Thursday, September 23, 2010


We enjoyed a leisurely drive up to Charleston, SC from Savannah, GA arriving around two in the afternoon.  That was just enough time to get Jim settled in and dressed for his conference. While he went about his work, I struck out in search of a healthy nibble to tide me over until dinner. I thought the historic Charleston market--just a block away from our hotel--would be my best bet. Unfortunately, unless I wanted a soft pretzel or to gnaw on one of the ubiquitous sweetgrass baskets, I was out of luck.

I don't have a high tolerance for tourist tat (nor tourists unless they're playing baseball in Asheville) and I found myself getting grumpier and grumpier as I raced past stall after stall with cutsie placards and cheap leathergoods. The 90+ degree heat plus coastal humidity wasn't helping my mood. I decided to look at the restaurants lining the streets around the market but everything required a major investment of time and money. Plus, it all seemed to be very big heavy surf & turf type eating (or the hopelessly kitschy e.g., A.W. Shucks oyster bar). I was about to give up when I spied a not-very-promising cafe tucked in next to the Sunglass Hut. Despite having all the charm of a convenience store, Cafe Paradiso saved me. This deli and hookah bar had the most delicious falafel and pistachio bird's nest. If only I'd had room for the baklava and a turkish coffee. Thank god for immigrants!

While Jim attended an early evening reception, I scoured the internet and the phone book for possible dinner options. Very slim pickings on There are a few veggie places but many were either not open for dinner, not open Sunday or Monday, or were too far away. Even then, they didn't look too promising for a proper sit-down meal.  We settled on Taste of India, a passable north Indian restaurant where the food had the potential to be fabulous but if the service was any indication, the cooks weren't really motivated to try.

The next day, I went in search of coffee and a light breakfast. Again, not to be found near the hotel. I settled for some bad coffee and a cheap breakfast at a little diner. Does Charleston have any local coffee shops? No matter. My adventure for the day would more than make up for a little bad coffee. I was off to Middleton Place, an historic plantation. Typically, I have no interest in plantations, but this one is special because it has water buffalo. For years, many people thought that water buffalo first came to the US in the 1970s when a herd was brought to FL to help control the aquatic vegetation that was clogging the waterways. Middleton Place, however, found historic documents which show that water buffalo were used on this rice plantation in the 1860s. As part of their effort to restock the plantation with historically-accurate livestock, they brought a pair of buffalo to Middleton two years ago. The two bulls are now four years old and are being trained as draft animals.
If I recall correctly, Adam is the black one and Burke is the white one. I had been told to expect Burke to be the friendlier of the two. Apparently Adam has not been terribly social, but they say he's getting better now that he's being handled frequently. I made nice with both of them and felt more than a little proud that Adam came up to me twice and gave me a thorough licking. Maybe I still had the smell of water buffalo on me or maybe I hung around there so long that I seemed like a giant salt lick. Either way, it was fun to see buffs that are so much bigger than mine. These fellas weigh 1600 pounds a piece and are expected to get up to 1800 pounds by the time they're six.
I even caught Burke rolling over when he thought no one was looking. Middleton does a nice job of trying to show the working side of a plantation with a lot of emphasis on the realities of slavery and slave life. No southern belles wandering around in hoop skirts at this place. I got to speak with several of the staff and learned a lot more about how rice was grown and about the history of the water buffalo. The original buffalo were from Turkey, though it's unclear from the records whether they were brought directly from Turkey or from a doctor elsewhere in SC who apparently also had water buffalo in the 1850s. Either way, much of the herd was slaughtered by Union troops during the Civil War. The few remaining buffalo ended up in the Central Park Zoo in NY.

In addition to the buffs, they have goats (Nubian and Cashmere), Guinea hogs (not to be confused with guinea pigs or guinea hens), draft horses, sheep, ducks, chickens and one of the prettiest milk cows I've ever seen. Beyond the stables, they have craft demonstrations such as blacksmithing and pottery. I enjoyed looking at many of the tools and implements on display. Anyone care to guess what this was used for?
They're also working on expanding their vegetable gardens which are dwarfed in comparison to their extensive formal English garden. I found the veggie side much more interesting. They also had an indigo plant (from whence the dye comes) and the largest ginko tree I've ever seen.

All in all, a great day out. Since Jim had been cooped up all day working, we struck out on foot for dinner. Finally, we found our kind of restaurant: cozy, friendly, neighborhood-y, and loaded with great food options for us both. Five Loaves Cafe was a lifesaver! We were so hungry and so happy to be there that we probably ordered too fast. The name, the images of winged soup bowls on the walls, and a specials board with at least five soups should have tipped us off that this place is known for its soup. Too late. We'd already ordered enough food to feed four people. Not that we realized this until the appetizers arrived. My plate of goat cheese gnocchi with golden raisins and balsamic reduction was big enough to feed me for two meals. But it was so good--gnocchi perfectly al dente and the rich goat cheese sauce spiked with just enough tart balsamic and sweet raisins to make it sing--that I couldn't restrain myself. Jim devoured his Greek quesadilla with equal alacrity. We knew we were in trouble but bravely forged ahead.

I barely remember the entrees, but I know mine was a lovely Corvina filet and I believe fennel was involved (I'm always a sucker for fennel). Jim had a great veggie stir fry with tofu. Neither of us expected to finish but we came awfully close. Thankfully, there was no room left for the incredibly tempting desserts. Five Loaves made us feel so at home, we didn't want to leave. But we waddled home (that 30 minute walk was even more necessary after all that) contented.

Before we left town Tuesday morning, we had one more stop to make. We have long wanted to visit the Hominy Grill as it is owned by the brother/brother-in-law of the fine folks who own the Early Girl Eatery in Asheville. Hominy Grill has a stellar reputation but since we didn't see many veggie options on the dinner menu (quite the opposite of Early Girl), we decided to swing by for breakfast. And we were not disappointed. Again, about a 30 minute walk from the Doubletree Hotel in the historic district, Hominy is in a great old building with the pressed tin ceilings which always make us smile. The service was charming and the food was outstanding. The ginger pumpkin quickbread was just as good as Early Girl's. And we finally found good coffee. Apparently, Counter Culture makes a special blend for Hominy Grill. After adding cream and sugar, it tasted like coffee ice cream.  Mmmmmmmmm.

So, Charleston was a foodie challenge, but in the end we found a couple of places we'd happily return to again and again.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful travel guides for Savannah and Charleston. Your descriptions of the places you stayed and visited, the playfulness of the buffs, and the food you encountered (the gnocchi had my mouth watering)kept me reading with longing to hear every word. I cannot wait for more additions of your travelogues. I am actually serious, I enjoyed reading about your trip and have always enjoyed traveling vicariously through the world with Alison and Jim.