Charleston, SC

I’ve been back from Charleston since Monday and I’m still thinking about this strawberry layer cake from Five Loaves.  What the owners call a gourmet eatery, this small restaurant has a focus on sandwiches and creative daily soups.

Pictured is the chicken breast sandwich with basil pesto, raspberry vinegar marinated tomatoes, and multigrain bread. Their soups ranged from a tomato, feta cheese, and rosemary blend to a Mexican tortilla soup.  I ordered the tomato soup with crab.

For dinner, we headed to Slightly North of Broad.  It’s an upscale restaurant with white table cloths and dark wood decorating the dining room. They have an open kitchen with a dining bar facing the chefs. Above, the caramelized pear salad with pistachios, blue cheese, dried cranberries, and a light white vinaigrette. The pear’s crispy and sweet coating paired well with the sharp blue cheese.

It wouldn’t be a trip to the South without an order of shrimp and grits. Creamy yellow grits were under sliced spicy sausage, strips of hams and onion, and Cajun spices.

My meal, the grilled hanger steak with broccoli, portobello mushrooms, and a caramelized onion cream sauce. While the meat was cooked perfectly at medium rare, my only complaint was that the food could have been much warmer.

For dessert, I cleansed my palate (ate more sugar) with a sour cherry sorbet.

Finish your night off in Charleston at The Gin Joint.  If you’re lucky enough to get a seat, take time to sort through the 11+ pages of drinks. Inspired bu prohibition-style drinks, the owners are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America. If you’re looking for more than drinks, they also have a small assortment of upscale appetizers.

For anyone who is interested in expanding their wine and spirits knowledge, owner Joseph Raya offers wine and spirits classes. I ordered a raspberry fizz with blackberries, Goslings Dark (no, not Ryan), lemon, Demerara, and sparkling wine.

The following night, we dined at what Bon Appetit crowned The Best New Restaurant in America. Husk  is home to James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock.

Set inside an historic house, beautiful and simple decorations line the warmly painted walls.

There is a quote that Brock applies to his restaurant: “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door.” According to the website, he has even stricken olive oil from the kitchen.

Local farms are promoted in the front hallway, showing diners just where their food is coming from.

While there, it was restaurant week and therefore made the menu limited.

Imagine my relief when fried chicken skins was still an appetizer. Paired with a hot sauce and served on a cutting board, Husk is not shy with portions.

For my main course, I went with pork so tender I could cut it with my fork, farro, fire-roasted sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts, and a bourbon jus.

I finished the delicious dinner off with an oatmeal pie with a cookie crust, a brown sugar custard, fudge sauce, and salted caramel ice cream. As I scooped up my last bite, it’s not hard to see why Husk earned its 2011 best new restaurant award.

Charleston never disappoints when it comes to the culinary scene. Til next time.

Looking for more places in Charleston?

Hominy Grill

Glazed Doughnuts – Closed Mondays

Cupcake

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Dots Back Inn

I’ll preface this post by saying Guy Fieri has been here and we have a bit of a past. While Fieri’s descriptions of food are lacking, his unhealthy breakfast spots are not. Seriously,  his food descriptions are lacking — watch the video below about Dots’ black bean corn cakes.

I am a lover of unhealthy food, especially at breakfast. When I saw Dots Back Inn on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, I knew a trip to Richmond would be in the works. Even better that my trip to Richmond came on the first day of 2012.

Located in somewhat of a suburban looking area, Dots serves breakfast, brunch, and lunch in their small restaurant. Along with a basic diner interior, there comes a typical diner menu. I’m not complaining.

Eggs any style, stuffed French toast, corned beef hash, and chunky monkey pancakes all grace the the brunch menu. One the first day of 2012 my eye went directly to the huevos rancheros.  Perhaps it was The Little Grill in Harrisonburg, Va that got me hooked to Mexican dishes for breakfast, but once I saw the rancheros I immediately ordered. Smothered in what looked to be homemade salsa, there were fried eggs (cooked perfectly) on top of chili, cheese, sour cream, and taco shells. I added black beans to the mix, too.

The consistency of the chili mixed with the sour cream and egg yolk paired quite nicely with the crispy flour tortilla shell. Every bite had a crunch as well as a bit of spiciness. In the words of Guy Fieri, it was “really good.”

So obviously my New Year’s resolution had nothing to do with losing weight or eating healthier. A favorite to many of the locals, Richmond’s Dots Back Inn brings heavy, but delicious meals, with amazing service to Virginia’s capital.

