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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.