Saturday, April 16, 2011

What Flartus Did

It's been a long, busy week, and the charms of Charleston are being buried under overtime, lesson planning and a really messy house.  All the more reason to put down in my journal everything I can remember.  One caveat: this is a really, really long post.  I have a lot I want to remember. :)  But never fear, there are plenty of pictures!

First off, we had a tiring departure from Charlotte.  Miss Chef and I both worked Thursday night, I until eight, she until about nine.  So it was about 10 pm before we finally hit the road.  (I had dropped Rosie off on Wednesday with our friend Maria, who adopted Smoky.)

Miss Chef did the full three-hour drive, while I stayed awake to keep her awake.  We had a little trouble pinpointing the hotel, in part because Miss Chef didn't remember exactly the name...turned out to be a Best Western.  We dragged into the room, brushed our teeth and dropped into bed around 2 am.  But only after setting the alarm for 6:30.  Ugh.

Miss Chef was attending a Food Educators conference at the Culinary Institute of Charleston.  It's an annual, nationally-organized event which drew members from as far away as California.  I'm sure Charleston's reputation as a creative culinary hotspot didn't hurt.

After dropping her off at the conference Friday morning, I drove on down East Bay Street to find somewhere to park the car.  Historic downtown Charleston is not worth trying to drive in.  I had reservations for a pirate tour at 10 am, which gave me an hour or so to wander.  I decided to head up to the Visitor's Center north of Marion Park.

It turned out to be a much longer walk than I anticipated, but I picked up some useful maps.  Then I wandered down King Street.  Most of the stores hadn't opened yet, but I noted a few that I knew Miss Chef had to visit.  Most important was an olive oil store similar to one we'd visited in Chicago.  Less important was this:

Still, I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the historical and ultra-hip.

I wandered further down King Street, into the more residential areas.

I did a very sloppy job touching this photo up...

Thank heavens I stopped to look at a map, because I had wandered two blocks too far to hook up with the pirate tour.  I got a little exercise that morning, jogging along looking for a street that changed names, with six minutes to go...but I did make it in time.  Here's another shot of Eric and Capt. Bob.

Although beautiful, Capt. Bob made a bit of a nuisance of himself at times, squawking incredibly loudly when groups of schoolchildren went by.  Apparently he wanted to play with them!

On the pirate tour, we walked the lower part of Charleston, "south of Broad" (where the SOBs live, naturally).  We heard about the tales of Stede Bonnet, Jack Rackham and Mary Bonney and of course North Carolina's favorite, Blackbeard.  Eric knows his stuff, and enjoyed punching a few holes in pirate myth.  There was no "arrrr"ing and no walking the plank.  But Blackbeard did stuff lit cannon fuses under his hat to intimidate his victims.  I'm quite certain that the manifestation of the Dread Pirate Roberts in the movie the Princess Bride was drawn from Blackbeard's biography.

After the pirate tour, I wandered up to the historic market, where I rather quickly strolled past the tchotchkes, gewgaws and booth after booth of budget-busting sweetgrass baskets.

I had a decent lunch at the Sweetwater Café on Market Street--a pretty good pecan-crusted chicken sandwich that looked kinda gross and was hard to eat, but made good use of those pecans.  To make Miss Chef proud, I substituted a salad for the fries, but it was a very mediocre salad.  Oh well, I tried.

I've decided I have to get over any discomfort re: photographing restaurant meals, before our trip this summer.

At some point Miss Chef called me to let me know she'd be done by 4:00.  I was thinking about heading back to the hotel for a nap, as I was at this point footsore and still tired.  The disappointment in her voice made me decide to keep strolling along the streets, soaking in the atmosphere, and stopping to take advantage of any handy park benches I came across.

Savannah's not the only town with beautiful cemeteries!

That evening Miss Chef and I had reservations at Cypress, whose chef is a James Beard nominee.  Since our table time wasn't until 8:15, we decided to graciously give in the the cajoling of friends of ours in Charlotte.  They had seen on a Food Network show a bit about a new cocktail bar in Charleston that does things the old-fashioned way.  They have specialty ice cubes to suit each drink.

Naturally, Miss Chef was intrigued, so we headed off to the Gin Joint.  We got to sit at the bar, which is a desirable spot, for we got to watch firsthand the careful pouring, stirring and shaking that goes into a well-crafted cocktail.  There wasn't a blender to be seen.  I got a blackberry royal fizz (girly, beautiful and delicious) while Miss Chef got the Gin-Gin Mule--shaken up with housemade ginger beer!  She loved it.

