South Carolina report---Columbia, Charleston, and Bluffton
First, thanks to all the chowhounds who provided me advice about where to eat in Charleston, and to all those who have posted on S. Carolina food in the past. Your tips were very helpful! We loved our trip, despite TS Barry, and eagerly look forward to returning and enjoying more great southern hospitality.
We started in Columbia, and tried, based on recommendations here, to go to Gervais and Vine for tapas and wine. However, many others appeared to have had the same idea, and there was a 45 minute wait (on a Thursday night). Although the restaurant was very appealing, we were not willing to wait that long. So we wandered down the street into a small restaurant called the Motor Supply Company, which was in a restored building that I assume was, in fact, a motor supply company! Very pretty room and a nice patio. We thought the menu was very interesting and almost ordered the tempura fried tofu with tarragon, but went with more traditional choices of pate for a starter followed by a shrimp entree with corn over rice and a salmon salad (mine, as I was determined to start the trip eating light!) The pate was very solid and enjoyable, clearly house made with a nice chunkiness. The shrimp dish was terrific, with very sweet, fresh shrimp and a nice corn taste; the rice was also good although a bit over cooked for my taste. My salmon salad was a simple piece of salmon with a mango topping atop a bed of arugula with a tangy vinagerette...it was fantastic, and I would highly recommend it. It was much more than the sum of its parts; very fresh and interesting throughout, even when there were only greens left. Service was good and we really enjoyed the meal.
The next day we drove to Charleston and hit Maurice's on the way out of town for a bbq lunch. I was torn about going here based on postings on this board, and we don't think we would go back; on the other hand, the free paper in Columbia had just done a tasting of local bbq restaurants and had declared Maurice the winner. In any event, we had a small pulled pork sandwich plate, with fries, onion rings, and slaw (and a couple of bonus hush puppies with the fries) and a rib platter with hash and rice and some green beans. I thought the sandwich was very good, and the ribs were even better...meaty, smoky, and just finger licking good. The fries, onion rings, and beans were fine, but the hush puppies really hit the spot....light, fluffly and slightly spicy. This stop more than fueled us for the drive to Charleston, where we were staying one night and going to a spoleto event.
In Charleston, we went to an early performance of the St. Petersburg string quartet and then walked down to FIG. We were a bit early for our reservation so had a drink at the bar; very nice atmosphere and although the restaurant was packed with festival goers, overall there was a festive and happy atmosphere. We had a small table for two tucked against the back wall...I really liked this table (there are two of them at the very back of the restaurant) because it was tucked in a small niche, so somewhat private, and allowed you to see the whole scene. The room is very contemporary but in a restful way. Service was good although our server apologized several times for the slow pace; it didn't bother us at all since we had no particular post-dinner plans. We started with the cold cucumber soup (mine) and the short rib ravioli. The short rib ravioli was very tasty, as others have noted, although I think it might be a bit heavy for the warmer weather, and I thought it was just a touch too salty. The cold cucumber soup was one of the best dishes ever. It was a lovely puree of cucumber with bits of cucumber and strips of smoked salmon as well as herb oil floating on top. It was so good I seriously considered ordering a second bowl for dessert! For entrees we had a very nice local grouper crusted with pistachios and accompanied by asparagus (mine) and veal sweetbreads. The grouper was very fresh and mild and suffered only in comparison with the fantastic cuke soup that had preceded it, and the sweetbreads were incredibly meat and cooked to a very nice level of moistness and consistency. For dessert, we shared the cheese plate, which was a nice, not overly large serving of four cheeses and accompaniments, including figs. We ordered wine by the glass, given the fairly disparate nature of our choices, and I thought the wine list was quite broad and also fairly priced. This was a terrific meal and a great recommendation from all the 'Hounds; I definitely look forward to a return to Charleston to try more great restaurants (and to enjoy more of the Spoleto festival).
The next day we drove to Bluffton thru a fairly bad rain storm. We decided we would stop at Sgt. White's BBQ in Beaufort for lunch, but it is closed Saturdays and Sundays. I would suggest to hounds seeking bbq that you call ahead, because there are a number of restaurants that are closed either on weekends or on Mondays and Tuesdays (as we discovered when we were seeking bbq on the drive back to Columbia a few days later). It looked great from the outside! After driving thru Beaufort in a somwhat frustrating search for an open restaurant, we crossed the bridge to Lady Island and ate at a very small, very local place called L.T.'s...it's on Hwy 21 just as you cross the bridge onto Lady Island. There are daily specials, including bbq; but we had a fish sandwich and a fried shimp platter. The fried shrimp platter was very good, lots of very fresh and delicious shrimp with a light batter, but the fish sandwich was the clear winner and won accolades as possibly the best fish sandwich ever; the fish was sweet, flaky and white, and the mayo that was used really added a lot to the sandwich.
Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to eat at either the Squat and Gobble in B'ton or Peppers Back Porch (which was recommended to us by a local). We did have dinner at the May River Grill at the Inn at Palmetto Bluff; beautiful room and porch (we ate outside overlooking the May River, a beautiful view as the sun went down and worth the accompanying bugs!) and the food was excellent....we shared a cold seafood platter, an asparagus and mint soup, a shrimp and butter lettuce salad, and two appetizer portions of seafood..one hamachi plate and one tuna with cilantro. Everything was beautifully presented and very tasty, especially the soup and the salad. It was a very relaxing and well paced meal and because the inn is not large, you get a lot of personal attention as well as a lot of privacy.
We also had dinner at Mi Tierra on HH Island. Very solid Mexican food, especially the pork in green sauce, which was tender with a delicious sauce. Good service and clearly a local favorite; it's a bit tucked away and there is no view or particular atmosphere, but we were just in a mood for a change and some ethnic food and Mi Tierra definitely delivered.
Thanks again to all the 'Hounds who gave us such great ideas! It was a great trip and definitely enchanced by all of you!
nice report. thanks. i jsut found this site today, and signed up IMMEDIATELY!, or i would have steered you in the right direction for bbq in the columbia area. maurice's wins consistently because 1- it's open everyday which as you found out is rare in this are for some reason (i'm not a native). and 2- it's the mustard based sauce that is really popular here. there are several other places that aren't trying to become the mcdonalds of bbq like maurices that put their que to shame. the ribs are quite good, i'll give em that. right off i-26 exit 91 is my favorite place, farm boy's bbq. this is BY FAR the best que in the area IMO. it's a buffet, open 11 - 8 thur - sat only. the new place they have now has a drive through which is just heaven sent. take my word for it tho next time you're through... take the few minutes and eat the buffet. it's superb. a word of warning tho... even though they doubled the size of the restaurant... the line will still be out the door at popular times.
edit... gervais and vine is ALWAYS like that on thurs fri and sat nights. motor supply is good. next time you come through, the menu will be completely different. for dessert, nonnah's can't be beat.
Big T's is just ok for me. Little Pigs is better, but nothing beats Farm Boys. Their vinegar pepper is as good or better than the best i've had in Lexington NC. their veggies on the buffet are farm fresh or at least taste it ;) and if you're lucky enought to get some before they sell out... fried pork chops......... ok great... now i'm hungry!