Charleston

The tomato tarte tatin at FIG. // Photo courtesy of FIG
The tomato tarte tatin at FIG. Photo courtesy of FIG

GuidesCharleston

The Resy Guide to the New Classic Dishes of Charleston

By

Charleston for centuries has been an excellent place to eat, but for most of its history, the best meals were presented in private homes. For cheery reasons related to hospitality, and ugly reasons related to labor and race, a restaurant scene long failed to flourish in the city.

This situation started to change in the late 1980s, with Charleston eventually becoming synonymous with dining out: Over the past decade, the city has gained hundreds of restaurants, and picked up every accolade that glossy food magazines are authorized to offer. Restaurant-going is so central to the municipal mindset that when patients call their doctors’ offices, they’re asked if they want to make a reservation.

Yet visitors still gravitate to the dishes they might have been served if they’d gone to their great-aunt’s house for dinner: Almost every tourist is on the hunt for she-crab soup and shrimp-and-grits.

Those dishes are Charleston classics, as are the Gullah specialties sometimes overlooked, such as red rice, okra soup, deviled crab, oyster pilau, and fried shark. There is another set of classics, though, devised during this millennium by professional chefs and produced solely in commercial kitchens.

These New Classics are just as local as their predecessors — note the list includes tomatoes, shrimp, booze, and a tribute to Mama — and certainly as delicious. But they reflect the way Charleston is cooking and eating now. (As for shrimp-and-grits, try VIP Bistro.)

 

Hanna Raskin is a Charleston-based food journalist. She recently concluded an award-winning run at The Post and Courier, and will soon launch The Food Section, a newsletter covering food and drink in the American South. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Resy, too.