Frankly my dear, you SHOULD give a damn! OK, so Tara was in Atlanta, and Rhett Butler is no where to be found. But for a flavorful and thoroughly authentic southern meal, harness up the horses and giddy-up to A Taste of Charleston at 195 Liberty Square in Norwalk. This charming and relatively new restaurant located just over SONO’s “Stroffolino” Bridge is serving up some amazing southern cuisine, South Carolina’s finest, complete with fried chicken, collard greens and catfish po-boys.
A Taste of Charleston Southern Cuisine is a labor of love, co-owned by Chris and Catherine Reed and their partner Chris La Rose; the Reeds had a dream of re-creating culinary memories of their childhood trips down south, and La Rose was immediately on board. Mr. Reed, “…grew up on my grandmother’s cooking” and the magical smell of Grandma Daisy’s kitchen is just what the team at A Taste of Charleston is attempting to recreate. They are succeeding. Head Chef Rafael Walters, master chef across the south for the last 3 decades (from Florida to North Carolina) expertly concocts traditional Southern fare, and plenty of it! The venue seats 39 and is simply decorated. There are several dark wood-topped tables and a few high-tops that all share a nice view of the Norwalk River. There is a full-service bar and they are open for business Wednesday through Sunday from 11:30 am to 11:00 pm, closed on Tuesday. And just because the restaurant is on the “other” side of the bridge from trendy Sono, doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit. Strategically located in the same area as my Mexican favorite, Los Molcajetes, A Taste of Charleston is yet another reason to cross that bridge when you come to it!
To offer traditional Southern cuisine, a restaurant simply MUST include the classic staples: grits - a porridge made from ground corn husks, hush puppies- savory, battered cornmeal balls, ribs which can be smoked or baked, black-eyed peas, coleslaw, and, for the sake of my asbestos mouth - hot sauce. A Taste of Charleston does not disappoint. We went for lunch and, as usual, ordered way too much. Funny, somehow we managed to lick our platters clean. Here is how it went down:
It was recommended to us that we try the MUD BUGS and though the name was quite off-putting for this north-of-the-Mason-Dixon line girl, I acquiesced for the sake of CTBites. To paraphrase Prissy, "I don’t know nothing’ ‘bout eatin’ crayfish." But I ate them and YUM and DOUBLE YUM! Be warned, you have to like shell fish to appreciate this dish, and luckily we all love it. The waitress brought an enormous bowl to our table overflowing with crimson crayfish that had been cooked in a broth of white wine, some cayenne pepper, and what was most likely a healthy dose of Old Bay Seasoning. This was basically a sauce for Moule with a spicy Southern spin and the result was delectable. Great balls of fire, Rhett. We attacked in true crustacea-a-vore fashion and were utterly delighted with our prey. The crayfish were tender and succulent and the sauce was begging to be absorbed by a fresh baked roll. We obliged. Looking around the room, we realized that this dish was on every table, and that every patron was smiling.
Another classic - PULLED PORK- was brought to our table in the form of sliders. The meat was tender and juicy, sautéed for what could have been days in a sweet tangy vinegar sauce. The rolls were soft and spongy and utterly fresh. For dipping, a thick and zesty chipotle sauce was the perfect accompaniment. We also ordered FRIED GREEN TOMATOES and this light and crispy southern classic was possibly my favorite dish. Gently battered in corn meal breading and lightly fried, these vegetable rounds were as refreshing as a mint julep on a summer’s day. The waitress brought ranch dressing as a side but no sauce was necessary. Fried green tomatoes stand on their own. Ranch dressing? Fiddle-dee-dee!
Another favorite was the FISH SANDWICH, a perfect filet of Whiting on a freshly baked Hoagie Roll. The fish was light and flakey and tucked snugly in a bed of tomato, red onion and lettuce. We ordered the tartar sauce on the side and it was a delightfully pale apricot in color, thanks to its gentle blending with a smidgeon of cayenne pepper. As a side, almost too scrumptious for words, were the sweet potato fries, drizzled sparingly with dense, black, tantalizing molasses. Lordy, lordy, Miss Prissy, I think I died and went to Tara. But wait, I mustn’t forget the SOUTHERN FRIED KICKIN’ CHICKEN! It was crispy, it was juicy, it was light, and it was tasty. This was fried chicken the way it was intended to be - not greasy and cloying but crunchy and moist. Delectable!