Watch the 5-minute clip about Dots on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives:

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The Liberty Tree

H Street in D.C. is the current hot spot for restaurants and PBR. About a mile long, this street is home to trendy restaurants including Smith Commons, Sticky Rice and the New England themed The Liberty Tree.

I found reviews saying how the clam rolls and lobster rolls at The Liberty Tree were like the ones they grew up on in Massachusetts.  So, who better to bring to this establishment than my parents, who grew up in Massachusetts!?

The place has a cozy vibe with New England posters framed on the walls. It’s a fairly small place with not too much seating, and their bar faces the kitchen.

My family and I started with the lobster corndogs for an appetizer. Other tempting apps’ included the lobster mac ‘n’ cheese and fried brussel sprouts. While the dipping sauce for the corndogs was delicious, the corndogs were overcooked and had almost a rubbery texture on the outside. Had they not been overcooked, the flavor would have been good, but still not a standout.

For our entrees, my mom went with the talked about fried clam roll. Here is her review:

“Clams were good but no where near as good as my favorites from JT Farnhams in Essex, Ma. I think they should have been more evenly coated… some parts of the clams didn’t have any coating.”

She didn’t hold anything back!

Other dishes including the pizza and the fried chatham cod sandwich. The consensus at the table was my salmon was the best dish of the night. Go me!

Update: My brother found his brick oven clam pizza to be delicious. Called the Casino, it was topped with baby clams, roasted garlic, bacon, spinach, herb butter & pecorino romano.

The salmon is not on their online menu, but it was grilled salmon on top of a cream spinach apple orzo.

The best part of the night was actually the salads which were dressed perfectly. Another nice fact about this restaurant is that their New England rolls are shipped in and if you can purchase the rolls directly from The Liberty Tree.

The Liberty Tree puts forth a good effort, but sometimes, New England food is best left up to New England.

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Sunrise Donuts

I heard about Sunrise Donuts from a friend of mine who happened to stumble upon the shop in Gloucester, VA. With the post Thanksgiving traffic on Sunday, my brother and I decided to take the “scenic” route back to Northern Virginia.

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How fitting is this picture? Opened last September in a strip mall, Sunrise Donuts already has a steady stream of customers, and according to The Daily Press newspaper, some of those customers come in at 3 am on their way to the shipyard.

Flavors range from the basic cinnamon sugar and glazed to the popular maple glaze with bacon bits. Started by Holli Cohoon, her small staff cooks from 9:30pm till 2am.

And their not just cooking doughnuts. They also serve cinnamon buns, apple fritters and a selection of other pastries.

Knowing what rave reviews the actual donuts from Sunrise had received, my brother and I picked out the banana chocolate doughnut and the cinnamon sugar. Be warned, these doughuts are massive.

You can tell just how fresh these doughnuts are upon your first bite. In regards to flavor, I think the simpler the better.  To me, the banana frosting tasted artificial, but when paired with thick doughnut, the frosting flavor wasn’t overpowering– in a good way.

If you ever take the “scenic” route through Gloucester, Va, I still suggest making a pit stop.

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Bakeshop

It’s hard enough to make it as a bakery today, but to stay in business with the giant cupcake company Crumbs less than a mile away, I knew Bakeshop must be offering sweets that keeps customers coming back.

With a simple name, the inside of Bakeshop keeps it fairly simple, too. A few wooden tables sit inside the crafty shop, and the front counter is lined with cupcakes ranging with flavors from almond joy, 7Up, nutella and of course, red velvet.  Cupcakes aren’t the only thing Bakeshop takes out of the oven.

Other tempting items include blueberry oatmeal cookies, layered cakes (custom orders), cream pies and chocolate chip cookies with an oreo baked inside.

Justin Stegall, who is the face behind Bakeshop, previously worked as a cake decorator in Brooklyn.  After making his way back to Northern VA, his sweets were starting to pop up at local coffee joints. That’s when the buzz started and soon enough Bakeshop was born.

I’m still obsessed with the fall, thus I am still obsessed with anything pumpkin flavored. This pumpkin cupcake topped with the perfect amount of cream cheese frosting. The flavor of the cake was delicious.

I’m still thinking about the cupcake, but another sweet on my mind was the homemade banana pudding. A special for the day I went, the pudding was sold out by the time I arrived. Stegall calls it “one of the best desserts ever.” So, yeah I’m taking another trip back.

You get the local vibe in Bakeshop, and what’s more, you get a friendly vibe. In fact, if you see Stegall in the shop, he encourages you to “Stop by and say ‘whatsup!’”

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Sushi Rock

What sushi and rock music have in common is beyond me, yet somehow, Sushi Rock mends the two together quite well (and not just through the name). Located in Clarendon, away from the nightlife scene, this two floor modern restaurant has an industrial architecture inside decorated with warm tones.

