Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Charleston: It Just Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

I could start anywhere, but why not start with the single best city in the nation?

Charleston, South Carolina.

Blue skies, warm water beaches, Palmettos swaying in the Battery breeze, spectacular Victorian and colonial architecture, Confederate history, cool bars and smoking hot southern belles only begins to scratch the surface of what makes Charleston not just a place on the map, but a Southern cultural experience like no other.

Shrimp & grits, oysters, Frogmore stew, Palmetto Pale Ale, Low Country jambalaya, she-crab soup, mint juleps and Tasso ham studded lima beans are just some of the reasons Charleston surpasses New Orleans as the best eating and drinking city in America.

If you don’t believe me, you could check out 82 Queen, the Roof Top Bar, Poogan’s Porch, Hymann’s Seafood, Southend Brewery, Shem Creek Bar & Grill, Poe’s Pub, Jestine’s Kitchen, Blind Tiger Pub, Bowen’s Island, Hominy Grill, A.W. Shucks and Wild Wing CafĂ© for yourself.

But I’m going to start with two places that couldn’t be more opposite but that together capture a range of what makes Charleston so great – and perfect night out in the American South.

The Wreck
106 Haddrell St.
Mount Pleasant, SC
Visited June 19, 2010

Appropriately named. It’s essentially a trailer down by the river with a porch. No sign and no air conditioning. Forget your GPS. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll never find it.

Look for the oyster shell parking lot crammed between boat yards with the American flag pole out front along the Shem Creek waterfront in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

It’s like a scene right out of a Jimmy Buffett song, right next to “the shrimp boats tied up to the pilings.”

Once you walk up the wooden steps that have thankfully never seen an OSHA or ADA inspector, open the front door and you are in the kitchen.

The cook is plying mounds of fried oysters, shrimp, crab cakes and fish over bubbling vats of oil. The sweat dripping from his brow no doubt adds to the flavor of the delicious seafood platters pouring out of the kitchen.

Did I mention this place has no A/C? Did I mention it is Saturday afternoon in late June and the temperature outside is 95?

Not to worry though.

Walk through the kitchen to the back porch. Breezes from Shem Creek and the soft purr of rusty old ceiling fans keep you cool while you sip ice cold bottled beer and wait for your feast along with a crowd that almost by definition is completely devoid of tourists.

Locals only for this place. Hell, the owner never bothered to replace the sign when it blew down in a hurricane 20 years ago. You think he’s going to advertise in the ubiquitous in-room hotel magazines? Nope. No need. South Carolinians know exactly where it is.

Tommy Condons
160 Church St.
Charleston, SC
Visited June 19, 2010

Tommy Condons is everything the Wreck isn’t. First of all, it’s air conditioned to a comfortable 72 – and mobbed with tourists -- and an occasional drunken bachelorette party, which only adds to the entertainment value.

It’s also pretty darn authentic.

As someone who considers himself somewhat of an expert on the subject, I can tell you a few things that automatically disqualify an “Irish Pub” from being considered authentic.

First, Tommy Condon’s pours a perfect pint of Guinness. Is there any sight in life more beautiful?

Second, no real Irish Pub plays rap or disco music. Irish Pubs play Irish music. That’s what Tommy Condon’s does every weekend.

This is a real pet peeve of mine.

Why would the owner of an “Irish Pub” think his patrons want to hear anything else?

What’s not to like? Irish songs being sung about drinking, fighting and killing English. If you can’t find the fun in that, take it to TGI Fridays!

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