I’m back from six days in South Carolina, whose state slogan is “beautiful places, smiling faces.” It’s true, it’s true. Everyone who passes says with a smile, “How’re y’all doin’?” And the places? Three words: Isle of Palms.
Yes, I’m still in love with Maine, but frankly, after this winter, “the way life should be” can be defined in my book as “no five-foot snow drifts between my front door and the garage.” At least for a week.
I was determined to try the local dishes while down there. Almost every restaurant offers their versions of she crab soup, fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits and others. Thing is I’m usually on a diet 365 days a year, almost like L.L. Bean’s but for the carb and calorie conscious. To heck with calories, my inner foodie commanded, eat your way through the menu. I settled on eating my way through shrimp and grits and by day four, I had to yell, “uncle.”
If you think you don’t like grits, fine. But I gave them another chance after decades of declaring I’d never eat them again. Back in 1974 I was driving cross country to California and grits were served in all the truck stops where we broke-as-jokes travelers got a cheap breakfast. My uneducated New England palate gagged at the sight of them. Well, your palate can’t gag, but you get my drift.
Flash forward to 2015. The grits served at decent eateries where I was: Charleston, Mt. Pleasant and Isle of Palms were delectable. There are different presentations and of the four I tried, the two that had a light brown gravy base were my favorites. You know there’s butter, which, by the way, has been un-demonized lately, maybe some cream, but no one was divulging the recipes. The key to experimenting like this without a trip to the ER was to share the dish. Even after a few bites, I was so full and basking in a post-grits glow, I had to box up the rest of my lunch, usually a salad.
So here are my favorites, in order of favorites to least favorites. I didn’t like the tomato-based s & g as well as the gravy-based. Just too much like a shrimp creole.
Long Island Café, Isle of Palms
Coleman Public House, Mt. Pleasant
Mustard Seed, Mt. Pleasant
Rutledge Cab Company, Charleston
And to wash it all down? South Carolina has a vibrant craft beer scene: Palmetto,
Holy City, Westbrook Brewing. If you get down there, go to Edmund’s Oast in Charleston, a beer bar with a huge selection of great craft brews.