“8004” The gentleman quietly ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon. He then requested six glasses and two chairs for the corner half-booth behind him. Nestled next to the floor-to-ceiling greige fireplace, the booth’s light beige banquettes blended into the slatted wainscoting. The gentleman too fit the setting, his round creased face warm and smiling above his open collar and sport jacket. His guests arrived. “Ladies, would you be more comfortable with chairs or the banquettes?” The personification of South Carolina hospitality, we would later learn he was president of a well-known local institution.
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My travel companion and I sat nearby at the small grey granite bar in the cozy lounge area at Circa 1886. Our comfy backed barstools stood atop grey slate tile set into the room’s gleaming hardwood floor. The restaurant occupies the old carriage house behind Wentworth Mansion, built during 1881-86 for cotton merchant Francis Silas Rogers and one of the most unmistakeable buildings in Charleston. Its dark rose cupola soars above the red brick and grey gables of the Second Empire structure. Today, it’s a five-star hotel affiliated with Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Its 21 unique guest rooms and suites offer amenities from original gas fireplaces to modern mini-fridges stocked with sodas and bottled water. Southern hospitality rolls rhythmically through the day in warm waves, with full breakfast at Circa 1886 and afternoon wine and hors d’oeuvres and evening nightcaps in the elegant public parlors, with their comfy couches and wing chairs in light beiges against the deep brown woodwork.
Happy hour aficionados on the first night of our shoulder-season Carolina road trip, my companion and I were drawn by the bar’s Monday-Saturday “$7 before 7 celebration”, a sampling of wines and craft cocktails. Despite the extensive wine list, I chose a Matilda, a fruity blend of Prosecco, honeysuckle vodka, and grapefruit juice. We perused Chef Marc Collins’ innovative menu and placed our order with the cheerful bartender. A waiter shortly delivered us each the chef’s amuse-bouche, rich and velvety mushroom soup.
For an appetizer, we split the creative lobster custard, its small pieces of sweet meat well prepared.
For our main course, we shared the lean and tender Piedmontese beef and especially enjoyed its accompanying stracchino Bechamel, delicate and creamy at the same time.
Even though we shared, it was a filling amount of food, and we thought we were finished. Then the nice bartender comped us the trio of sweet potato donuts, served with a roasted marshmallow cream and a smattering of sweet-potato chips.
Friends who know my love of sweets, and potatoes, will not be surprised that this was my favorite part of the meal. My top choice was the cinnamon cream flavor, but the sorghum and maple bacon placed pretty close.
After dinner, we strolled in the dark through the gardens and back into the Mansion. Port, brandy, and sherry sparkled in crystal decanters on a small gleaming wood sideboard in a cozy nook off a comfy sitting room.
We’d been in Charleston circa five hours, and we were already in love with the graceful South Carolina hospitality.