As Mainstays Depart, Charleston Asks Where Its Restaurant Scene Is Headed

When Hominy Grill opened in 1996, the city’s Navy base and shipyard was closing. Civic leaders turned with new dedication to tourism. To say they succeeded is an understatement.

More than seven million tourists a year crowd Charleston’s charming streets, some with homes that date to the early 1700s. Even on a weekday night, the city seems filled with bachelorettes tumbling out of Uber cars, culinary tourists angling for tables and wide-eyed cruise ship passengers, 225,000 of whom arrived in 2018.

The feel-good machine doesn’t seem to stop. The Charleston Wine & Food Festival, which Ms. Dupree helped start in 2006, packs in 30,000 people each year, and is so popular that NBC’s “Today” show broadcast live from the event in March. For eight years in a row, the city has topped Condé Nast Traveler’s list of the best small American cities. Southern Living readers picked it as the South’s best city for 2019. It has held the top spot on Travel & Leisure magazine’s best-cities list for six years in a row.

As a result, the city is in the middle of the biggest hotel and restaurant boom in its history.

The restaurants Mr. Brock once presided over have changed, too, even though the same restaurant group still owns them. Husk has spawned sister restaurants in Greenville, S.C., and Nashville, neither of which he is involved with anymore. McCrady’s, a historic restaurant that Mr. Brock helped reinvent in 2006, used to feature dishes like his beet au poivre, in which the vegetable was pressure-cooked, dehydrated and coated in peppercorns so it presented like dry-aged New York strip steak. Now the only beet dish on the menu is a salad dressed in raspberry vinaigrette.

Next door at Minero, the Mexican restaurant he started, a sandwich board on the street beckons customers with the promise of tequila and TV, not the nixtamalized masa handmade from heirloom corn.

“You look at the number of restaurants and the amount of people who are coming and the size of the talent pool, and it doesn’t add up anymore,” Mr. Brock said.

He is not as concerned as some. “The great adjustment happening in Charleston isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “It will be easier to sift through the ashes and see what’s important. What’s left will be the thing that moves it forward.”

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