Postcard From Tom: Charleston

Sunday, August 4, 2002

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

Civil War history, architecture, antiques . . . visitors flock to Charleston, S.C., for many reasons, including the chance to explore its celebrated Low Country cooking. The following restaurants rank among the seaport city's finest.

CHARLESTON GRILL (224 King St., 843-577-4522)

Feeling flush? Dinner orchestrated by Robert Waggoner is where you want to be. Emphasiz-ing French technique and local ingredients, the chef offers veal sweetbreads with hoe cakes, free-range chicken over succotash and (my favorite) lobster tempura atop lemony grits and fried green tomatoes. A view of palm trees through the windows and the sounds of live jazz add to the scene . . . as does a bottle from the restaurant's rich wine cellar. Dinner entrees $18.95-$32.

FISH (442 King St., 843-722-3474):

Built as a residence in the 1830s, this fresh seafood specialist recently has been lovingly restored by its owners; the result bridges beamed ceiling and brick walls with a sleek bar and lights that suggest parachutes. The equally stylish menu brims with mouthwatering surprises. Shrimp finds a home in a first-class BLT sandwich, lump blue crab cakes are brightened with lemon-thyme butter, and calamari, crackling in a crust of risotto, is zapped with a lemongrass vinaigrette. Dinner entrees $17-$20.

HOMINY GRILL (207 Rutledge Ave., 843-937-0930)

Early risers drop by this homespun storefront for mile-high biscuits draped in mushroom gravy, warm-from-the-oven pumpkin bread, homemade pork sausage and plump shrimp scattered on creamy grits. Straight out of Central Casting, the snug destination is composed of a pressed tin ceiling, hardwood floors, twirling overhead fans and sweet Southern service. Hominy Grill is a hike from the tourist zone and well worth the effort. Breakfast dishes $3.50-$8.95.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company