Localism Meets Tourism in Charleston, IOP, and Sullivan's Island

The South Carolina coast was one of the last places I expected to fall in love with. As a southern girl, the gulf coast beaches are my summer religion. Its crystalline blue waters, powder-fine sands, sweltering heat, and AC-raging condos have been as much a part of my life as my family.

When I got married, I was introduced to a new (to me) family beach house, just outside of Charleston, SC. While I immediately fell in love with the place, I was skeptical of the beaches. I wasn't sure how I felt about the firm, taupe-colored sand. The water wasn't bright blue like down on the gulf, and often times there were too many jelly fish to even swim in the ocean, a huge disappointment to a girl who spent every summer of her life as a veritable mermaid, getting tossed around gulf-coast waves for hours at a time.

Spoiler alert: I got over it.

The more time I spent on the southern-east coast, the more I grew to love its quirks, it's local traditions, and I even fell in love with the beaches. This year, since I can do my work from anywhere with a WiFi signal, I've been spending a lot of time down there. And by "spending a lot of time" I mean "eating all the food" and "doing all the things."

I'm still collecting favorites, because as you probably know, the food scene in Charleston is vast and outstanding. These are a few of my go-to's, however, with a few spots that are burning holes in my "Must Try" list.

A view from the balcony of the beach house. It's my heaven.

A view from the balcony of the beach house. It's my heaven.

When in Charleston...

hominy grill breakfast

Breakfast at Hominy Grill

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner--everything on the menu looks amazing. We went for breakfast, however, and I can assure you that the sausage gravy is spot on. I recommend the Charleston Nasty Biscuit if you're feeling crazy, though I don't think you can go wrong with anything.

Biscuits at Callie's Hot Little Biscuit

My personal favorite? The cheddar biscuit. But sweet or savory, these hearty little biscuits will not disappoint.

Dinner at Magnolia

I'd like to warn you that these portions are not for the faint of heart. I went to Magnolia for dinner and enjoyed everything on the table, including boiled peanut hummus and catfish. 

Cocktails and oysters at The Ordinary

This is one of my all-time favorite bars...ever. The interior is gorgeous, it's set in an old bank, the kitchen is in the vault, and the food and cocktails are pristine. Do not miss a chance to visit this place next time you're in town. 

Drinks at The Bar at Husk

Dimly lit and serving inventive cocktails, The Bar at Husk is exactly how I like my haunts.

Tacos and margs at Minero

Sean Brock, chef and main main from Husk and McCrady's, is behind this cute and cozy spot in downtown Charleston. It's been a couple of years since we ate there, but it was all great food and tasty cocktails--everything a girl needs from her local Mexican joint.

Dinner at Edmund's Oast

edmund's oast charleston

As I get older, I'm very grumpy about bad acoustics in restaurants. Especially if I'm with a large group. I like to take advantage of my dinner's out to have meaningful conversations with friends and family. No one is pulling out there cell phone. Everyone is present. So if I had anything less-than-perfect to report about EO, it would be: bad acoustics. It's a bit difficult to hear the people across the table, especially if it's somewhat crowded. 

That said, the food was very good and the cocktails were interesting, too. The cheese and charcuterie plate was all-star. We tried several Thai-influenced dishes that were spot on. Edmund's Oast is also brewery (which maybe accounts for some of the bad acoustics--beer halls are always loud), so do try the beers. Our server was kind, attentive, and informative. Overall it was great. Maybe just don't plan to have a heart-to-heart, unless you're sharing the same side of the booth.

Xiao Bao Biscuit

A while back, Bon Appétit gave them a thumb's up, so I've been eyeballing the spot for about a year now. Finally, we made the trip, and it was everything and more. The space looks to be an old gas station, as the outdoor seating is where one would have rolled up to pumps many years ago. There were lush green plants set against white-washed walls. Doors and picnic tables were painted mint and teal. The music was great, the vibe was spot on, and the food was outstanding. Oh, and the cocktails, too. I loved everything about this place.

Lunch at Butcher & Bee

The first time I went to B&B, it was a simple sandwich joint, and I ate a delicious, not-so-simple sandwich, and we ate at a long communal table. Now it's a full-blown resto, and apparently the improvement in location, decor, and menu is working great for them. The menu is quite extensive and from what I've heard, it's very good.

A drink at Cannon Green 

The decor at Cannon Green is breathtaking. It's airy and open and feels expansive and inviting all at once. We had a very polite serving of chips & guac. The tacos looked pretty good, too. And while our bartender had less personality than the velvet chartreuse chairs, he made some damn good cocktails.

And in non-food related suggestions, take a boat tour of Charleston Harbor. We went for the Ghost & Pirate Harbor Tour. It wasn't particularly spooky, but I love learning local history and we were on a boat on a beautiful night with an ice-cool beer. Pop into the Charleston Market, because you need to at least once to see what it's all about.

Local Love on IOP

We spend the majority of our time on Isle of Palms, and have made several traditions between here and neighboring Sullivan's Island.

Breakfast at Sea Biscuit Cafe. Everything is amazing, but the sausage gravy and biscuits are supreme.

ACME Lowcountry Kitchen. This place can get quite busy on Friday and Saturday nights depending on the time of year, so I recommend going on a weeknight. Their shrimp dishes are kind of the highlight of the menu, but they source fresh local fish. Try the pimento cheese grits!

I warned you. The nachos at Banana Cabana.

I warned you. The nachos at Banana Cabana.

Frozen Drinks and nachos at Banana Cabana. This is a must every time we go to IOP. I prefer the Strawberry Cabana frozie (with whipped cream & a cherry on top!), but the menu is vast, so take your pick.

This picture was taken on Sullivan's Island, when we biked from the main drag on IOP all the way across Sullivan's.

This picture was taken on Sullivan's Island, when we biked from the main drag on IOP all the way across Sullivan's.

If you're renting a place on the island, visit Simmon's Seafood for fresh local catch or the New York Butcher Shoppe for high-quality meats and pre-prepared meals.

Rent bikes in the center of town. Perfect for biking along the beach or make your way down Ocean Blvd. on IOP and over the bridge to Sullivan's Island.

New Charm on Sullivan's Island

We biked to the end of Sullivan's Island to take in the scenery and the history

We biked to the end of Sullivan's Island to take in the scenery and the history

BBQ at Home Team. Get a Game Changer. I recommend the brisket, the mac n' cheese, and the baked beans, but everything is great.

That's a game changer.

That's a game changer.

Extra-large pies & homemade ice cream at The 450 Pizza Joint. They claim to be a New York-style pizza place. I was skeptical. I'll be the judge of that, I thought. It's awesome. The pizza is great and their homemade ice cream is the perfect finish.

The Obstinate Daughter. From a fresh peach and prosciutto appetizer to a foie gras–filled cappelletti in truffle butter with chives, The O/D serves some of the best food outside of Charleston proper. Make a reservation ahead of time, though, because this place isn't slowing down anytime soon.

There are several other spots like Poe's Tavern, Mex 1, Beardcat's, and others, which you can explore on Middle Street, the main strip.

EXTRA, EXTRA!

+ Just over in Mount Pleasant, we get our butts kicked at HYLO Fitness, a mixture of HIIT and Barre/Balance classes.

+ Word is that The Granary serves stellar brunch.