Posted May 30, 2021 – Narrated by Carmen
The Carolinas are puzzling, especially the coastal areas along the barrier islands. Everything is shifting, impermanent – even the things that are set in stone.
All aspects – weather, culture and geography – has a flip-side.
For every expanse of glistening turquoise beach, there’s an impenetrable mysterious swamp; for every perfectly cinematic picnic beneath a blooming saucer magnolia, there’s the threat of a tornado or copperhead or tick; and for every outrageous hissy-fit there’s an earnest casserole apology.
And when the dense, muscular summer heat takes up residence – backing you into the cool corner of the porch where you and your computer submit to a cane lounger to try to attend to urgent business – the ceiling fan on a low, slow thrum, conspires with a distant thunderstorm to lull you off into the best nap of your life. You wake up, wipe the drool off your chin and mumble, “I needed that” to no one in particular.
And that’s what I’m talking about. Contradictions abound.
Like commiserating with the local residents about the particular cruelties of their insect population – it becomes a kind of morbid bonding experience. By the end of the conversation you feel like blood relations… and maybe you are.
Even the embarrassment of asking Southerners to repeat themselves can be delightful … “Now, Darlin, there’s only two ways to say it: BOOF-ay, as in, ‘all you can eat,’ and buff-IT, as in Margaritaville. I have no idea what this ‘buff-Ā’ is you’re talking about.”
But some things don’t change. In the South, one religion holds greater power over all others. Fried Chicken – and her divine consorts, Okra, Field peas, Green Beans and Biscuits and Gravy – delivers. And, for food and Southern culture, we are satisfied converts of the Carolinas.
Now, North Carolina and South Carolina are equivalent but not the same.
From the moment the Spanish and French got involved they were doomed to split – and when the English and Scots put down roots, things started heating up and it was D-I-V-O-R-C-E time.
But it’s all good, like two sides of a biscuit.
Let’s say this biscuit is The Carolinas. Pull it apart with your hands – because using a knife is heresy …
And notice how it sorta looks like North and South Carolina. 😊
Now, when a soft, fluffy buttermilk biscuit is pulled apart, the interior looks like a hot mess. That crazy dividing line between the two resembles the 290-year boundary dispute between the neighboring states which was ultimately settled (after 20 years and 20 million dollars) in 2017 give or take dozens of pending lawsuits.
The bottom of the biscuit is North Carolina and the top of the biscuit is South Carolina. Both are delicious, but the subtle differences are of monumental importance. Take the North Carolina half. The bottom is decidedly firm – a weighty surface to support gravy …
But, the South Carolina side of the biscuit is delicate, soft and crumbly. I like my South Carolina side drizzled with Steen’s syrup and melted butter.
So my North Carolina side of the biscuit is dense and smooth and salty as the Crystal Coast, and my South Carolina side is as light and sweet as a Charleston Sunday morning.
Our last Georgia breakfast
In early March, we pulled out of Jekyll Island for a 200-mile journey to Charleston. But Georgia kept hanging on – so, just before we crossed the border near Savannah, we pulled over in Pooler for brunch on the screened porch of Another Broken Egg. Jim had the best seafood omelet of his life and the grits are so good I almost wept.
That afternoon we pulled into our suburban campground headquarters, James Island County Park, early enough to check out the bike trails, walking areas and the large pond.
These recreational amenities fortified our master plan to eat out every single day for the next two weeks. We were already in training. Focused and determined. Sure, we were still unvaccinated and dining only in outside locations … but this is Charleston, the Holy City, with an abundance of patio dining choices. We would not forsake the assembling of ourselves together around the table.
And, if we got in over our heads, we had help.
Southern family. Southern appetites. Food, proudly crafted, consoles the pain of colonialism, slavery, earthquakes, piracy, civil war and the ongoing struggle for civil rights. As Jesus, famously said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Here, eat a biscuit …” or something like that.
Our chops were in position, ready for action.
Okay. Let’s do this.
Charleston City Market, a tradition since the early 1800’s.
Then, a rewarding lunch up on the deck at Charleston’s Crab House
After a walk in Battery Park, the location of mass pirate executions.
We sat down for supper at Fam’s Brewing.
