Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Adventures in Charleston, SC

I’m a southern girl, and I also happen to live in the South. (Yes, I do think there is a distinction, but that's for another blog.) Needless to say, I have a soft spot in my heart (and belly) for the region’s cuisine. I can’t go too long before I get a hankerin’ for some good down-home cookin’. While there are some pretty good franchises out there, I am especially fond of the places with a little history. For this reason, Jestine’s Kitchen was a priority destination on my recent Charleston visit. My friend and traveling companion and I also dined at Hyman’s Seafood and Hominy Grill.

Jestine’s Kitchen
Jestine's Kitchen on Urbanspoon
When we arrived for dinner at about 9:00 p.m. (one half hour before closing), there was still a line out the door. I immediately had a good feeling about what was to come. Once we got inside, I enjoyed looking at the numerous pictures and articles adorning the walls of the famed restaurant. Among the decorations are photos of Jestine Matthews, who is not the owner (that would be Dana Berlin), but rather the African American woman who cared for Dana as a child. Many of the dishes served are made from Jestine’s original recipes. Now that’s the kind of history I’m talking about!

The service was fabulous. The food arrived promptly, and our waitress was incredibly friendly. The overall atmosphere was cozy and pleasant. After much deliberation about what to order, I finally settled on the meatloaf. When my dish arrived, I was surprised to find neither of the two possib
ilities I had expected. There was no thick brown gravy OR pasty tomato sauce. The slice of loaf was instead coated with just a thin and spicy glaze. It was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. It held together well, and was packed with flavor. It was like no meatloaf I’ve ever had, and I dare say it might even be the best.

As complements to the main dish, I chose okra gumbo and macaroni and cheese. The “gumbo” consisted of what looked like okra, tomatoes, and corn. If you’re expecting true gumbo (more like a soup), then you might be disappointed. However, I found the okra to be fresh, well-seasoned and delicious. I consider myself somewhat of a mac and cheese connoisseur and like to give it a try whenever I’m in any sort of “meat and three” establishment. It is usually such a simple dish, but varies widely depen
ding on how it’s made. Subtle changes can make all the difference! There is no question that I prefer the baked variety, which is what was served at Jestine’s. Not too runny or sticky, the cheese stuck in clumps to the soft noodles. I loved the texture, but the flavor was a bit milder than some varieties. Don’t get me wrong, it was GOOD, and I finished every last bite. However, a sharper cheddar or a little bit more cheese and seasoning would have taken it to the next level.

My friend had the blue plate special of the day—the sweet chicken with butter beans. The glaze was just like you’d expect—sweet and sticky, and it covered the chicken and the large beans. Underneath all that was a bed of white rice. The three pieces of dark-meat chicken were practically falling apart, they were so tender. The beans were a perfect compliment, and the whole thing just seemed to melt in your mouth. I know at least one other patron shared my opinion, as the guest at the next table was literally swooning over her plate after one bite!

Ladies and gentleman, this is true comfort food at an incredible value. You’re guaranteed to leave here full and happy!

Hyman's Seafood
Hyman's on Urbanspoon
I couldn’t visit Charleston without having at least one seafood meal. I figured I had better check out Hyman's, seeing as how it's one of the best known restaurants in the city and had been recommended to me by several people. It seemed like every other visitor had the same idea for lunch; the place was packed with tourists. The staff was efficient, however, and the wait wasn’t too long. Right away we were given a bowl of salty boiled peanuts. That was all it took to win me over! After munching on those for a while and exploring the extensive menu, my friend and I decided to start with a crab cake as an appetizer, followed by shrimp and grits. The crab cake was nothing less than amazing. Not heavily breaded at all, it was nearly all crab (and little cake). Drizzled with a tangy pink sauce and topped with crispy onion straws, the flavors and textures combined perfectly and left me longing for more. I know there are different ways to make shrimp and grits, but I have to say that I prefer Hyman's style over the spicy gravy with sausage variety. With no meat (other than shrimp) it was simple, yet delicious. Six fat shrimp were served atop a bowl of creamy grits and topped with a Parmesan cheese sauce. Very rich and satisfying, a half portion (my friend and I shared) served with toasty garlic bread filled me up. I almost wanted to lick the bowl. I think that about says it all.

Hominy Grill
Hominy Grill on Urbanspoon
Apparently known for its grits (thus the name), Hominy Grill was our choice for breakfast. My friend and I both had omelets, made with fresh, locally-grown ingredients. Yet another place where you can reall
y get a lot for your dollar, here you can choose as many ingredients as you like at no extra charge. I kept it simple with just cheese, mushrooms, and tomatoes. I immediately noticed how bright and fresh the tomatoes were. A mild, white cheese was used (again, I prefer a sharper flavor), but the overall taste was quite pleasing. The texture of the grits was wonderfully thick and creamy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been served grainy, runny “grit soup” or dried-out lumps! The only complaint I might have is that they were a bit too salty for my liking. The biscuit had a subtle, yet distinct flavor that I couldn’t quite identify. Not too salty, yet not sweet, it was a unique and yummy taste. The texture was more dense and crumbly than fluffy. I liked it best topped with the restaurant’s delightful raspberry jam. You won’t find those little single-serving jelly globs here. This stuff is fresh and served from a cute little pot placed on each table. Pure and light, not heavy or greasy, it was the perfect way to fuel up for a morning of shopping downtown.


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  2. Hi there. Love your restaurant listings! Hominy is amazing. By the way, there is a new internet company in Charleston, QuickFoxes.com, offering delivery services to many local restaurants. You should really check it out. You can place an order online at www.quickfoxes.com or by calling 843-277-9234. It's a whole new way to look at "fast food." :)