Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

Restaurants

Holly’s recommended restaurants, reviews.

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Sunday, Savory Sunday (and Sweet, Too!)

Indaco Adds Sunday Brunch to Tasty “Dixie-talian” Menu

The burgeoning bunch of downtown Charleston restaurants serving brunch, especially on smokin’ hot Upper King Street, just got one restaurant bigger, and in my opinion, that much better. Indaco, popular for its sexy, sophisticated bar and dinner scene, added brunch to its menu line-up and kicked off last Sunday with a whopping 120 covers on the very first day.

The menu, co-created by Executive Chef Michael Perez and newly promoted Chef de Cuisine Andy McLeod, stays true to the restaurant’s self-described Dixie-talian roots, or as McLeod aptly describes it, “a broad use of local ingredients with an Italian spin.” Not surprisingly, the menu weaves a series of pizzas (both sweet and savory) from their celebrated wood-burning oven, egg sandwiches, pasta, and classic Italian “primi” courses such as an exquisite sounding Bombolini made with a Meyer lemon marmalata and lemon crema, smoked pork rilettes, and a prosciutto plate with Honey Crisp apples, honey and Parmesan cheese.

Here are some of my favorites:

Light and luscious, "Milk and Honey" showcases Indaco's impossibly creamy and smooth housemade whipped ricotta and crunchy granola with sweet, garden-fresh fruit. A bit of honey sweetens the deal to Sunday morning perfection.

Light and luscious, “Milk and Honey” showcases Indaco’s impossibly creamy and smooth housemade whipped ricotta and crunchy granola with sweet, garden-fresh fruit. A bit of honey sweetens the deal to Sunday morning perfection.

Nutella lovers will revel in the warm stuff drizzled over caramelized bananas and toasted nuts on Indaco's impeccable pizza crust.

Nutella lovers will revel in the warm stuff drizzled over caramelized bananas and toasted nuts on Indaco’s impeccable pizza crust.

Save room for the pasta, whatever you do. The Mezzaluna is a riff on shrimp and grits, with the tenderest housemade noodles prepared with corn/pasta flour, grouper sausage, and Shem Creek harvested shrimp swimming in a ham stock broth. Exquisite!

Save room for the pasta!The Mezzaluna is a riff on shrimp and grits, with the tenderest housemade noodles prepared with corn/pasta flour, grouper sausage, and Shem Creek harvested shrimp swimming in a ham stock broth. Exquisite!

While sophisticated, the space is also children-friendly, particularly the large, outdoor patio. Management anticipates adding live music to the entertainment mix in the coming weeks, once the brunch crowd has settled in. Bottomless Bellinis prepared with peach, a splash of pomegranate and Prosecco or a Mark it 8, Dude adult beverage featuring a blend of vodka, Borghetti, a cereal infused cream (last week it was cinnamon crunch!) and a pinch of cinnamon, will certainly suit Charleston’s vast apres church, libation-imbibing crowd.

Reservations recommended.

Indaco

526 King Street, downtown Charleston, 29403

843-727-1228

indacocharleston.com

Sunday brunch hours – 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

 

 

 

 

 

The Year of Dining Casually

2014 – Charleston’s Year of Low Cost Deliciousness

Most of last year Charleston was showered with a small storm of low cost, casual eateries many of them sprouting up along Upper King Street, and to a lesser extent, downtown, and points west and east. Perhaps it’s because these little guys now outnumber the big, formal, high price point guys by a lot, that I found myself drawn to them more than any other category of restaurant in the past twelve months. Memories of a butter tender, ultra fresh zucchini blossom, lightly breaded and filled with lemon-seasoned ricotta one spring evening at Indaco compete with the recall clamor of a delectable milk poached pork loin at the utterly adorable and French Chez Nous. But, to follow is a list of the places that were so spectacular and relaxed that I found myself returning again and again.

La Tabella Italian Grill

I know it’s not sexy and it’s not hip and I’m certain you’ll never read about this in any national magazine about Charleston’s smoking hot food scene.  To those in the know (and that’s largely a James Island-based clan), they’re onto the gutsy, Italian American goodness you can find here – lunch and dinner. I’m almost hesitant to give this preferred secret destination away, but the staff here deserves high praise. A glorious, three-meat, slightly sweet, slightly acidic Bolegnese wraps its way into every bite of the ultra cheese lasagna that comes with an oregano-smacked house-made vinaigrette and a crunchy, cold house salad. The service staff practically sings with affability and good service.

Amen Street 

This place is sexy – and sleek. Fantastic oysters with clean, bright sauces are shucked at the bar and the fried local fish platter is another local secret. If you get bored (and you won’t) check out the oyster chandeliers that adorn the high ceilings.

Brasserie Gigi

Exquisite calamari graces Brasserie Gigi's happy hour menu.

Like Chez Nous, Brasserie Gigi gave Charleston a warm gustatory Gallic hug this year with authentic, casual brasserie fare. Where Chez Nous feels more like a gem you might find in a small French village, Gigi feels more like Paris. Though Executive Chef Frank McMahon is Irish, his training is classical French and I contend he’s one of Charleston’s best. You can especially taste it in his rendition of calamari – light, airy, tender and served with a fluffy saffron aioli. For reasons I cannot understand, it’s only served on the Happy Hour menu, Saturday through Sunday, 4 to 7 p.m.

