One of the things I was looking forward to the most when we decided to come back to Charleston was the restaurant scene. Nashville has a really fun and budding foodie culture and new restaurants opening all the time, but there’s something special about this city, where the art of a well-made meal has long been held sacred. This week, I had the wonderful experience of dining at one of Charleston’s best, Circa 1886.
The restaurant is located behind the fabulous Wentworth Mansion inn, which was rated this year the #2 Best Luxury Hotel in the U.S. by TripAdvisor. I’d been to Circa 1886 before, but not when the weather was nice enough to dine on the patio. If you get the chance before it gets too hot this summer, do it. Flanked by blooms and topped with a vine-covered trellis, it feels quaint, like a backyard dinner with friends — a feeling that’s only reinforced by the charming staff. Ask them the history of the mansion and carriage house, and they’ll happily tell you about the original fireplace, the barn doors now hung like art on the wall, the Rodgers family who built the mansion and lived there, and the arched booths that pay tribute to the original carriage stalls.
We started with cocktails, a selection of which are only $5 at happy hour, including my Mansion Mule. They make their own ginger beer in-house, and it’s a perfect balance of spicy and sweet. We sampled specialty drinks from their recent Bourbon and Bacon dinner (an annual event), and talked cocktails with John, the restaurant’s beverage director, who is currently drafting the menu for their first-ever Rum Dinner. He served us a smoky concoction he called a negroni-meets-manhattan, spicy with chiles and sharp with campari but tempered with sweet vermouth. It was exactly what you’d imagine the alcoholic pairing to a bacon-themed dinner would be, and it was wonderful.
The chef sent out tasting spoons of charcuterie and lobster bisque, which were fabulous. Then came the real fun. To start, a farm egg over asparagus with pimiento hollandaise, shaved chestnuts and fried chicken “essence”; foie gras with cherry crème brûlée, pickled pineapple sambal, and vanilla corn bread crumble. For dinner, I ordered the jerk-brined antelope (“Chef always has some variation of antelope on every menu,” our waiter informed us. I decided if he had been serving it for over 10 years, it ought to be experienced). Paired with key lime grits, red cabbage and yam hash, coconut curd, mango rum gastrique, and cilantro pistou, it only took one bite to prove I wasn’t wrong. I also sampled the duck, which went wonderfully with Thomasville Tomme gratin potatoes and a mouth-watering haricot verts salad.
I finished with the peach soufflé, which was light and airy as a cloud. It comes served with streusel to sprinkle on top and decadent vanilla-peach anglaise for pouring inside, not to mention a little dish of brown sugar ice cream that is heavenly — the perfect ending to a perfect meal. If you’re a Charleston local or passing through on vacation, I highly recommend an evening at Circa 1886. Come for the food, fall in love with the friendly staff, and leave already planning your next trip back.