Next day, we had breakfast at Page’s Okra Grill …
… to fortify ourselves for the ferry ride to Sumter Fort where the American Civil War formally began.
That night we had dinner at Graze.
Food and sight-seeing, sight-seeing and food … It went on like that until my folks went back home. But, snowball-effect had set in and Jim and I continued protocol.
Slightly North of Broad (SNOB)
We parked in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Charleston and toured on foot. The sideways mansions were our primary fascination …
and the fine wood craftsmanship and window boxes …
and iron work, old cobblestone streets, and fascinating shops
On sunny days, we visited Folly Beach …
And, on cold and rainy days, the breweries, taverns and sports bars offered refuge.
Low Tide Brewing on John’s Island
The Lowdown Oven and Bar on James Island
Lost Dog Cafe in Folly Beach
Even with twelve days of Charleston time, we weren’t ready to leave. But due to so many campground closures, we had to hold onto reservations (a travel buzz-kill) up the coast.
But Jim and I made a pact to return and spend an entire year. So, with only one day left our Airstream friends, Julia and Gary, who are regulars to this area recommended we drive about thirty minutes south to view the Caw Caw Interpretive Center.
Well, sure. We’re always ready for a stroll through the swamp …
But the swamp followed us home …
Then, on to Wilmington, North Carolina.
As we passed through Myrtle Beach, we were engaged in a come-to-Jesus dialogue …
about curbing our diet toward healthier, plant-based choices and, as if on cue, Big Daddy’s Pork Skins “It Ain’t Food If It Ain’t Fried” drives by …
Well, that set off our appetites, so we pulled over at Pawley’s Island for a bite at Chive Blossom Cafe.
Carolina Beach State Park
That afternoon, we pulled into Carolina Beach State Park on Cape Fear.
With half of the campground closed for repairs, we were lucky to get the most private site in the park …
which we enjoyed for thirteen days.
This campground is basically a sandbar with quiet hiking paths.
The well-marked trails which began right from our campsite made us feel like the lord and lady of the manor.
This park is surrounded by a suburban neighborhood, but the quiet hammock shielded us from view.
It was like wilderness with all the conveniences. Good Hops Brewing – a family and community friendly establishment – is a five-minute bike ride from our site.
This small neighborhood served as our launching pad for fascinating day trips to the lovely and historic city of Wilmington.
Cape Fear is a wonderful area for paddling.
When adventure called, Mama Smurf and I went for a ride and, together, we successfully navigated the dreaded Cape Fear.
We love to visit beach areas on shoulder season.
It’s give and take. The ice cream shops are still closed, but dogs are allowed on the boardwalks and sand.
The beaches were not formally open.
So, without crowds and heavy traffic we were free to explore and chat with the locals and watch them spruce up for season business.
Many of the areas seafood restaurants are only open for season, but that’s okay, because Michael’s Seafood is open all year and is highly rated as the best.
And Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar, just a block from the beach, was excellent.
Venus Fly Traps
On the final day at Carolina Beach State Park, we snagged coveted free spots for the “reservations required” ranger-guided Venus Fly Trap Tour. This is the only place in the world where these exotic plants flourish in the wild under the protection of armed guards. Poaching endangers the entire habitat, but crime-rings persist.
At least twelve people were waiting for us to arrive, hoping we would give up our spots. Maybe if poachers just scalped reservations for the tour, they’d break even and the preservation efforts would be more successful and less weapony.
I’m not saying the tour was a disappointment, but it was very short and involved about twelve square feet of space. After parking and checking in with the ranger who I.D.’d us to prove we were on the list, we took a walk down a short trail. The ranger gave a quick talk about the habitat, then stepped out on a boardwalk, pointed to a bed of flytraps … and that was it.
We all huddled together to get hasty pics of the carnivorous plants … then walked back to our cars and drove away.
The next day, we had an unusual 448 mile journey ahead so, we made an overnight “comfort” stop at Walton’s Distillery in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
On that very day, my niece, Monica, and her family were moving into their brand new house near Swansboro. So we met them for dinner at Boro Low Country Kitchen, for a hearty seafood boil.
Next day we were on our way to Ocracoke Island for another bite on the salty side of the Carolina biscuit.
If you want to see our exact route, click here.
*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.