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French Toast at Halls Chophouse. Photo by Jason Layne
A Sunday in Charleston just wouldn't be complete without a mouthwatering, classic Southern brunch complete with cocktails, of course.
But ask a bunch of people on the street what the best brunch spot is, and chances are they'll all give you a different answer. Everyone has his favorite and swears it's "the best." So what are the best brunches in town? I'm happy to share my choices with you. But in reality, I'm just another person on the street.
Best Unexpected Brunch Spot: Gene's Haufbrau, 817 Savannah Highway, 225-4363
I wasn't planning on hitting Gene's, but luckily, I was lured by a group of friends. If you've been to Gene's before, you know it's popular for its huge selection of hard-to-find beers. But it also has a killer, though minimal, brunch menu. The Huevos Rancheros comes with two eggs sunny side up, tortilla "spikes" and spicy tomato sauce with pepper jack cheese. Simple? Yes. Delicious? Oh, yeah. But the best offering is the Bloody Mary Crawfish Omelet, loaded with succulent crawfish and topped with a bloody mary cream cheese sauce. Plus, the bloodies themselves are $3.50 and possess the perfect amount of zing.
Best Outdoor Venue: Poogan's Porch, 72 Queen St., 577-2337
Poogan's remains one of the most popular spots in Charleston, and not just because its beautiful outdoor patio is dog-friendly. The fare is yummy and the selection is large, as it offers its lunch menu during brunch as well. I recommend the Pulled Pork Benedict, smothered with a barbecue hollandaise. The Charlestowne Fry offers something a little bit different with fried oysters looking comfy on their bed of an open-faced omelet. But you can't discount the outdoor seating. With one of the best views on Queen Street, you can people watch while drowning mimosas. And if you do have a furry best friend, he'll be pleased to visit Poogan's as well.
Best Spot to See and be Seen: Husk, 76 Queen St., 577-2500
There's a reason Sean Brock's new outpost is the most talked about place in town. It's charming, it's delicious and it's all local. The brunch menu, like all menus at Husk, changes every week to incorporate the freshest ingredients Brock can find. On the day I went, I savored the Duck Leg Confit with winter squash, delicious gravy and a duck fat fried egg plopped on top. The Rabbit Stew, similar to the inside of a potpie, was tasty with its White Lily Dumplings. I also got a taste of the Sausage Stuffed Quail, and I immediately wanted more. Luckily for us, Husk often has a quail dish on the menu. While it's hard to go wrong at Husk, steer clear of the bloody mary if you're not a fan of Worcestershire sauce -- it has a lot.
Best for a Group: Triangle Char and Bar, 828 Savannah Highway, 377-1300
The atmosphere at Triangle screams "Fun!" It's full of bright colors with big windows, and part of an old Cadillac sits in the ceiling beams. Another tell-tale sign of a raucous good time? There's always a crowd. But it's not just a great place for hanging out with friends on a lazy Sunday. The food was delicious. The Crab Cake Benny was one of the best around -- and they're everywhere in Charleston. But the House Smoked Salmon Benny stole the show with a luscious dill Dijon cream. As far as apps go, ditch the diet for Triangle's Grand Marnier glazed Cinnamon Rolls. They're well worth it. And while they've done away with bottomless mimosas (the bartender claimed they're technically illegal in this state, but it's hard to find a definitive answer), they're now 99 cents each. It seems to be a better deal, especially if you want only a couple.
Best People's Choice: High Cotton, 199 East Bay St. 724-3815
Remember how I said everyone in Charleston has a different idea of the best brunch spot? That's mostly true. But you will come across a lot of people who maintain that High Cotton holds court. We have to give the people what they want, and it is quite delicious. The BBQ Duck Hash was great with juicy mushrooms and eggs sunny side up in a mustard BBQ sauce. The special Lobster Bisque with shrimp, hailed by the bartender as world-famous, was lacking in the lobster department, but if you're a big shrimp lover, it just may well be your dream come true. The drinks were your typical bubbly brunch fare, and the atmosphere was bustling in a lovely weekend way, but the instruments set up in the lounge had no one behind them while I was there.
Best Saturday Sitting: Virginia's on King, 412 King St. 735-5800
If you want to brunch it up on a Saturday, your options are limited. The Glass Onion offers it, as does Poogan's. But the place to be on Saturday is Virginia's on King. It's small and cozy with some tasty options. The appetizer of Crab Stuffed Mushrooms was a nice way to start the meal. The portobello complemented the crab surprisingly well. The pancakes with pecan maple syrup were fantastic, and the crab cake and asparagus omelet, recommended by my server, also was yummy. And if you like your meat country fried, you're in luck. Ham, chicken and steak are all done up that tasty Southern way. So why is Virginia's only a go-to spot on Saturdays? They don't serve alcohol on Sundays. And if you're looking for a bloody mary, it's not the spot for you. Only beer and wine are available any day of the week.
Best for the Drinker: Toast, 155 Meeting St. 534-0043
Known for their bottomless mimosas more than anything else, Toast is just a plain good time. The menu is the same all week long, but tourists and locals still stop in on Sundays. The casual atmosphere is nice after a late Saturday night, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. The food is classic breakfast/brunch, so sit back and order whatever tickles your fancy.
Best of the Best: Halls Chophouse, The Ultimate Charleston Brunch, 434 King St. 727-0090
Maybe it's an obvious choice, but I just can't help it. Halls was superior in every way. From the friendly manager (some call it schmoozing, but I personally like to pretend I'm a VIP) to the gospel singers and the deliciousness of everything I ate and drank, it was a divine Charleston brunch experience. Halls is known for its dry aged beef, and the Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon was on par with any other steak I've been lucky enough to eat. If you want something on the lighter side, the Lavender Scented Brioche French Toast with espresso mascarpone cream was thick, sweet and laced with layers of subtle flavor. Even the bread was distinctive -- airy popovers accompanied by a sweet butter. But the one thing I recommend most is skipping the bloody mary in favor of their Habanero and Passion Fruit Martini. It's the perfect brunch cocktail for those who like a little spice. The fresh passion fruit is citrusy, and it's immediately followed by a gentle kick that lingers a nice long time.
Egg's Benedict at Med Bistro. Photo by Jason Layne
Honorable mentions and frequent favorites
Of course I've left some out. Maybe even your favorite. But I can list for you a few gems that I often hear called "the best."
The Glass Onion, 1219 Savannah Highway, is always popular, and rightly so. Med Bistro, 90 Folly Road, inconspicuously located in the South Windermere Shopping Center on Folly Road, is one to watch. Kronic Cafe, 827 Folly Road, is a hippie-type joint with live music and to-die-for croissants. Magnolias, 185 East Bay St., is another upscale, downtown darling, and the Red Drum, 803 Coleman Blvd. in Mount Pleasant, is another popular man-on-the-street favorite.
Erica J. Marcus is a foodie from New England who wrote a wine column for Blast Magazine and was in charge of its food section. She now lives in the Lowcountry and loves to eat here.