By: Nicole Ameduri (Licensing Manager, Springer Nature)
This article is originally from Against the Grain v34#5
Nicole Ameduri, Springer Nature Licensing Manager, loves eating her way through conferences. Through some random twist of fate or luck, she ended up with a number of chefs, restaurant managers, famous sommeliers and food writers in her close circle of friends. They have steered her in the right direction for every destination on her calendar.
Nicole’s Picks — Restaurants
#1. Gabrielle: Gabrielle is located in the newish Hotel Bennett. It’s the only restaurant to open onto Marion Square where they offer outdoor dining with a view of Charleston’s famed church steeple skyline.
The dining areas, indoor and out, are spacious and classically decorated. The tables are covered in white tablecloths. There is a bedazzled fishnet overhead made with real crystals. My husband loved it. Me, not so much. I am a purist after all.
The menu is upscale, merging French and Southern sensibilities. It centers around the bounty of Coastal Carolina. Keep in mind that the fish come a la carte, so you have to choose and order your sides. My husband ordered the mushroom bisque and the shrimp & grits with caramelized onion, lamb merguez sausage and Marsh Hen Mill grits. His first meal in Charleston on each trip is always shrimp and grits. He figures, when in South Carolina… The mushroom bisque was smooth and milky. I ordered a salad with cherries. It sounds weird but, it was really wonderful. Nothing about it tasted boozy and everything was very simple and crisp. For my entrée, I ordered the seared scallops with squash puree, brown butter vinaigrette and citrus crust. They were absolutely perfect. For dessert we shared the cheesecake with raspberry sauce. The cake was more the consistency of a fluffy sponge cake than of cheesecake, but, it was delicious. The pastry chef, Remy Fünfrock, used to work at DANIEL here in NYC, so it wasn’t our first time enjoying his creations.
Address: 404 King Street, Charleston, SC 29403
#2. Royal Tern: “As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” — Ernest Hemingway
The above quote is on the menus. This is my favorite restaurant in the Charleston area. The décor and food are what I look for in a restaurant; beautiful, rustic and open space with perfectly prepared hearty food with texture. I don’t love fancy, delicate food.
The Royal Tern is a seafood restaurant located on Maybank Highway’s restaurant row on John’s Island. Its interior is spacious, effortlessly stylish, light and airy. Flickering lanterns hang from the rafters. There is an open kitchen so you can watch the food preparation and everyone knows open kitchen equals clean kitchen. The restaurant itself is built into a patch of lush forest. The space is gorgeous.
I like the simplicity of the menu, which is predominantly upscale seafood. It’s more upscale than other seafood restaurants in the area. It’s not casual like the Fat Hen, which I also love for different reasons. There is a strong focus on the wood fire grill. The kitchen sources locally as much as possible from farms such as Ambrose, Joseph Fields and Spade & Clover Gardens. The menu does include ubiquitous low-country favorites such as she-crab soup and shrimp & grits. It also features options such as tuna poke, swordfish and a variety of oysters. There’s even a seafood tower. Not into seafood? There are steak, pasta and sandwich options. The Executive Chef, David Pell, was educated at Ecole Gregoire-Ferrandi. You may remember him from Coast.
Here are my menu favorites: hush puppies, beet salad, potted shrimp, yellow fin tuna, halibut, pecan pie and crème brulee. They have the best hush puppies around. They are moist and not too salty. The potted shrimp was delicate and buttery. The fish comes perfectly cooked. Crème brulee is not usually my favorite dessert but here they serve it with grapes on top. It is a delicious combination. Grapes are so underappreciated. They are great on salads and desserts. (Think of a salad with butter lettuce, grapes, apples, almonds, white cheddar and white balsamic vinaigrette.) You’ll have to trust me and try it.
The Royal Tern is open Monday through Saturday. The bar opens at 4 and the dining room opens at 5. The bar area is first-come, first serve and is buzzing by 5.
Address: 3005 Maybank Hwy, Johns Island, SC 29455
#3. Sorghum & Salt: VEGAN OPTION The space has a cool vibe with warm lighting. It has an urban farmhouse feel with industrial style shelves. Its rough-hewn aesthetic surrounds the dining area with weathered floorboards and doors whose patinas bear witness to their mercantile roots.
When our waitress greeted us, she asked us for any food allergies and took notes. On this particular occasion, I happened to be dining with one of my favorite librarians who, like me, also has a million food allergies, many of which we share. The waitress then took our paper menus away with her. When she returned, each of our menus had been marked up with red x’s and black check marks, so it was clear what we could and couldn’t order. I was impressed with this hugely thoughtful gesture. Did I mention that they have an entire vegan menu?
We shared the vertical roots wedge. It was so pretty and delicious. I loved the textures. This dish is vegan and is made with maple tahini aioli, pistachios, bbq breadcrumbs, herbs and flowers. My dining companion had the vegan carrot pasta which was fantastic. (Of course I tasted it.) It was made with carrot butter, pistachio gremolata and breadcrumbs. I had the market fish, which was the flounder. It was made with charred cabbage and yogurt. It was delicious. For dessert, we ordered two of the vegan white chocolate mousses. The dessert comes in the shape of a corn husk. It’s accompanied by sorghum, satsuma, popcorn powder, pistachio and what looks like popcorn. However, I’m pretty sure the “popcorn” was actually popped sorghum. The dishes at Sorghum & Salt remind me of Yotam Ottolenghi dishes. Each one has an unexpected and unique ingredient.
The dishes are farm/sea to table. They source from local farms: Keegan-Filion Farm, Border Springs Farm, Grow Food Carolina, Palmetto Pork House and Spade & Clover Gardens. They offer a chef’s tasting menu of 4 courses for $55 or 6 courses for $75. They also offer wine pairings if you’re interested for an additional $35 for 4 courses and $50 for 6 courses.
Address: 186 Coming Street, Charleston, SC 29401
#4. Three Little Birds Cafe: BUDGET OPTION My biggest non-food find on this trip, aside from The Tiny Tassel, was the West Ashley Greenway. It’s a 7.8 mile trail that runs from South Windermere Center out to Johns Island. I saw dolphins frolicking there on my birthday run. (Well played God.)
I don’t typically dine at malls or shopping plazas, anywhere near a parking lot, etc. However, Three Little Birds Café has its own freestanding indoor and outdoor space and they’ve made the venue look really cool. Besides, after a long run, we were hungry. It’s located in South Windermere Center at the start of the West Ashley Greenway.
They open at 8 AM and have a number of gluten free options available. They serve vegan cheese and gluten free bread as well as the standard versions. They have a number of smoothies on the menu. I ordered the green parrot, which is made with bananas, avocado, honey, cinnamon and milk. It was so perfect after a run. My husband ordered the green juice, which is made with spinach, kale, celery, apples and cucumbers. Mine sounds better doesn’t it? For my entrée I had the black bean benedict which was scrumptious and only $9.95. My husband had the stuffed challah French toast with peanut butter, honey and banana, which cost $10.95.
Three Little Birds Café is a great bang for your buck.
Address: 65 Windermere Boulevard, Charleston, SC 29407