11 AM: Hominy Grill is a bright blue spot on a gray Charleston day. Patrons mill around in a patio ringed with wooden walls, which I can only imagine must be delightful in warmer weather.
The wait here either means that it’s fabulous or it’s touristy. Luckily, Hominy Grill seems to be both.
I sit down at a cute table with some complimentary warm boiled peanuts. I’ve only had them roasted before. Boiling in salted water has softened the nuts until they melt on my tongue. Peanuts are really legumes, not nuts, and I’ve never tasted the similarity more.
I’ve only eaten a few peanuts when my fried green tomatoes arrive. The cornmeal crust adheres perfectly to the sturdy tomato slices even when I cut them up. Inside, the pretty pale green fruit tastes almost lemony, with a kick of garlic from the homemade ranch dressing.
Next up, catfish creole. Shrimp creole (from the Zatarain’s mix) was one of my favorite dinners growing up, so I can’t resist it now. A hearty sauce of tomato, onion, peppers, ham, and okra pools around golden catfish fillets and a mound of fluffy jasmine rice. I happily dredge tender bites of fish in the chunky sauce. My only quibble is the ratio. Although I didn’t eat the rice, and packed some of the fish to go, I wiped out every drop of sauce.
There’s just enough room for a slice of Hominy Grill’s famous buttermilk pie. The custard filling, tangy from buttermilk and redolent with lemon and nutmeg, separates during the baking into a creamy bottom layer and a moist cakelike top. With a dollop of whipped cream, this is lovely, light and rich at once.
2 PM: Strolling the Charleston City Market. It began as a public open-air market for meats, fish, and vegetables in 1788, and the current structures were erected by 1841.
The market now stands as four covered halls stretching across several blocks. Instead of groceries, it sells goods and souvenirs, including clothes, art, trinkets, specialty foods, and historical books. Several vendors displayed hand-woven sweetgrass baskets, intricately twisted. Beautiful, but out of my price range – each one costs around $200!
5 PM: I walk Charleston’s waterfront. Even in the gloom, it’s beautiful. The water is placid and the land a stubborn green. With every breath I inhale marsh and river scents, an earthy iron smell so different from the fresh sea breeze I keep expecting.
I also wander by Rainbow Row, a street of houses dating back to the 1780s (!), each painted a different pastel color. Some say the colors helped drunk sailors remember where they were sleeping each night; others say they were painted to distinguish stores for illiterate slaves. I don’t know what the true reason is.
The architecture around here is meant to keep up appearances. Each house bears curlicues of ironwork, and I can feel the slow tempo, the crafted dignity, the carefully wrought delicateness, in every ornamental piece.
8 PM: Dinner at Jestine’s Kitchen, a restaurant inspired by Jestine Matthews, who lived to be 112 years old (1885-1997)! The daughter of a Native American and a freed slave, she worked as a cook for the Ellison family of Charleston.
Her lifelong friendship with the Ellisons inspired Dana Berlin, the Ellisons’ granddaughter, to open Jestine’s Kitchen to honor Jestine’s homestyle Lowcountry cooking.
For only $12.95, I got a mountain of fried chicken and my choice of two sides, plus the complimentary house pickles. The green beans were limp and under-seasoned, but the cabbage was sweet from long slow stewing, and the fried chicken perfectly moist and crispy. I was full after two pieces and still had a whole chicken breast to take home!
11 PM: Watching more Touch on Netflix. Kiefer! Stop yelling! Kiefer!
Til tomorrow, Charleston. Simone out.