After getting a good buzz on, we crossed the street to Cypress, where a very open and modern space greeted us.  The dining room soars all the way up to the top of the building, giving a grand view of the glassed-in two-story wine vault.  We counted 24 bays of about 8 columns each, holding two or three varieties in each column.  Impressive a bit, non?

Dinner was superb.  Although it took a while for the server to approach the table, the rest of the service was fine.  To start, we ordered a charcuterie plate, which included sopressata, carapaccio (I think), pâté and head cheese! I had never tasted head cheese and was relieved to discover that the reason I don't like it is because it's too fatty.  Bleah.  More pâté, please!

Here's an ugly photo of my beautiful entrée.

Pork schnitzel on white corn hominy, dressed with beautiful radishes, pickled red onion and the sweetest roasted red peppers you can imagine.  I was so taken with my meal that I can't even remember what Miss Chef had!  I think it was a vegetarian risotto--it had ramps in it, which she wanted to try.  They were a little stingy with the ramps, but I do believe Miss Chef ate all her vegetables that night.  And then I made her drive home, because the wine on top of the cocktail was too much for me to handle!

So that was day one...oh boy, this is getting long.  Ok, day two was Saturday, which meant, of course, a visit to the Farmers' market!  So we once again got up too early.  The market was pretty darn big, with plenty of local artisans and crafters, and lots of greens and local strawberries.  Yikes, it's strawberry season already??

After doing our bit to support the local economy, I drove Miss Chef off to school ("Have a good day!") and headed down the peninsula.  This time I parked in the garage by the Aquarium, for the boat for Fort Sumter leaves from right next door.  It wasn't a pretty boat, but like any smallish ferry.  The National Park Service owns the fort, so a Ranger (complete with Smoky-the-Bear hat), was on board to give us a very nice summary of the events leading to the first hostilities of the Civil War.

Here are a few quick shots from my brief visit to the fort.

A re-enactor playing Union commander Major Anderson.
Maybe I should crop out those tourists behind him, eh?

Some more authentically historical artifacts than that pay phone...

A wall of the powder magazine damaged by an explosion.
It's now supported by concrete beams.

And a couple of shots from the boat ride...

the USS Yorktown

I got clever at this point, and tried out the free trolley run by the city.  I highly recommend it--there are three different lines, and they pretty much hit all the typical tourist areas.  One even stopped right in front of our hotel, over on the Ashley River side of the peninsula.  Huh, wish I'd noticed that the day before.

I stopped by the farmers' market again for lunch...

A ginormous ham-and-cheese omelet sandwich(??) and the best grits I have ever eaten.
And I don't really like grits.

...then back to Market Street to get onto a carriage tour.  I was hankering for some more general history of the buildings after my pirate tour, and also eager to get off my aching feet.  This is Al, a six-year old Percheron who likes to rest his head on things...including, according to our guide, the backseat of a very high-end BMW convertible.  Anyway, Al pulled me and my aching feet (along with several other tourists) around town while I learned a lot more about Charleston.

Thanks Al!

St. Phillips church with yet another carriage--Charleston smells like horse poop.

Oh heck, now even I'm getting bored of all this...  Skipping along...  We went back to the Gin Joint that evening, before our reservations at Oak.  This restaurant is a steakhouse, which seems to specialize in ridiculous portions and attract a loud and tipsy clientele.  The food was great--the $15 burger was actually worth the price--but we couldn't wait to get out of the noisy bar area, and skipped dessert.

Sunday Miss Chef was free, so we spent the morning and part of the afternoon walking around--again.  I cannot express how much my feet hurt at this point.  But I made sure to drag her down King Street to that olive oil store.

Oh, but I can't forget my most important food discovery in Charleston!  The Macaroon Boutique, on John Street!  I found it Friday afternoon, I think...and dragged Miss Chef in there on Saturday and Sunday.  It's the most authentic French bakery I've seen in the States (notwithstanding the apple turnovers in front).

Not to be fooled by the name, I discovered they make delectable croissants, beautiful breads and of course...those incredible macaroons.  I must, must go back, because I just didn't have room time for the delicate-looking almond frangipane.  Oh, and how did I happen to find this place, you ask?  As a matter of fact, I strolled right by, until about two storefronts down, I was hit by The Smell.  The Aroma.  The delicious, wafty perfume of fresh baked goods.  More simply put, I followed my nose.

Ok, just two more photos to wrap up...

The wildly picturesque graveyard of the Unitarian Church.

