Many Charleston restaurants have come and gone over the past 25 years since City Paper first hit the stands. From former beloved places like Martha Lou’s soul food or Southern bistro Carolina’s to newer establishments like Chinese fusion Jackrabbit Filly or recently opened new American Vern’s, the city’s foodscape is ever-changing.
While many places have shuttered their doors, the dishes will always be remembered. City Paper spoke with some of the city’s oldest and newest culinary guards to look back at the places they miss most.
John Keener, owner of Charleston Crab House, wishes more restaurants served deviled crab. “[It’s] crab meat with spices and stuffing in it,” he said. “Every seafood restaurant 20-30 years ago had deviled crab. Nobody carries it now.”
Keener’s once-favorite place to find this dish? Former Shem Creek establishment The Trawler. “It was the original seafood place,” he said. “They had a pirate, nautical theme and it was just fun to take kids there.”
Some former employees at now-closed establishments, like Carolina’s and McCrady’s, are restaurateurs themselves these days. Steve Palmer, managing partner of the Indigo Road Hospitality Group, worked at former Carolina’s as a server in the ’90s. Now, Palmer’s hospitality group owns several establishments in Charleston including Brasserie la Banque, Indaco, Maya and Oak Steakhouse, and in other cities like Charlotte and Atlanta.
Though Palmer has a handful of his own restaurants now, there are some places and dishes he misses. “There was a restaurant on Folly Beach called Fire Bistro. And there was a French guy (his name escapes me). [He had] a little 50-seat place and he only made it a couple of years, but the food was unbelievably good.”
Palmer also noted that the Old Post Office Restaurant on Edisto Island had “the best grits in the Lowcountry at the time” when Phillip Barden was the chef in the ’90s.
Bethany and Dano Heinze, owners of the newly opened Vern’s on Bogard Street, met while working at Sean Brock’s former fine dining spot McCrady’s. Though the couple had lived in Charleston since the early aughts, they moved away from 2016-2021. In just the five years they were gone, some of their favorite frequented places shuttered their doors, the couple said.
“First and foremost, Martha Lou’s,” Dano said of establishments he misses most. “We used to love the fried chicken, lima beans and collard greens. And it [was] just such a cool, homey restaurant. It’s the epitome of a mom and pop restaurant.”
Bethany lamented the loss of Two Boroughs Larder, the former new American restaurant that opened on Coming Street in 2011, but closed in 2016. “I thought that they were kind of ahead of their time with the innovation and the food but in a really casual neighborhood.”
Two Boroughs Larder initially started as a sandwich shop by Josh and Heather Keeler, but soon turned into a beloved all-day cafe, serving noodle bowls, breakfast sandwiches and small plates that earned Josh three James Beard Foundation Award nominations for Best Southeast Chef.
Of course, the couple couldn’t forget McCrady’s, where Dano was chef de cuisine and Bethany the bar manager.
“It was a truly inspiring establishment for many, many people and just the talent that place bred and cultivated was a real staple in the city,” Bethany said.
Owner and chef of Malika Chai Canteen Maryam Ghaznavi said she misses Jestine’s Kitchen because of its history in the city.
“Jestine’s was a landmark and possibly introduced many visitors to Southern soul food,” Ghaznavi said. “Raheel and I took my in-laws to Jestine’s before Covid and they still remember that visit!”
Ghaznavi and her husband Raheel Gauba have since taken over space for their long-awaited Ma’am Saab which is slated to be opened sometine in the early fall.
And like the Heinze’s memories of McGrady’s, Ghaznavi and Gauba can’t forget a place that helped shape what they’ve become: Workshop.
“Workshop was the most unique F&B concept in the city and it was sad to see it close when it did,” Ghaznavi said. “My kids were a huge fan of Chuck & Patty’s burgers and Ma’am Saab made some of our most treasured memories at the Workshop.”
Others like chef Nico Romo of NICO, Bistronomy and Laura long for former quick, casual dining spots. “I really miss Papa ZuZu’s in Mount Pleasant,” Romo said. “It was one of our favorite lunch spots for us at NICO. We went there at least once a week. The gyro was just awesome.”
Papa ZuZu’s was a former Greek restaurant just down the road from NICO that offered other Greek staples like gazpacho, baba ghanouj, various pita wraps and baklava. It has since closed down, but according to its Instagram page, is “in preparation to open in a new location.”
For Shuai Wang of Jackrabbit Filly, bygone sandwich shops top his list of places he misses.
“I miss everything about Artisan Meat Share,” Wang said of the former Spring Street sandwich shop that cured its own meats before closing in 2017. “There was a ham and peanut kind of sandwich and a really delicious parmesan tripe sandwich. It was just the whole concept of it that was really fun and I really liked it there.”
Butcher & Bee is still open at 1085 Morrison Drive, but Wang misses “the old Butcher & Bee,” located where Neon Tiger is now. The original Butcher & Bee only served lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and late night munchies from 11 p.m.-3 a.m., Wang recounted. And the menu was much different then the current farm-fresh dishes coming out of its kitchen today. The “old” Butcher & Bee served unique sandwiches and turned into a late-night hang out because of its bring-your-own-beer (or wine) policy.
What he misses most from Butcher & Bee, though, is the beef tongue sandwich. “I can’t remember exactly what was on it, but I remember I loved everything [about] it.”
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