Lunch was a pleasant diversion to an outlet of a restaurant praised for its celebration of local produce, heirloom grains and hidden, if not altogether forgotten, recipes. Husk started here in South Carolina by Sean Brock. Over its years, Brock has expanded to four locations – Nashville, Greenville, Savannah and the original in Charleston. Food of the area, food of the low country, food as he wishes he mother used to cook.
We arrive towards the end of the lunch seating. Time is more fluid on vacation. A friendly hostess finishes up her phone message as I look into the long bar, admiring the peacock blue leather seating. Brick walls have no paint or varnish attempt to pretty them up. I notice a faint smell of pickle juice in the air. I comment on it aloud but make sure my cousin knows that I think that is a good thing.
Interior design is definitely American to my eyes – industrial-esque: chunky exposed beams shiny and glossy, metal staircase with its rivets and structure exposed, thick-glazed ceramics rough underneath with swipe of vanilla glaze on the surface. As usual, I turn them upside down to check the maker’s mark. It’s a habit that’s hard to shift. The overall vibe is smart without being fussy.
A leather bound drinks menu is delivered to the table as well as a folded paper one detailing the day’s offerings: boiled peanuts with pickled jalapeños, crispy pork rinds with bbq rub and Husk hot sauce, pimento cheese with benne crackers, chicken wings with white sauce, scallions and redneck spice, butcher’s salad, catfish po’boy, shrimp and grits, country fried steak.
I’m not sure what to order although I’m pretty sure the answer isn’t ‘one of each’. I start with a corn whiskey based cocktail but have already decided on a dry-hopped cider to follow. Our server, Chris, is happy to extol the virtues of his native cuisine and happily brings a sampler of pimento cheese in response to a standard question of mine – ‘What’s the one food I need to try on my visit here in (insert name of town)?’
The pimento cheese is perfect with its house-pickled pimentos, house-made ramp vinegar, locally-made cheese and – you get the picture. My cousin and I bond further over boiled peanuts. I love them, including the labour-intensive method to get them into my mouth. My aunt doesn’t think they’re worth the effort. I comment that her brother, my dad, would no doubt agree.
My shrimp and grits arrive and they’re as delightful as you might imagine they’d be. The chef doesn’t skimp on the shrimp and they’re sweet and perfectly cooked. The grits are creamy with chunks of corn and a porky salami studded throughout. Chopped tomatoes, green pole beans and a smoked tomato broth provide camouflage atop the whole dish.
I stick my fork into David’s corn salad before he can stop me. The kernels are the biggest I’ve seen and I need to know what they taste like. The skin is taut and pops between my teeth. Thin slices of a mild chilli and leaves of a spinach-type green make it a colourful and tasty side dish. At this point, David offers me a piece of his chicken. I demure at first but cave only ten minutes later. I’m glad I do.
The coating is crisp, dry and substantial. It clings to the meat so that the coating and meat are one piece, rather than the meat slipping out of the skin between my fingers. The texture is so compelling that I peel it away to get more. It’s then that the juicy aromatics of the flesh becomes apparent. This really is the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted. I make a mental note to wave down our server on the next passing for 20 questions.