It was good from the start. We stopped to have biscuits for breakfast at our neighborhood cafe — setting the right tone for a trip through the South — and then headed north with a full tank of gas. Something about a road trip is a lot more relaxing and freeing than waiting in line for security at the airport.
You set your own pace. You can pull over when over you want to or see something interesting, and the roadsides on the way to Georgia and South Carolina certainly try to get you to stop. From Tampa, this route requires a sort of scenic drive through Ocala. Road signs try to lure you in for late-summer peaches. Keep driving and they’ll mention fresh shelled peas and local honey, too. About 10 miles outside of Charleston, the signs all want you to pull over for shrimp.
But we were planning on lunch in Savannah.
We didn’t arrive in time for a family-style meal so our first stop in Savannah was The Crystal Beer Parlor, one of the oldest restaurants in the city. It’s casual and the food was satisfying after a long drive. We tried some local beers and took a quick drive downtown, which has cute cobblestone streets, crazy roundabouts, and horse-drawn carriages. Then we checked into our bed and breakfast, a lovely house by a river.
For our one night in Georgia, our dinner reservations were at Local 11 Ten, where the cocktails were fantastic and we shared a particularly great dish of scallops with pickled ramps. Our airbnb host recommended we follow our $14 drinks with a round or two of $4 whiskeys at the American Legion next door. Good call.
Back in the Day Bakery was our quick stop for afternoon coffee and trinkets. I got my hands on a couple jars of INNA jam and spotted the most amazing marshmallow chandelier. Maybe we can make our own some time. We picked up an old typewriter print at a shop around the corner and found some plates at an antique/consignment store.
In the morning, we headed to Charleston to make it in time for the farmers market, which is definitely worth a visit. We perused the goods at a kitchen store near the waterfront and shared a BLT and beers at Blind Tiger Pub. We spent three hours taking tours and exploring at Middleton Place. We learned that rice was the crop of this state and Southern brides here are given South Carolina rice spoons, which measure out the perfect serving of rice. Fleet Landing served up some pretty stellar grits and we made it to Wild Flour Pastry for sticky buns.
The Gin Joint was so good we went back a second time. It’s a small bar with excellent bar food (think pad thai popcorn or chicken and sweet potato waffles) with even better cocktails. Their list of cocktails is enticing (I almost ordered one called Squid Lips) but we couldn’t help ourselves from the bartender’s choice box of words. Choose two words and the bartender makes you a cocktail. Danny chose smoky and refreshing and won every time.
He chose those words for three rounds and got three different drinks. One was smoky from mezcal. The best were smoky from scotch. The first one, which the bartender called Flowers and Ashes, was a mix of Laphroaig, elderflower liqueur, and gin. I was blown away by how smooth, delicious, and balanced it was. The second scotch cocktail, the Angostura Prescription, boasted an ounce and a half of Angostura bitters and acid phosphate to maintain sourness. Whoa. We didn’t want to leave.
But we had a much anticipated dinner reservation at Husk; one of the best meals we’ve had at a restaurant waited for us.
Husk, named one of the best restaurants in America a couple years ago, is worth the trip to Charleston alone. We started the meal with buttermilk rolls topped with bourbon smoked salt and sesame seeds from Kentucky and a bottle of French rose (from a wine list organized by soil type!). Lettuce wraps with slivers of crunchy pig ear were next and we could not get enough of them. I also ordered a fried cornbread panzanella with grilled pork heart and summery vegetables. For the main event, Danny loved his catfish with smoked peperonata and I ate all of my flounder with wisps of crisp chicken skin. We haven’t stopped talking about this meal, and I am definitely hanging on to that menu.
We were charmed by this city and this restaurant in particular, and we’ll definitely be back. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I heard or read mentions of Charleston everywhere. Seafood, grits, lovely architecture, and sailboats coasting on the waterfront you can watch from the park. It certainly lives up to the hype and there are still so many more places to try.
Before we said goodbye to this trip, we got in line for breakfast at Hominy Grill. Waiting for biscuits and eggs isn’t so bad when there’s a walk-up bar. We ordered two Big Nastys and a side of grits.
Then we hopped in the car with our bellies full and our minds totally unwound after this weekend getaway. We headed home, finally submitting to the beckoning roadside signs and pulling over for a bag of boiled peanuts, of course.