redefining wanderlust

a life blog by Bekka

Posts for Charleston

SC : Charleston Pit Stop at Magnolia Gardens

October 17, 2014 | Day 16 of #ontheroad1014

With belly’s aching from the delicious meal we indulged in the night before at Husk, we rolled out of our Charleston hotel bed around 10 am and leisurely headed straight for Atlanta. We were planning on getting to Atlanta by 5:00pm, but as we drove down the freeway, I spotted a sign for Magnolia Gardens. A running joke with Bowerbird is the fact that if he hadn’t come along, my mother and I would end up in a Grey Gardens situation. The fact this historic landmark of Magnolia Gardens had ‘gardens’ in the name, made me chuckle and want to visit this place. So with no previous knowledge of this plantation, we just followed signs leading to the home.

Magnolia Gardens Road Trip

A ticket into the property included access to their petting zoo and a tour of the home. An authentic Southern plantation, whose original building was burned down during the Civil War, was steeped with a fascinating history. The tour guides were very descriptive in explaining the family from their financial history to romantic entanglements. Known for its stunning gardens on the property, the owner John Drayton planted the romantic gardens in order to please his wife. What a romantic! Also, I’m not sure if it was John Drayton’s sisters or daughters, but two women associated with the property were prolific abolitionists.

Magnolia Gardens Road Trip

Although we were visiting the plantation during October, the grounds felt like a forever Spring. Beautiful flowers were in bloom, Spanish moss hung down from strong tall trees, and the property was slow enough that at times it felt like Bowerbird and I were the only ones there. Bowerbird and I spent a lot of time in the petting zoo, playing with deer, petting pigs, and chatting up the onsite zoologist who explained how this petting zoo was a rescue. Many of the animals onsite were wounded at one point and are now unable to go back into the wild. We had planned on Magnolia Gardens only being a quick stop but ended up exploring the grounds and petting zoo till closing time. There was a wedding being set up for the evening and can’t lie, I’m jealous of those that have Magnolia Gardens as a wedding venue option. We left Charleston around 5:00pm, picked up coffee at a local place, and then OFFICIALLY headed out to Atlanta; arriving in the city around 10:00pm. It was really cool too because the local college radio station was playing a band Bowerbird had recently opened for back in LA, Xeno & Oaklander.

Magnolia Gardens Road Trip

I miss the cute animals and the beautiful grounds of Magnolia Gardens, and am so thankful to be introduced to this gem without even looking.

Magnolia Gardens Road Trip

more photos after the jump

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SC : HUSK RESTAURANT – The Food

HUSK Restaurant Road Trip

This road trip was all about being open to new experiences, approaching life with an openness to meeting new people, trying new foods, taking detours, and seeing where we end up. Luckily we ended up at a table in Charleston, South Carolina at the acclaimed Husk Restaurant; there is a location in Nashville as well. Currently Chef Sean Brock of Husk restaurant is in the middle of a book tour for his first cookbook Heritage. I’ll need to pick up this book for Bowerbird, so we can relive our night of pure gastro bliss. Getting a table at Husk was a significant part of this culinary adventure, and I can’t thank Sean and Kristin enough for making it happen.

Husk Charleston is well situated in an antebellum style home built in the late 19th century. A white picket fence surrounds a courtyard that leads out to a separate side house where waiting diners can start with drinks and appetizers at the bar, which was packed with liquor and people. Bowerbird and I squeezed through the crowd to the opposite end, away from the door, to get bourbon before dinner. I tried to snap some photos but the dark lighting made it difficult without being obnoxious to other patrons. The bartenders were sharp and fast, there were about 30 people inside and only two bartenders attending them- I commend them. Just as we were about to take our drinks out of the bar house and into the courtyard for a less claustrophobic experience, the bartender unveils a massive ham leg (what I think) for fresh sliced Prosciutto. Please correct me in the comments below, but whatever that was, I want it next time.

HUSK Charleston Bar House

When we were seated our extremely nice waiter made a comment that we’d traveled a long way. Being a giant dork, I didn’t even connect the fact he would know about my road trip tweet and went into the entire story. He politely smiled and said he knew then he inquired if I was a chef myself. I informed him I wasn’t, but an avid eater and food appreciator. Confession: I’ve been caught more than once talking to my food in a restaurant.

To begin our dining experience, the waiter brought out warm rolls served with a side of pork fat honey butter. These rolls were light and could be pulled apart like cotton candy. There was a subtle flavor of bacon, topped with toasted sesame seeds adding a woodsy flavor to compliment the sweet bread. As a first impression, the rolls had me on my knees; I could eat those morning, noon, and night.

huskdinnerrolls

 

Bowerbird and I shared two first courses and two suppers. Based on the menu from the night before, we strategized our dining experience during our drive from Richmond to Charleston. We had wanted to experience as many flavors as possible and in the end chose four different proteins to sample.

