My trip to Charleston started with the scene straight out of Best in Show when Christopher Guest’s character is driving the RV and naming all of the different types of nuts. Our cab driver, in an effort to prove to us that Charleston is THE city when it comes to seafood, literally listed off every type of southern seafood known to man. He started with “We’ve got catfish, grouper, prawns…” A few minutes later, as I was gazing out the window at the darling row houses, I realized he was still going. “…Razor clams, trout, wahoo…” Luckily we arrived at our darling bed and breakfast shortly thereafter, otherwise who knows how long this would have gone on.
Since I was making the cross-country journey to South Carolina for a bachelorette weekend, I decided to extend my trip on the front end for some exploring and eating. Luckily my dear friend, and unofficial fraternal twin, Lexie was game to hop down from D.C. to meet me for a couple days of pure gluttony. Aside from the obvious perks of traveling and catching up with one of my favorite people in the world, it doesn’t hurt that Lexie is a gifted photographer. It was really wonderful to watch her work and to see the world (and our food) through her lens. I basically gave up on taking my own pictures about an hour into our trip as she generously agreed to let me share her beautiful images with you. (More of her fantastic work can be seen on her blog, West Coast Lens.) Hominy Grill was added to our itinerary pretty early on in the planning process thanks to some rave reviews from trusted sources. It’s definitely off the beaten path of what is considered touristy downtown Charleston, but we were up for an adventure. After dropping our bags off, we walked about a mile and a half to the restaurant, getting lost a couple of times along the way. (Did I mention it was 90 degrees?) Sweaty, starving, and disoriented, I was beginning to think we might have made a huge mistake. But then, we spotted the cheery mural on the large red wall alerting us of our arrival. Moments later we were sipping cocktails and eating boiled peanuts (my new obsession) in an air-conditioned corner booth, happy as clams. Vacation had officially begun. Our vibrant cocktails were Blackberry Collins made with honeysuckle vodka, blackberries, and lemonade which were refreshing and just sweet enough to stand up to the wonderfully salty boiled peanuts. I had never experienced this southern delicacy and was quickly hooked. They kind of have a bean-like consistency and I was peeling and eating them, but learned later on in the weekend from locals out at a beach house on Goat Island that you can eat the shells since they’re so soft. Apparently these are an acquired taste, but I’m already searching on the internet for a mail-order source of green peanuts so I can make my own in Seattle.
Hominy Grill is about as southern as you can get. There is something on the menu called a Charleston Nasty Biscuit, and apparently it’s legendary. There’s she crab soup, pimento cheese, and all the collard greens your heart desires. We opted to split the Catfish Po’ Boy and their famed Shrimp and Grits! (Yes, there is an exclamation point on the menu, for good reason.) Our server mentioned that the special side of the day was a Tomato Pudding. What is that you ask? Oh just some casual stewed tomatoes, cornbread, butter, and sugar. YEAH, WE’LL HAVE THAT.Everything was perfect. The shrimp and grits were next level, adorned with big pieces of bacon and mushroom. The baguette on the po’ boy was soft and provided an excellent vehicle for the fresh fish and delicious butter lettuce and tangy remoulade sauce. And the tomato pudding. Good God. We were joking and describing it as pizza soup since we had never seen anything like it, but it was probably one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. It was incredibly rich with the most intense, sweet tomato flavor. Pants were feeling REAL tight but we spotted the words “Buttermilk Pie” on the chalkboard and decided it was very necessary that we investigate. We split a slice of this wonderful southern treat that’s almost like an egg custard. It’s a little tangy, very creamy, and not too sweet. Topped with fresh whipped cream, it vanished almost instantly. Thank God Lex snapped a picture beforehand.
You get a very clear sense right off the bat from both the staff and the diners that Hominy Grill is a true communal gathering spot, whether you’re a local or just stopping through. On our way out of the restaurant, I noticed a sweet couple holding hands and quietly saying grace before their lunch. I almost did a double take as the bleeding-heart-liberal-urban-Seattleite in me had a brief Dorothy-esque, ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore,” moment. It was a good reminder that a little culture shock can make for a wonderful travel experience, especially when it involves tomato pudding and buttermilk pie.
Hominy Grill, 207 Rutledge Avenue, Charleston, SC, (843) 937-0930, http://hominygrill.com/, Open for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner Monday through Friday from 7:30 am to 9 pm, Saturday 9 am to 9 pm, Sunday 9 am to 3 pm (Brunch Only), Reservations for Dinner Only