I ate out a lot during my stay in South Carolina. South Carolina is definitely a wonderful food destination. With tons of seafood coming off the coast and wonderful farm-fresh meat and produce coming from the Piedmont, it's hard to go wrong. Unfortunately I didn't plan my meals out as well as I could have, nor did I do my due diligence by really researching the places I ate. These long days have kept me busy and I usually ended up eating wherever was open and grabbing a quick burger or a salad. This is something I hope to correct in Tennessee as I eat in a little more often and save my money and my appetite for some well planned out meals. I did, however, find a few cool places around the state so before I move on, I thought I would share some with you today.
I had some really great seafood up and down the coast of South Carolina. When I was out on Daufuskie Island, I had a plate of fresh fried grouper over jasmine rice with green beans and slaw at Lucy Bell's Cafe. When I tell you it was to die for, I really mean it. Although I was already having an amazing day exploring the island on my golf cart and taking photos of all the cool things there were to see out there, this meal was really off the charts and one of the best meals I had anywhere in the state. I find too often that a restaurant with a captive audience (there are only two restaurants on the island) tends to slack off, but the great folks at Lucy Bell's are doing the exact opposite. Their five star ratings on both Yelp and TripAdviser can speak for themselves though. This was a very special meal on a very special island.
While on Daufuskie, I also went and toured the Daufuskie Island Rum Company. Having lived in the Caribbean for a few years of my life, I have come to appreciate a good rum. In the early days of the U.S. rum was far more prevalent than it is today. George Washington ordered a barrel of rum from Barbados for his inauguration party and rum played an interesting role in sparking off the Revolution. The expense of the sugar and molasses needed to make rum, as compared to that of corn or grain which we use for whiskey and bourbon, have left the latter two as our American liquors of choice. I was happy to find this little gem on tiny Daufuskie Island and I enjoyed a few of their samples. With the exception of their kona coffee infused rum, I would say these were all mixing rums as opposed to sipping rums, but they were all good. I haven't visited a rum distillery here in the states before, so this place made me happy.
While it was inland a bit, I found a gem of a seafood shack called William's in tiny Walterboro, home of the South Carolina Artisans Center. And by "shack" I mean that in the truest and most affectionate sense of the word. This place would have been incredibly easy to overlook if not for the wonderful reviews it received, and I am so glad I stopped in. I got their low country boil - a combination of shrimp, sausage, potatoes and corn with a half-dozen garlic blue crabs thrown in for good measure. I don't know what kind of seafood magic they are stirring up in the back of WIlliam's shack on the edge of town, but this was far and away the best low country boil I've ever had. The crabs were a little small for my tastes having grown up near the Chesapeake Bay, but the flavor was spot-on. I don't know when I'll be back in Walterboro, but when I am anywhere even nearby, I will head directly to William's.
Just south of Charleston is the pleasant seaside community of Folly Beach. Just before you get there is a turnoff to a seafood paradise called Bowens Island. Bowens Island is also a shack, but a big one and one that sits high in the air overlooking King Flats Creek. I'd love to tell you this place is a secret, but it's not. Locals come pouring into Bowens Island every day, and once you've eaten there, you'll understand why. I've been trying to get to Bowens Island for some time now, and this trip was the trip to make that happen. I wasn't disappointed. Down a dirt road, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant has an upstairs bar and dining room where you order at the counter and then sit where you like, and a downstairs lair devoted to solely to the steaming, shucking and eating of oysters. I got some lightly fried and delicious fish and shrimp upstairs and enjoyed an outdoor seat while the sun was setting over the water. Once the sun went down, I descended into the depths where I got a bucket of lightly steamed oysters and commenced to dig into them. I had never gotten oysters in clusters like this and, I'm not going to lie, getting into them was not super easy. Thankfully shucking knives are dull or I'd still be bleeding from the number of jabs I gave myself. I have an internal rule about food that when I'm eating whole animals, I will eat them all. In other words, I'm okay with leaving some of my beef or pork on the plate, but when it comes to shrimp or oysters or crawfish, I can't throw them away. So on I dug into my cluster until I was satisfied I got the last one. I love oysters, but I'm not sure the effort was worth the reward in this case. I may leave it to the pros from now on and concentrate on the eating side of the equation. Emerging from the oyster lair though, I was definitely full and satisfied and will definitely be back to Bowens Island.
