Meaghan Dorman, bar director for New York City bars The Bennett, The Raines Law Room and Dear Irving, headed to Charleston, South Carolina for an industry beverage conference, the second-annual BevCon, and when she wasn’t conferencing, she was out and about tasting local delights. She chronicled her drinks and food adventures for Wine Enthusiast.
Tuesday: The Rarebit, Rodney Scott’s BBQ, The Royal American
I read an Anthony Bourdain interview where he said he never eats airplane food so he can arrive hungry to his destination. I’ve adopted this, so just water and almonds in the airport.
11 am: When I arrive in Charleston, I can’t check in yet, so I wander to The Rarebit on King Street. The restaurant is always great, but especially welcoming during the weird pre- and post-lunch hours when getting a meal is tricky.
I order a coffee. The bartender asks, “Do you want to make it Irish?” I say yes. Also, a patty melt.
5 pm: After seminars end for the day, [Houston bartender] Alba Huerta and I head to Rodney Scott’s BBQ and order a whole hog sandwich, ribs, fried catfish, baked beans, mac-n-cheese, cole slaw and fries.
All Southern food people seem to know each other. Rodney gives us banana pudding, which is divine. Ribs and baked beans are standouts in an all-around delicious feast, paired with a Westbrook Belgian-style witbier, White Thai. We roll back to hotel, where I finally check in.
9 pm: Still so full from BBQ, there’s no room for additional dinner. We hit a few “bar take-overs,” where visiting bar teams are showing off their skills. By 11 pm, we’re at The Royal American for a karaoke party. I don’t sing karaoke, but I am a great cheerleader for my songbird friends while enjoying an Anderson Valley G&T Gose. There is nothing better in hot Charleston weather than an icy-cold, sour/salty beer.
Wednesday: Revelator Coffee, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Stems & Skins, Proof, The Ordinary, The Belmont
9 am: Still full from BBQ. You really get your money’s worth here.
10:30 am: Late breakfast consists of a cortado and part of a chocolate croissant at Revelator Coffee.
4 pm: After seminars, [New Orleans bartender] Abigail Gullo and I walk down to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. Get a scoop of Brown Butter Almond Brittle (as good as it sounds) and coffee ice cream.
7 pm: One of our crew has a car, so we motor over to Stems & Skins in North Charleston. The sign says “Fresh & Freaky Ferments.” The menu revolves around tinned seafood, pickled items and charcuterie.
We have a bottle of Manzanilla, then a bottle of a richer white wine. The group orders octopus/olive skewers, ibérico ham, scallop ceviche, trout escabeche, sardines, razor clams, spicy tuna pâté, cockles, snails on toast, a mix of cheese and charcuterie and this really amazing burrata and fermented tomato salad.
9 pm: Back to the King Street area to catch the next night of bar takeovers. First is my Charleston home away from home, Proof. After working three pop-ups there during the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, I firmly believe I am now an official employee.
11 pm: Down the street, The Ordinary is doing a late-night menu with guest chef Steven Satterfield from Miller Union in Atlanta. The place is super busy when we arrive, but we grab bar seats in the nick of time. Like a boss, Alba orders a magnum of cider.
12 am: After we finish our massive bottle of cider, we go across the street to The Belmont. I love The Belmont! It always plays silent black & white movies, bartenders wear thin black ties and white shirts, and service is very knowledgeable and prompt. I have a Boulevardier—one of my favorite nightcaps.
Alba and I ask the bartender if they still make this dessert panini thing we had three years ago that I literally still dream about. He says yes, and a few minutes later we have a piping-hot phyllo dough sandwich stuffed with Nutella and banana, topped with powdered sugar.
Thursday: Revelator Coffee, Le Farfalle, Leon’s, The Ordinary
9 am: Still full from last night, so no breakfast, but always room for another cortado at Revelator Coffee. I’m speaking at a seminar later in the day and I have public speaking nerves; I won’t be eating much until after the seminar.
3:30 pm: Phew, seminar done! Underberg, a German digestif, is being passed around at the conference, so I have a few sips to say sayonara to nervous speaking-tummy.
5 pm: Head to Le Farfalle. The original iteration of Perla on Minetta Lane in New York City was pure magic for me, so I was very excited to hear the chef, Michael Toscano, was planning a new venture when he moved to Charleston. Same amazing pasta, but on a Southern-inspired menu in a bigger, brighter space. There are even some familiar faces working the Perla bar that relocated to Charleston.
I have a spritz (Dolin Rouge, Cappelletti, Amaro Sfumato, bubbles) with a variety of bites, thoughts of second-dinner bubbling. Thumbs up for the Corn Frittelle, which is cool corn off the cob with taleggio and chili butter. Also, a beautiful octopus carpaccio and steak tartare. I love steak tartare, but it must have some crunch for texture. Nothing is sadder than spongy bread or soggy waffle crisps. This one has thin, super-crunchy, potato stick-like crisps and a hint of black truffle.
I decide on a seafood pasta: scialatielli with littleneck clams, chili, and garlic breadcrumbs. Excellent texture balance, and a nice helping of clams. Happy belly.
8:30 pm: Alba and I lock down bar seats inside the main restaurant of Leon’s, because it’s fried chicken and oyster time. Was getting worried I’d miss Leon’s this trip, but the universe loves me and I have a frozen gin and tonic in my hand (yum!). Adore the wood-fired oysters here, though we have some raw as well.
Alba gets an amazing-looking shrimp roll with potato chips crumbled on top, but I’m saving myself for fried chicken. When it arrives, it does not disappoint! Crispy skin, juicy and the right amount of spice. After, we share a soft-serve, because the machine is right in front of us and we’ve been staring at ice cream for an hour.
10:30 pm: We’re back at The Ordinary for oyster sliders: three perfect bites of fried oyster, crispy slaw and a touch of hot sauce on a Parker House roll. Have a hibiscus gose in a pint glass with ice and a lemon, because sometimes I like my beer on ice. A friend down the bar sends over caviar, and I have a delightful little blini to end my trip.
9 am: Just water and a banana this morning. Must return to NYC hungry!
Text by Meaghan Dorman. Edited by Kara Newman, spirits editor.