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South Carolina – A Food Lover’s Dream

Jordan Wright

June 2010

Lena Mae Brown's Carolina Gold Plantation Rice Pudding at the home of Campbell and Meredith Coxe - photo by Jordan Wright

Lena Mae Brown's Carolina Gold Plantation Rice Pudding at the home of Campbell and Meredith Coxe - photo by Jordan Wright

A quest for the traditional “receipts” of the Old South and the emerging epicurean landscape of the New South drew me to tour South Carolina on a nine-day culinary adventure.  Along the way my partner and I sampled pickled cherries, okra, mushrooms and leeks and beheld gleaming glass jars of green beans and purple baby beets.  From top restaurants to roadside stands we tasted blackberry, raspberry and tomato jams and jellies and reveled in the fresh fish and shellfish from oceans, rivers, and bays starring on every menu.

We found the art of charcuterie enjoying a revival with chefs preparing their own rillettes, patés, terrines and dry-cured sausages.  Here and there refrigerated walk-ins were crammed to bursting with whole pig’s heads, pork belly, fresh sausages from hogs and rabbits and bacon…tender, salty and smoky…to flavor antelope, quail and earthy slow-cooked greens.

We met and dined with chefs whose kitchens were a hive of creativity and experimentation, and whose near-religious devotion to local and sustainable foods was palpable.  Notable American cooks from Greenville and Latta, to Charleston, Pawley’s Island and Beaufort are adapting and reinterpreting Southern flavors, adding French Haute Cuisine, Nouvelle French, American Modern, Mediterranean, and Pacific Rim influences to their gastronomic conversation to create a new Southern gastronomic paradigm.

Below I give you some of the most delectably innovative food we feasted on and the historic properties where we were ensconced.  Follow my dishes, if just vicariously now, until you can visit for yourself.  I wouldn’t want you to miss a morsel.

Upcountry Greenville

Pickled beans, okra, cucumbers, cherries, peppers and turnips at High Cotton - photo by Jordan Wright

Pickled beans, okra, cucumbers, cherries, peppers and turnips at High Cotton - photo by Jordan Wright

Shrimp and Grits at High Cotton - photo by Jordan Wright

Shrimp and Grits at High Cotton - photo by Jordan Wright

Greenville's Reedy River as seen from High Cotton Restaurant - photo by Jordan Wright

Greenville's Reedy River as seen from High Cotton Restaurant - photo by Jordan Wright

Brunch at High Cotton with Executive Chef Anthony Gray: Elderflower Mojitos;Shrimp and Grits with Fried Green Tomatoes, Braised Beef Benedict, slathered in pimento cheese and Carolina sweet onion gravy; Plum Cobbler with peach ice cream.  Chef Gray is a font of information about local farmers and growers and proudly turns locally produced Spanish heritage Ossabaw hogs from Caw Caw Creek farm into his own charcuterie.

Rejunvenated at: The Spa at West End with a Volcanic Earth Clay Ritual, Sea Salt Body Scrub and a totally addictive Vichy Shower.  In case you’ve not had one yet it is a long horizontal wand with seven large showerheads attached.  You lie on a soft shallow bed while a steady stream of warm water pours over your entire body.  It is sheer bliss… like a tropical rain forest during a downpour but without the bugs!  As soon as it started I hoped it would never stop.

Calamari Salad at The Lazy Goat in Greenville - photo by Jordan Wright

Calamari Salad at The Lazy Goat in Greenville - photo by Jordan Wright

Roasted Banana Pudding at The Lazy Goat - photo by Jordan Wright

Roasted Banana Pudding at The Lazy Goat - photo by Jordan Wright

Fried Branzino stuffed with crabmeat and preserved lemons  - photo by Jordan Wright

Fried Branzino stuffed with crabmeat and preserved lemons - photo by Jordan Wright

Dinner at The Lazy Goat with Chef Vicki Moore: Fresh Blackberry Mojitos; Grilled Calamari with ahi dolce and pickled pepper salad; Fattoush Salad; Roasted Mussels and Chorizo; Moroccan Braised Lamb Shank with plantain chips; Whole Crispy Branzino, with charmoula and shaved fennel; Pan-Roasted Grouper with lobster and rapini risotto, and saffron vanilla sauce; Roasted Banana Pudding; Pecan Pie with whipped cream and caramel sauce.