The oysters at Bowens Island come in right off the boat, and at my next stop, so did the shrimp. If you want good food, it's always best to go to the source. If you can find fresh fruit or meat on a farm, it will be at its peak freshness. If you want really fresh shrimp, you have to go where they catch the shrimp. In this case, I went to tiny McClellanville and found my shrimp at wonderful T.W. Graham and Co. This place is a great find, with friendly people and really good seafood. I started with a bowl of shrimp, crab and corn chowder and then went right for the shrimp. No messing around with shells or shuckers there, it was just dig right in. T.W. Graham's is worth the detour, especially if you are travelling between Charleston and Myrtle Beach. I can't tell you how many times I've made that trip and this was the first time I stopped. I'm glad I did.
After a very up and down relationship with barbecue in North Carolina (read all about that adventure HERE), I really enjoyed the barbecue I found in South Carolina. The sweet, mustard based sauce gives the meat some zing and some zang at the same time. I hit up a couple of good spots during my month or so in the state, but the most memorable barbecue I found was at Maurice's Piggy Park in Columbia. The barbecue and sauce were really awesome, but this place also introduced me to something I hadn't even heard of before: South Carolina barbecue hash. Barbecue hash is apparently a whole lot of the throw away bits of a pig cooked up in a big pot with lots of seasoning and secret ingredients and then served over rice. I wish I had had the opportunity to try more varieties of this dish in different places, but this was the only spot where I found it. It was delicious and I look forward to trying more barbecue hash the next time I'm through the Palmetto State.
Betsy's on the Corner, which sits on a corner in beautiful downtown Aiken, served me up some pretty spectacular fried chicken with an awesome side of mac and cheese. I'm definitely a mac and cheese snob and I much prefer mine made with actual cheese, not some runny, orange Velveeta. Betsy's was slammed with The Masters happening right across the border in Augusta, but they still managed to serve me up quickly and get me some excellent food. I only wish I had saved room for desert, because they had pies and cakes the whole length of the counter.
When it comes to craft beer, Greenville may not quite be on level with Asheville, but it's getting there. The city has some great breweries around and I'm sure there are more to come in the coming years. I really enjoyed them and wrote a whole post about them which you can read HERE.
Apparently, South Carolina is the top peach producing state in the country, even surpassing peach loving Georgia. Unfortunately, they aren't quite in season yet, but that didn't hinder the delights to be found at Abbott Farms Peach Stand in Cowpens. There are six different Abbott Farms locations around the state, and this one was right off of Interstate 85. I stocked up on hoop cheese, pickled eggs, fried pies and pecan brittle for the road. It was all really good stuff. I will definitely keep them in mind the next time I am blowing through the state. You should too!
The last iconic South Carolina product I want to write about here was one of the harder ones to find: Blenheim's Ginger Ale. I found it right there near my pickled eggs at Abbott Farm. Family owned and operated since 1903, Blenheim's is one of the oldest and smallest soft drink companies in the country. They make three varieties of Ginger Ale: Diet, Hot and Not. The Diet speaks for itself and I didn't try it. The Hot, with the red cap, is truly something you must try to believe. It has some truly intense and spicy ginger flavor. Every time I've seen it on TV, the people doing the story say that Hot is a little bit much for them. While Not is also a great ginger ale, I prefer the Hot - it's different and delicious. It has a small but widespread distribution so the next time you see it in your local specialty store, go ahead and pick up a bottle. You can also use their store locator found HERE.
It was a filling and delicious journey around South Carolina. I didn't have as much focus or research on food as I should have, but I definitely enjoyed some classic and iconic dishes from the lowcountry and the upcountry. Pimento cheese has been one of my lunch staples around both Carolinas and I will miss it when I can't find it in grocery stores anymore. It goes great on a burger as well. She-crab soup and shrimp and grits are also some wonderful lowcountry favorites, and the best shrimp and grits I ever had I enjoyed at Angel Oak Restaurant on John's Island. I didn't make it there this time around, but I will get back there next time. Seafood along the coast, and that wonderful mustard-based barbecue inland are definite winners. When you come down to visit South Carolina, be sure you come hungry. Until next time, Bon Appetit.