The media darlings and the well-known favorites of downtown Charleston and nearby Johns Island started filling up with reservations weeks ago as PGA players and spectators started making their plans. With an estimated 50,000 people flooding the market this week, there will be a premium placed on a 7 p.m. Friday night reservation at places like Halls Chophouse or Charleston Grill, two of OpenTable’s highest rated restaurants in town.
Even if you didn’t score a prime time reservation, many restaurants that were already booked via OpenTable last week said they were still allowing for walk-ins. The Fat Hen located on Johns Island, halfway between Kiawah and downtown Charleston, has been gearing up for PGA week by buying plenty of their products in advance. “We don’t want to be waiting on trucks,” says chef and owner Fred Neuville. To that end, he went ahead and started freezing buckets of veal stock and ordering lots of short ribs and shanks. He’s also keeping 50 percent of his tables open for walk-ins, per usual. “Seventy-five percent of our business is walk-in. We did not change our policy on just reserving half of the dining room.” On a busy night, a typical wait is 45 minutes to an hour, and Neuville thinks that will be the standard wait time for the entire week. “We’ll be busy right at 4 p.m.” he predicts.
Down Maybank Highway at Wild Olive, they’ve expanded their hours to try and handle the crowds. The Italian restaurant will be open from 4 to 11 p.m. this week with a full staff and some premium bottles of Italian wine added to the menu for those high rollers looking to splurge.
Downtown, Halls Chophouse has been seeing brisk reservations for this week, especially after 9 p.m. They are planning to stay open until 1 a.m. to accommodate their guests and suggest that walk-ins between 5 and 6 p.m. have the best chance of scoring a table quickly. Of course, Halls’ regulars can expect the same VIP treatment they always get.
Oak was also seeing lots of early reservations, particularly for larger parties. They will have tables reserved for walk-ins and expect to close at their normal 11 p.m. unless the crowds demand it.
Is all this talk of reservations and crowds freaking you out because you forgot to plan ahead? No worries. There are plenty of places you can sneak into that are off-the-beaten path. Just don’t tell the locals we let you in on some of our best-kept secrets.
Downtown. 2 Unity Alley. (843) 577-0025
Best for wine lovers looking for creative plates and upscale setting
If you’re staying down near East Bay Street’s restaurant row and you haven’t snagged a reservation at McCrady’s for the weekend, have no fear — you can still get a big taste of what star chef Sean Brock and his right-hand man Jeremiah Langhorne are doing in the kitchen. Stop by the spacious bar, which seats first-come-first served, for an ever-changing snack menu that may include offerings like hydroponic bibb lettuce wraps with tempura shrimp, cilantro, radish, and kimchi puree, or crispy pig head pancetta with tomato jam, fine herbs, and grilled bread. Treat yourself to one of the many pre-prohibition cocktails while perusing the extensive wine, whiskey, and Scotch lists. It’s a dazzling little place, and the bar is cozy and comfortable. —Eric Doksa
2) Cypress Bar
Downtown. 167 East Bay St. (843) 727-0111
Best for martini drinkers with a hankering for housemade charcuterie
Cypress has a big, bustling dining room that fills up quick, but it has an even swankier bar upstairs where you might be able to score a seat. Chef Craig Deihl’s bar menu is one of the most creative in town. A lamb BLT on brioche, bánh mì stuffed with pork pâté and kimchi, or a wood-grilled burger with pimento cheese and bacon jam? This is a whole different plane than your typical wings and nachos, and the lavender martini is a stellar drink no matter the occasion. —Robert Moss
Downtown. 5 Faber St. (843) 718-2580
Best for those looking to stay near their hotel in the heart of the tourist district
Our newest downtown restaurant has plenty of seats to accommodate the crowds this week. The dining room is big and clubby, and the menu is packed with cheese, crudo, pasta, and antipasti. Sit at the bar, watch live coverage of the PGA Championship, and nibble on an artisanal cheese plate, or opt for a cozy table and dig into a big bowl of risotto or a milk-fed bone-in veal chop. On Sunday, they’re planning a special PGA Championship Brunch with complimentary mimosas and Bloody Marys. Can’t beat that. —SB
Downtown. 82 Society St. (843) 577-1102
Best for those trying to sneak in a full-blown, romantic dinner
Just a skip away from King Street, Muse serves a menu of bright atypical Mediterranean dishes (from merguez sausage to crispy sea bass) and has an outstanding list of 100 wines by the glass. The old Charleston mansion has been charmingly revamped into a rambling two-floor restaurant with beautiful frescoes inspired by the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii painted in every room. Comfortable, romantic, and delicious, but perpetually overlooked, Muse is a local treasure and is surprisingly easy to get into on any given night. —Stephanie Barna
