lowcountry feasting

When Ed and I told people we were going to the Lowcountry for our honeymoon, we got a lot of blank stares. It’s certainly less glamorous sounding than the Caribbean or Europe and it might be hard for folks to conjure an image of what the Lowcountry is all about. Let me help: wide rivers, tall grasses, palmetto trees, Spanish moss draped over live oaks, screened-in porches, and drop dead glorious food.

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The southeastern coastal region of South Carolina was an absolute paradise for us food obsessed lovebirds. Everything was better than we expected: the corn was sweeter, the pimento cheese was sharper, and the BBQ was smokier. Southern food is my second favorite cuisine (ranks just below French) and I have been dying to try authentic Lowcountry cooking and taste how the freshness of local seafood marries with the richness of hearty southern staples. I love what they’re doing in the kitchens down there and it’s been years since I’ve been so inspired to race into my own kitchen and start trying my hand at the local specialties. (The last time I was this inspired was five years ago, when I came back from Paris and my first order of business was to make profiteroles for my dad’s birthday). I can’t wait to perfect some of the dishes we tried and share them here. In the meantime, I’m experiencing major withdrawal symptoms now that we’re back in the Northeast, but it’s therapeutic for me to relive some of our favorite meals again. If you ever find yourself in the Lowcountry, I strongly recommend seeking out any of the goodies below. (Also, Julie of Fresh Basil did a great guide for visiting the Lowcountry that you’ll want to bookmark if you’re planning a visit).

lowcountry

The Inn at Palmetto Bluff

Chicken Sandwich at Buffalo's

chicken sandwich at buffalo’s

We stayed in a cottage at the Inn and had a chance to indulge in almost all of their stellar restaurants. This May, Bon Appétit named the Inn a top “hotel for foodies” and they were so right. The most casual restaurant on the property, Buffalo’s, was our breakfast and lunch go-to. They made a killer chicken and bacon sandwich with sriracha remoulade. Their pimento cheese burger with bacon was exactly as indulgent and delicious as it sounds. Ed and I drank our weight in the house sweet tea and shocked ourselves by taking down a colander of house-made kettle chips and Vidalia onion dip. Buffalo’s also knows what’s up for breakfast. Every morning, they offer a biscuit bar, which includes a choice of cathead, jalapeño-cheddar, or whole wheat biscuit with savory or sweet toppings. I tried all the biscuits and there’s no way I could ever choose a favorite. The cathead was the best with sweet toppings (“cathead” just means as big as a cat’s head…or so I’ve been told), the jalapeño-cheddar was made for sausage patties, and the whole wheat biscuit tasted amazing just plain. And don’t get me started on the sticky buns or this post will never end.

kettle chips, vidalia onion dip, and sweet tea

kettle chips, vidalia onion dip, and sweet tea

The Canoe Club restaurant stood out for two notable reasons: they’re serving up crab cakes that put most D.C. restaurants to shame and their grits changed my life. When the waiter came by and caught me studying (and scarfing) Ed’s grits, he said they “sell dirt,” meaning once you taste them, you’re ready to buy property on the bluff. All I can say is thank God the real estate office was closed. The cornmeal is coarser than any I’ve had before, but it got plump and tender during cooking. The result was grits with a good chew, but no tough bits. I found that I much prefer these grits with a bite to their fine-grained, soupy cousins.

We had our last meal at The River House, a fine dining restaurant inside the Inn. We loved the shrimp with smoked tomato chutney and tasso gravy and the sweet corn bisque. I was disappointed that they were sold out of their banana cream pie, but I forgot all about bananas when I tasted the warm blueberry buckle with coconut crumble and mascarpone ice cream.

Jim ‘N Nick’s

stacks on stacks of firewood = smokiest bbq

stacks on stacks of firewood = smokiest bbq

We couldn’t be in a Carolina without having some BBQ. We let Yelp guide us to Jim ‘N Nick’s in the town of Bluffton. This is a chain restaurant based mainly in the South. Ed and I are both skeptical of chain BBQ joints, but Jim ‘N Nick’s exceeded our expectations. Ed got a platter of 4 meats and all of them were delicious: pulled pork, ribs, brisket, and hot links. I loved my pulled pork BBQ sandwich: it was smoky and tender with a good helping of charred crunchy bits. We also tried an embarrassing number of side dishes and found that the baked beans were off the charts. I asked the waitress what was in them and all she told me was brown sugar. I’m pretty sure they stir in drippings from every BBQ vat in the kitchen and I’m positive there’s not a place in all of Beantown that can beat those beans.

the gentleman will have four meats

the gentleman will have four meats

shortly after this photo was taken, that slaw found its way on top of the pork, where it belonged

shortly after this photo was taken, that slaw found its way on top of the pork, where it belonged

A Lowcountry Backyard

pimento cheese and warm pitas. sigh.

pimento cheese and warm pitas. sigh.

