charleston wonder and the alpha goat

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As late as I am in telling you this, and I have been meaning to for awhile, if you are looking for an extended weekend destination in a charming city and happen to travel wherever you will get fed well – then Charleston is your town. I had a feeling when I buzzed into KS’s ear about taking a trip there while we were in SC, that this would be no ordinary city, that the food will be warm and homey, comforting and inventive. With a soft spot for Southern cooking, I knew I was going to like it, but I had no idea just how much. The food blew us away, as did the hospitality. Undeterred by heat and the worst humidity I’ve ever experienced, we toured the area, learned a bit of history, snapped a ton of pictures (snapping done mainly by me), and met an alpha goat.

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There were many firsts for me on this trip. First time eating boiled peanuts – a taste that I now cannot forget and crave. KS had them while attending college in the South, but for me, these were new and exciting. I dug into a serving of those at the Hominy Grill (more on that place later). My first time eating hot boiled shrimp cooked in a fragrant broth – very satisfying. The first time I heard the Civil War referred to as “The War of Northern Aggression” – causing me to chuckle. My very first plantation visit – it was very Scarlett-O’Hara-Gone-With-the-Wind type of a landscape with expansive gardens and a stunning mansion – everything but a fancy ball! I fed a deer for the first time and got close enough to a peacock to photograph it in all its glory (see below!). In short, and I could go on about Charleston for awhile, it’s a must-visit for couples, groups of friends, families, history buffs and food lovers. It was perfect, in every way!

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Given our short, two day stay, we sampled only three restaurants: The Hominy Grill, Carolina’s and Jestine’s Kitchen. The Hominy Grill we went to twice – it was that good and we would’ve gone the third time if we stayed longer. Next time when we are in Charleston, we’ll be sure to go back there again. Stellar lunch (okra fritters and she-crab soup with sherry), sublime breakfast (banana buttermilk pancakes!) – the food at the Hominy Grill had that amazing quality that very often eludes most restaurants – it felt as if the food was prepared with love. I don’t know how to qualify that or describe it, but take my word and go there when you find yourself in Charleston. It’s a little bit off the beaten path and attracts mostly locals. And the website will tell you that none of the food used to prepare your meals comes from a can and everything is made from scratch!

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Our second place blew us away with its quality, service and half-price bottles of wine. Carolina’s, considered one of the city’s best and most romantic restaurants had their weekly half-price wine night. Aside from the fact that they didn’t mark up the bottles much at all, this wine special was a steal. Add to that complimentary dessert samples that our waiter felt we just had to have. What were they you might wonder? Oh, you know, those chocolate and ancho chile pots de crème – so decadent and smooth, that my dessert non-loving boyfriend finished most of his pot (which wasn’t small). Add to that a dessert of lemon cake with pineapple and pink peppercorn relish that our waiter decided to also give us free of charge. All this, on top of the fact that Carolina’s serves incredible, gourmet low-country cuisine. My yellow squash soup with fig vinegar and KS’s tuna tartare with celery route remoulade – were only the beginning. Our seafood dishes (crispy fried whole flounder with house-made peach jam and pan-roasted grouper with celeriac mashed potatoes) did not disappoint either, and that is an understatement!

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Finally, for our second dinner before we had to drive back to Myrtle Beach – Jestine’s Kitchen. Here’s where I might have to differ with so many rave reviews of the restaurant. I suppose it’s mostly because I don’t enjoy that much fried food that it paled in comparison with the Hominy Grill and Carolina’s. I suppose it’s unfair to compare it to the latter since Carolina’s is a pricey, more formal establishment. But though the food was good, it wasn’t great like the Hominy Grill’s and something, something elusive, was missing for me. We had peel-and-eat shrimp and then also something I cannot quite recall – but I remember that it was fried. I do recall our dessert, however, a plum peach crumble that seemed to me too laden with sugar and somewhat too heavy. Though we asked for our waitress to omit the ice cream, it still showed up on top of our dessert and KS, who is lactose intolerant, tried to scoop a few spoonfuls of it without touching the vanilla scoop sitting on top. “Yours is better,” he confessed to me, his mouth full of crumble.

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As for the alpha goat (and other barn yard wonders!), well, you will have to make a grip to the Magnolia Plantation to meet this wonder goat, who will try to eat all the animal food you will have and chase other animals away should they approach you. There’s a small farm animal petting zoo there, complete with sheep, goats, chickens, wild turkeys, pot bellied pigs and other animals. You can even feed them. And if you’re lucky, you will see a plantation employee deliver scraps of food (usually watermelon) to the pigs and the happiness these pigs must while chomping down on watermelon rinds. If only our lives were that simple and full of joy! A neat factoid about this plantation is that the current owners/residents of the plantation (they have a home there too) are direct descendants of Michael Drayton, an English poet.

All in all, I wish we had stayed another day – there was a lot of historic sites we wanted to see, but alas, it was far far too humid. And so we left after only two day, but on the bright side, it’s a great reason to return for an extended weekend when it’s cooled down a bit. I’ve got half a mind to start looking for a ticket now.

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