I went to Sushi Rock with a friend on a weeknight and was seated immediately. We were greeted promptly by our server who fit the rock/waiter bill perfectly. Well, he had pierced ears, and in my book, that means he probably wears a leather jacket while listening to Axl Rose. That is my definition of a rocker.

Before I even got my hand on the drink menu, our rocker waiter was back asking if we’d like to start with an appetizer. Two seconds later he was back asking if we had made a decision. Pretty sure I still had my purse on at this moment. I had to politely ask for a few more minutes a couple more times until we were ready to order drinks. Searching through other reviews of this restaurant, the majority of complaints pertain to service.

Above is the “Day Tripper.” Both the drinks and food have rocker themes, and yes, I felt like an idiot ordering every single thing. The Day Tripper has raspberry vodka, blended juices and coconut foam. Doesn’t get much girlier than that! Something tells me our waiter never orders this drink.

For dinner, my friend and I decided to go with three different types of sushi.

The sushi presentation is done beautifully. If I remember correctly, above is the Ziggy Stardust roll. Ugh, I feel like an idiot just typing the name of the sushi. This roll has an interesting twist, rather than fish, this is rolled up kobe beef, asparagus, red pepper and a jalapeno mayo. I like the creativity of this roll, but every bite I found myself thinking “wait, this texture is weird,” and then I’d have to remind myself about the beef. Quite the mind game let me tell you.

Our favorite of the evening was the You Shook Me All Night Long (ugh). As the menu breaks it down, it’s tempura shrimp + avocado + cucumber + crab stick + black tobiko + red tobiko + scallion + Japanese mayo. What’s tobiko you say? Fish roe. What is fish roe you say? Fish eggs.

Fun fact: Roe is a rich source of vitamins A and D, fatty acids and zinc.

If fish eggs or sushi in general aren’t your thing, Sushi Rock also has shared plates that range from salmon to meatball skewers.

It’s a fun place to go with friends while taking in a cool atmosphere. While the service was a tad overbearing at times, sometimes you have to remind yourself that every rose has its thorn (nailed the rock reference!).

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Againn

Againn is not pronounced how one may think.  It’s the Gaelic word, pronounced “ah-gwen,” that translates to “with us.”  Slainte!

Againn (I’m still pronouncing it as “Again”) is a British-infused gastropub near Metro Center. The modern exterior subtly carries into the interior. Dark wood and scotch lockers (you can keep your bottle there) frame the inside. Think sleek pub.

If you’re  on a budget,  and paying  $500 to keep your scotch in a locker sounds ridiculous, you may be happy with ordering one of their beers. No locker to keep it in though. Sigh.They have a good amount of on tap, although I was surprised to see only one English draft beer on the menu.

Sitting down in the dining room, we were handed the clipboard dinner menu, but the pub menu was nowhere to be found.  I knew that it existed solely because I remember seeing Guinness soaked pretzels when I looked up the menu 3 hours prior to my visit. YOU CAN NEVER BE TOO PREPARED!

We asked our waiter about the missing– and slightly cheaper– menu. Turns out, if you’re not at the bar, then you’re probably not going to get the menu. Our waiter told us that if we knew what we wanted off the pub menu, the chef may be willing to make an exception.

Mind you, I already had a printed LivingSocial coupon, so ordering entirely from the pub menu made me feel a little, how you say…cheap.

I went with the special, a pumpkin soup.

It was rich and creamy with a little bit of spice. I decided to keep the special streak going and ordered the lamb burger topped with onions and some type of ketchup/barbeque.

Served alongside were crispy fries. What else would expect from a gastropub? Yet, as I took my first bite into the lamb burger, there was a flavor of burnt grill. The meat itself was incredibly juicy, but I don’t think a lamb burger was meant for me.

We did manage to get away with ordering a regular beef burger from the pub menu, and it was juicy and delicious. Another standout from the dinner menu was the braised veal breast with mustard spaetzle.

If you’re a vegetarian, you’re out of luck. Nothing on the menu is vegetarian, and while the chef is more than happy to put together some steamed vegetables,  you better be more than happy to pay $21.

For dessert, we went with the sticky toffee pudding topped with a stout ice cream. This was the standout for me. The sweet and gooey bread pudding had toffee sauce with each bite.

The dessert has several menu items, the go along nicely with the theme of sleek pub. A Guinness float and their take on Irish whiskey coffees were enough to make me want to come back.

But next time, you can find me at the bar — for the Guinness soaked pretzels…and yes, a beer.

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