Monday, November 14, 2011

The Smug Marrieds Jet-Set: A Charleston Adventure

Note: A smoochy, ginormous thank you to my Pretty guest posters of extreme splendor last week:
Belle on Heels
I Love You More Than Carrots
The Preppy Princess
Haute Mommy

Y'all made me look much better than I deserve, which is all I ask of you favorite Invisible Internet Friends - my looking good. Mwah.
(Subtitle: "Because You Know You Love Looking at Some Stranger's Endless Travel Photos!!!")

I knew it as soon as we set foot in our first Charleston eatery for a late lunch. Our hostess, in the warmest, kindest manner possible, inquired whether the Anonymous Husband might not feel more comfortable leaving his baseball hat at the door. "THIS", I immediately thought to myself - shooting the Anonymous Husband a smug "I told you so!" Etiquette Police grin as I did - "This is a place I could call home."

Charleston is more than a town devoted to keeping up traditions, however. If there's a city more ideally in my happy, Anglophile-ing / ocean-adjacent-ing / grits-serving wheelhouse, I implore you to tell me. 'Til then, I'm declaring Charleston my spiritual Southern home and accepting all offers to buy me a "double house" south of Broad.

But before I launch into full-fledged Travel Channel review mode, a word about traveling without your young tot (or mine, more specifically) - it's wonderful. It's awful. It's wonderfully awful. In the weeks leading up to a Smug Marrieds-only trip, I long for the time alone with the Anonymous Husband; as soon as I get it, of course I'm missing Master P desperately. It varies between a dull ache and the feeling that you've somehow misplaced a terribly important limb, but it's always there on some level.

I've talked about living with that duality before, and I maintain my stance that the discomfort is worth getting some time away just with the husband - for us. I've left Master P now four times - a week at the longest, for four days this time (one more than intended thanks to a flight delay) - and, for us, for now, the long weekend is the right answer. It's enough time for the AH & I to relax and sleep in without worrying whether our wee CEO has finally picked up Mandarin or a mustache while we're away.

Coming home is another type of fun entirely as a stay-at-home-mom - that beaming smile of utter joy usually reserved for Dad when he comes home from work? For once, I got that look as I woke Master P up this morning, and I soaked up every toothy last bit of it. Returning from vacation to a job you love, versus my old Sunday night dread + end-of-travel self-pity, is worth the price of vacation itself.

The other main plus for this homemaker mom type is the forced leaving-your-kid-with-someone-else-OMG. No, really. Seeing that my wee CEO does well when staying with the truly wonderful Anonymous Mother-in-Law, who - gasp - does a few things differently than me is a good reminder that My Mothering Way is not the only way.*
*If you're thinking this means I don't leave a detailed, Type A Minus schedule, in outline form, of Master P's military-style schedule, you are, um, mistaken. My inner lawyer isn't entirely dead yet.

But enough of the mom ennui ("Mommui"?) - here are my Charleston Pretty favorites:


We had a terrific, casual yet upscale"lowcountry" lunch at Slightly North of Broad, or "S.N.O.B." I was torn between my immediate love for that name (obvs) and my fear of it being a tourist trap given its location on the main downtown drag, but I'm so glad we went in. Give the cornbread and the crab a go. The service was outstanding, but whatever you do, don't try to wear your baseball hat to dine:

Husk came highly - almost too highly - recommended as a "foodie" slice of hype Heaven, having just won some fancypants Bon Appetit award thingy or something; I'm happy to report it lived up to the delicious word of mouth. The emphasis on local, farm-to-table ingredients, with a menu that changes daily, paid off in a meal that was creative while staying true to its Lowcountry roots (as much as this ignorant Yankee can tell, that is). The pumpkin soup was note-perfect, but it was the too simple to be believed watermelon & sea salt side that stole the show:

I'm so not the person to whip out my camera at meals - bad blogger, bad! - but I behaved just this once.
In typical farm-to-table form, the restaurant was upscale-casual (note to Californians / Austinites: "upscale casual" here means khakis or cocktail dresses, not jeans.). It's expensive but splurge-worthy for a date night. For a big occasion sort of night, though, I'd go with . . .

. . . Charleston Grill, where we had our official celebration of Five Years' Smug Marriedness and the best overall meal of the bunch. Don't let the fine-dining, old-world decor - stuffy dark wood paneling & all - fool you, because the menu was a terrific old/new world blend and the service pitch perfect. The buttery-but-not-too-much seared flounder & shrimp was my favorite, but there wasn't a bad dish in our bunch.

Coincidentally, this restaurant is housed at Charleston Place, the hotel we should have stayed at; naturally, I liked it so much I neglected to take a photo. Naturally.


I'd blown my shopping budget by the time this trip came around, but I enjoyed strolling down King Street and window shopping the mix of mass retail and local boutiques; I'd skip the touristy Market Street shops in favor of this. Follow that up with a drink at the delightfully horsey Thoroughbred Club at, yes, Charleston Place - I stand behind their dirty vodka martini and the clubby, English feel and people watching.

