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.
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).
The Inn at Palmetto Bluff
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.
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.
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.
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.