Robert Stehling’s Top Picks for Charleston
For the past decade, chef Robert Stehling’s Low Country fare at the acclaimed Hominy Grill has rivaled the best grandmother food in the South. His Charleston Nasty Biscuit—fried chicken, cheddar and sausage gravy, sandwiched in the perfect biscuit—has a loyal following, as do other favorites like catfish po’ boys, okra and shrimp beignets, and slow-smoked ribs with black strap molasses barbecue sauce. In 2008, Stehling won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast, proving that a casual, neighborhood restaurant with a classic Southern menu can carry as much stature as the white tablecloth, fine dining establishments that typically win the awards circuit. He was a catalyst for the revitalization of regional Southern cuisine. If you want to avoid the long lines at Hominy Grill, head to Stehling’s newly-opened fried chicken emporium, Chick’s Fry House, for hot chicken with a side of collards. Below, Stehling shares his top picks for Charleston.
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Photo courtesy of Tapio
I tend to stay in the neighborhood when I go out. Bubble tea is a favorite of my daughter so we were excited when Tapio Bubble Tea opened a couple blocks away from the restaurant. The Coconut Thai coffee with Mango Jellies takes the edge off my afternoon hunger while giving me a nice sugar caffeine buzz.
Photo courtesy of WildFlour Bakery
I often have to walk past Lauren Mitterer’s WildFlour Bakery. Lately, I’ve been addicted to the sugary muffin shapes rolled in cinnamon sugar—it’s like a donut without the hole and a dozen fit nicely into a box!
Photo courtesy of Xiao Bao Biscuit
For more of a date night out we often head to Xiao Bao Biscuit. The owners, Josh Walker and Duolan Li, have created a great, relaxed easy place. The cocktails are always delicious and the okonomiyaki pancake is really satisfying.
Photo courtesy of The Ordinary
We also like The Ordinary, Mike Lata’s homage to an oyster hall. Here you can go simple with oysters on the half shell or go all-in with the best of the local catch.
Coast Brewing Company, Credit: Robert Donovan
Wherever I go in town I’m drinking local craft brew. There is a great local beer scene in Charleston. My go-to favorite is Coast Brewing Company’s Hopart—it is dangerously delicious!
Photo courtesy of goat.sheep.cow.
My wife is a big fan of goat.sheep.cow. down in the historic district. The shop is tiny, but they have a thoughtfully-curated selection of wines and cheeses. She always comes home with three times as much as she meant to buy.
Photo courtesy of Zero George
The recently renovated Courtyard By Marriott Historic District is centrally located and the concierge there really does his homework and tries to give guests their best experience. On the more boutique end of the scale, Zero George is beautiful and located in an classic Charleston house
Photo Courtesy of the Charleston Area CVB
The best way to see Charleston is on foot. Walk through the South of Broad neighborhood and end up down on the Battery to experience Charleston’s real charm—one which inspired artists, writers and musicians long before it inspired reality TV. The hidden gardens and architecture, especially in the late afternoon light as the sun gets lower, are an amazing visual pleasure.
A visit to Charleston should also include lots of history. A great way to do that is to tour a historic home—Aiken Rhett is really special—or go out to one of the plantations for a fuller perspective. Take the ferry ride out to Fort Sumter to get a feel for an important moment in our history and you get to see Charleston from the water.
About Robert Stehling
Winner of the 2008 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast, Robert Stehling has been cooking professionally for over 25 years.
Stehling was pursuing a degree in studio art when he began working as a dishwasher at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC under Bill Neal, the legendary southern chef largely credited with spurring the renaissance of regional cooking. Over the subsequent six years, Stehling rose from washing dishes to head chef of Crook’s Corner.
Stehling then cooked for several years in New York City in a wide variety of kitchens including Monkey Bar, Follonico and Home Restaurant, to name a few.
Stehling moved to Charleston in 1996 and opened Hominy Grill that same year. Since its inception, the restaurant has been widely praised for its devotion for simple and delicious preparations of classic southern dishes and has been widely featured in all the major food outlets including The New York Times, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, Alton Brown’s Best Thing I Ever Ate to name a few.
Stehling was awarded Best Chef Southeast in 2008 by the James Beard Foundation. He is active in sustainability issues and a member of such organizations as Southern Foodways Alliance and Chefs Collaborative.