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Worth the Drive: It’s Not All Downtown

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Worth the Drive: It’s Not All Downtown
The Wild Olive on John's Island in Charleston, South Carolina. Photo by Mac Kilduff.

“Location, Location, Location?”

Get over it. Charleston’s downtown may indeed be a culinary magnet, but there’s fabulous fare to be found in the nearby ‘burbs, with ample parking to boot. Some of the best meals are across bridges, down narrow oak-lined roads, or tucked into unassuming strip malls. Miles from the crowds and just minutes from the peninsula…sounds rather nice, doesn’t it?

John’s Island

WILD OLIVE
Italy’s boot hiked on over to Johns Island, took one look at the thriving farm community and plethora of fresh ingredients, and decided to stay. Chef Jacques Larson’s handmade pastas take center stage, but don’t overlook the stuffed risotto fritters, charred octopus, “Clammer Dave” little necks in  spicy lemon-caper zuppetta, or the rich Florentine chicken liver pâté smeared over crostini. It’s dimly lit and romantic, with an ersatz grape arbor dangling from the ceiling, yet dates have been known to wrestle over smashed fried potatoes drizzled with truffle aioli (a.k.a. crack potatoes). 2867 Maybank Highway. Open for dinner seven days a week.

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Fat Hen. Photo by Mac Kilduff

FAT HEN
This roadside cottage bistro offers a unique blend of French Country meets Lowcountry fare. Garlicky escargot and heart-warming Coq au Vin channel Chef Fred Neuville’s inner Francophile, while duck gets a complete Southern makeover in the form of a smoky BBQ  duck sandwich with creamy blue cheese coleslaw. Quail eggs balance on steak tartare, mussels swim in curried cream, and local seafood graces seasonal succotash. Reservations are required to beat out Sunday’s brunch stampede. 3140 Maybank Highway. Open for dinner Monday through Saturday and Sunday brunch.

Curry Mussels
from Chef Fred Neuville of Fat Hen in Charleston, South Carolina

Mount Pleasant

RED DRUM
This sprawling South-by-Southwest eatery hops with live music, upbeat bar, elegant formal dining room, and busy patio scattered with cozy couches and outdoor fires. Bottomless pitchers of mimosas and smothered fried chicken biscuits make brunch a must, while creative Tex-Mex-Charleston fusion keeps ‘em coming for buttery clams on Texas toast, wood-grilled quail, chile-cheddar grits, BBQ short rib enchiladas, and crab-avocado tostaditas. Save room for those drum-roll worthy warm sugar and cinnamon donuts too. 803 Coleman Boulevard. Open for dinner seven days a week and brunch on weekends. 

OPAL
Mount Pleasant’s go-to spot for top-tier Mediterranean-inspired dining holds court in a shopping center encircled by a dense Lowcountry forest. Trust the chef when it comes to customizing your charcuterie board, and be rewarded with smoked duck ham, lamb prosciutto, and fennel-infused finochietta. Spicy local shrimp adorn bruschetta, seared diver scallops top colorful vegetable-couscous brunoise, and wild mushrooms marry well with black truffle tagliatelle. End it all sweetly with sea salt and caramel gelato. 1960 Riviera Drive. Open for dinner Monday through Saturday. Brunch Sunday.

LANGDON’S
This high-end neighborhood secret defies its strip mall location with a sleek interior and immaculately prepared black skillet steaks. Fiendishly tasty sides, like housemade duck sausage with pearl barley (and is that bourbon foie butter that comes with the bone-in dry-aged ribeye?) show that chef and owner Patrick Owens holds no punches. From chèvre gnocchi to seared foie gras over tempura fried shiitakes, to aromatic garnishes such as kumquat-mint marmalade, his dishes rival anything downtown. 778 South Shelmore Boulevard. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday. Saturday dinners.

The Granary 2
The Granary. Photo by Mac Kilduff

THE GRANARY
Chef Brannon Florie goes whole hog in his rustic, intensely farm-to-table venue, bringing bold, masculine cuisine to the Belle Hall area of Mount Pleasant. It’s near impossible to show restraint when diving into his Butcher Plate of rillettes, creamy pâtés, prosciutto, terrines, and house-pickles. Same goes for the truffle pommes frites with smoked tomato ketchup, and the fried Brussels with maple-sherry gastrique. From brunch’s popular duck and waffles, to dinner’s killer smoked pork chop with rutabaga purée and farro, Florie has your cravings covered. (Psst: Lobster Roll Mondays; you’re welcome). 624 Long Point Road. Open for dinner Monay through Saturday. Sunday Brunch.

AYA
Practice makes perfect when lifting delicate soup dumpling with chopsticks and biting open the silky dough to attain the burst of savory pork broth within. But mastering that art is half the fun. At Aya, get your creative Asian fusion comfort food fix in the form of bibimbap with pork belly, bowls of phô or ramen, and steamy pork buns with Korean fried chicken and spicy aioli. Wash it all down with inventive cocktails and well-curated wines. Diner beware: if you start with the hot peppercorn tots or crunchy, creamy shrimp rangoons, better make it a double order because those lil’ nuggets of fun have a way of disappearing like magic. 915 Houston Northcutt Boulevard. Open Monday through Saturday for dinner.

West Ashley

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The Granary. Photo by Mac Kilduff

SWIG AND SWINE
With a considerable roster of smoked meat—everything from turkey to pork belly—a full complement of sauces (tomato-, vinegar-, mustard-, and mayo-based), and killer sides, including hash and rice, beans with brisket, and a baked potato salad that manages to be creamy sans the mayo, Swig & Swine is our go-to when trying to please a crowd. A word of advice: Call dibs on the smoked chicken wings and homemade sausage. Bonus points for the rotating selection of regional craft brews and cocktails featuring local spirits like the Swine Wine, made with Firefly Strawberry Moonshine, Cheerwine, and sparkling wine. 1217 Savannah Highway. Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Pork Rinds
from Chef Anthony DiBernardo of Swig & Swine in Charleston, South Carolina

RED ORCHID
Before there was Aya, there was West Ashley’s beloved Red Orchid, Tony and Kelly Chu’s first endeavor. Local spice cravers in the know have long been taking to the ‘burbs, slipping between Big Lots and Burlington Coat Factory into a magical world inspired by 1920s Singapore. There, spring rolls are cinched into “money bags”, five-spiced lamb chops are dry-wok seared, and the curried Mung bean pasta is entirely sublime. But here’s what you really need to know: Kelly Chu is an ice cream-making marvel. Her ever-evolving, creative flavors include honey bourbon and coffee bacon ice cream, and are also available as “shots.” Says Chu: “It’s decadent. We make very small batches, we use all natural ingredients, and we experiment with different flavors. I’m creating new combinations all the time. My latest flavor is a strawberry-goat cheese. And one of our biggest sellers is bourbon with salted caramel.” Umm. Yum. Red Orchid. 1401 Sam Rittenberg Boulevard. Open seven days a week.

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Holy Chow!