Of course, we were impelled by the gods of southern culinary heaven to sample the HUSH PUPPIES and with the first bite, we were saved. Hallelujah. The name, Hush Puppies, is said to have come about during the Civil War when the Confederate soldiers would sit beside a campfire, preparing meals. When the Union soldiers came near, the Southern soldiers would toss bits of fried cornbread to their barking dogs with the command, “Hush, puppies!” I’m sure that if their “puppies” were as comforting and warm and mouthwatering as the “puppies” at A Taste of Charleston, the barking “puppies” were soon silent and content. Hmmm, wonder if that works with “puppies” of the human species? (Note to self: hush puppies at the witching hour for my three kids!)
To round off the meal, there was the DIRTY RICE and the COLLARD GREENS. When the waitress described the DIRTY RICE, it sounded daunting. The "special" ingredient, she explained, was chicken liver. "Hmmm," thought I. "Not on my usual top 10 list." But this rice was uber-tasty and satisfying. Cooked to perfection, the rice was blended perfectly with tender red and green peppers and soft, sweet onion. The liver was anything BUT daunting and indeed made plain, boring rice, about as mundane as the Tiger Woods' "addiction"! This rice was DOWN and DIRTY and an excellent choice to compliment any meal. Then there were the greens. COLLARD GREENS are similar to kale and start out with a lightly bitter taste yet these were as sweet and tender as a southern drawl. Cooked with ham hocks (or the like), onions, vinegar and salt, these highly nutritious staple of the south rounded out the meal perfectly. Naturally, I added a healthy splash of FRANK'S RED HOT SAUCE to all my food, but the others thought that Chef Walker had seasoned the dishes perfectly.
I had my children with me on my second trip, and this can sometimes be a challenge when trying out a new place. But the "Kids' Grub" satisfies all tastes. Two of my kids ordered the AWESOME BAKED MAC & CHEESE and it was, according to them, truly awesome. Creamy, ultra cheesy and simple, the way most kids like it, this MAC & CHEESE would have made Scarlet's daughter, Bonnie Blue very happy! My third child ordered the kids GOLDEN FRIED CHICKEN FINGERS and they were as perfect as chicken fingers could be. They were tender and super moist and came with house or sweet potato fries. A Taste of Charleston is great for the whole family. The entire experience was glorious, with perhaps one tiny disappointment - the biscuits. Alas, although we had high hopes and great expectations, the biscuits were truly ordinary and a tad under par. More attention needs to be paid to this Southern classic for A Taste of Charleston to have completely rocked my world. And I would suggest another waiter/waitress for the busiest hours to speed up the service just a tad. But as dessert rounded the corner, the mini disappointments regarding the biscuits and the wait quickly vanished.
Naturally, we couldn’t leave without tasting at least a couple of the classic southern sweets. We passed on the pecan pie but were duty-bound to try two other house specialties - BANANA PUDDING and PEGGY‘S DOLLY BARS. Yes, Miss Scarlet, duty-bound. And yes, it was worth the 5 million calories. The Banana Pudding was smooth in all the right places with chunks of banana and vanilla wafer throughout. I am sure that a dessert like this could end up on the outrageously-sweet side of the Mississippi, but Chef Walker keeps the sweetness under control. According to a very reliable source (who could be more reliable than my editor’s husband whose grandmother was also a southern belle!) this Banana Pudding was the real Macoy. As for Peggy’s Dolly Bar, lord have mercy. This was basically a seven layer bar worth it’s weight in cotton! Out came a glass bowl with a caramelized, coconut-y, chocolate-y, gooey concoction baked with condensed milk on a graham cracker base. And of course, it NEEDED the vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce on top. Of course it did!
So next time you are yearning for a new place to try feel that pang of despair while asking yourself asking, “Where shall I go, what shall I do?” try A Taste of Charleston. Each meal comes complete with tossed salad, seasoned vegetables, and a choice of sides. We heard from neighboring patrons that the BANGING BBQ BEEF RIBS and the MEMPHIS STYLE DRY-RUB BABY BACKS must be on our “to-eat” list for the next visit. We will gladly oblige. As sure as tomorrow is another day, we can attest to this: a meal at A Taste of Charleston and you will “…never be hungry again!
A Taste Of Charleston Southern Cuisine 195 Liberty Square, Norwalk. 203. 810.4075