Charleston: A Girl Trip Mecca

A summer thunderstorm drenched everyone on the street.  A Johnny Cash song strummed from the tiny unseen speakers.  A barely-there draft of wind greeted us sporadically giving us a taste of what it may feel like to be cooled off.  It was a ninety degree summer night; Our last night in Charleston.  As we waited for a break in the storm to run across to the next bar closer to our car, I reflected on this trip that almost didn’t happen and swayed to Mr. Cash’s “I Walk the Line”.

Two years ago, a bunch of my Nashville friends made an executive decision to visit our friend who had recently moved to Chicago.  After much negotiating and fresh off my 30th birthday girl’s trip to Long Island, I suggested we make it a girls trip to Chicago.  A few months later, two of my girl friends and I went to Chicago for the weekend.  Two of us coming from Nashville, and me from Boston.  After a three night trip filled with deep, meaningful conversations that strengthened our relationship, we jokingly said, “this year Chicago, next year Paris!”

One year, four months later, one of has a 5 and 1/2 month old baby girl, one of us is now married, and one of us is in grad school.  Three different places in life and thus three schedules that presented a few challenges when attempting girl’s trip #2.  We chose Charleston because none of us had ever been there and all of us wanted to go.  M. the super organized Google Calendar using, Evernote list maker, set up our accommodations.  Me, the foodie, did some preliminary research on the food in town.  E., the musician, demanded a night of karaoke.  Armed with our plans for beach, food, walking, and karaoke we arrived on a humid hot-like-India afternoon to the homey Charleston Airport.  M. and I arrived a day earlier ready to scope the scene and make a list of all the right spots to hit up for when E. got here.  We checked into our hotel and began researching where to go for the evening.  After driving around for a few minutes and inquiring about the town from locals, it was clear that no one knew where to point us.

Thanks to our iPhones, SIRI, and Yelp Reviewers we found 3 dinner spots that took us back to the basics.  1st we went to Graze–a farm-to-table type of restaurant.  When you walk into this small restaurant in an unexpected part of town (Mt. Pleasant), it’s nonchalant bar and painted concrete floors don’t reveal what awaits your palate in the kitchen.  I had fish tacos which generally I love, but these were the most creative version of a classic.  They came with grilled catfish (that’s right grilled not fried!), bok choy slaw, drizzled with a light pickled ginger aioli that burst onto your tongue with each bite.  There are few meals that stamp your tongue with the same flavor profile bite after bite–this was definitely one of them.  We walked out into the the rain refreshed.

That evening, after a short nap, we drove in to downtown Charleston’s shopping district to find that most of the shops were closed by 8pm.   Vowing to go shopping the next day we headed for dinner at FIG.  On its website, FIG states that “The FIG experience is about more than just food. A sincere effort to educate our staff on all aspects of food and wine culture is the basis for our service philosophy.”  This was true of our experience:  our server made excellent suggestions for each of us in terms of food and drink.  I had the shrimp remoulade on top of fried eggplant.  This dish was an immaculate marriage of textures with the crispy eggplant and the tender shrimp and the crunchy celery in the remoulade, each sharp bite schooled me on the importance of textures.  It is here that M. had “the best tomato of her life” as well!  FIG’s philosophy like Graze is to work in partnership with local farmers and make food with integrity.

Best Lamb Chops of my Life!

Our final dinner of our trip occurred at Cru Cafe.  M. found this place on Yelp and it seemed mediocre at first glance, but there was nothing mediocre about this place!  Cru Cafe is located behind the horse carriage stables in Charleston.  As you walk up, you are overwhelmed with stable aromas that don’t paint a picture of food, but do paint a picture of history.  Cru Cafe brings you back to colonial times from the moment you arrive at its doorstep.  It is located in a historic house with pillars that support the porch, old hardwood floors and small windows that transport you an a time long ago.  Here, because it was my birthday dinner and because I love lamb, I had the lamb chops special.  The lamb chops came cooked to perfection drenched in a sweet red wine sauce, mashed potatoes, and green beans with tomatoes.  As I write about this my mouth waters, these lamb chops top the ones I had at Alan Wong’s in Hawaii mostly because they were simple and done just right.  Like Fig and Graze, Cru Cafe is also trying to use fresh local produce.  They recently planted a few vegetable gardens and hope to use these produce in their menu soon.

Less Marshmallow Please!For that same evening’s outing, we decided to go back to the rooftop bar that we had gone to on our first night there mostly for the ambience, but thanks to the unexpected thunderstorms were forced to find another location to wrap up our trip.  As we stood there waiting for a break in the rain, M. looked up bars close to us on her phone, I sang Johnny Cash and demanded a final photo, and E. gave us suggestions on time frames for the evening.  We ended up at a bar across the street from our car–just in case it stormed again–called The Gin Joint.  To our pleasant surprise the bar had an interesting menu that would be a sin not to try.  It had items like Pad Thai Popcorn, homemade graham cracker smores, cheese plates.  So we did what needed to be done:  ordered all three.  While each of us made improvements in our mind for each dish, less marshmallow on the smores, fresher popcorn needed, etc., we reminisced about our delicious trip filled with hilarious adventures and supportive conversations.  That’s the thing about girl’s trips, they come with demands, expectations, and comprise; However, with the right formula of girls can be the most fulfilling trips ever because you come away from them filled with memories, filled with laughter, and filled with unconditional love.

Charleston at first glance told us to lower our expectations, but each meal and experience built them back up.  The kind people at the karaoke bar who treated us like rock stars, the food that was light, local, farm-fresh, and flavorful, and the late night conversations that made us feel like teenagers at a slumber party–all of it neatly clipped to our mind’s scrapbook.  This year Charleston, next year…

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