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Charleston’s New Guard

Charleston’s New Guard
Written by Margaret Loftus | Photo by Andrew Cebulka

Since becoming the national media’s Southern food darling in the last decade, Charleston, South Carolina’s dining scene has grown exponentially, both in style and geography. Yes, shrimp and grits is still on menus, but so is okonomiyaki. And while there are plenty of fabulous restaurants in the city’s historic core, more and more of the dining scene has followed cheaper real estate to the former warehouse district and residential neighborhoods of the upper peninsula, where discerning denizens—many of them food and beverage pros themselves—keep them hopping.


Butcher & Bee; photo by Andrew Cebulka

With its hanging plants, light-filled space, and addictive ebleskivers (a kind of Danish donut), the Park Cafe is a cheerful spot to sip a latte and get your bearings. Butcher & Bee serves inventive Israeli-inspired food all day; breakfast particularly shines in orders like smoked fish toast with labneh. Find pastry goddess Cynthia Wong’s baked goods, including her pistachio rose croissants, here and at the Daily, the Bee’s sister coffee shop. Come lunchtime, consider your barbecue strategy: Start with the smoky wings at Home Team BBQ (and if you’re a practiced day drinker, be sure to wash them down with a Gamechanger). Rodney Scott’s BBQ is celebrated for its slowcooked whole hog, but the rib-eye sandwich deserves equal billing. Brisket is a novelty in these parts and Charlestonians can’t get enough of the Texas specialty (or the corn pudding) at Lewis Barbecue. Soul food more your style? Beeline to Martha Lou’s Kitchen, where the fried chicken and lima beans have won raves from the likes of Martha Stewart and Anthony Bourdain. Or head to Nana’s Seafood & Soul and pray (or just check their Instagram account) that they have garlic crabs. Wherever you go, save room for a fig-studded oatmeal and tahini cookie at the Harbinger Cafe and Bakery. This is a town that loves happy hours and you’ll find one of the best at Edmund’s Oast, where on nice days the tech crowd from nearby offices belly up at the outdoor bar for fourdollar fried catfish sliders and old fashioneds on draft.

Leon's Oyster Shop; photo by Peter Frank Edwards

Keep the patio vibe going at Pancito & Lefty for butterbean tacos and a great mezcal selection or at Leon’s Oyster Shop, with a half-dozen chargrilled oysters and a local Westbrook rye pale ale. New bistro-on-the-block Purlieu is a cozy space for French-meets-Lowcountry fare like bouillabaisse with triggerfish. Or go to Juliet for a blistered-crust pizza topped with clams or sausage and potato. You might drive right by Spero, in an unassuming Meeting Street strip, but you’d best turn back. A master of the high-low genre—a bumper of Miller High Life is served in a champagne bucket—chef RJ Moody elevates whatever’s in season, from sweet potatoes to Caper’s Blades oysters.


Monarch Wine Shop; photo by Ben Chrisman

At last count, there were seven craft breweries across the upper peninsula, all of which have tasting rooms that one might connect for a beer trail of sorts. Meanwhile, wine lovers will find plenty to keep them busy, starting with Monarch Wine Shop, whose affable proprietors are champions of the small-batch and natural. Over at goat.sheep.cow, the carefully curated wine selection is bolstered by cheese and cured meat counters that just might daunt you. Luckily, there’s also a bar where you can ponder your purchase over a glass of pét-nat.