Part of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival fun for visitors is making the acquaintance of the many downtown restaurants which have opened over the past year. Fortunately for eaters with a checklist, the most interesting additions to the local culinary canon are designed for dropping in: There’s no need to fuss with reservations, or to surrender a meal slot that might otherwise be devoted to a festival event.
Assuming your schedule and stomach space are tight, here’s a six-dish guide to catching up on what you’ve missed since March 2014:
RESTAURANT: Leon’s Oyster Shop, 698 King St.
DISH: Chargrilled oysters, $12
Even raw oyster purists have fallen hard for what James Beard Foundation award semi-finalist Ari Kolender has done with heaps of butter and cheese. The richness doesn’t obscure the shellfish, so much as celebrate them. The oysters are served six to a plate: Don’t bother trying to share.
RESTAURANT: 167 Raw, 289 E. Bay St.
DISH: Ceviche, $13
Locals are nuts about the Nantucket transplant’s lobster roll, but if you’ve come to the Lowcountry for lobster, you’ve taken a wrong turn. Instead, order the daily ceviche special, which allows you to pay tribute to Charleston’s coastal location without boarding a boat.
RESTAURANT: Minero, 155 E. Bay St.
DISH: Fried catfish taco, $4
Sean Brock’s newest restaurant this summer is opening a second location in Atlanta, and it’s not hard to imagine a Southern landscape dotted with outposts of the casual taqueria. For now, though, you have to come to Charleston to sample the glorious tortillas and exceptional benne salsa. The catfish is of secondary interest: You’re after whatever’s made with corn.
RESTAURANT: The Park Café, 730 Rutledge Ave.
DISH: Creamy kale toast, $6
Chef John Amato designed his creamed spinach riff as a statement of The Park Café’s green mentality. Whatever it means, customers can’t get enough of it: It’s served as a side dish at dinnertime and atop toast during the day. (Full disclosure: The Park Café opened a few weeks before last year’s festival.)
RESTAURANT: Artisan Meat Share, 33 Spring St.
DISH: Charcuterie, $15
Charcuterie continues to flourish in Charleston, but Craig Deihl and sous chef Bob Cook remain the local masters of the form. At Artisan Meat Share, the pair gets to play at putting its handiwork to daily use, creating sandwiches centered on pate and nduja. For snacking purposes, though, the basic meat board is the best choice.
RESTAURANT: Saint Alban, 710 King St.
DISH: Buckwheat waffle, $9
Charleston’s newest – and instantly most-beloved – coffeehouse only serves waffles before 11 a.m., so consider this your incentive to get out of bed at a decent hour. The lofty Old World waffle is especially good with tangy marmalade and ricotta cheese.
For more information on the above restaurants — and new restaurants beyond walking distance, including Swig & Swine, On Forty One and The Obstinate Daughter — visit The Post and Courier’s review archive.