My first two attempts at finding an open parking garage in and around the Vendue Range proved unsuccessful. Finally, after navigating quaint alley ways and passing numerous lights, I found an open garage on Cumberland, though it left me with a bit of a jaunt over hot pavement in the oppressive afternoon Charleston humidity. Sweat beads marked my shirt.
My destination, the second floor of the Southend Brewery where Mr. Hoon Calhoun of Charleston Culinary Tours awaited my arrival with a timely glass of ice water for an opener, followed by a teasing glass of craft beer with a peach flavor, then a satisfying, fall-off-your-chair bowl of She-Crab Soup. From that moment, I settled in for what proved to be a culinary extravaganza of the extraordinary kind.
Dressed like a Barbados Rum Runner and sporting a wide brimmed hat with a smile to match, Mr. Calhoun began his narrative with some information about himself. "If you don't want an honest opinion, don't go to a Calhoun," he informed the diverse group of varying ages from places like Michigan, Maryland, Mt. Pleasant and as far away as Paris, France. The culinary fair continued with a plate of very Southern Fried Green Tomatoes followed by a Texas Toast with Smoked Bisque flavored by a melted Smoked Gouda and topped by a mustard based Cole Slaw.
"The food a culture eats is as important as the laws it makes and the wars it fights." With this profound statement, Hoon began to lay out the history of the famous cuisine Charleston has become world renowned for and the people responsible for it. Already plenty of mouth-watering cuisine and it was only the first stop.
After a informative walk past historical points of interest, one of which was the first theater in America, the Dock Street Theater, we arrived at out next stop on Meeting Street. Eli's Table is known for their breakfast-brunch menu, which is served until 4 pm. We were seated at a long table with an elegantly laid out setting in a cozy room with wood floors, yellow walls, yellow napkins, and brightly colored paintings. We were introduced to the restaurant's chef, Jimmy Carter. Servers brought out each offering with full description to long for me to write down, so I will only state the basic.
The first serving was a creamy soup called Blackberry Bisque. I didn't know whether I should scoop it or drink it. Tasting more like a dessert, it was none-the-less heavenly. Next, we were treated to some old Charleston style Shrimp and Grits paired with a local Tasso Gravy.
Like a smooth caramel sauce, Mr. Calhoun drizzled on more history related to the Kiawa Indians contribution to the Southern culture, the varying stages of stone ground corn and the illustrious history of Duke's Mayonnaise-- just one of many true Southern originals. A delightfully superb Southern Pecan Pie closed out our visit at Eli's Table and we departed for the next and final restaurant on the day's itinerary.
A short stroll on Meeting Street brought us to the steps of the Gibbs Museum of Art across from the Circular Congregational Church and finally to 15 Beaufain Street, home of the Leaf. A Tuna Cucumber, Caprese Salad and a Duck Spring Roll filled with Portobello Mushroom and Mashed Potatoes covered with a Dijon Mustard Sauce was a remarkable finale.
Learned the Peach Tree Trail was really the Pitch Tree Trail, the Cotton Gin was an accidental abridged form for Cotton Engine, and Southern Mamas guarded their recipes like the National Archives guards the Declaration of Independence. With Bellini in hand, I saluted Chef Kyle and Tour Guide Hoon Calhoun.
I've always said, "I'd rather be doing anything instead of nothing as long as I am doing something," and the Downtown Culinary Tour was really SOMETHING. The three restaurants visited represented Charleston's culinary community honorably. Two of the restaurants would not have been on my radar for the coming Charleston Restaurant Week, but after taking the tour, I would highly recommend them. Our guide was charming, hospitable, knowledgeable, and tastefully artful in his narratives--the best of the best. I give the tour five stars--a must experience for both resident and visitor. It genuinely combines the best of Charleston history, food and cocktails. I would gladly take the Upper King Street Culinary Tour. Thank you Lorrie Dixson of Eskimo Advertising.