Happy Friday, Peeps! As some of you know if you’ve been following IBIH on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, Mr. Hungry and I took the Upper King Street Charleston Culinary Tour yesterday. It was fantastic, and much better than I expected in a lot of ways.
When I was first contacted about doing the Charleston Culinary Tour, I was conflicted about it. On the one hand, I was all over the food thing (I know most of you aren’t shocked by this.) On the other, Mr. Hungry and I aren’t really tour people – or at least not usually.
Tours always feel too restrictive to me. I basically see it as being trapped with a group of strangers, who may or may not be total weirdos, with an annoyingly overzealous guide, babbling on about stuff you don’t care about, until you wish you were dead. So on the list of things I’d love to do, taking a tour of any kind is never near the top. In fact, I’d rather shave my legs with a cheese grater, while chewing on tinfoil, than take a tour. I don’t, as a rule, like tours, got it??? Good.
Now, the reason I keep beating this dead horse, is because I want you to know that when I say THIS TOUR WAS AWESOME, you can take it to the bank! And it WAS! So awesome in fact, that I’m going to tell you ALLLLL about it in this really long recap post. Ready? Here goes…
First let’s talk about some key factors in the success of any tour. In my opinion, these are the top three components of importance – 1) the guide, 2) the group, and 3) the content. So I’m going to tell you about our tour using these components as an outline…
Our guide for the tour was Kyle Cox, a Texas native who moved to Charleston in 2004. He became a guide because he just plain loves Charleston. His love of the city, it’s history, and it’s food came through loud and clear. There was no need for faked enthusiasm here, and his excitement about the growth in the Upper King Street area was contagious.
Kyle told us that before his guide days he was a ballroom dance instructor. This training obviously came in handy, as he pretty much WALKED BACKWARDS DURING THE ENTIRE TOUR, so he could face us at all times.
I kept hearing Mater’s words “I’m the world’s best backwards driver!” (it’s a Cars movie reference for those of you without kids who haven’t seen it 1,234,402,943,921 times like I have) and thinking, this guy is “the worlds best backwards walker!”
Seriously, he avoided light posts, joggers, moving vehicles, and had there been an open manhole cover, I’m confident he would have glided gracefully around it, ALL WHILE NEVER TURNING AROUND! It was pretty impressive.
Kyle put the group at ease immediately, never made us feel rushed, and taught us a lot about the Upper King Street area, all in just a few short hours. He was friendly, professional, and key to this tour’s success, in my opinion. I don’t know if you can request a specific tour guide when signing up – but if you can, you should request Kyle – he was great.
In my opinion, the second major element to any tour is the group you’re with. Sadly, unless you can organize a bunch of your favorite people to take the tour together, you are kind of stuck with whoever signs up.
In this case though, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you are 90% sure of getting a good group for the Charleston Culinary Tour. The reason being, most people who sign up for a tour like this one are going to be into food. And foodies love other foodies, generally.
You already share a common ground, and a good guide will help you get to know each other and break the ice right off the bat.
We had a great group of eight people. Sometimes the groups are larger, but I’m kind of glad that ours was rather small because it gave us the chance to get to know each other a bit throughout the tour.
I love Charleston. So it’s a given that anytime I’m walking or eating there, I’m a happy camper. That being the case, I was pretty much certain that the content of this tour wasn’t going to disappoint. I was right (that happens a lot by the way.)
The two main components of the tour are obviously the buildings/history/architecture of the neighborhood you are touring, and the restaurants/food.
Regarding the first part, Kyle was very knowledgeable about the area, and he shared interesting facts that you’d actually care about – not dry, boring, historical mumbo jumbo that the average person would find terminally yawn-inducing. I wasn’t bored. That’s important.
Mr. Hungry’s favorite non-food stop was the Cemetary, where he could geek out over the old stone work and carvings. It was gorgeous, and we were there just long enough to get some photos, hear some fun facts, and then it was on to the next restaurant.
Being that this is a culinary tour, it was critical to me that it be well balanced in favor of the restaurants, with just a few other things sprinkled in – that’s what we got, and it was perfect!
The tour started at 2pm and ended at around 5pm, during which time we visited four different eateries. The restaurants on the tour vary each time, based on who can get your group in.
Important to note: All of the food is included, but any alcoholic beverages are extra. You should also know that you don’t eat a lot at each restaurant – you sample a few things at each place, and the guide or chef decides on what. You definitely get your money’s worth on the tour – but you aren’t going to leave there stuffed. Since the tour ends at around 5pm, it leaves you time to explore more of the city, and then go have dinner if you’re still in the mood to nosh.
Going back to my earlier rant about the lack of spontaneity on tours, this scenario actually lets you scout the area while you’re on the tour, for what you want to spend the rest of the evening doing after the tour – which was a win/win in my opinion!
