Growing up in Charleston, we were surrounded by vivid personalities. Next door were two sisters in their sixties, one of whom lived in a camper parked out front at the curb. Another neighbor--a mild, cordial gentleman-- once held up an ATM with a .22-caliber rifle. There was the lonely old bachelor who dressed in a top hat and tails every Valentine's Day and a host of other characters who seemed larger than life in this prim port city, with its antebellum mansions and gardens of camellias and azaleas. Although Charleston has changed gradually over the years, the eccentricity of our fellow Charlestonians is something we can always count on.
There's another thing about our hometown that seemed never to change: dull restaurants. A decade ago, Louis Osteen livened things up when he opened Louis's, with cosmopolitan turns on Low Country fare. More recently, Bob Waggoner returned from France to apply la technique to Southern staples at Charleston Grill. But most restaurants here existed to serve the great hordes of tourists, who apparently were content with no more than high-school-cafeteria-quality fried shrimp and hush puppies.
Then, on a recent trip to the Holy City, we discovered that a clutch of new restaurants has sprung up, seemingly overnight. They're places with personalities as bold as our neighbors', but with a few more social graces. Energetic young chefs are bringing new ideas to Low Country cuisine, reaching out to farmers for Jerusalem artichokes, golden beets, radish sprouts and other ingredients rarely seen on local menus before. For the first time in our lives, choosing where to eat out is part of the joy of being here. Charleston finally has the restaurants it deserves.