Husk Restaurant: A Weekend in Charleston

For years now, friends have been telling me to visit Charleston. They've raved about the history, the architecture, and mostly, the food. So when I finally got around to visiting this summer, I was crazy excited about all the eating ahead of me. My very first stop, James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock's Husk Restaurant.

The place is definitely a hotspot. When we arrived, 10 minutes prior to our reservation, both the porch and seating/waiting area out front were bustling as people enjoyed cocktails while waiting to be sat. A constant hum of patrons entered and asked to be put on the waitlist, casually milling about, waiting for their chance to be served. We navigated through the crowd, got checked in, and a few minutes later were led to out table, passing a large chalkboard detailing the sourcing of the day's local ingredients. Bacon, quail, bread, beets, cheese, you name it, the source was listed. This is a restaurant that cares where the ingredients are from (if it's not from the South, it won't be served on the menu) and proudly displays the farms and artisans supplying their ingredients.

My hubby and I started by perusing the menu. So many tempting dishes, so little time! The wine list was interesting, organized by soil type (Alluvial, Slate, Limestone, Granite, and Volcanic,) but it was the cocktail list that called to us. My hubby went for gin, I opted whiskey, and after consulting our waiter we ordered our drinks.

Suge's 3rd Strike
First up, my husband ordered a Suge's 3rd Strike: Gin, Amaretto, Carrot Juice, Orange Juice, Grapefruit Oleo, and Black Pepper. It blew my mind. Refreshing, not too sweet, perfectly balanced, yet every ingredient shone through. At once you got the hit of gin, the earthy carrot, the sweet orange, and bitter grapefruit, while the surprise black pepper spice at the end somehow rounded the thing out. I let my husband have his drink back and was eager to try mine.

JoJo's Second Home

I was initially tempted to order the Barrel-Aged Manhattan (who doesn't love a good barrel-aged cocktail?) but instead opted for the JoJo's Second Home. Bourbon, Nonino Amaro, Cognac, Agave, and Pecan Shell Brandy sounded too good to pass up (especially since I can get a beautiful Barrel-Aged Manhattan several places in Orlando.) Like the Suge's 3rd Strike, my cocktail did not disappoint. It wowed me with its complexity of flavors, yet harmonious balance. No wonder the Bar at Husk (right next door and open in the evenings) was such a local favorite. If it hadn't been lunch time, I would've happily ordered more. Since I knew I had a long day of eating and drinking ahead I decided to pace myself.

We debated the menu a bit, chicken wings as a starter and fried chicken as an entree seemed like overkill so we needed to settle on one. My husband was initially attracted to the cheeseburger, and while I'm sure their burger is delicious I steered my hubby towards the shrimp & grits instead. It took some finagling but we finally decided on three appetizers and two entrees, knowing that we'd be sharing everything we ordered.  While we munched on the tasty rolls (seeded Parker House style, good, but nothing to get worked up about) we chatted, sipped our cocktails, and eagerly awaited our food.

Service was efficient and friendly and we didn't have to wait long. Just a few minuted later, our appetizers started arriving.

First up, the Grilled Crostini with TN Cheddar Pimento Cheese, HUSK Pickle Relish, and Crispy Country Ham.

The beauty in this plate was the sheer simplicity and perfection. Pimento cheese is delicious and I'm a big fan. I can't say the pimento cheese at Husk was somehow different or mind-blowing, it was very good and exactly what I expected. The real trick was the perfection of proportions. Usually, crostini can be tricky. The bread can be too crispy crunchy, or too chewy, or the topping can be too much or too little. Not at Husk. The bread was perfectly grilled so that you had a little crispy crust on the outside, but soft interior. The pimento cheese was the exact amount to complement the bread and the house-made relish and crispy ham rounded out the flavors in each bite. Like the cocktails, you got a very distinct sense of each ingredient while they balanced each other out. At once you had sweet/salty/cheesy/crunchy/tangy in every bite.

Next up was our hands-down favorite dish of the meal; Kentuckyaki Pig Ear Lettuce Wraps with Sweet Marinated Cucumbers and Red Onion, and Sea Island Benne Seed.

I've never had pig ears before and I could've eaten a bowl of these straight up. They were chewy, savory, meaty, and crispy all at the same time. Marinated then fried, these tangy, meaty strips were hugged by the soft lettuce while the cucumbers and onions cut through the richness. The entire meal would've been worth it for this dish alone and I was tempted to place another order.

Out at the same time came the Wood-Fired Chicken Wings with Charred Scallion and Peach Honey BBQ and spiced VA peanuts.

This dish actually had me wishing I'd ordered the fried chicken. The wings were tasty, the peach BBQ sauce was particularly yummy, but the wings themselves weren't crispy enough for my taste. Maybe I've been spoiled by the super crispy Korean Fried Chicken wings I've been making at home recently, but these wings were the weakest point in the meal.

All-in-all, our starters had been a big success and we were very eager to dig into the entrees. My hubby ordered the Shrimp and Edisto Grits, Country Ham Broth with Smoky Tomato, Fennel and Peppers, English Peas while I chose the Wood-Fired SC Quail, with Succotash of Skinny's Beans, Roasted Corn, and Tomato 'Nduja Emulsion.

Shrimp and Edisto Grits, Country Ham Broth with Smoky Tomato, Fennel and Peppers, English Peas

Wood-Fired SC Quail, with Succotash of Skinny's Beans, Roasted Corn, and Tomato 'Nduja Emulsion
How do I explain these dishes? Let me just say that the proteins were cooked flawlessly. Both the shrimp and the quail were well executed, perfectly cooked, and very tasty. But the magic on both of these plates was in the sides. The grits portion of the shrimp and grits plate were mind-bogglingly delicious. I've only recently become a fan of grits, and usually it's the liberal amount of butter that makes me go ga-ga. These had plenty of butter I'm sure, but the sweet corn flavor of the grits, bright and fresh while creamy and indulgent, bathed in the gorgeous ham broth just made the dish. I could've skipped the shrimp altogether, as delicious as they were, and dived straight into those grits. The same can be said for the quail dish. The star of the show was the succotash. I have honestly never particularly enjoyed succotash before, and I'm pretty certain it's because all other versions are failures compared to the masterpiece on that plate. Corn and beans, it was so much more. I am both excited to try succotash again, and fearful that any other version will only pale in comparison.

By this point in the meal, we were full and very happy. I passed on dessert, knowing that I had a big meal ahead at dinner.

Charleston, SC is brimming with Southern restaurants. Lowcountry cuisine, including rice and seafood, is everywhere and done consistently well throughout the city, but Husk stands apart. Exploring local ingredients (Brock has even banned olive oil from the restaurant since it can't be found locally in the South) and obsessed with in-house pickling and charcuterie, Husk plays with Southern cuisine offering something both classic, yet modern. It was a fabulous meal and I eagerly await my next trip to Charleston so I can eat here again.

Husk Restaurant
76 Queen St.
Charleston, SC 29401

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