Downtown. 210 Rutledge Ave. (843) 720-8899
Best for a nice relaxing meal at the end of a hot day watching golf
A good strategy for finding a nice table at a great restaurant is to head to the outskirts, far away from the madding tourist crowds. Lana is located in the up-and-coming Cannonborough neighborhood and has been catering to locals (like Sen. Fritz Hollings) for years with their fabulous Mediterranean fare. The menu has great salads and pasta dishes plus hearty plates like grilled rib-eyes with pommes frites at reasonable prices ($24). The locals keep this place packed, but you can probably still score a reservation if you act fast. —SB
Downtown. 186 Coming St. (843) 637-3722
Best for adventurous eaters who don’t mind a hipster vibe
If you’re up for an adventure, you should seek this little place out. Two Boroughs Larder is tucked away over on Coming Street, two blocks from the Upper King Street restaurant scene. Its menu, which changes daily, features fresh, local ingredients prepared with a serious made-in-house flair. Explore exotic treats like veal sweetbreads and pickled lambs tongue, or load up on heartier fare like a bavett steak with confit potatoes or baked trout accented with smoked brisket and pickled ramps. The atmosphere is funky and low-key, but the food is out of this world. —RM
7) The Grocery
Downtown. 4 Cannon St. (843) 302-8825
Best for those that really want to eat at one of the hottest new places in town
From lamb ham to whole roasted fish, The Grocery offers a bite for everyone. The bar is pretty small, but you can usually elbow your way in for a couple of rib-sticking small plates and some excellent cocktails. It’s a favorite of the locavore crowd, and can get busy on the weekends, but weeknights, they’ve got an innovative 5-7 p.m. happy hour menu that will fill you up for the back nine. —SB
8) Pane e Vino
Downtown. 17 Warren St. (843) 853-5955
Best for those hankering for a big bowl of noodles
There are lots of great Italian restaurants in Charleston, but this one is in a prime but hidden location just steps away from Upper King Street on Warren. They have a great outdoor patio and a slamming menu of Italian specialties like lasagna del mi’nonno, spaghetti alla bolognese, and cioppino. Pane e Vino caters to the locals and keeps its prices in the reasonable range. —SB
Best for starving golf spectators looking for a no-frills but solid dining experience
If you’re heading back downtown from Kiawah and Fat Hen and Wild Olive already have lines out the door, instead of making a beeline for the busy downtown dining scene, take a detour through James Island and stop at this relatively new spot for a laid-back meal from the rotisserie grill or wood-fired oven. Chef and owner Glenn Christiansen honed his chops in some of Charleston’s best kitchens (FIG) and serves up a tight menu of locally sourced, thoughtfully prepared food. The dining space is laid-back and casual, so you won’t feel out of place if you’re coming in right off the course. The menu is varied too, so you can get some small snacks if you’re looking to eat a bigger meal later on in the night. It’s inexpensive too. There’s usually only one or two entrées that pass the $20 mark. —SB
Downtown. 98 Broad St. (843) 577-9797
Best for golf widows in search of a glass of wine, good French bread, and a hunk of pâté
What happens when a diehard country-clubbing golf fan dines in a boho communal dining room? We’d kinda like to know, which is why we’re recommending this gem of a French restaurant. The bar-height tables are all communal, and diners can commingle with their neighbors (or not). The food is comfortable, classic, and cheap with croq’ monsieurs nestled alongside escargots and the chicken du jour. They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (closed Sunday), so you owe it to yourself to stop by and check it out. —SB
11) Butcher & Bee
Downtown. 654 King St. (843) 619-0202
Best for lunch and creative late night fare
Want to keep it fresh and local without fighting hard to get a reservation? The good folks at Butcher & Bee have been satisfying the Charleston scene with gourmet sandwiches and fresh sides for just under a year now, but they make it seem as if they’ve been around for much longer. They focus on using local ingredients with everything from the bread to the pickles and condiments being made in-house. Peppers, carrots, arugula, and garnishes of parsley and cilantro come straight from the garden out back, and meat is butchered and ground in-house. They’ll be open from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch and 11 p.m.-3 a.m. for late night dinner all weekend, with the addition of a special burger dinner from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. on Friday: think beef, lamb, and veggie burgers. It’s BYOB and no reservations are required, so you should have no problem getting your grub on. — ED