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82 Queen

After a bit of a winter hiatus, I’m back, and man, am I starving! I’d like to formally apologize for being unforgivably M.I.A., but after hibernating for the past couple of months I assure you I am hungrier than ever.

South Carolina winters remind me of why I migrated from New York. While my girlfriends up north cover themselves in scarves and hats in preparation for a winter wonderland, I have the luxury of eating outside in January—what is better than that?

(Image taken from 82 Queen Facebook Page)

Any Charleston Foodie, or what I like to call a “Choodie”, is no stranger to 82 Queen. The restaurant’s three buildings can be traced back to 1688, while 82 Queen will be celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. Whether you are looking for a quick drink and an appetizer at the bar, elegant indoor dining, or a quaint outdoor patio, this Charleston hot spot has it all.

If you’re anything like me and frugally “ballin’ on a budget” I recommend opting for lunch rather than dinner.  The lunch menu, which goes from 11:30-3pm Monday-Friday has something for everyone.

As you know by now, if there’s ever the option to sit outside that is where you’ll find me. On this occasion however, I must admit that my primary reason for dining in the courtyard was to gain bragging rights with my folks up north (just kidding… kinda). The courtyard is eloquently enchanting. Trees and plants surround the outdoor area, while the white butterfly chairs offer a playfully whimsical ambiance.

After looking at the menu my stomach was makin’ music and anxiety set in as I realized that I had to choose just one dish for my entree. The minute our server placed a basket of biscuits in the middle of the table I snatched one up like the ex-softball player that I am.

The cheddar cheese and chive biscuits were fresh, warm and mushy in the best way possible. Part of being a southern transplant is to embrace the biscuit – which I have a hard time of doing. Though I often find many to be rather dry these were moist, cheesy, and loaded with flavor.

Initially debating between the roasted turkey and the corned beef, my friend decided on the Corned Beef Sandwich with corned brisket, Gruyere cheese, and apple bourbon mustard on marble rye bread. As seen in the picture above, this was a fatty, which you should expect when you’re paying $13.

The meat was fresh and salty, wonderfully complimented by the richness of the Gruyere. The sweet and spiciness of the apple bourbon mustard is what made it more than just your average sandwich. When I asked for a bite I snuck in another one just to get a second taste of the mustard. It’s amazing what a good condiment can do to a meal.

I’d recently shared my new love for crab cakes with a handful of locals who recommended 82 Queen, so I trusted word-of-mouth and opted for the entree portion ($14).  The lump crab cake was served on a bed of “hashatash” with Tabasco and Beurre Blanc. The “hashatash” was a dish in itself. Corn, onions, lima beans, diced potatoes and bacon seasoned with Tabasco was salty and savory. The bacon flavor was strong but not overpowering. The Beurre Blanc sauce was creamy and subtle.

The crab cake…gulp… was the single best crab cake I have ever tasted. Unlike many places that overcomplicate them with too many add-ins, 82 Queen offers a meaty, delicate, and perfectly crunchy crab cake*. Made with homegrown ingredients, the flavor of the crab was able to shine despite the strong flavor of the “hashatash”. To say I cleaned my plate is an understatement, but I assure you I wolfed it down like a lady.

Go to 82 Queen and I guarantee you won’t regret it. Don’t forget that it is Charleston Restaurant Week now until January 22nd. Click here to see their 3 for $30 menu. Although the set-menu doesn’t offer the crab cakes I’m sure you will find something enjoyable.

Now excuse me for a moment while I wipe the drool off my keyboard…

*82 Queen offers recipes for their Crab Cakes, She Crab Soup, BBQ Shrimp and Grits and more right on their website. If you are brave enough to try a recipe out in the comfort of your kitchen, please let me know how it goes!

Leaf

Picture Courtesy of The Concierge of Charleston

Tucked away on the corner of Beaufain Street, when you walk into Leaf Café & Bar, expect the unexpected. The all-wood bar offered a sexy atmosphere with a comforting simplistic charm. My first choice of seating would have been the outdoor patio, but on this rainy evening we opted for the back dining room. As the weather continued to get colder I could not help but crave warm and homey comfort food—and that is exactly what Leaf has to offer.

