CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The ninth annual Charleston Wine + Food Festival wrapped up this weekend in South Carolina's historic coastal city, but with daffodils and flowering trees in bloom here, the time is right for an escape from Pittsburgh's winter to a weekend of warm weather and good eating.
Charleston's dining scene is quite remarkable, with McCrady's, Two Boroughs Larder, FIG, The Grocery and The Macintosh scoring six James Beard nominations last month. Beyond fine dining, the city is rich with options for down-home cooking, from shrimp and grits to oyster roasts.
Many cocktail bars have also taken hold within city limits along with a community of do-it-yourselfers who have set up in food trucks, vintage Airstreams and even a shipping container.
Here's a short list of where to eat and drink over a long weekend in Charleston:
FIG (232 Meeting St., 1-843-805-5900) has become a Charleston staple since chef Mike Lata and partner Adam Nemirow opened the restaurant in 2003. Beautiful ingredients stud a short menu that changes daily, with unfussy presentations of a nine-vegetable salad, razor clams, fish stew and suckling pig. Polished service helps the restaurant maintain its reputation, as well as the "Make your own Manhattan" menu that lists interesting choices among three categories: bourbon and rye, vermouth and bitters. But it's the 100 bottles of wine for less than $100 that earns a spot among nominees for the James Beard Outstanding Wine Program category this year. If you don't have a reservation, plan on visiting close to the opening hour as the restaurant fills up quickly.
The Ordinary (544 King St., 1-843-414-7060), which opened in 2012, is the ambitious sibling to FIG, in a space defined by arched windows and high ceilings. This brasserie/oyster bar has a rollicking menu of cold and hot dishes as well as an oyster bar and seafood towers stacked with additions like peekytoe crab, Nantucket Bay scallops and caviar. The drink menu is less conservative than FIG, with a range of bubbles, ciders, vermouthand sherry among the options.
Another set of siblings that have defined modern Charleston dining come from Sean Brock, the chef-farmer who has earned the title as an all-local zealot, as he raises heirloom rice and heritage-breed pigs on his farm and forages for local ingredients.
His flagship, McCrady's (2 Unity Alley, 1-843-577-0025), is housed in an 18th-century tavern and features Modernist-inspired fare, the desserts of which are created by former Kaya chef Sean Ehland, who was also among James Beard semifinalists when he lived in Pittsburgh.
In an 1890s Victorian, Husk (76 Queen St., 1-843-577-2500) displays a more a casual menu of hyper-local ingredients. "If it doesn't come from the South it doesn't come through the door," says Mr. Brock of dishes such as pimento cheese with crispy country ham, benne wafers and pickled ramps. A freestanding bar next to the dining room features a terrific beer list, a wine list grouped by soil type (limestone, slate, etc.), whiskey-based cocktails and punches.
The Macintosh (479B King St., 1-843-557-4077), part of the family of restaurants that includes Oak Steakhouse and Indaco, displays the best of the newer Charleston restaurants on upper King Street. Chef Jeremiah Bacon cooks up intense flavors such as a plate of seafood charcuterie, confit pork shoulder or bone marrow bread pudding. Try it out during weekday Bacon Happy Hours from 5 to 7 p.m. for a drink special and a $5 small plate.
Housed on a side street in a retail store/restaurant, there's Two Boroughs Larder (186 Coming St., 1-843-637-3722) from Heather and Josh Keeler. With farm-inspired paintings and cotton bags of grits on shelves, the restaurant serves innovative fare. It includes entrees such as rabbit with Thai chilis or a daily noodle bowl with duck confit and soft-boiled eggs in a pork broth. Breakfast sandwiches are served all day and a 3 to 6 p.m. happy hour offers $3 to $5 drink specials.
For Southern comfort food, there's Hominy Grill (207 Rutledge Ave., 1-843-937-0930) from chef Robert Stehling, who says, "This is the food we wished our grandmothers could cook." Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Hominy carved its reputation on dishes such as jalapeno hushpuppies, fried green tomatoes, fried chicken platters and catfish po-boys.
Another spot for casual fare with an eye on value is The Rarebit (474 King St., 1-843-974-5483), the diner-cocktail bar hybrid. Happy hour ushers in the $5 drink; choose among two cocktails, two reds or whites and any draft beer. Food is reasonably priced for breakfast all day, blue plate specials, vegetable soups or chopped salads.
The next big restaurant neighborhood is three miles from the center of town. Take the pilgrimage to The Farm Bar (1600 Meeting St., no phone; thefarmbar26.com), a design shop and coffee bar open Tuesdays and Fridays with an occasional dinner series. Despite that it's housed in a shipping container, it's furnished with the requisite objects of the New American Woodsman aesthetic such as wood milk crates, plaid blankets and baskets of eggs. A communal table with stacks of cookbooks rests beside a shiny retro Airstream and boat painted with the faces of a goat and a dog.
The Farm Bar is not far from Edmund's Oast (1081 Morrison Drive, 1-843-727-1145), a craft beer mecca with 48 taps, an on-site brewery and charcuterie from chef Andy Henderson, formerly at FIG. If you're looking for locals, this is the place to be.
But the heart of Charleston has plenty to offer. For first-time visitors, a must-see is the rooftop view from The Pavilion Bar at the Market Pavilion Hotel (225 E. Bay St., 1-843-723-0500) or The Rooftop at Vendue Inn (19 Vendue Range, 1-843-577-7970). The panorama displays historic architecture, the city's expanding borders and Charleston Harbor. Of special interest is the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge; to a visiting Pittsburgher, it's a familiar landmark among high points in the Lowcountry.
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.