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The Palmetto State Part 1: Charleston

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

South Carolina is known as the "Palmetto State"paying homage to the state tree, the Sabal Palmetto. I explored South Carolina on a road trip which commenced in Durham, North Carolina and ended in Savannah, Georgia. Driving through South Carolina, especially along the water, was lovely. I learned that South Carolina boasts 3,000 miles of shoreline, ranking it 11th in the list of states with the longest coastal shoreline.

Other facts about South Carolina that I learned are:

  1. It was the eighth state to enter the union in 1788 and the first state to secede in 1860, four months before the start of the Civil War.

  2. It has a barrier island that is home to over 4,000 Rhesus monkeys.

  3. It is the birthplace of what Americans refer to as "sweet tea."

  4. And while Georgia may be known as the "Peach State," it is actually South Carolina that ranks highest on the list of east coast peach production, and second in the entire United States (behind California, which is number one).

Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park

My first stop in South Carolina was the Charleston waterfront and the Pineapple Fountain. The Pineapple Fountain was opened in 1990 in the aftermath of devastating, Hurricane Hugo.

Charleston is known as the Pineapple City, though pineapples are not native to this area. The pineapple was brought to Charleston via South America and was thus seen as an exotic fruit and a symbol of luxury. Later, sailors created a tradition of impaling a pineapple and affixing it to the gate of their home to signal that they had safely returned from a voyage. This was also an invitation to friends and neighbors to enter the residence to enjoy a drink and hear stories of the sailor's travels. Today, the pineapple is recognized in Charleston as a sign of hospitality.

Waterfront Park is located along Concord Street in Charleston. This eight acre park, that runs alongside the Cooper River, has beautiful, tree-lined walking paths and a wide pier.

The park is absolutely beautiful and the perfect place to go to cool down in the splash fountain, walk, picnic, bike, fish or just relax. It is no surprise that Waterfront Park won the 2007 Landmark Award for its eminent landscape.

Rainbow Row

Near Waterfront Park is Rainbow Row. Rainbow Row refers to a series of 13 pastel colored houses that run along the waterfront on East Bay Street. While the homes are all privately owned, a city ordinance requires the owners to maintain the beautiful, pastel shades.

Another stop I made in Charleston was to historic King Street. King Street initially served as the main artery into and out of the city. Today it is home to businesses, great night-life, boutiques, clothing stores, antique shops, street performers...

Blue Bicycle Books

...and bookstores. I love visiting bookstores when I am traveling and could easily spend hours in one. Blue Bicycle Books was adorable. This locally owned bookstore has an event space, reading room, and signed copies of many new and classic books.

Courtesy Charleston City Market

Another stop I made in Charleston was at the Charleston City Market. The market has food stalls and vendors galore. My main purpose in going however was to see the sweetgrass baskets and meet the artisans. Sweetgrass baskets have been woven by West Africans for centuries and were introduced in America through the Gullah community (the descendants of West African slaves). The Gullah have preserved this tradition of basket weaving for generations.

The baskets which were once made of bulrush are now made mainly from sweetgrass and complemented by the use of palmetto fronds and pine needles. The sweetgrass is dried and coiled to design these intricate baskets. This coiling technique (as opposed to plaiting or twisting) is unique to Gullah artisans. Sweetgrass baskets are one of our nations oldest and most prized treasures of West African origin. In fact, the Smithsonian American Art Museum includes a sweetgrass basket in its permanent collection.


*After this posting in June 2023, I happened upon Padma Lakshmi's show "Taste the Nation." Episode 4 of Season 1 does a much, much better job of representing the Gullah than I did. You can view a clip here.

Now, onto my dining experience in Charleston because you cannot have a complete conversation about this city without talking about the food. And the food is good! I mean REALLY good! In fact, so good that...


F.I.G.

...one of their most acclaimed restaurants, F.I.G. is an acronym for "food is good." F.I.G. opened in 2003 as a neighborhood bistro. Today, it is one of the Southeast's top foodie destinations recognized by locals, visitors, and James Beard among others, as an exceptional restaurant.

F.I.G. has found a way to simultaneously be a special occasion restaurant and a neighborhood spot. You can opt to sit at one of their tables in the main dining room (shown above), or find a spot at the more casual, communal table situated at the entrance. Either way, your dining experience is sure to be amazing.

Broiled Steamboat Creek Oysters with Smoked Pimentón and Marigold

I am an oyster purist so I was skeptical about adding ingredients to oysters which already have such a delicate flavor. I am glad I overcame my skepticism and ordered these oysters because they blew me away. I could have eaten a dozen.


Burnt Eggplant and Cottage Cheese with Brown Bread

I have never tasted flavors like this together. This appetizer was impeccably executed.

Lump Crab Spaghetti with Lemon Butter, Bottarga and Bread Crumbs

This was another phenomenal dish laden with generous amounts of sweet, succulent, crab.


Leon's Poultry and Oyster Shop

Leon's Poultry and Oyster shop is another award-winning restaurant in Charleston known for their chicken and oysters, of course. Leon's is located in a transformed, old, auto body shop, complete with a rollup garage door that opens up to the front patio. Come here for some of the best Lowcountry cooking around.

Char-Grilled Oysters with Lemon, Parsley, Butter and Parmesan

Even after my wonderful experience eating char-grilled oysters at F.I.G., I was still dubious about adding anything but mignonette sauce to oysters. My misgivings were proven wrong... again.

These oysters were spectacular - the perfect balance of sweetness, brininess and richness.

I read this portion on the menu (above) and knew exactly what I was ordering next.

Fried Chicken and Champagne

Wow! I never would have thought to put these two things together but they are an ideal pair. The inside of the chicken was juicy, the skin was crispy and the champagne was a perfect complement to the touch of heat in the chicken seasoning. I recommend dipping some of the chicken in the hot honey as well - so, so good!


Indaco

Indaco serves rustic, Italian food on Upper King in Charleston. The exposed wood and open kitchen featuring a wood fire oven, create a welcoming environment. If you choose to put yourself in the hands of your server, they will create a custom tasting menu for one that is large enough to feed two or more, in my opinion.

Broccoli Pizza with Smoked Mozzarella, Fontina, Pickled Red Onion, Crispy Proscuitto

The pizza crust was very good. The cheese on this pizza was copious so the pickled onions were a nice, acidic addition to balance the creaminess.

Halibut with Butter Beans, Bacon, Olives, Basil, Marcona Almonds, Fregola Sarda, and Calabrian Chilis

Tagliatelle with Pork Tesa, Black Pepper, Storey Farms Egg, Chive and Parmesan

This is Indaco's spin on traditional carbonara. The pasta at Indaco is made in-house and was cooked very well. In fact, all the individual elements were done very well but the dish as a whole was a little too rich for my taste.

Black Cherry Gelato

I loved this gelato. It was my favorite part of the meal. The cherries were both sweet and tangy and the gelato was silky and creamy. I recommend this restaurant but with some hesitation. While my dining experience at Indaco was good, it did not compare to the excellent experiences I had at F.I.G. and Leon's, both of which I recommend wholeheartedly.


More to come on South Carolina as I head south to Hilton Head Island.

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