The Chicken Tortilla Soup (soup of the day) was light and spicy. Each spoonful offered a tasty bite of well-spiced roasted chicken, tomatillo, red pepper, a hint of cinnamon, and an appropriate crunch added by the tortilla strips. Don’t let the picture fool you; the soup was smooth and flavorful.

I surprised myself a bit when I decided on Shepard’s Pie as a starter. Though it’s not a plate I am very familiar with I am tremendously happy I ordered it! The warm qualities of the pie are exactly what attracted me to the dish. The Guinness-based gravy was accompanied by ground beef, carrots, corn, and onion, all topped with cheese, creamy demi-glace truffle potatoes, and scallions. Hearty and savory, the pie was more of a meal than a starter.

For round three, we shared the absolutely gigantic leaf burger with 2 layers of Angus beef, vine ripe tomato, red onion, lettuce, pickles, bacon and crumbled blue cheese. I think the picture speaks for itself—the burger was phenomenal.  With all of the toppings I could have gone without the second patty, but other than that I have no complaints; it was exactly the culinary coziness I was looking for.

Perfect for a date night, girl’s night out or even just to stop for a quick a drink and appetizer, Leaf does not disappoint. Don’t forget to check out their lunch menu for sandwiches, burgers and entrees all $12 or less!

"Leaf

Taste of Charleston

Admittedly nearly three weeks late, I was hesitant to even post this overdue entry. Having said that, I simply refuse to continue this blog without a mention of the foodie-fantasy-turned-reality that is Taste of Charleston. After a weekend in New York stuffing myself with enough carbs to feed the entire city, I got off the plane, hopped in the car, drove straight to Boone Hall Plantation and found myself in food & bev paradise.

The $20 entry ticket caused most of my friends to run from checking out this event, however, I strongly recommend coughing up the bucks people! It’s a small price to pay for a day filled with live music, wine/beer and a chance to sample some of the best dishes Charleston County has to offer. With more than 40 restaurants and an entire tent dedicated to beer tasting, you literally cannot go wrong my friends.

Though I didn’t get pictures of everything, here is a taste of what we tried…

Ironically the worst picture of the day was my favorite dish. The Seared Tuna Sashimi from Eurasia came with spicy aioli,  tuna tartare,  mango & cucumber served on a Thai ginger rice salad. It was light, very fresh and a hint of extra hot sauce gave the plate a wonderful kick. (Foodgasm) 

Lowcountry Crab Cake with Mixed Greens and an Apple Bacon Remoulade from 82 Queen was crunchy, sweet and salty goodness all in one bite. I’ve heard enough about 82 Queen’s crab cakes and I promise you they did not disappoint.

The Fat Hen served pork confit over truffled apple fennel grits with a dollop of slow-roasted tomatoes. Not being a huge pork person, I hesitantly took a taste and you could probably sense my excitement from across the plantation. The dish was so flavorful without even needing to be drenched in sauce.

Halls Chophouse served brisket sandwiches with peperjack creamed corn (Great, now I’m drooling). The tangy and tender beef was served on a soft, fresh bun that absorbed the brisket sauce and created comfort in every bite.

If one booth dropped the ball, I would have to say it was Boone Hall Plantation (ironically, the host of the event!). Surprisingly served cold, the shrimp were bland and the vegetables were desperate for some spice.

With a belly full of delicious local tastings and a slight drizzle of rain, we ventured into the beer tent. Yes, a beer tent—an entire tent filled with beer people! We got a small glass, just larger than a shot glass, and off we went to taste anything from local brews, fall blends, as well as your favorite go-to’s.

Though it was nearly impossible to leave the awesomeness that is Taste of Charleston, when the drizzle turned into more of a downpour, we decide to head home… I am already excited for next year!

Wanting to enjoy the last few days of warm weather, I rallied to Rita’s on Folly Beach for discounted cocktails and a delicious brunch menu. There is something very laid back about Rita’s–it’s the remarkably average service and “right-by-the-beach” vibe that makes you want to kick back and pig out the minute you sit down in their outdoor patio.

Starting with a much-anticipated Bloody Mary, our server dropped off a jumbo glass of vodka on ice, which I promptly escorted to the “make your own” bar. The offerings were nothing earth shattering, however, line up some Zing-Zang, lemons, limes, olives, and celery and I’m good to go. With an extra scoop of horseradish and a hit of tobasco that breakfast cocktail is down the hatch.


