Spoleto Eats: Our dining tips for the Charleston festival

Think outside the black box

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Keep The Westendorff on Warren Street in mind when making your Spoleto plans - JONATHAN BONCEK FILE
  • Jonathan Boncek file
  • Keep The Westendorff on Warren Street in mind when making your Spoleto plans
Last night my husband got a text from his mother's friend. Her son was coming to Charleston for his honeymoon and wanted to know where to eat. We field these kinds of questions all the time, so it was no big deal to shoot a list off to him. That is until he said when they were arriving — today. And, oh yeah, could they get into FIG or Husk tonight? 

The answers: No and maybe if you're cool with dining at 5:45 p.m.

Determining where and when to dine at certain restaurants in this city can be a challenge even for the most savvy of locals. The game gets even more frustrating when you have friends in town making impossible dining demands, like wanting to squeeze in a quick lunch at Poe's on a Saturday afternoon. (I'm looking at you, Dad.) 

Now compound that with the start of Spoleto season and you have to be something of a reservation sleuth to get a seat during the high tide of pre- and post-performance hours. So, what do you do?

1) Think like a Grandma.
That is to say, early bird specials aren't just for AARP customers. A few suggestions: Right now you can get a full meal at a surprisingly reasonable price at the bar at Cypress
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Gone is Cypress' burger night but in its place is a bar menu offering one of the most hearty list of options in town. Last week, we tried tuna tonnato salad ($9), chicken fried steak ($16), and the fanciest of fish sticks ($14) you've ever seen and it was way more than we could finish. 
Cypress' bar menu fish sticks - KINSEY GIDICK
  • Kinsey Gidick
  • Cypress' bar menu fish sticks

If that doesn't whet your whistle, Chef Craig Deihl is also offering essentially the same Artisan Meat Share motherboard of charcuterie at Cypress — a selection of cooked, cured, and smoked meats with a bottle of wine — for $35. That alone will set your right before seeing The Importance of Being Earnest at the Dock Street. 

Another early hour option is Westendorff. Thanks to this spot's off the beaten King Street path location, it doesn't get crowded at 5 p.m. And Chef Blake Joyal has created a nice list of easy on the budget options for a a pre-theatre meal. The chicken liver mousse and frisee salad would make a filling but not coma-inducing choice before heading to the Emmett Robinson Theatre for shadow puppet show, Ada/Ava.

2) Save drinks for after the show.
The temptation to guzzle wine before seeing Porgy and Bess may be strong — this is a 3-hour opera after all — but resist the urge. No one wants to sit next to the person getting up to check out during the performance "Summertime." And besides, après-cocktails will be all the sweeter when you can linger longer discussing the show. 

There are your standard options near the Gaillard — Zero George is the obvious choice. But the chances of you getting a seat there are going to be slim to none. Instead, think about visiting 167 Raw's wine garden. Or, walk down Anson Street to Anson restaurant where you can order anything off the regular menu while seated at the bar. As a bonus, Anson often foregoes the sports on their bar TVs for vintage movies. On my last visit they played the black and white classic For Me and My Gal starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.

Also, Fast & French continues to offer its Spoleto extended hours with the restaurant open until 11 p.m, Mon.-Sat. 

3) Pack a snack.
If you're heading to the Cistern to see jazz great Arturo O'Farrill this weekend or if you plan on watching the live simulcast of Porgy and Bess at Marion Square, you might need to pop a treat in your bag. Sate your mid-show hunger with one of these bites:
Some jerky will get you through any tough show - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Some jerky will get you through any tough show

Royal American's beef jerky.  This is the stuff of salted and cured dreams. One pack is big enough to share, but I wouldn't recommend it. You're going to want it all for yourself.

— If you're in the Hampton Park Terrace neighborhood, pick up a picnic basket from Harold's Cabin. The new cafe offers baskets filled with two pieces fruit, house-made pickles, pimento cheese, grain salad, a baguette, dessert, utensils, and two bottles of San Pellegrino for $25. 

— Grab a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel from Huger Street's North Central Delicatessen. And don't forget a black and white cookie. They've got those too. 

4) Don't be a prick.
If you absolutely must have a four-star, five-course meal pre-show, try to remember that the staff isn't privy to your curtain call time. While some restaurants offer special Spoleto prix-fixe menus, that doesn't mean they can get you seated, watered, served, and out the door for your 7:30 p.m. show when you made the reservation for 6. Plan accordingly. And, it should go without say, tip well.

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