Last month the hubby and I found the time to have a night out, and very quickly we were overwhelmed with our new-found freedom. We always send each other links of new restaurants opening up around town with some sort of fleeting, empty promise to each other that this place will be at the top of our list "next time." The problem with trying a new place is, of course, the possibility of getting burned by a mediocre experience. If that happens, we end up kicking ourselves for not having gone to one of our tried-and-true favorites.
A riff on a bar food classic at Bay Street Biergarten (note: I had a cider special that evening served in a PBR glass, although I wouldn't judge you if you ordered a PBR, either)
While scrolling through our wish list of date night locations, I had a thought: what if we went to a few places, instead of commiting our entire night at just one? Instead of eating a three-course meal at one place, what if we had one course at each of three places?
And hence, the Gravy Train 2014 Date Night Pub Crawl was born. Let me begin with a few caveats: 1) we went out at like, 5:30 pm, which I know is ungodly early to people who don't have kids; 2) we tried to pick places that we within walking distance but then didn't factor in how freezing cold it would be and ended up driving embarrassingly short distances between a couple of the places; and 3) we were home by 9:30 pm. In other words, picture the lamest pub crawl ever, step it down about 5 notches, and you have our sad little "drive-crawl."
Wings at Bay Street Biergarten come in three varieties: classic Buffalo, Maple Jerk or BeerBQ
Lame-ness notwithstanding, we were thrilled at our first pick, Bay Street Biergarten. There's been a lot of great buzz about this place since it opened in the fall in the old Boathouse location on East Bay Street, and we weren't the only ones getting an early start -- the place was packed at just after 5:00 pm. It was easy to see why -- with big communal tables housing pay-as-you-go taps (yes, you read that right: patrons can purchase Bay Street Biergarten bar "tabs" that allow you to sample any number of beers from serve yourself taps. The best part for lightweights like myself is that the bar charges by the ounce).
Our next stop was Craftsman Kitchen and Tap House, another noted area favorite with great food and a wide selection of beers on tap. We weren't disappointed with the beer selection when we discovered lots of our local and regional favorites, including several choices from Mt. Pleasant brewery Westbrook (the hubby has never, ever passed up a chance to enjoy a frosty glass of their Gose if it's on the menu).
American-style croque madame means pork belly and Texas toast, two things I just happen to love
For eats, we hemmed and hawed before settling on splitting a riff on a croque madame (grilled ham and cheese sandwich with an egg). Our version had crispy, thick-cut pork belly with a fried egg topper. We also chose a house made pastrami sandwich on our server's recommendation, who said that it was what she ate every time it was available on the menu (my guess: that's a lot of pastrami!)
Another tasty sandwich from Craftsman involved house made pastrami
While we enjoyed our snacks at Bay Street Biergarten, the sandwiches at Craftsman felt awfully heavy. It might have been our fault - starting ambitiously with greasy bar food only to follow it up with more greasy bar food might not have been the best way to showcase each eatery's strengths. We debated whether even venturing to our next planned location was even worth it and, after woefully leaving behind scraps of both sandwiches, we decided we'd saved enough stomach space to end our night at the bar at Tristan.
Left: hay smoked pasta with a wild mushroom cream sauce at Tristan; right: the impossibly delicious pudding cake
Longtime readers know that I have a special place in my heart for Tristan - we had our wedding reception here back in 2009, and I can't help but think that every one of our date nights should end here. We sat at the bar and settled on splitting a (third course) hay smoked pasta with wild mushrooms and our favorite dessert, a lemongrass pudding cake. The pudding cake is really something to behold -- it's perfectly wobbly and custardy on top but light and fluffy as you work your way down. Dishes like this are why I love dining out -- I love having food that I could never replicate in my kitchen, nor would I want to (visions of flour and sugar winding up on my ceiling float through my head, and I'd probably end up with a flattened version of a sugar cookie with a few pounded sprigs of lemongrass thrown on top).
By the end of the night, the hubby and I felt like we'd painted the town red, put on our dancing shoes, and lived out our wildest night in ages. Sure, we were home at a safe 9:30pm. But from these pictures, doesn't it seem like so much more than that?
For more information:
Bay Street Biergarten | 549 East Bay Street | Charleston, SC
Craftsman Kitchen & Tap House | 12 Cumberland Street | Charleston, SC