Last fall Moore was chosen by Esquire Magazine’s food writer, John Mariani, as one of four “Breakout Chefs to Watch”.   In September she will create dishes with DC chefs, Bryan Voltaggio of Volt and David Guas, author of “Dam, Good, Sweet” for the city’s “Euphoria” festival, where nationally known chefs pair with local chefs to prepare exquisite gourmet dinners in the town’s finest restaurants.  In recent years this food and music extravaganza has featured such top chefs as Thomas Keller and Bobby Flay and artists like Chris Isaak.  Check www.euphoriagreenville.com to get this year’s schedule.

Beef Tartare with compressed cucumber and scallion wings at Deveraux's - photo by Jordan Wright

Beef Tartare with compressed cucumber and scallion wings at Deveraux's - photo by Jordan Wright

Rare seared tuna, pearl pasta, Honshimeiji, Edamame, sake black beans at Deveraux's - photo by Jordan Wright

Rare seared tuna, pearl pasta, Honshimeiji, Edamame, sake black beans at Deveraux's - photo by Jordan Wright

Devereaux's in the old tobacco factory - photo by Jordan Wright

Devereaux's in the old tobacco factory - photo by Jordan Wright

Dinner the following evening at Deveraux’s with Executive Chef and Partner Spencer Thomson: Beef Tartare with Japanese mustard; Bison Carpaccio; Hudson Valley Foie Gras with ice wine cherries, marcona almonds and vanilla sunchoke; Sashimi of Japanese Snapper with cucumber, cilantro and peanuts; Charred Beef Filet with portabello-potato hash; Black Grouper with summer succotash, shaved turnip, tomato concassé and truffled corn broth; Pekin Duck on white corn polenta, with duck sausage; Strawberry Shortcake in a white chocolate orb.

Chef Thomson will stage with Guy Savoy in Paris this October, where he will no doubt continue his love of reinventing the classics.

On our road trip across the state we visited owner and grower, Glenn Roberts, at Anson Mills where we learned firsthand the history of rice and its legacy in America.

Mid-State Latta – Quaint with a Touch of the British

Breakfast at Abingdon Manor - photo by Jordan Wright

Breakfast at Abingdon Manor - photo by Jordan Wright

Italian Breakfast BLT at the Manor - photo by Jordan Wright

Italian Breakfast BLT at the Manor - photo by Jordan Wright

The drawing room at Abingdon Manor - photo by Jordan Wright

The drawing room at Abingdon Manor - photo by Jordan Wright

Abingdon Manor, an exquisite former private estate and gardens made us feel we were at home in England.  We loved that it’s a mere five-mile hop off I-95 to be coddled by owners Michael and Patty Griffin.  Patty is an accomplished chef who hosts her own local cable TV show and conducts monthly cooking classes for guests in the Manor’s spacious kitchen.  The inn’s china and silver grace the damask-draped tables beautifully showing off her dishes.

Dinner by Chef Griffin: Shiitake Mushrooms with Hoisin-chili glaze, Dilled Carrot Soup; Home-grown Tomato Stack; Hypnotiq Sorbet; Seafood in Parchment; Poached Pear with amaretto cream.

Breakfast by Chef Griffin: Italian Breakfast BLT; Fresh fruits; Herbed Biscuits.

Pawley’s Island Coastal Charm

Sunset over Pawley's Island - photo by Jordan Wright

Sunset over Pawley's Island - photo by Jordan Wright

Pawley's Island Firefighters - photo by Jordan Wright

Pawley's Island Firefighters - photo by Jordan Wright

Daybreak at Litchfield Plantation - photo by Jordan Wright

Daybreak at Litchfield Plantation - photo by Jordan Wright

Litchfield Plantation, a quintessentially Southern Lowcountry inn, set on six hundred acres of a former rice plantation, channeled my inner Southern belle.  Its balconies overlook an avenue of ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

Trio of Ice creams at Bistro 217 on Pawley's Island - photo by Jordan Wright

Trio of Ice creams at Bistro 217 on Pawley's Island - photo by Jordan Wright

Chef Adam Kirby at Bistro 217 - photo by Jordan Wright

Chef Adam Kirby at Bistro 217 - photo by Jordan Wright

Asian Salad with SC Pink Shrimp at Bistro 217 - photo by Jordan Wright

Asian Salad with SC Pink Shrimp at Bistro 217 - photo by Jordan Wright

Lunch at Bistro 217 with Chef Adam Kirby: Tomato, Crab and Jalapeno Soup; Pan Sautéed Vermillion Snapper with lobster sauce; Trio of Homemade Ice Creams, Mint Chocolate Chip, Strawberry and Pistachio.  Chef Kirby grew up on the Island and has a strong relationship with its watermen who provide him with the freshest seafood in the area.

