It’s curious that I grew up in the South and went to college in South Carolina but never visited Charleston until a few years ago when our family spent one short touristy day there book-ending our visit with breakfast at Hominy Grill (we still have the tee-shirt and good memories to prove it) and dinner at the famous High Cotton.
My real intro to this great food town was a couple of weeks ago. Along with several other cookbook authors, I was invited to participate at the Charleston Food and Wine Festival. What a good deal. An hour’s worth of work bought me a jam-packed weekend’s worth of really outstanding food.
Of the many dishes I sampled at the Oak Steakhouse, I still carry the memory of Jeremiah Bacon‘s Deep-Fried Lobster with Citrus Buerre Blanc. I aim to replicate it one day.
Husk was next. Chef Travis Grimes offered so many good things on his lunch menu it was hard to settle on even a few things, so we ordered a sampling—deep-fried house-made bread and butter pickles, the ultimate deviled eggs, fried bologna slices the size of pennies, smoky chicken wings. There were lots of new-fashioned vegetables—butter-braised cabbage and quick-cooked greens in long-simmered pot liquor among them. I’m still not sure how I resisted their Krispy Kreme Ice Cream but there just wasn’t room.
The next night was Sean Brock’s McCrady’s. Charred Octopus and Crispy Sweetbreads were top-notch. And although we didn’t order dessert we got a taste of his whimsical palate cleanser, Ants on a Log.
And then there was the impromptu invitation for drinks turned into a small tasting at the Charleston Grill. I’m glad I said yes, because as much as I loved all my dining experiences, the food here was brow raising. I should have known. The chef is a woman.
Michelle Weaver was born and bred in Alabama, her heritage both humble and rich. Her mother was a country cook and gardener. Her self-taught father (he used to read the encyclopedia) finally made it to college in his 50’s.
These days Michelle may be frying up foie gras but it sits atop a miniature of her mom’s fried apple pies dusted with curry-flavored sugar and drizzled with sherry vinegar-spiked maple syrup (a nod to her Vermont New England Culinary Institute days).
Michelle has the unique challenge of running a hotel restaurant with a distinct club feel, but she’s found a way to stay true and yet transcend. Not the traditional appetizer/main course approach, Michelle’s four-part menu—Southern, Pure, Cosmopolitan, Lush—shows she gets her diverse diners. For tourists expecting Southern-inspired dishes, it’s there. Those who crave the pristine, beautifully presented, barley touched, it’s there too. World travelers seeking the exotic will find it under Cosmopolitan. The foie gras and truffle crowd, will find their favorites in the Lush section
It’s a feminine approach. I get you. I know what you want, I’m gonna give it to you, and I know what I’m doing.
Even on her days off she keeps on cooking—with friends, for family. When she’s home her dad begs her not to cook, but she doesn’t listen. He always told her growing up to be happy doing what she loved. She’s listening after all.