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March 18th, 2012

Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADY’S (Charleston, S.C.)

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Fried Green Tomatoes @Husk

The “Holy City” Charleston in Southern Carolina is a rising star as a tourist destination.  It has, for the first time, won the Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Award for the best city in the US, pushing funky San Francisco from the top.

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Spanish Moss @Charleston

That by itself would not pose enough justification for me to visit Charleston, however there is the food…

Last year, when we were holidaying in Mauritius, my me and my boyfriend obsessed about this article in The New Yorker, which was the sole reason that, 12 months later, we ended up in Charleston.  This article described the incredibly cooking of Sean Brock, a Virginian born chef in his early thirties covered in tattoos, who is executive chef at the Charleston restaurants Husk and McCrady’s.  Mr. Brock is not only reviving lowcountry cuisine (what The New Yorker calls “once America’s greatest cuisine”), but also goes out of his way, working with historians, geneticists and local farmers to find and reintroduce lost vegetables, herbs and grains some of which have not been eaten since the 19th century!

Sean Brock opened McCrady’s, his experimental fine dining restaurant with influences from molecular gastronomy in 2006, shortly followed by Husk in 2010.  Husk is a very chilled and low-key affair, going back to basics and perfecting what is good about Southern cuisine using only locally sourced ingredients.  It’s  down to earth menu changes twice a day, with dishes created from whatever food is available and fresh on that particular day.  This concept and the love and devotion for Southern food and ingredients was enough for Husk to earn the  Bon Appétit best new restaurant in the USA award.  In addition, Sean Brock has been nominated outstanding chef of the Year 2012,  Hungry in London is keeping her fingers crossed for him!

During my short stay in Charleston, I tried both, McCrady’s and Husk, and I loved them equally.

 

McCRADY’s   green traffic5 150x150 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

McCrady’s is located in an four-story Georgian house built in the late 18th century.  It is atmospheric,  generous and welcoming and the food is amazing value for money.  4 courses for $60 per person and, if you dare, a 12 course menu for $125 per person

 

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Bricks @McCrady'sÂ

The starter of Warm Salad of Charleston Vegetables was fresh, aromatic and lovely, and consisted of greens I have never seen/tasted before.  I loved the Roasted Beets and Ambrose Strawberries, who would have thought that they go so well together?  The sweet flavour of the beets and the strawberries was perfectly complemented by anis and fresh herbs.  We probably would not have ordered the Rutabaga Soup if we had known that rutabaga is a kind of turnip.  Thank god for our sweet oblivion, as this creamy soup served with clams, sheep milk’s yoghurt and benne (sesame) was truly divine.

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Rutabaga Soup @McCrady'sÂ

 

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Warm Salad of Charleston Vegetables @McCrady'sÂ

 

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

 Roasted Beets and Strawberries @McCrady'sÂ

This vegetable feast was followed by the Fish Course.  The Mahi was as good as it gets and showed off the skills of this gifted chef.  The perfectly cooked fish covered with a wonderfully balanced herb and seed crust was served with a stunning kumquat and carrot purée and roasted carrots.  Exceptional also the Grilled Mako Shark which arrived bedded on a tangy and garlicy pickled ramp hollandaise.  Ramps, if you are as ignorant as me, are a type of wild onion native to North America and taste wonderful.  This dish was completed by my beloved sunchockes (US for Jerusalem artichokes).  I did not like the Grilled Octopus.  The whole dish was too sweet and unbalanced and the combination of  parsnip hazelnut purée, truffles and cocoa did not work for me at all.  One misguided dish out of 12 is not a bad result though!

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Mahi @McCrady'sÂ

 

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Octopus @McCrady'sÂ

 

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Shark @McCrady'sÂ

My memory starts to get a bit blurry with the meat course as we indulged in several bottles of beautiful Californian unoaked Chardonnays.  The Trio of Boarder Springs Lamb consisted of 3 different cuts of succulent lamb served with a garlic puree and sea island purple cape beans.  Don’t ask me what exactly these beans are, I only know that they tasted lovely.  A success also the Duck Aged and Roasted on the Bone with the meat cooked to absolute perfection.  I liked McCrady’s take on risotto, using pine nuts instead of rice.  The Tornhill Farm’s Chicken came with oats (oats in a fine dining restaurant? risky, but if worked!) and little truffle dots.  I am not sure about the presentation of this dish…

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Trio of Boarder Springs Lamb @McCrady'sÂ

 

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Duck Aged and Roasted on the Bone @McCrady'sÂ

 

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Tornhill Farm's Chicken @McCrady'sÂ

Some space left for dessert.  I thought the Dark Chocolate Ganache was nice but unmemorable.  The Ambrose Carrot Cake was magnificent and moist, served with a scrumptious orange bitters ice cream.

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

@McCrady'sÂ

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Chocolate Ganache @McCrady'sÂ

A highly enjoyable meal in vibrant atmosphere and I am so sad that Charleston is so far away.  Seriously, I would go back there all the time.

  • Food: 9/10
  • Service: 8/10
  • Ambiance: 8/10
  • Value for Money: 9/10
  • Verdict:  Stunning cooking, inventive ingredients and superb value for money.

HUSK green traffic5 150x150 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Slightly hungover from all this unoaked Chardonnay, we found ourselves at Husk for lunch the next day.  Husk couldn’t be more different from McCrady’s and you would never suspect the same executive chef.  Until you have tasted the food that is.  Just like McCrady’s, Husk knows how to do flavours and similar to McCrady’s you  find yourself with your eyes closed, mesmerised by the simple but stunning cooking.  Husk is devotedly Southern, going as far as banning all non-local ingredients from its kitchen and is apparently not even using olive oil!

