The Variety has the menu of a high-quality seafood restaurant and the personality of a downhome diner. It’s a 6:30am treasure for breakfast on the waterfront and the right place for a quiet dinner overlooking scenic marshland and the yacht basin. Renowned Lowcountry chef Philip Bardin, who clued me into it, quoted a local food savant who described it as “the place Charlestonians love but never tell anyone about.”
Well, I am here to tell you that it’s worth a visit. Nothing you’ll eat is earth-shaking; there’s no cutting-edge cookery. But the big menu of expectable local seafood (plus steaks, burgers, sandwiches, and salads) is crowded with good things to eat.
This kitchen knows how to fry seafood: soft, sweet flounder is so well-complemented by its crisp coat; the breading on firm little fried shrimp is paper-thin and nicely spiced; oysters deliver just the right balance of crunchy crust and marine lusciousness. Alongside the good fried marine life, of course you want French fries. They’re hand-cut thin and deliver real spud flavor.
Other menu highlights include shrimp & sausage jambalaya, buttermilk fried chicken, and an item called Bear Island: smoked sausage, shrimp, onions and peppers atop creamy grits.
The food’s good and the menu has something for everyone, including breakfast of shrimp & grits & fried green tomatoes, crab cake Benedict, and Lowcountry hash browns; but it’s the whole experience of being here that puts the Variety on my Charleston good-eats map. The location is breezy; the view from windowside tables is priceless; and, best of all, the waitstaff are delightful pros, the kind of people you’d expect to see in your favorite local diner … which, for savvy Charlestonians, this place is.