Charming Charleston – One Fabulous Dinner at Husk

It’s been a long time since an American focused fancy restaurant has really wowed me. Maybe that’s because I generally prefer the assertive tastes and spices of Southeast Asian cuisine. Maybe it’s because if I have a special occasion meal, I want the pomp and circumstance that French restaurants offer. Maybe it’s because I have been known to eat a slow cooker full of meat and cheese dip on Superbowl Sunday.

Whatever the reason, I just don’t usually get fine dining American restaurants.

But then, I don’t usually get to eat at Husk.

Sean Brock’s restaurants have earned him cookbook deals, James Beard Awards, and the respect of the entire country – it’s easy to see why. Husk prides itself on being an entirely Southern restaurant. As in, everything that you eat has originated in the South and will be prepared in traditional Southern ways, with a few fusion and high end touches thrown in for good measure.

20141115_203652 The board that shows where the products come from each day. Pork, beef, fish, kale, sesame seeds…every damn thing comes from the South. It takes locavorism to a whole new level.
20141115_211738 Though this restaurant is widely regarded as one of Charleston’s best, but it isn’t at all stuffy. You want to wear a collared shirt or a cocktail dress, but you are greeted warmly and practically expected to pick up chicken bones with your fingers to be sure to get every succulent morsel. This place is perfect for a night out with real foodie friends.  20141115_214302 Benne seed rolls and pork butter

Sesame seeds are widely used in Charleston’s cuisine and are called benne seeds, from the African word for sesame seeds. The rolls are warm and fluffy – a little sweet and cottony for my tastes, but he butter absolves these of any evils. Pork butter. Sweet, savory, and a little salty. It compliments the slight nuttiness of the seed-topped bread and as it melts in yellow rivulets onto the rolls, it brings bread to a new level. Great way to start the night.

20141115_214753 Kentuckyaki Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps, Napa Cabbage and Shiitake “Slaw” with Toasted Peanuts, Cucumber-Lime Dressing

The best pig’s ears I have ever had – and I love pig ears. These were highly recommended by our gregarious server, and he was dead on. These put bacon to SHAME – they are so crispy, so crunchy, but not too hard or stiff to easily bite. They are infused with barnyard, porky flavor that is intense and complex – to me, it tastes almost like boar in its flavor. Not gamy, just deep. They are tossed in a sweet and salty Asian bbq style sauce. The ears are topped with a crunchy, tart slaw and wrapped in sweet butter lettuce leaves. This is an excellent balance of flavors and textures, using an ingredient that we don’t see too much up here in NYC. It’s also the restaurant’s philosophy in a single bite. Local ingredients, traditional techniques, fusion and high end flavors. Fantastic. I almost ordered another one of these for dessert.  20141115_214806 Wood Fired Clams, Sweet Corn “Chowder,” Hot Sauce with Herbed Chicken Fat, Mustard Greens and Crispy Chicken Skins

Finally, Jewish comfort food and Southern comfort food united in all of their savory glories. This is talk stoppingly delicious. Corn chowder is sweet and rich, but not at all greasy – it’s just rich with the corn milk and probably some butter. The clams are juicy and soft, offering some briny, salty flavor to the earthy soup. The chicken skins are…unreal. Almost like fried clams themselves, with a feather-light textures and crispy, potato-chip crunchiness. And get a load of that beautiful wooden serving bowl!
20141115_221719 Amberjack from Mark Marhefka, Roasted Cauliflower and Butternut Squash, Tuscan Lacinato Kale, Brown Butter

Amberjack is one of my favorite fish and I was incredibly pleased with this preparation. I liken this fish to a slightly firmer Chilean sea basS (Which I haven’T had in years, since it’s in danger of becoming extinct). It’s mild, soft, and extremely delicious. The brown butter is so..buttery. Nutty, rich, sweet. It really anchors the fish and is perfect with the tender kale. The squash is a little underdone, but the cauliflower is crispy, brown, and addictive.  20141115_224715 Espresso and Doughnuts

Espresso cake and doughnut ice cream. Super caffeinated and super sweet. I especially love the extra smooth ice cream with crumbles of doughnuts beneath.

Husk is a must visit when in Charleston. It’s so wonderful that it’s almost worth a trip just to eat there. I never really GOT Southern food before  I visited Charleston. This meal was delicious, the portions are great, and the prices are beyond fair. I can’t wait to go back for more pig ears.

I’ll see ya soon, Charleston.

Charming Charleston: Hominy Grill Turns a Yankee to a Southern Belle

My 24 hour jaunt to Charleston started off with a BANG!