We ordered wood fired clams and smoked Surry County sausage with braised peppers and mustard greens in a tomato broth served with roasted garlic toast; and TN pork ribs with peach BBQ, pickled peaches and green peanuts with puffed pork skins as our two first courses. Bowerbird can’t have anything with added sugar, which makes experiencing southern BBQ difficult, as brown sugar tends to be a main ingredient. But our waiter assured us there was no additional sugar in the peach BBQ and relied strictly on the natural sugars in the fruit.

huskwoodfireclams

husktnporkribs

We started with the wood fired clams which had a delicate flavor profile and were light and buttery while bursting with garlic flavor, the tomato broth was savory and void of acid. The sweet onions and red bell peppers balanced the bitterness of the mustard greens and fennel in the Surry County sausage. It seemed as if the saltiness in the dish came straight from the ocean, we sopped up every last drop of the broth with the one piece of garlic toast we had. At times I wish I didn’t need to be classy at the dinner table, manners prevent one from truly having every last bite.

We waited until we were done with the clams before eating the BBQ pork ribs. This unfortunately had us experiencing the ribs when they were lukewarm but none-the-less they were still amazing. The TN pork ribs were thick on the bone, they’re then charred on the outside just enough to add a good smoky flavor but not unpleasantly burnt. Slathered in BBQ sauce, it had a spicy kick that built with each bite. The caramelized peaches brought a unique element to the BBQ sauce. I was most impressed by the elegant touch of green peanuts, as it added a satisfying crunch to the tender meat. The puff pork melted in our mouth and stuck in our teeth like taffy, it added a fun factor to the plate. Being of Hawaiian heritage, in reminiscing about the dish it reminds me of something I would have in Hawaii; but instead of pineapples they used peaches, and instead of macadamia nuts they used green peanuts.

For our supper we ordered cornmeal dusted catfish, sweet corn and VA sausage “gumbo” with Carolina gold rice, charred okra, and confit cherry tomatoes. I’m a duck fiend, so we also ordered the confit duck leg with Anson Mills Brewster oats, heirloom pumpkin and chestnuts, Tuscan kale, honey vinegar, and spiced chevre. Both of these dishes were delicious and inspired very strong narratives. When I had a music and art blog, I’d describe the music in narratives. It’s the same for how I experience food. Stories develop in my imagination, the food being the inspiration.

The catfish was soft and flaky and it didn’t have that odd bottom feeder flavor, instead it acted as the perfect canvas to the gumbo Creole spices. The cornmeal crust was a crisp delicate second skin on the catfish. The confit tomatoes were out of this world- while being only the size of my thumb nail, this tiny tomato burst in my mouth, enveloping it in a rich savory flavor. It was like tasting a tomato for the first time. The dish was young, fresh, light and vibrant.

 

huskcatfish

On the other plate, the duck was moist and tender. The entire flavor palate rich and warm, it resonated within a deeper place and felt more mature. I didn’t know this was possible, but the cooked kale was succulent. The oats, pumpkin, and chestnut were mixed together as sort of risotto, spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon; it was like tasting autumn.

huskduckconfit

 

 

Every bite of the duck confit wrapped me up in a cozy blanket and invoked a sense of nostalgia. Its a dish you’d want to serve your family during the holidays. The catfish was more youthful, its story younger. I could imagine it being made for a one year anniversary, and the home cook’s funny little mishaps till it was executed just right.

The two suppers were like the past and future existing on our table. Bowerbird and I have been together for two years. The catfish dinner tasted like those first few dates where you’re nervous and everything is electrified with newness. The duck confit our future, with decades of memories collected together and a deep love enriched by time.

Sean Brock is all about the story and heritage that is conveyed through food. I felt like I was served, tasted, and understood those stories; at least on how they apply to my own life. I hope I was able to give our dinner justice. I did order dessert, but at that point had pushed my stomach beyond its limitations and with a few mindless bites of the apple potpie, all I can report back is that it was good. My dinner at Husk was one of the best meals of my life. It almost brought me to tears. The whole experience of getting the table, the amazing food we ate, one of my favorite bands Drive by Truckers playing over the speakers in the background. It was a culinary dream come true. Husk completely indulged my five major senses. I’m so happy I didn’t give up when I saw there were no reservations available or that I didn’t surrender to a full stomach when dessert came.

huskcoffeeandmilk

huskapplepotpie

If you are incredibly lucky and in Charleston looking for the best meal of your life, book in advanced for a fantastic night at HUSK. Here is a link to book your reservation.

