Walk through the gaslit courtyard of the Planter’s Inn at Market and Meeting Streets into the stately yet surprisingly intimate dining room of the
Peninsula Grill (112 N. Market St., 843/723-0700, www.peninsulagrill.com, nightly from 5:30 p.m., $28–35) and begin an epicurean journey you’ll not soon forget. Known far and wide for impeccable service as well as the mastery of Chef Robert Carter, Peninsula Grill is perhaps Charleston’s quintessential purveyor of high-style Lowcountry cuisine and the odds-on favorite as best restaurant in town.
From the lobster skillet cake and crab cake appetizer to the bourbon-grilled jumbo shrimp to the benne-crusted rack of lamb to sides like wild mushroom grits and hoppin’ John, the menu reads like a “greatest hits” of regional cooking. You’ll almost certainly want to start with the sampler trio of soups and finish with Carter’s legendary coconut cake, a family recipe. Whatever you choose in between those bookends is almost guaranteed to be excellent.
To accompany your inevitably near-perfect meal, choose from 20 wines by the glass or from over 300 bottles. Four stars from the Mobil Travel Club, four diamonds from AAA, and countless other accolades have come this restaurant’s way in its relatively brief (by Charleston standards) decade of existence. Needless to say, reservations are highly recommended.
Named for a now-deceased, beloved dog who once greeted guests, Poogan’s Porch (72 Queen St., 843/577-2337, www.poogansporch.com, lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., dinner daily 5–9:30 p.m., $12–20) is the prototype of a classic Charleston restaurant: Lovingly restored old home, professional but unpretentious service, great fried green tomatoes, and rich, calorie-laden Lowcountry classics. I can’t decide which entrée I like best, the crab cakes or the shrimp and grits, but either one could qualify as a finalist for best dish in Charleston. Some swear that even the biscuits at Poogan’s—flaky, fresh-baked, and moist—are better than some entrées around town, though that’s a stretch. Brunch (Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–3 p.m.) is the big thing here, a bustling affair with big portions, Bloody Marys, mimosas, and soft sunlight bathing what were, after all, living and dining rooms where people once lived.
For many visitors to Charleston, there comes a point when they just get tired of stuffing themselves with seafood. If you find yourself in that situation, the perfect antidote is High Cotton (199 E. Bay St., 843/724-3815, www.mavericksouthernkitchens.com, Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri. 5:30–11 p.m., Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5:30–10 p.m., $20–44), a meat-lovers paradise offering some of the best steaks in town, as well as a creative menu of assorted lamb and pork dishes.
Chef Anthony Gray places heavy emphasis on using fresh local ingredients, whether they be veggies or game, and the rotating menu always reflects that. None of this comes particularly cheap, but splurges rarely do. In the woody (and popular) bar area after 6 p.m. there’s usually a solo live pianist or sax player.
The long lines at Wentworth and Meeting Streets across from the fire station are waiting to follow Rachael Ray’s lead and get into Jestine’s Kitchen (251 Meeting St., 843/722-7224, Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., $8–15) to enjoy a simple, Southern take on such meat-and-three comfort food classics as meatloaf, pecan-fried fish, and fried green tomatoes. Most of the recipes are handed down from the restaurant’s namesake, Jestine Matthews, the African American woman who raised owner Dana Berlin. Mrs. Matthews passed away in 1997 at the age of 112, her longevity perhaps a testament to the healthy qualities of traditional Southern country cooking.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition