fudge.  Rich and delicious without being too thick.

Fleet Landing 186 Concord St.

I felt a little silly making a reservation for 5:00 on a Sunday evening, but I'm glad we did!  Some customers walked in when we did, and they were told to come back to check again at 6:30.  I'm all about being flexible while I'm on vacation (especially without kids), but that would have been a bit much.

After we ate brunch/lunch at Hominy Grill, I realized that the only vegetables I'd eaten since we were in Charleston were salsa or garnishes.  I eat a lot of veggies at home and the lack of veggies was kind of weirding me out.  I rectified that situation by ordering a wonderful salad with shrimp!  Aaron had a hamburger with pimento cheese.  We're such good pretend southerners :)

The best thing about Fleet Landing (aside from their "don't feed the birds" sign in the outdoor seating area) was that they kept the Arnold Palmers coming!  Free Arnold Palmer refills for the win!  In case you didn't know, Arnold Palmer = Sweet Tea + Lemonade.

Kaminsky's 78 N. Market St.

Don't be creeped out by the quasi clown sign, the desserts were excellent!  I had a slice of coconut cheesecake, and Aaron had brownie sundae #2 :)  This was the only day we had dessert, so it's kind of funny that there were 2 brownie sundaes.  

These are our very charming "I'm so full you're going to have to roll me out of here" faces:

Seriously, between all of the Arnold Palmer we drank and the desserts, we nearly popped!

Whisk 209 Meeting St.

We sort of stumbled upon Whisk at the beginning of my "I haven't had vegetables in forever" realization.  So, I had some green juice at Whisk after we ate at Hominy Grill.  It was marvelous!  Plus, I felt a million times healthier.  We eve came back for lunch the next day.  I had a Southern Belle salad and Aaron had a bagel.  My salad was awesome!  Just what I needed!  Aaron liked his bagel, but I didn't take a picture of it, because...bagel.

We loved how Whisk was so bright and filled with natural light.  Plus, I loved their iced tea bar that I had with my salad, and Aaron was a huge fan of the font the used in their sign.  Lots of awesome at Whisk :)

Well, this post is already reeeeeeeeeally long, so I'm going to tell you all about our meal at Husk tomorrow.  There's a lot of hype about Husk and its rock star chef, and our experience absolutely blew our expectations out of the water!

See you tomorrow!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Charming Charleston

Aaron and I recently got back from Charleston, South Carolina which is probably the most charming place I've ever been!  

We celebrated our 10th anniversary on September 30th and were gifted money to go to Charleston.  So amazing and generous!

Our parents tag teamed watching the girls, so Leah, Maggie, and Gracie pretty much had a stay-cation.  I think it's safe to say that they didn't miss us at all!  It's better that way :)

Aaron and I flew out of Chicago.  We got to ride a bus and train from our parking lot to the airport.  

I was nerd-tastic-ally excited to ride public transportation!

Eeeeeeeeeee!  Trains are fun :)

We had really great flights from Chicago to Charlotte to Charleston.

Eeeeeeeeee!  Planes are fun, too :)

We stayed at the Days Inn on Meeting Street.  It was really inexpensive and had a great location (we definitely didn't need to rent a car).  We didn't want to spend a lot of money on lodging seeing as we intended to spend most of our time out of the hotel.  The location of our hotel was perfect and the accommodations were fine.

I wanted to find a coffee shop to go to every morning for breakfast.  We ended up at The BakeHouse and loved it!  We even ate outside one morning.

Aaron and I walked through Waterfront Park the first morning we were there.  It's right on the Charleston Harbor and was so beautiful.

There was even a big pavilion that had porch swings!

I was really surprised to see that you are allowed to play in that big pineapple fountain pictured above!  My favorite rule about wading into the fountain is that you aren't supposed to blow your nose in it.  It makes you wonder what happened to make that a rule.  Yikes!

After we walked around at Waterfront Park, we took a taxi to Folly Beach so that we could go to the Atlantic Ocean!  The cab was really expensive (about $90 round trip).  It would have actually been cheaper to rent a car for the day!  Oh, well.  We were so glad we got to go!

Folly Beach was a really laid back little place.  We ate lunch at the best little Mexican restaurant.  I'll be back tomorrow with a post all about the restaurants we ate at.  Charleston is a marvelous foodie town :)

It was fun watching people fish off of the enormous pier.  One guy was cutting up a whole chicken to use as bait!  Hopefully he didn't catch a shark, because, as you can see from the sign in the photo collage above, he'd have to throw it back :)  

We enjoyed playing cribbage and reading by the beach.  The beach is admittedly more my thing than Aaron's, but he happily joined me in my wonder of it all.  

We enjoyed a carriage ride through some of the historic areas of Charleston.  We went on a tour with Classic Carriage Works based on the recommendation of our friends.  

This is the horse that pulled our carriage.  His name is Larry, and, if you look closely, you can see he has a mustache :)

We really enjoyed our tour guide, Todd, because he was slightly sarcastic and funny!  That's kind of the "thing" you get when you go on a tour with Classic Carriages.  We really enjoyed that, and the humor didn't take away from all of the really amazing things we learned!

I mean, check out this house!

It was designed to replicate the couple's wedding cake.  The father of the bride gave the couple a $75,000 wedding gift to build the house and sent them to Europe for 2 years while it was being built.  And that $75,000 would be about $2 million now!

While the couple was in Europe, they visited France, and the bride thought the L'arc de Triomphe so much that they had a miniature one added to the roof!

So, there's that :)

Charleston was full of one beautiful house after another!

The homes were painted the prettiest pastel colors.  When the British settled in South Carolina, they didn't come right from England.  Rather, they came by way of the British settlements in Barbados and brought the beautiful Caribbean colors with them!

Charleston was filled with the most charming little alleys and tucked away gardens.

Plus, the hardware to hold open the shutters was so fun (yes, I googled "things that hold shutters open")!  Especially when it's holding open aqua shutters :)

My very favorite part of the houses in Charleston were the "haint blue" porch ceilings!

According to lore, haint blue was supposed to keep evil spirits away from the house.  It's also supposed to trick birds, spiders, and bees into thinking the ceiling is actually the sky, thus preventing them from building nests.  Plus, I think it's cute!

Let's switch gears from the charms of Charleston to the hilarity of Charleston!

We visited Charleston's Improv Theatre 99 for the finals of their improv contest.  We watched 6 fifteen minute sets and voted for the winners.  Most of it was seriously funny (some was a bit PG-13)!  Also seriously funny was the lady who had a flask of something or another that she added to the can of Diet Coke she bought at the concession stand.  

Another fun thing to visit in Charleston is the City Market.

There are some permanent shops but lots of temporary booths.  At night, there's live music and some people even do a little dancing!  This is a great place to pick up souvenirs or just get a feel for some of the culture and crafts of the area.

And last, but certainly not least, Charleston is chocked full of great places to play cribbage!

Cribbage is kind of a hallmark of our relationship, so Aaron and I were glad to get in a whole bunch of games.  He even "let" me win almost all of them :)

Be sure to check back tomorrow and see all the places we went to eat.  Southern hospitality is alive and well!