Here to help me share one of MY favorite ways to eat in Charleston is one of my Charleston-loving friends, Annie Harris. She's a wonderful lady I met in college, and also a fabulous mom, librarian, baker & foodie! Check out her tips on how to execute the perfect progressive dinner, with some specific spots to try if you want to maximize your Charleston dining experience. One of the featured spots I'm most excited about is the newly renovated Restoration Hotel (pictured above). They are celebrating their grand opening tonight, and will surely be your new favorite rooftop spot in town.
So, you are planning a weekend away… If you are anything like me, the first thing to plan is the food: Friday night dinner; Saturday breakfast, lunch and dinner; Sunday brunch… but that’s only five meals! How do you fit in all the dining recommendations you’ve been given by friends, the restaurants you saw on your favorite foodie show (Top Chef fans, I’m looking at you), and all the spots that you spent hours ogling on Eater before your trip? Never fear foodies, I have a solution for you: it’s the progressive dinner (and it is my jam)! In a traditional progressive dinner, a group of people go from one person’s house to the next eating a different course at each home. I have modified the basic concept, and instead of visiting the homes of friends, I move from restaurant to restaurant eating a different course at each establishment. This method is great for maximizing a weekend (or, in my case, a rare night with a babysitter) because you don’t have to pick just one place, one type of food, or even one menu item. You really CAN have it all my friends!
Here are five tips to make the most of a progressive dinner:
1. When I plan a progressive dinner for myself, I usually plan on about four different restaurants. I try to go to one place for an appetizer, one for soup or salad, one for an entrée, and one for dessert. You can also do an appetizer crawl getting small plates at each place. Then, throw in a bar at the end for a nice after dinner cocktail.
2. Plan a route as well as the meal. Think strategically about where you are starting and ending. If you’re going to be drinking, think about driving to the first couple of places, leaving your car in a safe place, and being able to walk to the final few destinations.
3. If you’re going out with a group, you probably want to cap the amount of people to four or five. It gets hard to coordinate too many people when going to multiple destinations, so being able to fit all in one vehicle (and at one table) is ideal.
4. At nicer restaurants, think about sitting at the bar or in the bar area. Since you aren’t ordering a whole meal, it’s friendlier to the wait staff not to take up a whole table. You’ll get in and out more quickly if you don’t have to wait on a table, and there is no need to worry about reservations (or the lack thereof).
5. Share food at each stop and order small portions when the option is available. You’re going to potentially eat four courses, so come hungry friends.
For all of the Charleston Weekenders out there, here is my recommendation for a fabulous progressive dinner evening in the Holy City:
1. Leon’s - 698 King St, Charleston, SC 29403 - http://leonsoystershop.com/
Start out with some raw oysters or peel and eat shrimp at Leon’s on Upper King. It’s really casual and fun with indoor and outdoor spaces. Plus, they have a great drink menu including my favorite thing, champagne! It’s a fun way to get the evening started. They have parking, so it is easy to drive there. After Leon’s, I would drive to a parking deck on Hassell St. and park your car while you walk between the next few places. Once you park your car, here is a walking map for the last four destinations.
2. Cru Cafe - 18 Pinckney St, Charleston, SC 29401 - http://www.crucafe.com
Cru Cafe is a bit off of the beaten path in an adorable historic Charleston row house. The food is really fresh, local, and inventive. It is great for a starter course because they have quite a few salads that they will serve in appetizer or entree sized portions. Their small plates are also tasty. I’ve had their Mesclun Fried Goat Cheese salad and highly recommend it.
3. Hanks – 10 Hayne Street Charleston, SC 29401 - http://www.hanksseafoodrestaurant.com
This is my all-time favorite restaurant in Charleston. It has been around for ages and does everything right. There is a great family style table here that is perfect for your quick stop during a progressive dinner. I say go ahead and get one of the southern fried seafood platters or the classic shrimp and grits. You will not be disappointed. Share it though! One is definitely enough.
4. Peninsula Grill - 112 N Market St, Charleston, SC 29401 -https://www.peninsulagrill.com/
Peninsula Grill is famous for their coconut cake, so this is where you need to go for dessert. If (like my poor misinformed husband) you don’t like coconut, don’t worry because everything here is divine. They also have a champagne bar (be still my heart), so you can get some bubbly to celebrate a wonderful evening!
5. The Watch Rooftop Kitchen and Spirits - 75 Wentworth St, Charleston, SC 29401 - http://www.therestorationhotel.com/public-space
There are lots of great places to go for cocktails in Charleston. I chose the Watch, which is on the roof of the Restoration Hotel, because from Peninsula Grill, it’s a nice walk through the Belmond Charleston Place Hotel and then just two blocks up King Street. You can window shop and walk off some of the food you just ate! Before you take the elevator up to the 7th floor of The Restoration, be sure to check out the Port Mercantile, the precious gift shop that sells everything from beer to beard grooming products. At The Watch, you'll want to take a window seat for a stunning view of the Ravenel Bridge. The “Old Exchange,” their take on an Old Fashioned, makes a tasty nightcap. Plus, I just love a rooftop view to end an evening.
If you can’t make it to Charleston to enjoy this progressive dinner, plan your own at home! Have fun!
*Be sure to stop by The Port Mercantile (pictured above) on your way up to The Watch.