Bourdain does the Lowcountry right, finally

Covered, smothered, and clearly pickled

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It’s no secret that Anthony Bourdain sorta botched his last TV visit here. As he said in Parts Unknown-Charleston last night, he's still trying to live down the No Reservations episode in which he dined at Jestine's, participated in a Civil War reenactment, and allowed the Lee Bros. to serve him champagne at an oyster roast. “I’m still taking shit about it,” Bourdain said in the first scene. Fortunately, with the help of Sean Brock and Bill Murray, Bourdain's latest Holy City visit made up for it.

If 10 years of travel shows has taught Tony anything it’s that casting his sidekick is clutch. What would No Reservations Uzbekistan have been without Tony’s lovable, drinking buddy Zamir Gotta? With that in mind, Bourdain used the Gotta template and simply swapped the Russian accent for a Southern one. Voila — Sean Brock. In fact this episode could have easily been called the Sean Show. It was Charleston through Brock’s eyes, which incidentally made for pretty entertaining TV.

The story begins at The Griffon. There an ever-prepared Brock arrives with his own whiskey in hand, funneled into a plastic bottle to avoid breakage. The two slam Jager shots as local, omnipresent bar fly Bear Barrow grins from behind them. Looking like a brown-water swilling giggly cherub, it quickly is evident that Brock is tanked. So where do they go? The Waffle House of course, just like any proud Southerner would do.

From the bright yellow interior of Savannah Highway's Waffle House (complete with cop lights shining through the windows), Bourdain uncovers what we’ve known all along — nothing is more exquisite than a plate of smothered and covered hashbrowns at 2 in the morning. Brock admits that the Waffle House was one of the reasons he became a chef. “It was the first place I actually saw people cooking,” he says.

For his part, Bourdain is perplexed. The menu overwhelms him. Luckily Brock shares his ordering secret. “So there’s a balance. When you find your balance, you memorize it. I go scattered, covered, smothered, chunked,” Brock says. “You don’t come here expecting the French Laundry — you come here expecting something amazing.”

“This is better than the French Laundry,” Bourdain responds.

But it’s not all pecan waffles suffocating under a heavy coat of margarine. Brock and Bourdain meet up at Husk next with resident Hollywood A-lister, Bill Murray.

As we wrote before, the fellas talk about how no one (namely other carpetbaggers) really wants anyone else to know about Charleston. Then they go gaga over plate after plate of field peas, Carolina Gold rice, and Ossobaw, plus lots of bourbon. Thankfully the episode is not all affluent white men dining together.

Brock takes Bourdain out to Sol Legare where Gullah Chef BJ Dennis (who you may recognize from our latest issue of Dish) shares soft shell crabs and conch with the men. They also talk history with Ashley Green, whose mother owns the building they're in, and she emphasizes the need to fight for Gullah culture. It’s an important reminder of the legacy of Lowcountry cuisine and a hell of a lot better than watching a painfully awkward Bourdain dressed as Johnny Reb run around a meadow. 

But this wouldn't be cable TV if Parts Unknown didn't include one failed scene. In an excuse to dress Bourdain up in camo, his producers take him on a turkey shoot. Or would-be turkey shoot. He shoots nothing and the show swiftly segues back to Husk’s backyard for some real turkey and a chat with Chef Mike Lata and City Paper contributor Jeff Allen. “They’re not recreating history, they’re creating a new cuisine,” Allen says of the chefs. We're going to assume discussion of the city's other great chefs got cut in editing. 

But what the episode lacked in shout-outs to the dozens of individuals who make Charleston food so great, it made up for in a few choice appearances.

Charleston’s answer to Poseidon, Abundant Seafood's Mark Marhefka, gets his due. He schools Bourdain on trash fish, explaining how he got chefs to accept triggerfish though he concedes that Amberjack still has work to become a blue-plate special. They grill fish dockside on Shem Creek.

Then, before we know it, they're off to Rodney Scott’s Hemingway barbecue haven, Scott's Bar-B-Que. There, once again, we get to see a table of men salivate, this time over pulled pork. 

To close the episode, Bourdain and Brock sit back at a fishing hole, crack open some Westbrook White Thai cans, take off their shoes, and drink more — you guessed it — bourbon. “This is a special place,” Tony concludes as the sounds of Shovels & Rope take us to the credits.

He’s right. Charleston is a special place. And this time Bourdain came a heck of a lot closer to sharing how fantastic the food in this city really is. There might even be one more Anthony Bourdain Charleston episode in him. He could tour our farms, breweries, and distilleries, and maybe next time Parts Unknown could even include some of this city’s other outstanding chefs, women included.

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