My usual go-to is something off the brunch menu, but on this particular day I pretended to be healthy and decided on the Tortilla and Cilantro Crusted Yellowfin tuna salad with spinach, shredded cabbage, carrots, scallions, black beans, and tomatoes in a ginger dressing.

I have never been a huge fan of the cilantro after my friend compared the flavor to sweaty socks,  so I took my first bite with caution.  I was pleased that despite the vibrant green crust, the flavors were subtle and paired well with the sweet ginger dressing.

My mom, who was visiting for the weekend, chose the Grouper Sandwich with house made chipotle mayo. According to Mama Dukes the fish was flakey and moist—essentially exactly what you’d hope for in a good fish sandwich. The side of fries were marvelously seasoned; extra pepper added a bit of heat and was well balanced by the coolness of the coleslaw.

My boyfriend went with the Fried Chicken Biscuit off the brunch menu, and per our servers recommendation added cheddar cheese and bacon. A nice and hearty meal, Ryan loved it, although I found nothing special about the flavorless and overly breaded sandwich. The biscuit was soft and salty, however, the chicken tasted no different than a frozen Tyson cutlet. Trust me people, the pictures makes this dish look way better than it was—and the picture isn’t all that great.

All in all, Rita’s is a great Folly lunch/brunch spot with an inviting beach attitude. Don’t forget to bring your dog if you’re dining outside (and why wouldn’t you!), call in beforehand for their live music schedule and check outside the front entrance for weekly specials.

<a href="http://“><a href=”“><a href=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/61/1476141/restaurant/Charleston/Ritas-Seaside-Grille-Folly-Beach”><img alt=”Rita’s Seaside Grille on Urbanspoon” src=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/link/1476141/minilink.gif&#8221; style=”border:none;width:130px;height:36px” /></a>

Restaurant Week had arrived and I was as excited as Charlie Sheen at The Bunny Ranch! After a thorough review of every single menu, I decided on the Forbes Four Star and AAA Four Diamond rated restaurant, Circa 1886. $30 for three courses at one of Charleston’s finest restaurants, and an excuse to wear a cute dress—who in their right mind would say no to that!?

Executive Chef, Marc Collins (pilot turned culinary mastermind) started the meal off with a small tasting of lobster bisque with scallops. The soup was a tad salty, however, the dish was smooth and offered a great texture with a hint of scallop in every bite.

For our first course, I went with the baby mustard greens salad with sundried strawberries, goat cheese yogurt, lemon avocado oil and bliss 9 vinegar. The ingredients were fresh, light and a great start to my meal. My date started with spicy grilled shrimp over a fried green tomato, fennel infused chow-chow, and tomato coulis.  The seafood was mildly spiced showcasing the freshness of the shrimp, which rested upon a lightly coated fried tomato.

I went for the Blackened Loup de Mer (fancy French word for Sea Bass) with watermelon & feta, baby spinach, caramelized onion puree, and quinoa with an avocado puree. The fish was delicate, moist and barely blackened allowing the strong flavors of all the ingredients play off each other without being overpowering. The quinoa and avocado were elegant and complex—a seamless addition to the entreé.

My (very handsome) date went with the Grass fed Beef Tenderloin with Anson Mills grits, mushroom “sausage”, poached egg, and arugula in a maple whiskey reduction—or what I like to call “Steak and Eggs” Charleston fine-dining style. Cooked flawlessly, the meat was tender, with a crisp and caramelized crust. Even the most dedicated carnivore would have had a difficult time differentiating the mushroom sausage from the real deal. The grits and eggs were a creamy and buttery compliment to the tenderloin.

Dessert was on its way and despite my ever-expanding food baby, I rallied for a cheese and fruit, as I watched my date demolish his crème brulee. The selection of soft and semi-hard wedges along with a strong bitter blue cheese paired with the sweetness of the fruit platter made for a savory finale. The caramelized crust of the crème brulee cracked gracefully over creamy custard for a rich and sweet dessert.

Restaurant Week Tip: Unfortunately, with this being my first year in Chucktown I did not believe the hype that reservations were an essential part of partaking in the glorious tradition that is Charleston Restaurant Week.  For January be sure to check out Charleston Food Associations website so you can plan ahead!

