Sorry Charlestonians, the secret is out! When it comes to eating, the Holy City now ranks with the Chicagos and LAs of the country. And leading the charge in this New Southern renaissance—along with chefs Sean Brock and Mike Lata—is Neighborhood group visionary Brooks Reitz.
Restaurateur, designer, entrepreneur, mixologist—there aren’t many hats that Reitz hasn’t worn in his impressive culinary career. After working with Lata at FIG restaurant and The Ordinary, he broke off to open his own project, Leon’s Oyster Shop, in 2014. Next came Saint Alban, a Parisian-style bistro serving everything from aperitifs to baked goods. And this year, Reitz debuted Little Jack’s Tavern, a laidback pub boasting one of the South’s great burgers.
On the beverage side, Reitz is the founder of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co., which produces small-batch cocktail mixers like grenadine, bitters, and a can’t-miss tonic syrup for G&T lovers. And did we mention he’s a writer, as well? Oh sure, his work can be found in publications like Martha Stewart Living, PUNCH, and Condé Nast Traveler. Whew!
Fortunately for us, the overachiever found some “free time” to show us around his hometown, where lately, destination spots seem to be popping up faster than Bill Murray sightings.
Monza was the first pizzeria in Charleston to offer the now widespread Neapolitan-style pizza—think thin, wood-fired crust and restrained toppings. They have lovely salads, especially the butter bean with preserved tuna. But the pizza—with their own mozzarella made in-house daily, and traditional “00” flour—is the real star. The pro-move is to cap the night with Tiramisu and their house-made limoncello. For those looking for more action, head next door to their beer bar, Closed for Business.
Although this little Lebanese spot [Leyla] is right in the heart of the action on King Street, it somehow remains a hidden gem. The plain exterior belies what’s going on inside: mezze prepared with lovely ingredients purchased directly from Lebanon. And the extra effort of those trips abroad pay off. Don’t miss the chef’s hummus, falafel, or Muhammara, a spread of walnuts and sweet red pepper. If you’re in the mood, the Almaza beer, a traditional Lebanese Pilsner, is served with freshly squeezed lemon juice to quench your thirst on even the hottest Charleston day. Finish your meal with a Café Blanc, a mixture of water and orange flower water. It will undo all your overeating woes.
The Daily, the second project from the team behind Butcher & Bee, defies easy categorization. It’s part market, part restaurant, with a wine shop, bakery, and coffee shop inside. I love their well-curated mix of pantry staples. It’s one of the only places in town to find things like Soom Tahini, Empire Mayonnaise, Anson Mills grits, and my own wine project, Oyster Shed Wine Co. It’s my daily stop for a mid-day coffee, and they also keep the evening programming interesting by inviting guest chefs, as well as hosting some of the city’s best food trucks.
Charleston has a few remaining soul food staples—places that are often overshadowed by all the newer, buzzier spots that have been opening up over the last few years. Bertha’s Kitchen, however, is an Upper Peninsula stalwart that still draws the lunchtime crowds for their peerless offerings. It’s family run, and an incredibly authentic slice of real Charleston. My move is the fried whiting with a mix of vegetables, chief among them okra, which are some of the best in the city. It’s not the lightest of meals, but it’s delicious and soulful. And it will sustain even the busiest of bodies.
Sean Brock has a veritable empire in the making, with several restaurants now outside of Charleston, and a few recent additions in the city, as well. My favorite among his most recent contributions is Minero. The second floor space is in the midst of the madness on tourist-laden East Bay Street. Minero is a casual, modern Mexican spot that produces their tortillas in-house, frying them up for chips and packing them with a variety of amazing accompaniments for tacos. My favorite is the catfish taco with pickled green tomato tartar sauce, a brilliant mash-up that makes Mexican and Southern food feel like natural bedfellows. We always start with the charcoal grilled chicken wings, which are tossed tableside in Valentina hot sauce. If you’re drinking, the frozen “El Satanico” is worth writing home about. Beware: any more than one might spell trouble for most drinkers. It is seriously high octane!