Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

My Photo
Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Friday, October 28, 2005

Charleston Cooks


The best food that I have had on this trip has definitely been in Charleston. Every single meal I ate there was great. My train arrived over an hour late and the train station was located in the boonies in North Charleston. I was going to be sleeping cheap at a hostel in the historic district that I had booked online. Part of the directions to the hostel said that you could take a bus or just call and they would come pick you up. I called and they said, "Oh, no, that's wrong, we never pick people up from the train station or the airport. You have to call a cab."

I went out into the dark night and saw two cabs there that seemed to already be taken. I asked the drivers if I needed to call for a taxi or if others would come by. One of the cab drivers asked me where I wanted to go and when I told her she said that she was going in that direction and could give me a lift. She was off duty and picking up a friend. I very gratefully accepted and she said that I probably would have been waiting there for an hour or two because it was a Saturday night. I was even more thankful when I heard that info. She didn't turn her meter on so I just gave her a big tip when she dropped me off. She really seemed like a guardian angel to me that night.

My hostel was located in the historic district which was good, but it was the scary "hood" part on the edge of the district. Definitely not the kind of place where I would be comfortable walking around by myself. There was one other woman in my room when I arrived. She was complaining about being sunburned from laying out at the beach all day long. It hadn't occurred to me that the beach was an option for visitors in Charleston but there lots of islands with beaches all around.

My roommates name was Karen and she was from New Jersey. It was 9:00 p.m. and neither of us had had dinner and there was no place nearby and I didn't feel like venturing out in the dark. She had a car and said she was going downtown for dinner and invited me to go along with her. She talked non stop and when we pulled out of the parking lot she lit up a cigarette and a small screw bottle of cheap red wine and proceeded to drink and smoke on our drive. That was a first for me. Perhaps drinking while driving is legal in the south. It was too late to back out so I just prayed that she was a safe driver.

We had trouble finding parking but eventually went into a parking lot and then walked over to a popular seafood restaurant named AW SHUCKS. We both order crab cakes and bacon wrapped stuffed shrimp that came with a baked potato and green beans. The shrimp and crab cakes were great, tons of flavor and very fresh. Afterwards we wandered around among the throngs of young people out at the bars and clubs. It was a very lively scene and everyone seemed to be enjoying the nice weather.

The next morning I got up and pulled out the tourist map I had picked up the night before and figured out which direction I need to go to head to the visitors' center. I chose to go down one block and then over 10 block or so to a main street. Supposedly there were buses running all over town and my street was one way the wrong way. I wasn't sure where the bus stop was located so I just started walking. I approached a brick building that had a mural drawn on the side saying "The Hominy Grill, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner" and there were several cars in the parking lot and a bunch of people waiting in front for it to open. The crowd of locals told me it would be a good place for breakfast. When the doors opened 10 minutes later at 9:00 a.m. there were about 25 of us ready to head on in. Apparently Rachel Ray had been here with her TV show and it had long been a local favorite. In the bathroom there was a picture of Anthony Hopkins with two of the workers/owners.

I ordered one of the specials; Griddled corn cakes with poached eggs topped with she-crab gravy. It was a savory southern breakfast. In fact this place was so good that I went back the next morning and had a different special that was even better: sweet potato pecan pancakes and spicy homemade sausages. The restaurant was off the beaten path and you would have to know about it to find your way there, unless you are lucky like me and just happen to be walking by in the sketchy part of town.

For a late lunch I went to a cooking class that was named "Taste of Low-Country Cooking" taught by a very charming young chef with a sweet southern accent at a local kitchenware store called Charleston Cooks! The menu was a local tripper fish simply sauteed with a tomato-basil beurre-blanc sauce over fried cheddar-bacon-scallion grits. For dessert he made a famous lace -type cookie called "benne cookies", benne being a gullah (the local name for slaves) name for sesame seeds. He topped the cookies with vanilla ice cream and homemade bourbon carmel sauce. I asked him for restaurant recommendations and he said that two of the places he had worked at that he really liked were High Cotton and S.N.O.B. which stands for slightly North of Broad (the street that defines the really old money/families from the rest of society.

I went to High Cotton for dinner and realized that this was the restaurant that my brother Stephen and I had gone to when we went down to Charleston last year. We had both enjoyed the food and the live jazz. I ended up being seated at the same table we had been at before. I order the prix fixe menu and a glass of wine. The meal started out with a local favorite, a she-crab soup. It is a creamy delight with large pieces of succulent crab and topped with colorful roe. A "salad" followed comprised of another local delicacy, hearts of palm, layered with big shrimps, lobster and crab meat and micro greens tossed in a lemony dressing. I could have gone home a very happy woman right then, but there was more magic coming out of the kitchen. The main course was a southern vegetable and duck perleau. I didn't quite know what to expect and was very pleased when I saw it arrive. There was an amazingly flavorful rice dish bursting with butter beans, okra, spicy andouille sausage and tender duck. Lying on top of this rice was a duck leg and thigh with a tomato relish and grilled scallions. I am a big duck fan and this was about the best duck I have ever had. (The foie gras farm in Provence was awfully good too!) To finish off this meal was a huge pecan praline souffle with house-made chocolate sauce. Hands down, the best souffle I have ever had, Paris included. In fact a French man was dining next to me and when he saw it he immediately ordered one to share with his date. I wish that I had had someone to share it with too because I was too full to eat more than a third of it. But I didn't want to feel sick by eating too much and ruining my memory of such a fabulous meal.

I decided that some walking would definitely be in order and I signed up for a ghost tour. It was okay and the guide had some good stories but I suspect she is much better doing the history walks. The city doesn't allow groups to go on residential street after 6:00 p.m. for tours in order to give privacy for the locals. Fair enough, but if you can't go in the little back alleys and around the grand old homes you end up limited to fairly innocuous spaces that aren't overly suited to ghost tours. We did get to go in one graveyard which was pretty cool. I found myself once again in the position of trying to find a safe way home. I tried for a few minutes to catch a cab and then walked over to a pedi-cab (a guy who has a 'carriage seat' attached to his bicycle) and asked if he knew a better place to try to catch a cab. He said it was pretty hard to get one and asked where I was going. He too asked why I wanted to go to Spring Street and I told him there was a youth hostel there. He said he could take me and I climbed into the seat. It was fun and he chatted the whole way telling me how he was a 4 the year junior at the College of Charleston and that he had lived over in my neighborhood when he first arrived. I once again arrived home safely and felt like God was watching over me and taking care that I got to my destination intact.


Anonymous matt said...

amy, Christine and I were in Charleston in July and a friend from seminary (now pastor of second pres. in Charleston) took us to Hominy Grill. Glad you found it! We also went to S.N.O.B. Excellent!

6:41 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home