Sleepy bookstore kitty in the front window.
A professional at ignoring curious passerby and patrons with noisy cameras.

Sincere thanks to all who made it through to the end!  If you ever find yourself headed Charleston way, let me know and I can point you in the direction of some delightful tasty treats.


  1. Thank you sooooo much for bringing back my memories of Charleston! You accomplished a lot while Miss Chef was slaving away in meetings! I love Charleston, and it's been a few years since I was there. Looks like you had cheese grits? Or did it have shrimp?

    Nancy in Iowa

  2. It wasn't long at all! This is the only way I get to travel - I enjoyed it, and I would enjoy more!

  3. I have never been to Charleston, but it's on my list of places to see before I die (along with New York City, Stonehenge and Hogwarts).

    Olive oil, French pastries and pirates. Got it!

  4. I feel like I've had a holiday! To this resident of cold, rainy Vancouver Island, Charleston is as exotic a locale to me as Bermuda - it has palm trees and pirates!

    You've made me look forward even more to your trip to Paris - I can't wait for your photo tours!

  5. Fantastic photos! I've been to Charleston once but definitely not as in depth as you. I'll have to return some time.

  6. This was a great re-cap of your trip! Where do I begin? I am not sure, but I KNOW I want to go on your next trip with you. OK, OK, Miss Chef can come too!

  7. Well.... I don't like my chances of getting to Charleston, but you never know! Lol. I enjoyed your recap of events and drooled at the last bit. A French bakery.... sigh!

  8. ACK! I just had a super long comment all typed out and I clicked submit and Blogger burped and said "Unable to Process Request"

    You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding!!!

    Anyway, your photos were awesome, especially the sailboat. Too bad you couldn't have taken the re-enactor photo from a different angle. I'd use the clone tool to erase those tourists from that photo. (We're they really taking photos of bricks?)

    I've been too many of those same place you visited, while we lived in SC, so your post brought back some special memories.
    The USS Yorktown I toured with my Dad and twinlings when they were about 4 years old.....10 years ago. Wow. Amazing how huge that ship is even inside. I almost threw up and had a panic attack in the submarine they had beside it. Talk about cramped, musty and difficult to maneuver. I would have gone insane had I had to work on that sub!

    Finally I do have one question for you: You went to that Gin Joint twice because you were intrigued about the specialty ice cubes, but then you never mentioned what cubes they used in your cocktails. Photos would have been nice, too. ahem!

    The Pirate Tour is something me and my kids would love to do someday.

    And mmmmm....macaroons. Haven't had them for years. Now I'm craving some.

    Your days were so full and packed with fun. I would have needed a vacation after getting back home.

    Now hopefully this comment will go where it's supposed to. Harumph!


  9. Yay! It worked!

    But one more thing to say. Your photos of the gardens and graveyards were gorgeous. There are some beautiful cemeteries in the South that for sure.Our here in NM, ours are more western in feel: dry, dusty, forgotten, tumbleweeds piled up along with cow manure and coyote bones.

    Oh! I so miss strawberry season in SC. I took my kidlets to the U-Pick fields every spring. Had some great memories of me sitting on the ground, red staining my pants while I picked one strawberry for me and two for the bucket. My kid's faces painted with red juice....and frozen strawberries for snacking on hot humid SC days. sigh....great times.


  10. Mom L, there was cheese on those grits, but I tasted them before I stirred the cheese in, and they were good plain, too.

    Lisa, I did take a couple of pics w/Miss Chef's phone--but we don't have data access, so can't get it onto the internet. The one I took had one big clear globe of ice about 3" in diameter in a highboy glass. The ice was so clear it was invisible in the picture! I think they have some pics on their website, though.

  11. Awesome! Beautiful, beautiful pictures. Thank you so much for taking us along... I've been to Savannah, but not yet to Charleston. Now I really want to go. :)

  12. Flartus, are you guys ok after the big storm?

  13. Yes, Terry, thanks for asking. Most of the damage was well east of us.

  14. Not too long at all, I enjoyed reading all about your trip. Beautiful pictures, it is very nice to see a bit of a place I will probably never see in person. Thank you! Sounds like a wonderful trip.

  15. Wow, what a wonderful time! Lucky Nickel wants to go on the pirate tour and have the parrot ride on her back. She did get to meet Isobelle and friends, by the way, but she did it through the fence, just in case they all decided they didn't like her, because all of Bev's goats and horses are bigger than her, so we thought it might be a wee bit risky. :)


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