20141115_122539 Hominy Grill is one of Charleston’s most lauded brunch spots. It focuses on Southern comfort food and the entire feel to the place is homey, relaxed, and fun. Hominy Grill doesn’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait in line (with cocktail, of course!) or take your chances on getting seated on the patio. It was a chilly day so we were lucky enough to snag a heating lamp and get seated right away on the patio.  20141115_123733 Bloody Mary

Spicy, strong, and savory. Homemade bloody mix with quite a healthy kick of Mary. It’s not too spicy but it has a definite nasal-kicking hit of horseradish. It’s just what you want in a Bloody Mary and it starts the weekend off RIGHT.  20141115_124715 Fried green tomatoes with homemade ranch dressing

Perfect. Crispy, thin breading around tart, juicy green tomatoes. They are piping hot – literally,s teaming in the middle – and served with creamy, herb flecked ranch dressing that redefines my idea of that condiment. These aren’t like fried pickles or tart picked green tomatoes – they have a mild, almost sweet taste and are totally addictive.

20141115_125446 Nasty Charleston

Let’s break it down:

Biscuit – sky high and tender with a texture so light tha it almost floats away. Not too buttery or at all salty – it’s all about the texture and providing a backdrop to the other ingredients.

Fried chicken – delicious. Crispy, thick exterior spiked with garlic and salt. the interior is uniformly thin but thick enough to be juicy. It’s fresh and succulent – it would be ideal on its own with a dash of Tabasco.

Cheddar cheese – sharp, melty, salty and – importantly – not overwhelming.

Sausage gravy – creamy, peppery, porky, perfect.

Basically, biscuits and gravy have a new place in my heart and stomach.
20141115_125513 Fried Chicken

A revelation, plain and simple. The best fried chicken I have ever eaten in my life. Juicy, crispy, and tender. Drizzled with spicy honey and tempered with pickled okra and carrots.  20141115_130011 Fatty and juicy and meaty and crunchy. All of my favorite words. I am in no way a fried chicken person, and I am telling you that this is a dish for the ages. I still dream of it.  20141115_132716 Hominy Grill is delightful. It’s just the simplest food made better than any Yankee has ever had it. The fried chicken is unmissable and the service is so kind and friendly that you may just friend your server on Facebook when you leave the restaurant. The food is downright CHEAP and the menu is so full of delicious things that I wouldn’t even repeat anything next time! Except for the bloody mary. And those tomatoes. And the duck sausage hash that I didn’t even photograph. Okay, I would repeat a lot of dishes.

What can I say, I love me some Hominy Grill.

Charming Charleston: Drinks and Dessert

I can finally say that I see the light. I see why people are obsessed with the South and don’t want to leave it once they visit there. 

I have seen the light in the form of Charleston, South Carolina. Beautiful shop-lined streets, horse and carriage rides just because it’s Saturday, and food.

WOW. FOOD. 

I had two outrageously delicious restaurant meals, but if you wanted to get just drinks and desserts, you could do that in Charleston and be mighty pleased.  20141115_134448 Sugar Bakeshop

This diminutive bakery is what Magnolia must have been before “Sex and the City” turned it into the slut of the West Village. It’s no larger than your first studio walk up and filled to the brim with cookies and cupcakes. The servers are helpful, the prices are more than fair, and the cupcakes are DIVINE. Don’t miss the cream cheese icing if you can help it – it’s the smoothest, creamiest icing I have ever enjoyed, with just the slightest tang.  20141115_134759 Lemon cupcake

For the true lemon baked goods connoisseur. The cake is fluffy and moist, with a very tender, loose crumb. It doesn’t crumble, it more melts in your mouth. The center is filled with a tart, pleasantly lip-puckering lemon curd, and the icing is bright, rich, and very sweet. It’s refreshing and decadent at the same time. A must get, especially if the weather is nice enough so that you can enjoy the bakery’s adorable courtyard while you indulge. 
20141115_195101 The Gin Joint

Some of the best cocktails for the price that I have enjoyed anywhere. For $10…that’s right, $10…I treated myself to a bespoke cocktail using only the words “vegetal” and “strong.” This beaut came with gin, aperol, and cucumber. It’s definitely strong, but also well balanced – sweet, tart, and a little savory. It’s the ideal way to start the evening – or end it! The restaurant is tiny (a theme in Charleston eateries), but friendly and upscale-casual. I would definitely go back for another drink or one of the delicious looking pork buns!

Next up: Bloody Marys and fried chicken