Travelers staying in Charleston’s historic district, where 18th-century houses line cobblestone streets, can taste-test Low Country staples at the Saturday farmers market in Marion Square. Here, stalls overflow with okra, butter beans, rutabagas, whole pigs and chickens—as well as sandwiches and pies. Foodies scope out the scene at 8 a.m.; before you join them, get a café con leche at Hope and Union Coffee Co., six blocks away.
For lunch, venture out of the downtown area to Martha Lou’s Kitchen, a Charleston institution in a bright pink cottage on a nondescript four-lane thoroughfare. After 28 years in the biz, Martha Lou herself still runs the kitchen, a spotless corner with well-loved pots and pans visible from the dining room. Tables fill up for her famous fried chicken, well seasoned with just salt and pepper, as well as sides like buttery cornbread and cabbage simmered with hunks of ham. A glass of sweet tea, in this case extra sugary, is a must.
Five o’clock cocktails are a serious tradition here, and Charlestonians happily celebrate it at F.I.G., or Food Is Good. At the restaurant’s bar, expert mixologists craft cocktails such as the Marfa Daisy, made with Espolón tequila and elderflower, and the Green Thumb, a blend of Mississippi Cathead vodka, chartreuse, mint, cucumber, celery bitters, aloe and lime—both chart-toppers on the winter drinks menu.
Over the years, many of the city’s chefs—Ken Vedrinski of Trattoria Lucca, Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill, Sean Brock of McCrady’s—have been singled out for prestigious James Beard Awards. The latest opening is chef Brock’s Husk, set in a historic house with wide porches, antique-glass windows and a 10-foot chalkboard menu that details ingredients and their provenance. His dishes are daring: chicken skins poached in buttermilk and hot sauce, then fried till they’re crisp; sliders made with pig ears—pressure-cooked, sliced and fried—and pickled heirloom squash, tucked inside warm buns.
At Cypress, Craig Deihl mixes Low Country foods with Asian ingredients: oysters, for example, are topped with tuna sashimi and pineapple wasabi. End your evening with a Lady Baltimore cupcake, a Southern specialty made with sherry-soaked raisins and figs, at Sugar Bakeshop, owned by New York transplants Bill Bowick and David Bouffard.
Marion Square: charlestonarts.sc
Hope and Union Coffee Co.: 199 St. Philip St.; 843-922-1023
Martha Lou’s Kitchen: 1068 Morrison Dr.; 843-577-9583
Food Is Good: 232 Meeting St.; 843-805-5900
Husk: 76 Queen St.; 843-577-2500
Cypress: 167 E. Bay St.; 843-727-0111
Sugar Bakeshop: 59½ Cannon St.; 843-579-2891