South Carolina – A Food Lover’s Dream

A quest for the traditional recipes 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 were pickled leeks and cherries and beans and beets, and splendid in-house produced charcuterie for rillettes, patés, terrines, sausages, pork belly and bacon —— tender, salty and smoky — to flavor antelope, quail and earthy slow-cooked greens.

I 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. Leading chefs from Greenville, Latta, Charleston, Pawley’s Island and Beaufort have adapted and reinterpreted Southern flavors, adding French haute cuisine, nouvelle French, American modern, Mediterranean, and Pacific Rim influences to their gastronomic conversation to create a new Southern paradigm.

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

Up Country in Greenville

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.

Dinner at Deveraux’s with Executive Chef/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; Peking duck on white corn polenta, with duck sausage; strawberry shortcake in a white chocolate orb.

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, rapini risotto and saffron vanilla sauce; roasted banana pudding; pecan pie with whipped cream and caramel sauce.

Latta: Quaint with a Touch of the British

Abingdon Manor, an exquisite former private estate and garden, made us feel we were at home in England. I loved that it’s just a 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.

Dinner with Chef Patty: Shiitake mushrooms with hoisin-chili glaze; dilled carrot soup; home-grown tomato stack; Hypnotiq sorbet; seafood in parchment; poached pear with amaretto cream.

Breakfast with Chef Patty: Italian breakfast BLT; fresh fruits; herbed biscuits.

Pawley’s Island Coastal Charm

The Litchfield Plantation, a quintessential Southern property set on 600 acres, channeled my inner Scarlett O’Hara with balcony views to an avenue of ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

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).

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 Low Country

Wentworth Mansion is one of the nation’s premier historic hotels, built in 1886 as a private home for a local cotton baron. Think elegance, distinction and sumptuous luxury.

Breakfast snacks on the run from Dixie Bakery and Café: Charleston chews; lemon chess bars; sweet potato cornbread.

Nibbles and Sips: At Magnolia’s with Chef Don Drake, pimento cheese, shrimp and grits; at Carolina’s we quaffed 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.

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.

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.

Dinner at Circa 1886 with Executive Chef Marc Collins: Vichysoisse with toasted haricot vert; 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 homemade strawberry and peach jellies, John’s Island honey and peanut butter milkshake; pan-fried vanilla bean angel food cake with fresh berries and honeysuckle ice cream.

Beaufort — The Sea Islands

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 the country.

Dinner at the Saltus Grill with Chef Brian Waters: Bulls Island 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 tour we managed to also gobble up 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 gold rice pudding with blueberries sent us into a chorus of hallelujahs. We fell hard for fried peanuts and pork barbecue with Mama Jean and blackberry soda and and “Charleston chews” from the Dixie Bakery and Café. To hold our memories close, we slowly made our way back north with Low Country Winery’s blueberry wine, Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon, the Mast Store pecan syrup, Charleston breakfast tea and sacks and sacks of Carolina gold rice and cowpeas.

We hope your travels in the Palmetto State are as delicious and memorable as ours.

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