My favorite store find came by accident as the AH & I were meandering the South of Broad area (more on this later) with the aptly named Dulles Designs Exquisite Stationery. This paper geek had a lightheaded moment upon seeing Bernard Maisner cards in person for the first time. Though those Pretty works of art were well out of my price range, Ms. Dulles carried a number of more affordable lines - and was nice as could be to boot. Easily the best edited stationery store I've seen in a long while - and she ships, hurrah (uh-oh).


The twenty minute drive from downtown to Boone Hall Plantation was absolutely worth it. What a jumble of emotions this place brings up - the only thing more striking than the Georgian Revival, "Gone with the Wind"-style planation house (take the excellent house tour, BTW) was seeing the slave infrastructure that made such a manor possible . . . what a sobering juxtaposition between the opulent plantation owner's mansion (as re-built to "Tara" standards in the 1930s) and the 360-square foot slave quarters, in which families of up to 16 resided:

These were the allegedly nicer, "house slave" quarters - all 360 square feet of them.
I left with mixed feelings, both in awe of the splendor of the place - take a moment to savor the moss-draped oaks as you drive in, straight out of Southern central casting - and reminded of the dark history that made it so until too recently. It is one thing to read about such atrocities, but to see the remnants in person is another experience entirely. Such an interesting place to spend a couple of hours.

The "absolute finito" of Charleston, as Ms. Gollightly might say, is in wandering around the South of Broad area downtown. There are ghost tours and house tours - the Heyward-Washington House was a favorite - and, um, tour tours aplenty, but I recommend doing as we Smug Marrieds did and just getting yourself lost down there for an afternoon. That's difficult to do, actually, given that Charlestonians have devised a remarkably logical, walkable downtown, but we aren't Smug for nothing.

St. Michael's, the oldest church edifice in town and stunning for any age. 
Part of the famed "Rainbow Row" on East Bay; my photo doesn't do justice to the vibrant colors.

In getting lost amongst these colorful, antebellum architectural confections, maybe the best bit is stumbling across the tiny details:

This last one is my absolute favorite. . . as I was snapping this, the actual homeowner came out and gave me the story behind the sign. In his gentle drawl, he told me about his family's long Charleston history and how they had "only" occupied this current home for eighty-odd years.  One of those travel moments when you remember why the hassle of getting gone is worth it
Be sure to stroll through the Battery too, which gives an incomparable view of both the Atlantic and the stately homes nearby.

While two full days gave us the right amount of time away parenting-wise, we barely scratched the surface of Charleston. Given more time we would have loved to have toured Ft. Sumter and seen the Citadel parade, as well as seeing more of where of the actual locals live and play.

To sum up, Charleston is a town that takes its history seriously but doesn't seem to take itself that way. It's tourist friendly and just plain friendly friendly but somehow avoids feeling overrun or inauthentic. In short, I'm deeply smitten. In deep smit and with the credit card statement to prove it. Sigh.


Natalie said...

I'm glad you had a great trip! Especially glad Husk worked out for you!!!

You'll need to return try out Fig :) And shop at Sally Bette!

Maggie said...

Confession: During my last trip to Charleston, I fell so hard for S.N.O.B. that I went back for lunch the very next day.

[darci @ the good life] said...

SO glad you had fun!!! We've had Charleston on our vacation list for years now, but have always gone with beach destinations at the last minute? Maybe, just maybe, we'll make it there before our mini turns 18. ;)

We just got back from a weekend trip to Dallas (with the mini) and I couldn't agree more about how nice it is to come home from a trip and be glad to be home and get back into your normal schedule versus DREADING Monday morning! I really, reallyyyyyyy like our jobs! :)

Wendy said...

Yeah! Sounds like it was a wonderful trip. We love Charleston and go back about every other year for our anniversary! It's a great place to celebrate! So glad you enjoyed yourselves!

LPC said...

So wonderful. I only hope I have a chance to visit that neck of the woods at some point.

Lilly said...

Gorgeous photos! My husband and I have been planning a trip to Charleston and I am so grateful for the tips!


Mrs. Type A said...

So glad you enjoyed it! I always tell my husband that we may need to retire to Charleston someday (in my dream world where we will have tons of money to retire and sit on a Charleston porch drinking mint juleps)....

The Shabby Princess said...

Sounds like a fabulous trip and I'm so glad that the AH and you were able to celebrate five years of smug marriedness in such a lovely locale.

Of course, I am most intrigued by The Thoroughbred Bar--horseys and Southern culture? Bring it.

Danielle said...

Sounds like you hit a lot of the hot spots. Most importantly to me, I'm glad you had some stellar meals!

Perfectly Imperfect said...

I'm so glad you had such a nice trip! Now next time you're that close, you must swing by this neck of the woods!

Amy @ Forever 29 said...

This has me itching to get back to Charleston! And of course I'd have to insist on staying at Charleston Place. Glad y'all had a great trip!

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