On a day trip to Hilton Head Island, Ed found us A Lowcountry Backyard, a casual spot off of the beaten [trampled by tourists] path. The service was friendly, the backyard was shaded, and the food was simple and perfectly executed. The pimento cheese was highly addictive, especially because it was served with warm pita. I had the shrimp and grits, which were the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve tried a lot of shrimp and grits). The shrimp were tender and sweet. The gravy and grits worked in harmony without the fat separation problem that seems to haunt most attempts at this dish. Ed had the purloo with blackened Mahi and loved it. The fish was tender and powerfully seasoned and the rice was creamy with spiced tomato broth.
shrimp and grits perfection

shrimp and grits perfection

seafood purloo with blackened mahi

seafood purloo with blackened mahi

We spent one blissful and caloric afternoon and evening in Charleston, which was about two and a half hours from the Inn. The city was as quaint, charming, and pretty as I’d hoped it would be. And the food was no joke. Charleston restaurants are always making best-of lists, so we knew we couldn’t really go wrong. We meandered up King Street, poking in shops and absorbing the scenery until we hit Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts. I consider myself an expert on excellent doughnuts and a complete snob about anything less than excellent doughnuts. A perfect yeast-raised doughnut is my favorite food, but those are very rare. I like what some new shops are doing with brioche variations on yeast-raised doughs, but my opinion remains firm that a classic yeast-raised is the best. The doughnuts at Glazed were my ideal and SO GOOD. I had two: the orange glazed topped with salted, roasted pistachios and the maple bacon. I was happy that the orange glaze was more creamy than citrusy and the salt from the nuts enhanced the overall flavor and kept the sweetness in check. As for the bacon doughnut, I’ve had a few bacon doughnuts at other establishments and they usually miss the mark. Most of the time, they’re gimmicky and unbalanced. Glazed’s maple bacon was phenomenal. There’s some bacon in the dough and some sprinkled on top of the glaze. The bacon is cut thick and really fried, which makes it taste like rich, salty pork and not like a greasy afterthought. The maple icing is just sweet enough to remind you that you’re eating a doughnut and not a breakfast sandwich. A day has not passed that I have not thought about those doughnuts.

Huskphoto

This was the meal I was most looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint. The cornbread was remarkable: moist, salty, and crusted with some luxurious fat (I’m determined to recreate the cornbread here soon, even if it means buying a tub of lard). I couldn’t help but try the “Kentuckyaki” glazed pig ears lettuce wraps and it was a worthy gamble. The bits of ears were coated in a salty-sweet sauce that tasted like a grown-up teriyaki. The ears were crispy on the first bite, but yielded into soft, pleasantly fatty morsels. Ed enjoyed his cornmeal dusted catfish and we both loved the cheddar bacon grits (duh). We finished the meal with a peach cobbler that had a thin biscuit topping instead of the typical mound of dough. It was genius because it gave all the flavor of a soft, sweet biscuit, but kept the proportion balanced with the ramekin’s mere inch of spiced, baked peaches. I can’t wait to try it all again.

catfish, cobbler, pigs' ears

catfish, cobbler, pigs’ ears

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14 thoughts on “lowcountry feasting

    • Oh, collectively, Ed and I gained more than 10 pounds that week (I won’t say who gained what). So worth the tight jeans!

    • We agree! I’d love to get to know someone who owns a South of Broad mansion and spend a week down there every year, sipping sweet tea and slurping oysters.

  1. Pingback: back in the kitchen and eggplant meatballs | butter poached

  2. Pingback: favorite favorites | butter poached

  3. I am so glad this blog exists. Just dug up your post on Charleston eats because I remember salivating over it the first time I read it… Ben and I might head down there for a weekend!

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