If you really hit it off with any members of your group, you can always stick together and keep the fun going for the rest of the night – which is especially nice if you are visiting the area from out of town and don’t know anyone.
Our first stop was HOM (pronounced “Home”) Restaurant, and it was my favorite of the tour. It has a decidedly industrial feel with its concrete countertops and funky light fixtures. There is also some impressive and unique art on the walls, done with spray paint on canvas – gorgeous.
One of the cool things that sets HOM apart is the ping pong tables. They have two great tables in the back room – which is like the rec room of my dreams.
I love ping pong, and while I’m no Forrest Gump, I know my way around a ping pong table (read: I will crush you without mercy, or die trying). I have my own paddle, people, and it’s stored in it’s own zippered case – I LOVE PING PONG! Enough said.
HOM carries the ping pong theme tastefully throughout the restaurant, with a custom chandelier made of ping pong balls in the entry way, paddles at the bar, and bathroom doors that are charmingly adorned with ping pong ball-headed men/women signs. It’s adorable.
We sampled the Green Gobble’n Turkey burgers (topped with melted leeks and spinach, brie, green goddess aioli, and green apples!), the Dixie Flatbread (topped with pimento cheese, pork confit, caramelized onions, maple bacon, and arugula!), and the Calamari, which was served with a sublime sauce of goat cheese and sundried tomatoes.
It was all delicious, but Mr. Hungry’s favorite was the turkey burger, while mine was definitely the Calamari – it was light and crisp and not at all chewy. Perfect.
I’ll definitely be headed to Hom again, and next time I’ll bring my ping pong paddle!
Our second stop was the charmingly vintage Sugar Bakeshop. Renowned for their cupcakes, they also have a variety of other baked goods and sweets. They use locally sourced eggs and organic flours, and it shows. We tasted the Lemon lime cupcakes, and a pecan bar that were both amazing (and not at all low carb or gluten free, sorry!)
Sugar Bakeshop has been listed by Bon Appetit as a top destination in Charleston, specifically recommending their Lady Baltimore cupcake – which features sherry soaked figs and raisins in the cake, and is topped with a meringue frosting. Definitely on my list to try next time we’re out that way!
Five Loaves Cafe
Next up was Five Loaves Cafe, where we enjoyed a lovely salad of blanched asparagus and arugula, topped with the wild mushroom and soy vinaigrette, and a shaving of parmesan cheese. The flavors were balanced and complex – even Mr. Hungry ate the entire thing, and he’s not a fan of vegetables usually.
Five Loaves, like all of the restaurants we tried, is committed to using fresh, locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. They take it a step further by being vegetarian friendly, and are proud of their mission to accommodate all diets, including being “sensitive of gluten free diets and allergies.” What meats they do have on the menu are free range and hormone free – this place is a Paleo dieters dream!
Our final stop on the tour was Proof, for happy hour. Classic cocktails, an excellent beer selection, and some really great small plate snacks that change daily, were just some of the highlights.
I ordered the Charleston Buck cocktail, which was made with Woodford Reserve (one of my favorite bourbons), Tuoca, orange, egg white, and ginger beer. SO refreshing and perfectly balanced – I LOVED it!
The food we sampled included a steaming bag of perfectly seasoned boiled peanuts, a selection of duck rilletes, pimento cheese, and a boiled peanut hummus that BLEW MY MIND!
I’m not even kidding when I say that this hummus was even better than the real thing. It was such a fun and unique take on hummus, that I couldn’t stop smiling while eating it – it just made me feel happy (or maybe that was just the Charleston Buck I was drinking at the time.)
Either way, I’d go back for that hummus alone, even though everything we tasted was excellent.
We also had their signature meatball, which while tasty, paled in comparison to their other offerings in my opinion (but we all know I’m a meatball snob, so you can take that with a grain of salt.) The goat cheese with local honey was also one of my favorites, though Mr. Hungry favored the pickled eggs with mustard over everything else. Bottom line – it was all good.
At the end we lingered for awhile, exchanging cards and twitter handles, then went our separate ways, since everybody had plans afterwards. It was a really enjoyable experience, that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend – or sign up for again myself. I know, right? Who knew a tour could be so much fun? I stand corrected!
So next time you’re in town, don’t hesitate to devote a few hours to one of the Charleston Culinary Tours – you won’t regret it, and it may even be the highlight of your trip! In addition to the Upper King Street Tour, they also offer the Historic Downtown Tour, the Farmers Market Tour, and the Mixology Tour!
You can plan ahead, and order your tickets online by clicking this link!
Obligatory disclaimer: This is not a paid post. While the tour was provided to me for free, all rants, opinions, and photographs are my own, and I was under no obligation to write a positive review of the tour – I did so because it was awesome!