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Romance, Culture, and Food in Charleston SC

Posted by Spencer Hope Davis on August 12, 2010 in Charleston, SC, Road Trips, Urbanspoon Reviews, Vegan Dining Out |

Travel and Leisure Magazine recently named Charleston the second most romantic city in America behind Honolulu and in front of classic cities like San Francisco and New York. That would seem to be a pressure position to be in. Is it a romantic city? With its palm tree lined streets, shopping districts, and peaceful park-lined water views, it certainly seems to hang with the best of them. On a recent getaway I joked that these features, coupled with a 40% chance of summer showers might lead us to break into a chorus of Neil Sedaka’s lovely classic, “Laughter in the Rain.” Sure enough, on our first walk through the city we found ourselves running through raindrops and huddled under southern awnings, romantic moments broken only when I ran off across the cobblestone side streets to buy umbrellas at a 150 year old general store. The fact that we walked slowly back to our hotel under the umbrellas through streams of sunlight and bursts of humidity, let me know that this place was a special one to exhale in.

Choosing to stay at the Marriot Renaissance in the historic district, we found ourselves steps away from King Street, one of Charleston’s oldest streets. It runs far north through one of the cities party centers, down to the historic district with its diverse shopping and restaurants, and all the way south through homes and ending at Charleston Harbor and White Point Gardens Park.

Most of our walking experiences were based in this area but we were at no loss for things to do and of course, eat. On the north end, 2 blocks off King St., we enjoyed our first taste of Charleston at Alluettes Café. This is a family owned business and owner Alluette Jones-Smalls acts as your personal chef in the cozy café. She came out and discussed wants and needs with customers and went back in the kitchen. There she prepared our exceptionally delicious, holistically healthy soul foods in her “no pork” kitchen. Fish, shrimp, organic meats, vegetarian, and vegan choices were available. Alluette also owns and operates a jazz café on Calhoun St, between King and Meeting Streets. We spent one of our evenings with other jazz lovers listening to an excellent live house band, while being served even more of Alluettes menu items. It was a relaxed atmosphere with romance and joy infused into the night. Couples danced. Singles shared drinks. The band played “Lost Without You” by Robin Thicke twice. Perhaps they did this because during the first time, I left my table and grooved solo next to the keyboard player. Did they (and Rochelle) want to see that again? Who knows? It was just a great night.

More on Alluette’s Cafe at: Alluette's Café on Urbanspoon

Juanita Greenberg’s, also on King Street, brags out front that they have World Famous Margaritas. I had to try them. Not very tasty, but they were very tequila loaded which is probably why they gained their world status. It took no time at all before we were smiling from their effect and accepting of Greenberg’s unfortunately ultra sparse menu selection. We spilled out into the night air and realized that it being near midnight, King St. was beginning to come to life and party goers were wandering up and down the corridors. We were swept over to the sounds of House Trance music and discovered Club Pantheon, the centrally located club with a door sign welcoming those of “alternative lifestyles.” I know what that means and I embrace it, but this night in Pantheon, the alternative looked more like a place were people of all ages, races, and sexualities could dance into the night until the lights came up and the bouncers yelled for everyone to spill back onto the streets.

Charleston Flickr Slideshow

When you fall asleep with tequila and dancing running through your system, you awake ravenous and seeking of big grub. Lucky for us Hyman’s Seafood was a few blocks from the hotel and is the quintessential big grub spot. Owned by five generations of Hyman’s, this is the place to recharge and we wound up eating there every morning of our trip. While it is a space for seafood lovers, there were a few filling items on the menu for crafty vegans. One brunch visit I chose fettuccine with marinara sauce. Great grandson Eli Hyman noted my plate, and admitted this would not have been his choice of a meal. When I explained my veganism he remarked that I must be a dedicated friend to sit and watch Rochelle eat salmon and grits, oysters, crab cake, shrimp, pork laced collards, and hush puppies. It was not a problem. I enjoyed my pasta, as well as the great okra and fried green tomatoes from our other visit there.

You can’t visit a place like Charleston without dipping into its history. We chose not to take traditional tours that focused on the supposed romanticism of the plantation era. I am sure that my ancestors fought hard for love and family during these times, but I am almost certain this is not the romanticism discussed on the tours. We instead took a Black History tour offered by Al Miller of Sites and Insights tours. Al has been doing driven tours for 23 years. I found it sad that this excellent tour requires a bit of searching on a tourists part. It’s not listed in Frommers Guides and there are no brochures sitting around the hotel lobby. But this 3-hour tour of Gullah and Geechie culture, a rich mixture of African slaves and the generations that followed after them, is so worth experiencing.

And speaking of dipping, what of those long beaches that Charlestonians flock to? We asked our concierge which beach was best for relaxing and we were told that Folly Beach across the harbor was the place that locals go to relax. It was a windy day but we enjoyed sitting and doing a whole lot of nothing while watching the tide rise and eat away at our sandy shoreline. We didn’t leave until the water had risen to the vegetation, leaving us no choice but to leave. Still, we had moments of romance. Realizing that worrying about our coolers and blankets getting waterlogged was preoccupying my mind, I decided to put them on the other side of the sand wall and came back to sit on the moving sand. “Come sit with me.” I said, and for a good half hour we sat and allowed no worries to be entertained while the waves came in and out and over us. Touching the sand as it washed around me, letting the incoming and retreating waves push my seated body whichever way it wanted to was a relaxing, relinquishing heaven.

Our last nights dinner was at Basil Thai, a small restaurant with a city feel, securely meshed in the southern charm of King St. The food was amazing. The atmosphere eclectic and jumping. Loud and bustling. A perfect setting to turn romance not into words but into unspoken body language- hand touches, smiles, winks, and promises for the walk afterward and of the last evening of Charleston’s goodbye.

For more of my reviews of vegan grub spots click (here).

The Links– Both Mentioned and Suggested Ones:

Romantic Cities List (link)

Folly Beach (link)

Hyman’s Seafood (link)

Marriott Renaissance (link)

Alluettes Café (link)

Alluettes Jazz Café (link)

Juanita Greenberg’s (link)

Basil Thai (link)

Sites and Insights (link)

Club Pantheon (link)

The Sprout (link)

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  • Katherine Robinson says:

    Hey Spencer!

    Loved your blog about Charleston. Interesting that you went to several places we haven’t visited yet despite many trips there in the past three years. Shows just how much there is to do and see in that great city. You have a very easy, engaging writing style. I meant to just browse so I could visit other links, but I couldn’t stop reading. I will continue to explore, but just wanted to add a comment here to show I was listening to your instructions last night!

    Thanks for showing us your wizardry on the computer. Even though Mardy says he’s just not into it, I know he is just the tiniest bit jealous. He was pleased with his first blog this morning on iwise, so maybe he will change his mind about fully entering the Internet age.

    Great to see you guys last night.

    • Spencer Hope Davis says:

      Thank you for coming on Katherine,

      I hope as you explore the blog you’ll find lots of interesting posts. The Essay link in the menu bar will take you to the longer pieces if you would like some extra reading. If there is anything I can do to assist Mardy let me know!


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