Photobucket

I met my best friend, let’s call her MBF, in my first week living in Austin. Three years later, we’ve moved back to our home states on the east coast. She invited me to spend a weekend with her in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. I didn’t research the city, its restaurants or hotels prior to the trip. I had no agenda. I just wanted to enjoy Charleston her way.

I pulled in just after dark on a Friday. We met her best guy-friend—who visited us in Austin and has already seen some of my most shining moments—at Voodoo Tiki Bar in Avondale for wine, Jell-o shots, shrimp tacos, and duck sliders. I felt like I was saying, “Great song!” to every song, and the crowd all seemed to know each other. From there, we went to the posh new wine bar Social in downtown Charleston. Each of the wines I ordered was really good, really fresh. If I tally up the drinks and realize I’m counting on two hands, I shouldn’t be surprised that I found myself in the across-the-hall neighbors’ apartment of MBF’s best friend, making spaghetti carbonara with Egg Beaters and deli roast beef at 3:30am–a horrible idea I wish I didn’t have to take credit for.

We didn’t even shower in the morning—we’d just grab a quick greasy spoon breakfast (and a mimosa) and walk around downtown. I faintly recognized the previous night’s path, and my invisible trail of noise and general annoyingness pollution was spread out before me. We ended up eating at Toast. My “Eggs Meeting Street” came with crab cakes, poached eggs, home fries, and a fried green tomato I don’t remember. It’s possible it was there—one mimosa became two, which made a third seemed like a fine idea, and our server put our fourth on the house tab. We then continued the Charleston tour and visited Hyman’s, where MBF worked while attending the College of Charleston. A bloody mary happened. She then showed me the historic Rooftop bar. And so on. All in the previous night’s clothes, wearing the previous night’s makeup. MBF and I have few secrets left to share between us, and I am lucky to have a friend who is so fun to share them with, who I know will keep them safe. We spent most of the afternoon letting our BACs get back to zero (or as close to it as possible), then rustically prettied ourselves for an oyster roast.

It was my first oyster roast. To say that to MBF’s friends, all of whom were born and bred in South Carolina, elicited a reaction not unlike telling them I’d never seen the ocean. Charleston was the center of their worlds, and I could easily see why they liked it that way.

Proceeds from oyster roasts go to nonprofits, and my $30 ticket more than paid for itself in briny, gritty oysters and cheap champagne. I should have had more than mere tastes of the she-crab soup and sheet cake, but the way I was soon feeling, I had no guarantee they’d go down the gullet and stay there. In 10 hours, I had consumed a runny egg over shellfish, shellfish that was assumedly cooked over dirt and an open flame, and enough alcohol to fuel a bonfire for days. It would take a skilled autopsist to figure out what one thing took me down.

I needed to sit, I told the girls, and before they could respond, I bee-lined to a picnic table where a small family left us their seats and cake and put my head down in defeat. MBF’s friends offered to bring me home. It was a cold night, we’d been there for more than an hour and I could walk away saying I’d had a full day—without pulverizing my liver. But as I looked around at all of the gorgeous guys with floppy hair wearing autumn-colored sweaters with collared Polo shirts underneath, I was transported back to my college days at U.Va. And then, a college memory gave me a call.

In my champagne-induced stupor, around 2 in the afternoon, I’d surprised an old friend at work.

In the history of knowing MBF, I have made some incredible recoveries after all-day festivities to go on to have coherent and productive nights out at bars, where we’ll inevitably relive every moment of the day and whine about how tired we are. Austin City Limits Music Festival comes to mind (three years in a row), as does tubing the Guadalupe River, the Fourth of July in DC, Preakness in Baltimore—I’m just trying to say “yes” when my friends say “remember when.” Charleston is now prominently on the list. I rallied, hung out with the girls and the college friend.

Before I left, I wanted to eat somewhere memorable. I could check the usual places (Gourmet, Food+Wine, OpenTable) or I could rely on local experts. I tend to prefer the combination. I want to go back to Charleston if only to eat at Cru Café for lunch and the Charleston Grill for dinner, but I loved my lunch at Tristan.

For $20, I would receive three courses, anything I wanted from the appetizer, entrée, and dessert options. I ordered she-crab soup with crab salad, and a stemless martini glass arrived carrying the soup with seafoam froth. The “salad” was a single piece of jumbo lump blue crab meat. I wish restaurants wouldn’t back themselves into a semantic corner doing that—salad implies more than a bite, so they’ve set us up for disappointment. If the lump meat was unannounced, or offered as a “blue crab garnish”, it could be a pleasant surprise.

The server recommended their veal sweetbreads, and it made the decision for me, as I was having trouble deciding between lamb ribs and chocolate BBQ sauce, black truffle pasta, and the sweetbreads promising a parsnip puree. I requested a long meal, and my server delivered on that. When I thought I could not wait for the sweetbreads any longer, she appeared. Two pieces of the calve’s thymus gland arrived perched upon a bed of sticky white mash. What amazed me was that these sweetbreads had the appearance of, to be frank, the oysters from the night before. I have no idea how they were cooked, but my guess would be that they were boiled but not finished with a pan fry or a few minutes in the oven—which I’ve come to expect.

My violet infused crème brulee was delicious, but I had little appetite left. It did a great service, however, in proving that not every chef is a pyromaniac. The top was golden. Great end to a great trip.

Charleston’s Custom House, a prominent building in the historic downtown area.

Photobucket

Horse-drawn carriage tours are popular. The smell of the downtown area will prove it. Luckily, I don’t mind that particular smell that much!

Photobucket

The Daughters of the Confederacy museum leads to the City Market.

Photobucket

Beautiful homes.

Photobucket

The oyster roast.

Photobucket

I shuck! (Lame but I don’t care!)

Photobucket

Fun couple on the street–everyone is friendly–she’s wearing “Santa Baby” on her coat.

Photobucket

Advertisements