Charleston leaves a scrumptious taste

Published 12:03am Saturday, June 22, 2013

We have just returned from our annual trip to Charleston, S.C., for the Spoleto festival. I do look forward to this every year. Charleston is just a wonderful Southern city with lots of great architecture and lots of good food and a bit more refined than New Orleans. The food scene there has really improved since 30 years ago when we started going to Spoleto and the only good restaurant was Henry’s. Alas, Henry’s is long gone!

We arrived on Saturday evening after a 13-hour drive and had a reservation for The Ordinary, a new restaurant by Mike Lata of FIG fame. The place at 9 p.m. was hopping, and the noise level made it hard to think, let alone talk. But the seafood (for which it is known) was very good. We had oysters on the half-shell; a wahoo served in lime, cilantro, and fish sauce was a great appetizer. We had two fish courses consisting of a grouper and a triggerfish, which was outstanding. Just go for lunch or on a night during the week when it is not so noisy.

On Sunday we had brunch at Husk, another one of Sean Brock’s creations. There is now a Husk in East Nashville (which I plan on trying the end of the month). Husk gives a list of their sources of vegetables and meats right inside of the entrance. My husband noted that one farm was near his home in rural Middle Tennessee. Their pimento cheese on crostini was a hit for the appetizer. The cheese had little chunks of ham, which added to its tastiness. After seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Dock Street Theater, we had reservations at Magnolia’s. This restaurant has been around for quite a while and the hit of this restaurant was their Blue Crab Soup, which was their take on the famous She-Crab Soup of Charleston.

On Monday, after a little car trouble, which meant spending three hours in a dealership, we refreshed ourselves with a visit to the Hominy Grill. I had been reading about this small local restaurant, which is open for breakfast and takes no reservations. Lunch was a treat with okra and shrimp balls for the appetizer, and a really tasty fried green tomato BLT for our main course. We then went to hear the Westminster Choir at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. Then we ventured out for our last meal of the trip at McCrady’s. This is also a Sean Brock restaurant and we return here every year. We had a four-course tasting meal (which many restaurants are doing these days) but portions were small so one did not feel full. We had the small, sweet bay scallops for our first course, then a small piece of cobia, a perfect lamb chop, and then three types of cheeses for dessert—-a wonderful way to end the trip.

I did buy a new cookbook by the Lee brothers who have written three cookbooks on Charleston, and their 2007 cookbook won the James Beard ‘Best Cookbook of the Year Award. I bought their latest one and have been using it this week. You must try their cheese spread which came from Henry’s (which I mentioned above). It was always served on the table before you ordered instead of bread and butter.

The crab soup recipe is just great. You can do this any time of the year, and not just when crabs are at their peak. So get a feel of Charleston with these recipes and plan a trip there in the future.

Recipes taken from The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen by Matt Lee & Ted Lee, 2013.

HENRY’S CHEESE SPREAD

Makes: 1 ½ cups, enough for 6-8 people for snacking. Time: 10 minutes

10 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, grated (3 cups)

2 ounces (1/2 cup) lager or ale

Juice of 1 lemon (3 tablespoons)

2 tablespoons ketchup

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish, drained

2 teaspoons hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Crystal

1 ½ teaspoons dry mustard

1 garlic clove, minced

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is smooth and spreadable. Transfer to a small bowl to serve with crudities. We liked it with Ritz crackers.

CELERY AND CRAB SOUP

Serves 4

Time: 30 minutes

1 cup heavy cream

2 pinches of celery seeds, ground in a mortar and pestle

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cups chopped celery (6-8 ribs), plus yellow leaves, for garnish

1 cup chopped yellow onion (about 1 medium)

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc

1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and finely diced (about 1 ½ cup)

2 cups fish or shellfish broth, or bottled clam juice

1 cup lump fresh (nonpasteurized) blue crab meat (lump, backfin, or claw, or any combination thereof)

Freshly ground black pepper

Pour the cream into a small saucepan, add the celery seeds, bring to a simmer, and cut the heat. Cover and reserve.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the celery, onion, and salt, and sauté, covered, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and softened, about seven minutes. Add the wine and continue to cook until the pan is almost dry, about seven minutes. Add the potato and the broth, and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and continue to cook, uncovered, until the potato is completely soft, about 15 minutes. Transfer, in batches if necessary, to a food processor and process completely smooth.

Wash the sauté pan and dry it. Pour the soup back into the pan over lowest heat. Add the cream and the crab meat to the stew, and whisk gently to combine completely. Cook until the crab and cream are just warmed through to serving temperature, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Divide the soup among four bowls, and garnish each with celery leaves.

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