The Bar at Husk serves its version of pimiento cheese, along with rabbit bologna and fried chicken wings.
Though a relatively small city of about 125,000 people, Charleston, S.C., is a hotbed of culinary creativity. A robust tourism trade, a rich cuisine of its own, and a cadre of talented and creative chefs have helped the city reap the benefits of the growing national interest in what we eat and drink.
As a pillar of the distinctive Lowcountry cuisine of the coastal region between Charleston and Savannah, Ga., visitors and locals have long enjoyed local seafood and grains cooked in ways influenced by Western Europe, the Caribbean and West Africa. But the city’s chefs and restaurateurs are adopting other trends that are likely to become further entrenched across the country.
1. Reinventing old favorites
At The Bar at Husk, -owner Sean Brock serves pimiento cheese — a popular Southern spread of Cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and pimientos — on baguette slices, along with house-made rabbit bologna and fried chicken wings with “comeback sauce,” a traditional spicy mayonnaise.
Similarly, The Alley — a 170-seat restaurant, bowling alley and video arcade that opened in November 2012 — remakes classic Southern chicken salad by dressing it in tzatziki, a Greek yogurt sauce. And at Sugar Bakeshop, Charleston’s classic Lady Baltimore Cake — a meringue-frosted cake layered with nuts, golden raisins and figs soaked in sherry — is served as a cupcake by co-owners Bill Bowick and David Bouffard.
2. Cured meat
Many chefs in Charleston are making their own sausages and curing their own meats. At the forefront of that movement is Craig Deihl, executive chef of Cypress, whose charcuterie is widely acclaimed. He has a walk-in refrigerator at Cypress dedicated to aging and storing sausages and hams, and he plans to ramp up production to open a sandwich shop later this year.
Cypress chef de cuisine Bob Cook said Deihl’s team worked closely with the local health department to develop safety standards for on-premise meat curing.
Brock also is reportedly opening a new restaurant later this year. His publicist said the concept was still being worked out, but that it would likely be small and casual, pointing to the ongoing trend of high-end chefs opening lowbrow restaurants.
3. Gluten-free items
Charleston might be a fairly small city, but the gluten-free trend is large enough that the city has a bakery that only serves items without the wheat protein. Sweet Radish Bakeshop owner Julia Ingram uses whole grains such as quinoa and teff, as well as potato starch, rice flour, almond flour and a wide array of other grains, to develop sweet and savory gluten-free items. She has gained a following from gluten eaters, too.
4. Foraging and fermenting
Miner’s lettuce tracked down by a local forager is a signature element in the wild greens salad at Two Boroughs Larder. Chef-owner Joshua Keeler makes the salad dressing by fermenting almonds in buttermilk mixed with 10 percent salt and 5 percent sugar, by weight, for 14 to 21 days. He then rinses it, strains it, pasteurizes it to stop the fermentation, and purees it in milk. The dressing is made into vinaigrette by mixing it with Meyer lemon vinegar.
5. Flavored ice cubes
At Sugar Bakeshop, Bill Bowick keeps his sun tea cold and undiluted by serving it with ice cubes made out of the same tea. Flavored ice cubes are particularly popular in cocktails, a nationwide trend NRN noted last year, but options also abound for flavored ice cubes in tea and other soft drinks.
This story has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 1, 2014 An earlier version of this story misstated Craig Deihl's title. He is executive chef of Cypress.
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