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SC : HUSK RESTAURANT – The Table

South Carolina HUSK

As we are back from the road posts might be a little out of chronological order, like this one! We left off in the first half of Nashville which was the 9th of October, now let’s fast forward to the 15 & 16. Zoooom!

One of the most exciting things to happen on this trip was getting seats at the fully booked Husk Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina through twitter. Yes, Twitter! Before we left for this trip, I was expressing to a friend that we would be traveling mostly through the south. He told me I had to check out the second season, first part of The Mind of a Chef (available on Netflix). This portion of the show is strictly about Southern food hosted by Chef Sean Brock of Husk Restaurant. He expresses his love for heritage grains and preserving the history and stories of backwoods cooking that earned the south its culinary distinction. From the Low country to the Appalachian Mountains, before southern cooking was only known for fried chicken, mac and cheese, gravy and grits; it had flavors and grains that were unique to the seeds and people.

I respect Chef Sean Brock and his passion for food and its purpose in preserving his heritage. He’s even explored the history of the flavors brought to the states through the southern slave trade. It’s agreed slavery is a terrible horrible institution, but it’s a part of American history and shaped the south. I believe Sean Brock addresses all aspects of Southern cooking and food in a very educated manner, that’s why I HAD TO GO TO HUSK!

On October 15, we were in Williamsburg, Virginia. As we would be heading to Charleston the next day, I thought, “Oh I should probably book a reservation, just in case”. Putting in our arrival time into Open Table I watched as the loading dots searched for a table and presented the next available reservation, 5:30pm October 28. My heart sank. I was shocked. I felt stupid for not booking earlier, and then started coming up with reasons I couldn’t have booked earlier to make myself feel better. Bowerbird could see how terribly upset I was, I felt like the stormy clouds that loomed outside. The rain that fell down were my tears. But as my mother always told me, there is no use feeling sorry for yourself. I rallied. I told Bowerbird “Maybe we can just get a seat at the bar” or “Hang out till a reservation cancels.” We were going to Charleston just for HUSK. I packed a pretty dress. There was no way I was giving up so easy.

My professional bread and butter is Social Media Management. I’m no social superstar, yet. My follower count on Twitter is under 300. But I was going to Tweet Husk anyway….

HUSK twitter

Being a social media professional I thought it might be hours or a day before anyone read my tweets. So I turned to Sean! I had tweeted him before, while watching the show. He never interacted with me, but maybe he remembered my tweet to his buddy Edward Lee regarding a Dolly Parton karaoke showdown. I directed my plea to the chef, because I really just wanted to experience his cooking. I didn’t need the fancy restaurant. I just wanted to taste the grains, farms, and the southern heritage Sean puts into his dishes at HUSK. This road trip was all about the South, I could not give up on the ultimate in southern cooking.

Sean Brock Twitter

I tweeted in the rain with droplets collecting on my screen to the point I was afraid of water damage. My request was out in the universe and on Twitter. Now all I could do was wait. Dan and I explored Williamsburg.  Drank a beer in a non-designated area like teenagers, hiding next to Coca Cola vending machines. Visited the museum and exhibit on the first colonial Mental Institution on the site of the first asylum. We even had a delightful dinner in one of the colonial restaurants. They fortunately had available space when we made reservations.

wet phone

When we got back to the car, I was feeling really weird. This was also the day after we had stayed in the haunted hotel, more on that later. I had to stop and pray. Not pray for us to get seats at HUSK, but just that this heavy weird feeling that was lingering would go away. As we drove to the home of our couch surfer, I received a tweet from a Kristin saying she was happy to help with my mission to HUSK.

Kristin and I began corresponding through email regarding the reservation. Emails that my phone was not receiving in a timely manner, and created some anxiety as we drove down to Charleston the next day. But in the end it all worked out, by 1:30pm on October 16 we had reservations for that night at 8:30pm. My Mom and Dad are amazing home cooks, I’ve been spoiled with delicious food my entire life. I appreciate the work that goes into a plate, and nothing peeves me more than overpriced mediocre food. The dinner at HUSK was not the case. I’m splitting this up into two stories, as I feel the lead up was just as interesting as the actual dinner itself. So if you would like to continue reading – click here – .

Once again it was shown to me you really bring about what you think about. I had told the story of Husk and Sean Brock to dozens of people since I’d watched Mind of a Chef.  Every person we met and asked what we had planned, I mentioned going to HUSK. I tried to express the enormity and importance of preserving grains and seeds to other people, the way Sean shared it on Mind of a Chef. Now I get to share just how amazing his cooking is too.

Here is the schedule for Sean’s “Heritage” book tour. It started on October 19, and unfortunately it never synced up with our own trip.  If you happen to be in the same town as his tour, I really urge you to go. He is a personable chef with a lot of heart and understands how to deliver flavor!

Sean Brock Heritage

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