Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Highlight 192: Lowcountry charm - Restaurant: 82 Queen (Charleston)

Michael and Jane Stern wrote a few of my favorite books on road food. Back in the 70s when "foodie" was a term foreign to most Americans, the Sterns were already driving across the country tasting and writing about their beloved "American" food along the highways. Today, they have a website dedicated to these eats. Most of what they seek out and recommend are specialities from diners and other hole in the wall establishments. So when I came across this "too fancy" recommendation and read Michael's review that claimed 82 Queen's shrimp and grits as the "best," we had to go there. I mean it beat out the highly regarding Hominy Grill and Jestine's Kitchen, both Charleston favorites.

We ran through what appeared to be a monsoon to get inside the cozy bar of 82 Queen. An excellent dirty martini almost got us to forget about our wet clothes before we came to the realization that to get to the dinning room one must cross the courtyard, which is of course uncovered. While we sipping on our drinks, we watched the dripping servers make trip after trip delivering food covered in trays in the pouring rain, looking completely calm and unaffected. Crazy!

When our turn came, the hostess walked us out into the wetness and slowly up the stairs to the 2nd floor dining room. I was getting drenched so quickly, I almost shoved her along to move as fast as possible. Once inside, it was all much better, especially when the she crab soup came.

Full of cream and heavy with roe, it was heavenly on its own, but was even better with a liberal splash of dry sherry, which came on the side. Luckily I got my fill before Jason went too far with the sherry. Perfect for dipping were these Cheddar chive mini biscuits.

After the soup, we split a crab cake. Having grown up in Maryland, where crab cake is a religion, I'd say that this is pretty up there in terms of quality and percentage content. The "cake" was short on bind agents and fell apart easily to show off lot of big crab chunks. What really put it over the top was the creamy sauce. Again very rich, a theme of this cuisine.

We got our mains in half portions, but looks didn't reflect that fact at all. Without me saying you can probably already tell the cream and butter content in that grits. It stayed soften and loose for quite some time. The shrimp surprised me. They looked and tasted of bbq sauce, a very very good one, but nonetheless different from the transitional preparation. Had I not expected a comparison with my favorite in the atl from JCT kitchen I would probably have fully embraced these. But the slight sweetness got me off guard.

Now here is what really blew my socks off. This jambalaya was so full of shrimp, crawfish, sausages, etc., I couldn't even get just a bite of rice by itself. The best part was that the sausage, rather than being added in chunks, were cooked into the rice, so every forkful was imbued with intense sausage flavor. We ate so much to only find the plate looking almost exactly like it arrived. The leftover went back to the hotel with us and became breakfast when we really saw the binding Cajun butter in its solid form. Let's just say we were glad that the dish didn't come with a nutritional chart. :)

According to the server, the owner's wife used to be the pastry chef at the restaurant, but now only makes a single thing on the dessert menu and that is this peach cobbler. Let me first say that I am no huge fan of cobblers, but I do love ice cream and found this topper very pleasing. The warm bottom was good, but not something I would dream about like the jambalaya.

82 Queen
82 Queen St.
Charleston, SC 29401

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