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Finally at HuskÂ

Have you ever had buttermilk biscuits?  Let me assure you that this Southern speciality is one of the best things I have ever eaten.  Fresh from the oven, fluffy and light (texture, not calorie-wise) you eat them with creamy butter and you are in heaven.

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Buttermilk Biscuits with Benne seeds @Husk

We started with the quintessential traditional Southern dish – Fried Green Tomatoes (8).  I have been intrigued by the concept of eating unripe tomatoes since I saw the movie Fried Green Tomatoes as a child, and finally it was my time to satisfy my curiosity.  To prepare this dish, slices of unripe tomatoes are breaded and fried until they are heated nicely but still retain some firmness.  For me the sourness coming from the tomatoes together with the crispy and salty batter worked very well and I can understand why this dish is so popular.  Husk served its green tomatoes with another Southern speciality, Pimento Cheese.  I was not keen on this heavy spread with chunks of cheddar cheese and mayonnaise.

The Kentuckyaki glazed Pig’s Ear Salad Wraps (8) were an acquired taste.  Beautifully presented crunchy pig’s ears were immersed in a whiskey based glaze giving a smoky flavour to the dish.  For me, the flavour was too overpowering and I was quickly sated.  The Cornmeal Fried Trout (8) however was great.  Succulent fish covered in crispy batter went very nicely with the fresh buttermilk dip.  This is comfort food at its best.

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Pig's Ear Salad Wraps @Husk

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Cornmeal Fried Trout  @Husk

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Fried Green Tomatoes @Husk

All three mains were stunning.   After having eaten the HUSK Honey Ham Sandwich (10) I have been spoilt for life and will never be able to enjoy a normal ham sandwich again.  Husk’s combination of mild and crispy ham, smoked cheddar and green tomato pickles clearly is the pinnacle of ham sandwiches.  Even better the HUSK Cheese Burger (10), which was the best burger I have ever had.  Period.

The last entrée was again a Southern one.  The Cornmeal dusted Catfish (13) was elevated to a higher culinary level by smoky and rich butter beans and stripes of  salty wood-fired cabbage.  It doesn’t look very pretty admittedly, but it was good!

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Husk Honey Ham Sandwich @Husk

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

HUSK Cheese Burger @Husk

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Cornmeal Dusted Catfish @HuskÂ

Best new restaurant in the US?  I don’t know about that and I don’t care.  I loved the food at Husk, its stunning flavours, its simplicity, and its novelty.  Sam Brock is the ambassador of Lowcountry cuisine and he deserves all the praise for making this rich and generous cuisine known to food lovers all over the world.

 Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

Victorian Mansion housing HuskÂ

  •  Food: 8/10
  • Service: 7/10
  • Ambiance: 7/10
  • Value for Money: 8/10
  • Verdict: Southern cooking at its best, food that makes you happy.

biglink Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

biglink Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADYS (Charleston, S.C.)

 

12 comments to Ute travels: The epiphany of Lowcountry Cuisine at HUSK and MCCRADY’S (Charleston, S.C.)

  • TPT

    What a fantastic post! Both look amazing too.

  • liz

    Thank you for this very helpful preview. Heading down south to Charleston in a few weeks and hope to try both!

  • Ute

    @TPT – hey, thanks! glad you enjoyed it :)

    @Liz – ohh, you definitely have to go! I’m sure you will like them very much, I’m jealous!

  • I’m a Sean Brock fan too, not because I’ve had the pleasure of tasting his food but he has such a passionate ethical conscience, it’s inspirational.

  • Tracy

    As an American living in Austria it is especially fun to read your take on Lowcountry cooking. Sean Brock has sure gotten a lot of press recently, and, it seems, for good reason. I am from the North, but your post inspires me to try to visit the South to taste some of these delicious things. Biscuits are indeed divine – even better than scones. Liebe Grüße aus Tirol!

  • Ute

    @Tracy – Danke :) agree, much better than scones! so fluffy and light, I wonder if I can get them anywhere in London? Is Southern food popular all over the US actually? I always thought the main Southern food is fried chicken, little did I know…

  • You did make me completely want to go there! My one criticism is -why does cuisine that is trying to be authentic and local have to be served in this old-hat gourmet way with dollops of this and sprinkles of that? I am longing for food to be served without looking like graphic design.

  • Britt

    Ute,
    I was pleased to see someone else enjoyed the food at two of my favorite restaurants in my favorite town, especially since flavors local to Southerners have translated so well to someone from across the pond. Brock’s team is responsible for 3 of the best food experiences of my life, so I know full well how you feel. I must point out, though, that your picture above is not what we would call a biscuit (buttermilk or otherwise). I considered those to be very tasty seasoned dinner roll. Biscuits are a much different form of bread, made without the addition of yeast. All of this means that you’ll just have to come back for another tasting!

  • Ute

    @Ilse – You should go! It’s so different, fascinating. Husk tries to do the non-gourmet no fuss approach to food, while McCrady is more experimental and gourmetesque – so I think there is something for every taste. (which is good for me as I like both :)

    @Britt – Thanks Britt, I am glad that you as an expert enjoyed my little expose. Thanks for correcting me on the biscuits, they were presented by the waitress as being biscuits and as I am completely ignorant on the whole SOuthern biscuit front, I believed her. You are right, back for another tasting:)

  • Britt

    That’s not a correction. It’s an enlightenment. ;)

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