Healthy and Hungry in Charleston

This South Carolina city was embracing the farm (and fishing net)-to-table movement long before it was trendy.

Murray Boulevard Charleston

Charleston's Murray Boulevard

Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

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For more than 300 years, Charleston's location—rich farmland and tidal marshes nestled between two rivers and an ocean—has provided the perfect ecosystem for growing food and food lovers. The land yields heirloom varieties of rice and tomatoes, while plump, briny oysters and shrimp can be plucked from nearby waters. "Local" isn't just a buzzword here; it's a way of life you can taste.

1. The Bar at Husk Restaurant
"If it's not Southern, it's not coming in the door," superhot celebrity chef Sean Brock often says of his restaurant, Husk. At the adjacent bar, where the bitters and mixers are made in-house or locally, there's a strong focus on regional microbrews and small-batch bourbons. The menu changes often, but look for the Copper Lantern, which contains house-made sweet vermouth. Or, if you like a kick, you'll love the Southern Screwdriver, made with jalapeño-macerated vodka, basil syrup, and orange bitters. If beer is more your speed, sip Charleston Brewing Company's Loggerhead Lager.

2. Charleston Cooks
Sign up for a cooking class at Charleston Cooks, which sells every last kitchen gadget you never knew you needed but suddenly can't live without. During a typical two-hour class, learn how to make Lowcountry classics like shrimp and grits and bourbon pecan pie, as well as how to master the freshest local ingredients, such as collard greens, Carolina Gold rice (a local staple dating to 1685), and okra. Enjoy a steady flow of tasting plates and a glass of wine while you "work." After class, you'll receive a 10% discount at the shop.

3. FIG
Crowds flock to Hyman's on Meeting Street, but some of the best—and freshest—food in the city is right across the street at FIG (which stands for Food Is Good). James Beard Award--winning chef Mike Lata changes the menu based on what the local farmers and fishmongers are dropping on his doorstep. This spring, you can expect dishes to feature Caper's Inlet oysters and local triggerfish crudo. Round out the meal with a fresh take on some locally grown veggies—choices now highlight young, tender collards and kale tossed with beets and end-of-the-season winter citrus.

4. The Turning Leaf Studio
Experience Charleston's salty surroundings with a beginner-friendly paddleboarding and beach yoga lesson with local environmentalist and fitness guru Harriott Parker of The Turning Leaf studio. Participants paddle to a secluded sand bar for a relaxing hour-long Vinyasa yoga class led by Parker. Breathe deep enough, and you may be able to smell your reward (see No. 5 below). $25 for a group lesson; $85 for a two-hour private lesson for up to 3 people.

5. WildFlour Pastry
On Sunday mornings, Charlestonians follow their noses to this small storefront a bit off the beaten path. That's because they know that on Sundays only, from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., pastry chef Lauren Mitterer sells her famed sticky buns. Crusted in pecans, they are chewy on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. An indulgence? Certainly. But Charleston is made for walking—you can spend hours wandering the shops on King Street and peeping into the windows of historic homes "South of Broad"—so there's always room for a decadent, gooey treat.

Sample a Taste of the South
Charleston's Heirloom Book Company specializes in rare and vintage cookbooks, and you can find one focused on nearly any cuisine on the planet. Thankfully, they also sell mouthwatering works online. For Southern inspiration, you can't go wrong with the spiral-bound Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook ($25).

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