U.S. Invasion: Lower than Low

And the trip continues – I’m sure you all thought I’d given up on the U.S. Invasion, but rest assured this is the last one. We pick the story up, down in South Carolina, making our way from Charleston to Hilton Head. Here are my digestible observations in well proportioned doses.

1. Husk: We could see a storm was brewing even before we landed in Charleston. the taxi ride to our hotel was through the damp reflective tarmac of meeting point(it’s a street) and straight on through to Old Charleston’s French quarter and then just as quick into the night; 15 minutes late for our reservation at Husk. But worth it for the stroll/hustle through the the dark passage like section of Queen street. Above, the palmettos rustled and reminded us that we weren’t in the pastoral pleasantry of Missouri anymore. Husk felt hushed, it was past 9pm, most of the diners had fled the scene, we were seated along the windows and could take in great eyefuls of the scenic pageantry that Charleston provides. Inside it was calm and collected, the service mellow, the lighting demure(cliche?).

The food at the restaurant is all to do with ‘Southern ingredients’. There are staple, traditional dishes on the menu that have been given the once over, and there are original items on the menu that use ingredients sourced from below the Mason Dixon Line.

I don’t know what it is these days but main courses don’t really do it for me. The starters always look more appealing. Don’t get me wrong the heritage pork done three ways was a truly marvelous bit of meat cooking magic, but in the end the salt and the over all mundaness of eating a ton of protein wears you out. But, the appetizers will always leave you wanting more. In retrospect maybe that has more to do with it; portion control and keeping the appetite lusting.

The heritage pumpkin soup: a viscous surface, which inside contained little surprises of tart apple relish, duck confit and granola. Each searching dip through the sorghum and cream cheese splattered surface, retrieved a bountiful bite; the granola made it akin some kinda crazy breakfast. Not to be left out in the cold, the pig ear bibb lettuce wraps, were all fried cartilage crunch. The home made hot sauce made it a pleasurable pursuit – mandoline slivers of cucumber slowed the heat.

If you go to the Husk website they archive all the meals and it is a great database for observing how they treat all these ‘Southern Ingredients’ in a multitude of different manners. There is so much to explore  and the one meal didn’t do it justice.

2.Hominy Grill:
” My Daddy would have a heart attack if he saw the prices of these shrimp and grits.”
(quote from a Southern belle and my mother-in-law)

….And when most people think of grits, they think stodge,  but these were grits lite and I don’t mean half the fat and half the fun. The shrimp are complemented by their umami brethren the mellow mushroom. It is such a satisfying dish to have for breakfast and people have a chance to taste this, their grits stigma would melt away.

3.Magnolias: Magnolias was not on my hitlist, but it was with luck that we turned up there. It really dawned on me that Charleston had way too much to offer than we could fit into two days worth of eating. Here as with Husk they took Southern classics and gave them a new look. Although I would say they aren’t as avant-garde with their technique as Husk, which I don’t consider a bad thing.

Here I had a my first taste of pimento cheese. The much talked about, but never had dish in my household. It is a blend of pimentos(cherry peppers), mayo and cheddar cheese. That’s the basics, but you can tart it up how you like. Here they had added olives, which my guide to all things Southern, a.k.a. the  mother-in-law happily pointed out was not normal, and all together still lovely.

4.Gullah Grub: Out on St. Helena Island we sampled an unadulterated version of Low Country cuisine. Or more particularly, we ate Gullah food: a silky crab soup that should have been a never-ending bowl of infinite spoonfuls. Gumbo, potato salad with an intense sprinkling of celery seed. Lima beans with ham and red rice . Everything was pretty stellar, except for the red rice which obviously, wasn’t a lick on the ‘family’s red rice’.

We drank swamp water, similar to an Arnold Palmer, but in this case the the ratio of lemonade to sweet tea is more in the lemonades favour. I can imagine that in the overwhelming heat of a Carolina summer that this drink would help soothe your heat warped body.

The dark and dry peach cobbler was bold in its unabashed cinnamon usage. Kudos for not being sweet and sickly. Although the marsh’mallowy whipped cream could help in that department.

5.Bluffton Oysters: Steamed oyster clusters offer an exploration of surfaces and textures. When the juices run down your wrist, you know you are on to a winner. If you have the misfortune to open an oyster that is full of pluff mud, then look forward to a noxious blast of nastiness. This food feels like a cleansing, ritualistic experience. The hands get dirty, and the appetite builds as you look for your next morsel.

All this was devoured with the aid of a few cold Palmetto pale ales.

6. Five Guys Burgers and Fries: They have the best fries, done in peanut oil. The choice of free toppings on your burger will keep you content for quite some time –remember to switch up your extras in a flippant manner.

a big thanks to gripper Dan for all the plate holding and driving

7. Roast Fish and Cornbread: The interior, the exterior and even the tables have been painted with psychotropic array of seascapes, aqua creatures, low country industry, women and the chef himself. Conch fritters, were a good chew. Roast flounder was decent, only at the end did I find the really moist money spot bite near the lower part of the tail. Served with a mango mushroom chutney, that wasn’t really a chutney. The mango not ripe enough for the fish and my tongue to be embelished with its sweet juices. The sliced mushrooms were perfect, but should have been kept far away from the mango.

Sweet potato cornbread, was almost too sweet for the dish, nearly coming in as a dessert, but hung in there and saw my theme of something sweet and something savoury extended into the fish department.We ate outside, and parked under tall trees. On Island(local chatter), the atmosphere already amplified by the kayaking and beach-buming done that day was heightened even more by the the gaggle of dressed down tourists making the most of the embracing warm touch of the South Carolinan weather.

And finally a bite of Birthday cake”- G.N.


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Categories: Travel


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2 Comments on “U.S. Invasion: Lower than Low”

  1. E. Skross
    November 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    I’ve really enjoyed your culinary adventures through the states!! Sometimes I could almost smell the dishes

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