"Circa

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’d like to start with this….

Another excursion over the Ravenel Bridge led me to Shem Creek Bar and Grill. As you can tell, there isn’t much to complain about when you’re sipping on discounted drinks and watching dolphins swim by during one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.

The set up of the restaurant is perfect no matter what you’re looking for. The actual restaurant has indoor dining with windows overlooking the creek, a large outdoor deck and then, my favorite spot, a wooden walkway that leads to an outdoor bar that opens promptly at 4pm for happy hour.

The bar menu offers a variety of beer and cocktails like margaritas, mojitos and other classic mixed drinks. I wouldn’t even write about the dining experience but this just so happens to be a food blog so I suppose it is slightly important for me to mention the fact that we may have eaten a thing or two. If you go there, which you should, I highly suggest you stick with a liquid meal.

Being right on the water, our group did not hesitate to order a couple of seafood dishes for everyone to split. The first spoonful of the She Crab Soup was a little too thick for my liking and not much to write home about. Naturally, I needed to try again to confirm that my taste buds didn’t change within the 3 seconds it took me to swallow and re-scoop. This time, I bit right into a shell. (Check please!)

The Oyster Shooters were… different. The “recipe” is basic enough; a shot glass filled with beer, Tabasco and an oyster. Marinate on that for a minute people. All in all, the concept is interesting but in the end the combination was just wrong. Each ingredient stuck out so stubbornly that there was little to no cohesion in the dish’s flavor.

Now that this blog is beginning to sound more like a roast than a review, let’s move on to the positives! The shrimp cocktail—which I had been craving for weeks—came with well-sized, fresh shrimp served with a yummy cocktail sauce  (the more horseradish the better, baby).  Success!

If there is one takeaway from reading this particular entry, remember this: location, location, location! Hands down, it is one of my favorite new happy hour spots and the perfect place to kick back and relax after a long day of work. Happy Hour is Monday thru Friday from 4pm-7pm. $2 off ALL liquor drinks and $1 off beer.

Quick Tip: Skip the restaurant menu and pick from the “Bar Bites” menu for cheap dishes ($5 or less) during Happy Hour.

"Shem

I am a natural born pizza snob and proud of it. I think it comes with the territory of being a New Yorker (don’t hate, I’m the first to admit it) so when I think about ordering take-out that means one of two things; pizza or Chinese food. Per a neighbor’s recommendation, I decided to try out D’Allesandro’s, and this will not be the last time I ask her for suggestions!

I opted for the classic Margherita pizza and in attempt to bring some greens into my meal—I hear vegetables are healthy or something—I ordered a Caprese salad. Simply put, anything with tomato, basil & fresh mozz (TBM) is what really gets my taste buds going—add a little olive oil and I am officially in my element.

Caprese Salad: Spinach, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil ($4.95)

The Caprese Salad was fresh and lite. The TBM trio of lusciousness lay on a bed of spinach, and was served with an olive oil/balsamic dressing. For less than $5, D’Allesandro’s nailed it. The portion was large and well worth the extra dough.

While this salad was successful with it’s simplicity, there are certain requirements that must be met in order for a Caprese salad to be successful:

  1. Thinly sliced vine ripe tomatoes
  2. Firm, chunky slices of cows-milk fresh mozzarella
  3. Fresh, radiant green basil
  4. EVOO
  5. Sprinkled balsamic reduction or vinegar is an added bonus
  6. Pinch of salt and pepper

Margherita: Red sauce, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil (16” for $16)

Despite the cult following of Charleston’s beloved “New York style pizza” at Andolini’s, their overly greasy and flavorless crust does not fool me. D’Allesandro’s hand-tossed pizza Margherita pie included a generous but not overwhelming base of zesty tomato sauce, chunky pockets of firm melted mozzarella, and ultra-thin slices of tomatoes, all sprinkled with fresh basil. The crust was pleasantly crunchy, nicely salted, with a crispy burnt taste in every bite.

$ Saving Tip: Next time you call into D’Allesandro’s don’t forget to mention one of the three free coupons from their online menu for free garlic bread, a 2 liter of soda or $2 off your next order

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