Eminence blueberry detox facial preparations at Stox & Co. - photo by Jordan Wright

Eminence blueberry detox facial preparations at Stox & Co. - photo by Jordan Wright

Rejuvenated at: Stox & Co.  A beautiful salon and day spa in Litchfield Beach with a stunning yoga and Pilates studio.  I enjoyed a Blueberry Detox Firming Peel using Eminence skin care products, a line of natural organic skin care developed in Hungary and made from fresh fruit extracts.  It was almost good enough to eat!

Blackberry Cobbler at Frank's - photo by Jordan Wright

Blackberry Cobbler at Frank's - photo by Jordan Wright

Softshell Crab at Frank's on Pawley's Island - photo by Jordan Wright

Softshell Crab at Frank's on Pawley's Island - photo by Jordan Wright

Chef Pierce Culliton of Frank's - photo by Jordan Wright

Chef Pierce Culliton of Frank's - photo by Jordan Wright

Dinner at Frank’s with Chef Pierce Culliton: Tomato Pie with Four Cheeses; Grilled Watermelon Salad with balsamic vinegar, goat cheese and arugula; Soft Shell Crab with whole grain mustard sauce; Sautéed Flounder with Shrimp and yellow stone ground grits; Blackberry Cobbler.

Charleston – Le Grande Bouffe in the Lowcountry

Wentworth Mansion in Charleston - photo by Jordan Wright

Wentworth Mansion in Charleston - photo by Jordan Wright

Charleston street scene - photo by Jordan Wright

Charleston street scene - photo by Jordan Wright

Tiffany glass windows at the Wentworth Mansion in Charleston - photo by Jordan Wright

Tiffany glass windows at the Wentworth Mansion in Charleston - photo by Jordan Wright

We had posh digs in the Wentworth Mansion, a glorious property and one of the nation’s premier historic hotels.  Built in 1886 as a private home for a local cotton baron, we found elegance, distinction, luxurious appointments and deluxe service.

Charleston Chews, Lemon Chess Bars and Sweet Potato Cornbread from Dixie Bakery - photo by Jordan Wright

Charleston Chews, Lemon Chess Bars and Sweet Potato Cornbread from Dixie Bakery - photo by Jordan Wright

Breakfast snacks on the run from Dixie Bakery and Café:  Charleston Chews; Lemon Chess bars; Sweet Potato Cornbread.

In the kitchen at Carolinas - photo by Jordan Wright

Sous Chef, Jill Mathias, in the kitchen at Carolina's - photo by Jordan Wright

Chef Don Drake of Magnolias - photo by Jordan Wright

Chef Don Drake of Magnolia's - photo by Jordan Wright

Magnolia Plantation - photo by Jordan Wright

Magnolia Plantation - photo by Jordan Wright

Nibbles and Sips:  At Magnolia’s with Chef Don Drake, Pimento Cheese; Shrimp and Grits; at Carolina’s we quaffed Carolina Sweet Tea; at Cypress with Chef de Cuisine Garrett Hutchinson, in-house patés and dry cured charcuterie; at Tristan with Chef Jesse Sutton, House-made Mozzarella.

Pork, Pine, Morels and Green Garlic at McCrady's in Charleston - photo by Jordan Wright

Pork, Pine, Morels and Green Garlic at McCrady's in Charleston - photo by Jordan Wright

SC Crawfish, Sweetbreads, Sweet Onions and Artichokes at McCrady's - photo by Jordan Wright

SC Crawfish, Sweetbreads, Sweet Onions and Artichokes at McCrady's

Seared Grouper with Courgettes, Cucumber and Bonito at McCrady's - photo by Jordan Wright

Seared Grouper with Courgettes, Cucumber and Bonito at McCrady's

Dinner at McCrady’s with recent James Beard award-winning Chef Sean Brock:  Stone Crab with orange, coconut and sour mix; Seared Grouper with courgettes, cucumber and bonito; Crawfish, sweetbreads and artichokes; Pork Pine, morels and green garlic; Beef Marrow and carrots four ways; Banana Puddin’; Chocolate Hazelnut, Chewy Caramel and Malt.

