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Restaurants & Bars

Chicago Visitor Reports Back on Charleston

peter | Mar 28, 200305:11 PM

First off, let me offer a belated thanks to all on this site for some excellent suggestions. My wife and I visited in January, and feasted like lords in your lovely city. Starting research on another trip and realized we were remiss in not posting a reply on Charleston.

First meal was lunch at SNOB, and a fine meal it was. Great atmosphere, hip but comfortable with a very nice energy even at a late lunch. If memory serves me correctly, I started with some perfectly fresh salad greens followed by the shrimp & grits. OH MY GOD - it was a revelation. I've had grits before up north, which can best be described as tasteless mush. These were the stone-ground real deal, made with cheese. This was like an excellent risotto, al dente and creamy at the same time, great texture. Very tasty, not overpowered by the cheddar so the real corn flavor was at the forefront. Shrimp were impeccable too, but the grits were stellar. My wife had a chicken pot pie, which was also very good. I think we chased it all down with an apple pie or something. Very fine meal all in all, and price was very reasonable considering the quality of the food & wine & service.

Dinner that night was at Charleston Grill, which we had selected after careful deliberation over where her birthday meal should be. Beautiful room, dimly lit with highly polished wood, marble floor and heavy drapes. Very busy, pretty loud with the marble floors and all. I recall the meal started well, the appetizers were excellent - I think I had the foie gras. Soup was just ok, nothing spectacular. Then I had the quail, which was highly recommended by the waiter. I'm not a huge game fan, but I'll eat anything. Maybe its just my preferences, but this didn't do anything for me at all. My wife had a roast pork dish I think, which I expected to be spectacular because this restaurant is renowned for the local ingredients. But it was just ok, overcooked to dryness that couldn't be overcome by the sauce. The mashed potatoes were pretty damn tasty though. Overall pretty disappointing, and pricy, but SNOB was a very tough act to follow and may have set expectations very high.

Lunch next day was at Magnolia - and YEAH BABY! This place was the real deal. Started with some excellent bloody mary's, then started with a salad of fresh greens with cornmeal crusted oysters (this meal I remember each bite of). Yumyum, very lightly breaded, perfectly crunchy while the oysters were just barely heated through. UMMMM! To gild the lily I think they had some nice bacon on the salad too, southern health food I reckon. I had the pulled pork plate, with three vegetables on the side I believe you say? Awesome. We have a way with pork in Chicago (check out Pedro's Carnitas in Pilsen next time your in town), but this was awesome. Big messo pulled pork on the plate, which was already doused with a mustard-based sauce. Man, that was good. With a messo greens, and a messo beans, and a messo cole slaw. This was the real low country meal I envisioned before getting here, and it was perfect! My wife had the fried chicken with mashed potatoes, and that was so good I had half of hers too! We were going to have dinner that night, but after that feast I'd eaten enough to last the rest of the week.

But onwards, onwards! The next day, we went for Sunday breakfast at the Hominy Grill. We'd read that this was the best breakfast in town, and decided to skip the hotel breakfast (btw, Wentworth Mansion, highly recommend it, beautiful place). Ordered the Hangtown Fry, which I seem to recall is a scrambled egg decoction with oysters, bacon, onions & mushrooms. What the hell, when in Rome right? Grits on the side, of course. My wife had a regular omelet with biscuits. Bring it on! But pretty mediocre meal, sad to say. The eggs needed salt - you can't cook eggs without salt dammit! Huge sin in my opinion. Overcooked on top of it, don't like hard and dry scrambled eggs. The oysters were ok, but the dish didn't pull together. Teh grits were mediocre too, they musta been the instant type, which I found very disturbing. Biscuits were dried out too, I've certainly had better in many places. Coffee was like a Maxwell House grind or something too. Maybe they had a bad day, but the place was packed and we had to wait 20 minutes to get seated. We had a hard time figuring out what the fuss was about.

But, I'm getting hungry writing about this. SNOB & Magnolia were a couple memorable meals, and that's what it's all about ain't it? Thanks again, and take care. Loved your city, will definitely be coming back!

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