Thursday, June 19, 2014

Gluten-Free in Charleston, SC

Charleston smells like two things: flowers and pork. The floral scent can be explained by the ubiquitous night blooming jasmine, an incredibly fragrant flower, even by day. Took a heads up from a southern gentleman to realize that this small white flower was responsible for the powerful perfume:

As for the pork, well, while the rest of the country has been having a love affair with bacon the past few years, pork in all its forms is just a southern staple, and its scent wafted out from eateries all over Charleston. Truly, even the airport smelled like it. I was in Charleston for just over three days and, by the end I was sick of pork, without having eaten much of it, save for one pig-heavy meal. Here's what I did eat: 

Sweet Radish Bakeshop - Charleston's only 100% gluten-free bakery. This wonderful spot was in walking distance of our hotel, so I made my way over at least once a day. 


Lots of lovely sweets 

... and bit of savory. 

They offer a breakfast tart (above) and a savory seasonal quiche every day. Both are quite tasty; of the two, I recommend the quiche.

Campfire cookies, aka a cookie sandwich with marshmallow and caramel inside. As decadent as it sounds; a bit too sweet for my taste, but go for it if that's your thing.

Shop is adorable, with one table and seats along two counters. Had no trouble finding a seat, no matter what time of day I visited.

Slightly North of Broad, aka SNOB!

Gluten-free menu! 

Such a misleading acronym! The staff at SNOB were incredibly cheerful and accommodating. I knew I had a big dining experience planned for the evening, so I just went with a crab salad plate, side of pimento cheese. (I'd heard this is a thing in the south; not my bag, but glad I tried it.)

Light, lovely meal in a great, friendly atmosphere. Staff knew all about GF and I felt a-ok after the meal.

O-Ku: Upscale sushi. I did a ton of recon for this trip and read that O-Ku offered GF options. I also read that they have a fabulous happy hour special and, lord, they DO. Deeply discounted sushi prices a few hours a week (check website for current days/hours). Just be sure to get there early, as the place gets packed. No gluten-free menu, but staff steered us to safe options and provided GF soy sauce. Sushi was fine, though we ordered rather elaborate ones that weren't all that exciting taste-wise. Wish we'd ordered basic items like spicy tuna or the like. Still, staff knew their GF stuff and I felt fine after. 

Fig (Food is Good): Really, Fig was ... fine. They were wonderfully accommodating - over and above the call of duty re: gluten - but the food left us wanting. Maybe we caught an off day; the menu changes daily and we just weren't interested in anything they were serving that day. But, it was dinner time and Fig had come highly recommended, so we gave it a go. The flavors were muddy and it was just a dull meal. We tried to salvage the night by getting dessert, a lemon pudding that left us both feeling sick the rest of the evening. (Not gluten sick - I felt fine on that front.) 

Husk. The best meal we had in Charleston. Just stop reading now and go make a reservation, as you'll need one months in advance. Seriously - we made ours in March for a May trip. 

I want to go to there (again)

Beautiful salad with smoked fish and tomatoes that tasted like tomatoes.

Amazing GF cornbread. We fought over the crumbs. 

Pork ribs with a pork rind garnish (no, really). 

This was the meal where I finally got on the pork bandwagon. Fat pork ribs with a pork rind garnish. Hadn't noticed the garnish info on the menu and could not stop laughing when it came out. I'd never had a pork rind before, so I'm glad my first (and, oof, last) was from a high quality pig.


Then: heritage pork with beans and greens in an amazing broth. The surprising star of this dish was the beans; meaty and flavorful, they held their own against that hunk o'pork.

Cornmeal breaded catfish with the best kale we'd ever eaten. 

When there's a breaded gluten-free thing, I usually order it, so cornmeal catfish made the cut. It was fantastic, but the kale side was spectacular. When our waitress came back, we told her: "This is the best kale we've ever eaten! What do they do to it?" With an amused grin she replied: "It's deep-fried." Of course.

It was such a satisfying meal that we didn't feel the need - or have the room for - dessert. The staff was wonderful about my GF needs and I felt fine after.

The Grocery. The worst meal we had in Charleston. Oy, such a disappointment. I rarely (ever?) write negative reviews, but feel the need here, to steer any other GF diners away from The Grocery.  I'd been assured that they could handle GF, but when we arrived, no one we spoke to in the front of the house had any idea what I was talking about. Our waiter seemed baffled by my questions and had to go talk to the kitchen. Normally when that happens, I leave and find somewhere else to eat, but we were due at the airport after and didn't have time to find a new restaurant.

In the end, I went with the one gluten-free item marked on the menu, the "Gluten Free, Not Glutton Free Burger". I'd been craving beef the entire trip and was excited about this option. What arrived was completely overcooked and sad. After I took my first bite, my dining companion asked how it was. Two words: "Hamburger Helper". We both hated our meals and felt unwell after. We immediately went over to The Sweet Radish for a treat, to try to get the bad tastes out of our mouths.


I found a few other places that are supposed to be GF-friendly, but we didn't have time to visit. Want to share to give you a leg up on your Charleston trip. Other spots?

Five Loaves
Cru Cafe
Edmond's Oast
Hominy Grill

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