Chef Frank Lee of S.N.O.B. - photo by Jordan Wright

Chef Frank Lee of S.N.O.B. - photo by Jordan Wright

Fried Chicken Livers with Cheese Corn Grits - photo by Jordan Wright

Fried Chicken Livers with Cheese Corn Grits - photo by Jordan Wright

S.N.O.B. Restaurant - photo by Jordan Wright

S.N.O.B. Restaurant - photo by Jordan Wright

Lunch at S.N.O.B. with Executive Chef Frank Lee: Gazpacho; Corn Bread; Fried Chicken Livers with Cheese Corn Grits; Southern Crab Salad with fresh fruits; Shrimp and Black Beans.  The charming and self-effacing Lee is a mentor and guru to many nationally known chefs who cook in the Lowcountry style.

Countertop pies at the Carolina Cider Company - photo by Jordan Wright

Countertop pies at the Carolina Cider Company - photo by Jordan Wright

Tasting room at Firefly Distillery and WInery - photo by Jordan Wright

Tasting room at Firefly Distillery and WInery - photo by Jordan Wright

Third generation tea grower and taster, William Barclay Hall at Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island - photo by Jordan Wright

Third generation tea grower and taster, William Barclay Hall at Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island - photo by Jordan Wright

Breakfast at the Wentworth: Fresh orange juice, Rabbit Sausage, Waffles with piles of fresh berries, and Eggs Benedict.

Rejuvenated at: The Spa at Charleston Place with a relaxing Swedish massage and dip in the saltwater pool overlooking old Charleston.

Nilgai Antelope Filet with lentil and foie gras stew, heart of palm, crispy leeks and baby carrots at Circa 1886 - photo by Jordan Wright

Nilgai Antelope Filet with lentil and foie gras stew, heart of palm, crispy leeks and baby carrots at Circa 1886 - photo by Jordan Wright

Jelly Doughnuts, house made strawberry and peach jellies, John's Island honey and peanut butter milkshake at Circa 1886 - photo by Jordan Wright

Jelly Doughnuts, house made strawberry and peach jellies, John's Island honey and peanut butter milkshake at Circa 1886 - photo by Jordan Wright

Carolina Flounder with crab and shrimp pilau, grapefruit sabayon, candy striped beets and basil lacquer - photo by Jordan Wright

Carolina Flounder with crab and shrimp pilau, grapefruit sabayon, candy striped beets and basil lacquer - photo by Jordan Wright

Dinner at Circa 1886 at the Wentworth Mansion with Executive Chef Marc Collins: Vichysoisse with toasted haricots verts; Crab Cake Soufflé with mango purée, pineapple relish and sweet potato frills; Foie Gras “Cherry Coke Float”; Nilgai Antelope Filet with lentil and foie gras stew, crispy leeks and baby carrots; Country Ham-wrapped Angler Fish with black-eyed pea “baked beans”, fennel pollen onion ring and apple cheddar slaw; Carolina Flounder with crab and shrimp pilau, grapefruit sabayon, candy striped beets and basil lacquer; Jelly Doughnuts with house made strawberry and peach jellies, John’s Island honey and peanut butter milkshake (Oh yes, he did!); Pan Fried Vanilla Bean Angel Food Cake with fresh berries and honeysuckle ice cream.  The notoriously shy Collins never peeked his head out of the kitchen to accept kudos or give up his honeysuckle ice cream recipe.  One can only swoon with the memory.

After dinner: Port, sherry and an assortment of liqueurs are offered to guests of the Wentworth, and taken on the veranda.

Beaufort – The Sea Islands

Beaufort Inn in the Sea Islands - photo by Jordan Wright

Beaufort Inn in the Sea Islands - photo by Jordan Wright

Beaufort - photo by Jordan Wright

Beaufort - photo by Jordan Wright

Beaufort in the Lowcountry - photo by Jordan Wright

Beaufort in the Lowcountry - photo by Jordan Wright

On our final evening we lodged at the charming Beaufort Inn, a pink and white Victorian home built in 1897 in one of the most beautiful towns in America.

