For winter break we decided to take a mother-daughter trip down south. We jumped on Jet Blue $189 direct flight from JFK to Charleston for our 4 night stay. Our hotel, The Vendue, built in 1760 and beaming with old history though modernly furnished (and chic), was perfectly situated in historic downtown, and walking distance from almost everything. Our suite in the adjacent building was super well appointed with a fireplace, a giant Jacuzzi tub and toile textiles on our four-foot high, “princess and the pea” king bed. They supply antique stepping stools to get into bed, not to mention aged brandy.
The Vendue has a café, an award winning restaurant and a rooftop bar serving happy hour nightly with a breathtaking sunset view of the entire city and harbor. Robbie, the concierge is a proud local and was filled with a plethora of information–he made exquisite dining choices for us. The hotel is renowned for its modern art collection. Our favorite permanent exhibit was the downstairs ladies room with a wall of 1970’s viewfinders!
Minutes after checking in, we took a three minute walk to the harbor and were greeted by a school of dolphins. They come right up to the water’s edge, feeding daily at low tide. My daughter Lutece and I actually cried as we felt we were truly connecting with these magical creatures. During warmer months you can kayak or paddle board with them in their natural habitat.
We spent our first day strolling the cobblestone streets, admiring the gorgeous Charleston mansions, camellia-lined alley ways and horse-drawn carriages. The city has the most extraordinary fauna including Spanish moss trees, camellias in every color that bloom year-round, and palm trees. (In fact, Joel Robert Poinsett (1779-1851) an American physician and diplomat named the poinsettia plant after himself.) His house is one of the many treasures in the historic district along with a few distinguish signers of the Declaration of Independence. On our second day, our concierge introduced us to Alfred G Ray, a local guide who gives very entertaining and informational walking tours through the walled city. Al is a passionate historian who knows just about anything you would want to know about Charleston and will tailor your tour to your particular interests.
Food is now Charleston’s middle name. On our first night, we stumbled onto Fleet Landing— the only water front restaurant in Charleston. For actual dinner, we hit four top farm-to-table restaurants: SNOB (which stands for Slightly North Of Broad). Night two, we went to HUSK located on one of the prettiest blocks of the city called Queen Street in a historic home. The ribs were off the hook! The bread pudding topped with a locally made cinnamon ice cream was dreamy.
Our third night at Cru Café was life changing. Seated at the chef’s table, we were truly transported. The chef de cuisine named Erin had us sample whatever she was making from her signature dish of a Nantucket scallop dancing on lemon risotto, to a four cheese baked mac and cheese, to a Chinese inspired fried brussel sprouts side that redefined the vegetable.
We couldn’t resist tasting the fried green tomatoes topped with braised pork or the crispy, truffle parmesan fries. Jacob Fuhr, the general manager, could not be more hospitable, asking me to sample his favorite craft beers and giving me his tips on Thanksgiving birds; “Smother the bird in peanut butter and then deep fry it for 40 minutes, that’s a southern Thanksgiving!” We walked out, feeling not only had our palettes experienced the most sensory fireworks ever but we made friends. On our last night, we ate at the community table at FIG, aka Food Is Good. This restaurant has won all the awards and accolades in the entire culinary world and needs to be booked at least a month in advance. However, if you walk in, you have a chance of the community table, which we nabbed and felt like we won a local lottery. Everyone in Charleston speaks of Fig as a baptism. The South Carolina Presidential primary’s were in full swing , so we sat with an international group of fascinating political journalists. We sampled the gnocchi which would be arm wrestle tie of gnocci made in Tuscany from a 4th generation Mama; light and fluffy and melted in your mouth like little cloud puffs. The meal was sublime but I’m going to say it…here I go, it does not compare to Café Cru, which is the secret weapon of Charleston that only the true foodies know about.
We couldn’t leave Charleston without visiting one of the many plantations. After careful research, we choose Middleton Place and Stableyards, a national historic trust landmark. An old rice plantation where many slaves worked and lived, under the Middleton family, a South Carolina royal-esque family, four generations of government duties including Governor and congress dating back to the late 17th century.
The plantation is stunning and so well preserved with glorious gardens and livestock yards where the animals including horses, sheep, goat, water buffalo, chickens and pigs are free to be greeted. It’s worth giving yourselves at least a half day here to explore the gardens, livestock, historic home and wonderful restaurant for lunch. I would highly avoid Magnolia Plantation which is heavily advertised but is very run down as we had a quick peek.
We had a nightly tradition of unwinding at the Vendue rooftop bar coloring in our intricate mindful coloring books, watching the sunset. Tequila for me and strawberry-basil-lemonade with soda for my favorite travel companion, my 11-year old daughter. The perfect denouement to cap off each day. It’s all about Charleston, y’all.
Sue Kramer, film writer/director by day, travel and food connoisseur at all other times.