CHEF CONCIERGE • April 2019
New England native and recipient of Best Chef of the Southeast by the prestigious James Beard Foundation, Mike Lata is nothing short of restaurant royalty in the eyes of his Lowcountry peers. Owner of the unstoppably popular FIG and, more recently, The Ordinary, he takes us on an ingredient-led tour of his South Carolina city
Breakfast worth getting up early for
Living up to the hype, downtown restaurant Hominy Grill (led by award-winning chef Robert Stehling) has been serving exceptional breakfasts for 20-plus years. It can be slightly touristy, but I still have all my breakfast meetings there. I love that they use local farm-fresh eggs, great bacon, and make beautiful jams and jellies – it is quintessential Charleston. My go-to is three sunny-side up eggs, bacon and the buttermilk biscuits. The grits are amazing, too.
The off-the-beaten track bagel
If you prefer breakfast on the go, veer from the tourist-trodden path to my neck of the woods on James Island. Here you’ll find a hole-in-the-wall bagel store called Bagel Nation. I would challenge anyone in the world to find a better breakfast sandwich situation. Try the sausage, double egg and American cheese on a poppy seed bagel.
Where to impress on a date
Currently, my favourite restaurant is Chez Nous (pictured below) – possibly the galaxy’s most romantic restaurant. It’s a tiny, 50-seat French place housed in a quaint Charleston building, with a handwritten menu that changes every night. If you’re after clean and impeccably executed food, this is for you.
Best grab-and-go snack
There’s a really special little gourmet wine and cheese shop called goat.sheep.cow (pictured top of page). Each day, its talented cheesemongers assemble a limited number of baguette sandwiches using their favourite cheese and charcuterie. They tend to sell out by noon, so stop by early to pick up a ‘daily’. Pro-tip: if you call ahead, they’ll set one aside for you, but only for about 15 minutes.
A classic foodie souvenir to take home
The Preservation Society of Charleston has a great gift store on the corner of King and Queen Streets. Here you’ll find great souvenirs, including locally grown and milled grits, plus a fantastic cornmeal called Geechie Boy. Or, on upper King Street, High Wire Distilling distils local and heritage grains. Its Jimmy Red corn whiskey is a great representation of craft American spirits.
Dining experience worth leaving town for
We make the trip to Sullivan’s Island often to dine at Obstinate Daughter (pictured below). My friend Jacques Larsen is an amazing chef and makes this family friendly restaurant a haven for fresh pastas, pizzas, vegetable dishes and local seafood. Save room for the ice-cream sandwiches at their gelateria downstairs, BeardCat’s.
A ideal spot for a post-dinner drink
There’s a great little all-day Italian café called Babas across the street from our restaurant, The Ordinary. If you were to take a cross-section of exciting things happening in the restaurant industry in Charleston, this is a can’t-miss spot. Boutique, independent and owner-operated, it has a thoughtful, ever-changing bar programme – and if you’re lucky, owner Edward Crouse will offer you freshly shaved truffles over your butter or cheese plate.
The southern soul food eaterie
Go to Hannibal’s Kitchen (closed on Sundays) for the crab rice. This is a local restaurant in a locals-only neighbourhood that will make you feel you have discovered something special and truly Charleston. If not the crab rice, there’s always the fried chicken, shrimp rice, collard greens and southern cornbread to give you a taste of the South.
Weekend brunch worth battling the queues for
My friend Kevin Johnson is one of the city’s best chefs and his restaurant The Grocery (pictured above) never disappoints. Don’t leave without trying the green eggs and ham – smoked ham and cornmeal-cheddar griddle cakes served with ‘crispy soft’ poached eggs. Kevin and I, we’re cut from the same cloth: think seasonal, produce-driven and highly intelligent cooking.
Interview by Hannah Ralph
British Airways starts flying to Charleston on 4 April. It will be the only airline flying direct between Europe and the southern city. Why not plan your holiday there today?