Pink Shrimp at Gay Fish Company - photo by Jordan Wright

Pink Shrimp at Gay Fish Company - photo by Jordan Wright

Stone Crab at Gay Fish Company in Beaufort - photo by Jordan Wright

Stone Crab at Gay Fish Company in Beaufort - photo by Jordan Wright

Gay Fish Company in Beaufort - photo by Jordan Wright

Gay Fish Company in Beaufort - photo by Jordan Wright

Here in the Lowcountry, where Daufuskie Island Gullahs still speak their West-African patois, we found a thriving seafood industry with Bulls Bay oysters, stone crab, pink and brown shrimp and restaurants that reflected the local catch.

Brick oven Spinach and Sausage Pizza at Paninis Grill - photo by Jordan Wright

Brick oven Spinach and Sausage Pizza at Paninis Grill - photo by Jordan Wright

Cinnamon Pillows with Creme Anglaise at Paninis Grill - photo by Jordan Wright

Cinnamon Pillows with Creme Anglaise at Paninis Grill - photo by Jordan Wright

Chef/Owner Nick Borreggine at Paninis Grill in Beaufort - photo by Jordan Wright

Chef/Owner Nick Borreggine at Paninis Grill in Beaufort - photo by Jordan Wright

Lunch at Panini’s Grill with Chef/Owner Nick Borreggine: Buttered “Coosaw River” little neck clams; Italian Sausage Panini; Almond Crusted Calamari with spicy aioli and burnt honey; Rosemary-infused Crème Brulée and Cinnamon Pillows with crème Anglaise.  Borreggine was the former pastry chef at The Inn at Little Washington under chef/owner Patrick O’Connell.

Saltus River Grill - photo by Jordan Wright

Saltus River Grill - photo by Jordan Wright

Fricasseed lobster tails with creamed corn - photo by Jordan Wright

Fricasseed lobster tails with creamed corn - photo by Jordan Wright

Executive Chef Brian Waters at Saltus River Grill - photo by Jordan Wrigh

Executive Chef Brian Waters at Saltus River Grill - photo by Jordan Wrigh

Dinner at the Saltus Grill with Executive Chef Brian Waters: Raw Bulls Bay Oysters; Seviche of Dorado; Crispy Fried Lobster tails with cream corn and pea tendrils; Pommes Frites with truffle butter; Braised Pork Belly with soy glaze, bok choy salad and pineapple sambal; Pecan pie.

During our madcap epicurean escape we relished sweet potato butter on biscuits, tomato pies, and Hoppin’ John salad with country ham at a small private luncheon cooked by Lena Mae Jackson whose Carolina Plantation Gold Rice Pudding with blueberries sent us into a chorus of hallelujahs.  We fell hard for fried peanuts, pork BBQ at Mama Jean’s, blackberry cider, rice grits (pronounced as one word) and cowpeas, real pimento cheese, and “Charleston Chews” from the Dixie Bakery and Café.  To hold our memories close, we slowly made our way back north with treasured family recipes, Low Country Winery’s Blueberry Wine, Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon, the Mast Store’s Toasted Pecan Syrup, Breakfast Tea from the Charleston Tea Plantation, and sacks and sacks of Carolina Plantation Gold Rice, without which no self-respecting Southern hostess would dare serve her guests.

Sweet Potato Butter from Lowcountry Produce  - photo by Jordan Wright

Sweet Potato Butter from Lowcountry Produce - photo by Jordan Wright

Soda pop for sale - photo by Jordan Wright

Soda pop for sale - photo by Jordan Wright

The road less traveled - photo by Jordan Wright

The road less traveled - photo by Jordan Wright

Already we hear the clarion call to revisit the chefs, watermen, tea and rice growers, dairymen, farmers and innkeepers of South Carolina whose generosity of spirit and indomitable passion to share their journey have inspired us to further explore America’s culinary roots.  I hope you’ve been inspired too.  May your travels be as delicious and memorable as ours!

For questions or comments about this article or to tell of your best experiences in the Palmetto State, contact Jordan@WhiskandQuill.com.  Visit us on Facebook to see more photos of our stay.

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