I’m fortunate to have a job that lets me travel. Sometimes that travel is exotic- I’ve been to Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, all for work. Other times the destinations are less exciting, but often turn out to be just as beautiful – Montana and Utah fit the bill there. And sometimes, occasionally, I travel somewhere that my expectations are fairly accurate.
Charleston, West Virginia, turned out to be one of those places. I expected a cute little college town, and that’s pretty much what I got.
I spent two nights there, but as anyone who travels for work will tell you – that gave me approximately 4 hours of exploring. Long enough to eat dinner. Work trips aren’t glamorous, friends. They’re grueling, often 12+ hour days where you’re lucky to see anything besides the inside of a hotel room or conference facility. I wouldn’t trade any of my trips though, because the stories and experiences are worth every bit of stress and exhaustion.
Plus, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, work trips are great ways to scout out places you’d like to return to.
Downtown Charleston, or at least the part I saw, reminds me a little bit of Asheville, actually – the architecture has a similar feel. It’s all cute boutiques and local merchants; you won’t find any chains or big box retailers on Capitol Street. The buildings are all funky colors, the streets are fairly narrow, and the walkways could use a little love and care. But, the drivers are patient, the shops varied, and the vibe incredibly low key. My kind of place.
The Block Restaurant and Wine Cellar
Our first night, we had a lovely dinner at The Block. It’s an upscale restaurant with over 500 different wines. The menu was thankfully manageable, and had a lot of eclectic pairings. If I had to label it, I’d call it Hipster American – think Alfredo pasta that’s got handmade noodles, sauteed kale and Brussels sprouts, and lots of Artisan cheeses.
I had the Braised Short Rib and a local West Virginia Beer (the Almost Heaven Amber Ale from Mountain State Brewing Co.). According to the menu, my short rib should have had fried leeks (nope), whipped potatoes (yep), sauteed kale (yup, with little pieces of hot dogs?), shallots (nope), and garlic with rosemary demi-glace (possibly, though I didn’t taste any rosemary). It was tasty, but the kale was too bitter and overall, the dish was overpriced. I liked the beer, though.
Service was good, even though the guy had no idea about the beer – he told us Ayinger was brewed in Colorado, and that the Almost Heaven was a wheat beer – but to be fair, it’s a restaurant known for the wine. So I take the fault on that one. And, since we were staying in a hotel, we got a slight discount off our meal.
Pies and Pints
Our second night, we headed over to Pies and Pints, a West Virginia franchise, on the advice of about 500 people. They’re known for their beer selection, but surprisingly, only had a small handful of WV brews. And they wouldn’t do a flight. What self-respecting beer place doesn’t do flights?
I ended up ordering the Wild Wonderful West Virginia Wet Hop Ale from Big Timber Brewing, and a sample of The Loud from Black Sheep Burrito and Brews. While I enjoyed both, I should have done them the other way around. The Wild Wonderful was mild, but the Loud was super hoppy. (I like hoppy beer!)
As for the food, there were three of us, and we were all kinda curious about the Black Bean pizza. Not being one to shy away from a weird food combination, I ordered it. The other two girls had the Heirloom Tomato and the Grape and Gorgonzola pizzas, and we ended up sharing them all.
I was a big fan of mine, and plan to recreate it next time we make pizza, though I might leave off some of the jalapenos. The grape and gorgonzola was only saved by the rosemary – without it, the pizza would have been bland. The heirloom was a little heavy on the pesto, but the tomatoes had great flavor so it balanced out. Overall, I wasn’t crazy about the crust. It might have just been overdone, but to me there’s a fine balance between a good thin crust and a bad one, and it all depends on the level of chewiness. Pies and Pints had a crunchy crust, and I ended up not eating most of it.
Ellen’s Ice Cream
Never ones to pass up ice cream and coffee, we headed across the street to Ellen’s Ice Cream after Pies and Pints. There we sampled a handful of the ice cream flavors, settling on mocha almond, pumpkin, and oreo espresso. Mine was the oreo, and even though I couldn’t eat much of it, the flavor was divine and left me wishing I could buy pints of the stuff.
Our final stop on our quick Charleston tour was Taylor Books. An independent book store, that also has an impressive coffee shop and art gallery, I could have spent hours in there. As it was, I practically had to be dragged out….but not before snapping a dozen photos, lamenting the fact that beer couldn’t be ordered to go, and buying a book just because.
I’d have liked to have more time in Charleston to explore beyond Capitol Street. Have you ever been? What are some of your favorite spots for an evening in Charleston?