Artisan Meat Share

Craig Deihl’s spent years behind the scenes at Cypress mastering the complex crafts of curing, smoking, charcuterie and pate and this year he proudly brought it to the fore at a a brand new store front that carries it all, and puts some of it on fresh bread adorned with gorgeous condiments to produce some of the best sandwiches around. I love the Italian and the the minty pea salad.

HHARTISANMEAT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leon’s Oyster Shop

It’s hard to resist the ease of the drive away from the bustle of downtown’s increasingly congested traffic and the ease of parking at this hot spot at the corner of King and I Streets. More than any other restaurant around, this has been my reliable destination whenever I need a slice of urban sophistication, relaxed neighborhood feel-good service, and some fryer fresh, crunchy, fried chicken. Broiled oysters and all salads, especially the stacked iceberg lettuce with lip-smacking buttermilk dressing never disappoint. Come hungry and finish it off with a soft serve ice cream and a confetti of colorful sprinkles.

For fantastic, casual dining at reasonable prices, also consider these personal favorites from 2014 and likely for years to come:

Heart Woodfire Kitchen

Hom

The Obstinate Daughter,

Crust Woodfire Pizza

Swig and Swine BBQ

Boxcar Betty

Wishing you all a wonderful, healthy, happy and delicious 2015!

Holly

Charleston’s Great Fried Chicken Sandwich Debate

Boxcar Betty’s Fried Chicken Sandwiches vs. Chick-fil-A

Initially, it may not seem fair to draw parallels between seven month-old newcomer Boxcar Betty’s and beloved southern fried chicken sandwich and decades-old restaurant chain, Chick-fil-A. However, both restaurants’ staples are fried chicken sandwiches, Boxcar Betty’s is located just a few blocks away from one of Chick-fil-A’s restaurants on Savannah Highway, and both draw legions of dedicated fans, particularly during their mutually packed midday lunch services. And, as Boxcar Betty’s co-owner Ian MacBryde told me, he and business partner Roth Scott built their business model on Chick-fil-A’s “excellent service” (and Five Guy’s and Chipotle’s specialized menus).

Early out of the gate, Boxcar Betty’s is displaying serious pluck with chicken breasts that spend no more than 24 hours in an (undisclosed) brine blend that renders them impossibly tender and flavorful before they even hit the fryer. Sourced from a free range, hormone and antibiotic free, SC-based chicken farm, they’re already off to a running start. Battered and fried to order and served on daily, morning bread deliveries from local bakery Pane Di Vita, they’re hitting them out of the park. Add on styling, sassy and well-paired house-made condiments like pimiento cheese, bacon jam, maple bacon, and pickled green tomatoes, they’re hoisting the unmatched fried chicken sandwiches prize – for prices dangerously close to their relatively mass-produced colleagues down the street (most around or under $7).

Boxcar Betty's "Buffalo" fried chicken sandwich has enough girth to cloy temptingly to the crevices of the sizzling hot chicken, but enough sauciness to beg for ample napkins and enough heat to cry out for more sweet tea - both readily available here.

Boxcar Betty’s “Buffalo” fried chicken sandwich has enough girth to cloy temptingly to the crevices of the sizzling hot chicken, but enough sauciness to beg for ample napkins and enough heat to cry out for more sweet tea – both readily available here.

In addition to the sandwiches, BB’s offers an imaginative array of salads (especially the impressive Chopped Fried Chicken Salad topped with a series of inventive yet appropriate finishes, and lightly cloaked in a pert Agave buttermilk dressing) and awesome stuffed mushroom caps.

Oh, and they’re open on Sundays.

Boxcar Betty’s Fried Chicken Sandwiches

1922 Savannah Highway

Charleston, SC 29405

843-225-7470

Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. (Note: Evening hours planned to stretch to 9 p.m. after the New Year in 2015).  Website: www.boxcarbetty.com

 

PS – Remember to look for my new website design coming soon – with updated fonts, layout and photography.

Happy holidays!

 

Francophile Alert!

A very authentic taste of France has arrived in Charleston. Chez Nous is authentic, charming and delicious. And, she joins a gaggle of tasty new French enterprises in town.

A recent sampling from Chez Nous' menu, which changes daily - swordfish in a tomato, garlic and saffron sauce with fresh min.

A recent sampling from Chez Nous’ menu, which changes daily – swordfish in a tomato, garlic and saffron sauce with fresh mint.

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

For the Love of Leon’s

I’ve got it BAD for this new oyster and poultry destination on Charleston’s increasingly
“upper” Upper King Street.

Here’s a picture of the fried chicken:

Leon's fried chicken comes out of the fryer smokin' hot and very spicy.

Leon’s fried chicken comes out of the fryer smokin’ hot and very spicy.

 

Please remember to pick up a copy of my latest cookbook release, The French Cook – Soups and Stews (Gibbs Smith, Sept. 1, 2014).  I’m happy to send signed book plates to anyone who asks for one to afix to their new book!

 

As always, bon appetit!

The French Cook-Soups and Stews

The French Cook – Soups & Stews

 

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