Thursday, April 9, 2015

In Search of Higher Ground - Tasting South Carolina

From the summit of Grandfather Mountain, NC

Immaculate Consumption - Columbia, SC

     This winter was brutal here in Boston and my travel bug was itching something fierce. I needed mountains. So I hopped on a plane and headed down to South Carolina. I had been before a couple years back with rowing, but this was my first spring break trip with no obligations. No rowing. No diets. No real plan. Ethan and Dan both live in SC, so the plan was to fly in to Charleston, rent a car, drive to the west side to see Ethan for a few days, hike some mountains and drive back to Charleston to see Dan. This isn't a travel blog, so I won't write about the whole trip. But, I did eat some delicious foods while I was there.
     To start... Immaculate Consumption. That's how it always begins (teehee). On my way west, I had a few extra hours, so I stopped in Columbia, home of the University of South Carolina, to check out the campus and fill my tank (my food tank). I had to go to Immaculate Consumption simply because of the name. Duh. The scent of this tiny cafe hit me as soon as I swung open the door. It smelled like antiques and old wood and strangely like my aunt and uncle's house in VA. It was this really cool blend of hipster and farm - classic. Frank Sinatra was on the radio, and the walls were decorated with tapestries and antlers. Weird, right? I've never seen anything like it. The waitstaff was charming and I thought everyone was leaving the restaurant with an open cup of beer. No no... it was sweet tea. Everyone drinks sweet tea. Welcome to the south.
Turkey Tarragon Sandwich

     For lunch I got their Turkey Tarragon sandwich which was sliced turkey breast with tarragon/balsamic marinated mushrooms, lettuce, tomatoes, swiss cheese and dijon mustard. The turkey was the best part. Of course. It was so far from a deli meat. More like real fibrous, sliced turkey breast that fell apart, rather than being all held up by whatever junk they put in deli meat. The mushrooms were sopping wet with that balsamic and it was fabulous. It was a serious punch to the face, but was so good. That marinade made the mushrooms kind of chewy too. To smooth out the power of the mushrooms and dijon, they added some swiss. It was perfect on toasted pumpernickel.


Cupcake Down South - Columbia, SC

            After walking for a couple hours through Columbia looking for little shops and such, I came upon Cupcake Down South, which is a small bakery that has a bunch of different locations in Columbia and Charleston. At first I was just going to walk in to see what they had (yea... right) and also to see if they had samples. I was in luck because they did have samples, and those samples won me over. I got the death by chocolate cupcake (of course) which was a chocolate cake with chocolate chips inside and a tall swirl of rich chocolate buttercream frosting. For the cake, they found the perfect middle ground between a brownie and a cake. It was much more moist and substantial than most cupcakes. The frosting ... oh my lord... the frosting was stupid stupid good. So creamy and smooth with just a little bit of air in it, but not like a whipped textured frosting. It was ideal. Definitely the best gourmet cupcake I've ever gotten before. Sorry Georgetown.


Sunny's Donuts - Gaffney, SC

The containers for filling. So smart. 

I ate the blueberry donut too fast (on the left), but
this is the massive apple fritter. 
       For my last morning in Boiling Springs with Ethan, he wanted to take me to experience Sunny's Donuts. Shoot. We headed to Gaffney (where the Nestle plant he works at is located) for an apple fritter experience that was apparently unlike any other. In my 26 years, I had never had a better apple fritter experience than that of Dandee Donuts at home, but I was willing to be adventurous. Apple fritters are my favorite.
     First of all, Sunny's Donuts was just a little tiny shop built into the same building as a gas station convenience store. From the outside, it really was nothing special. But the inside boasted racks of freshly made donuts and quite a few different tubs of filling for some on-demand stuffage. Yes. You pick the donut. You pick the filling. They fill it for you. GENIUS. WHY DON'T MORE PLACES DO THIS?! Anyway, the sweet old man behind the counter gave me my apple fritter and a buttermilk blueberry donut. OH and these donuts holes. These donut holes make Dunkin Donuts munchkins seem like dog food. For real. The slick, thin glaze was perfectly sweet and literally just melted in your mouth to reveal the plain, soft, almost chewy dough. It was beautiful.
     Blueberry donuts are my second favorite to apple fritters and this was 100% the best I've ever had. This donut was made with buttermilk, and split at the top (from all the cream?) like a sour cream donut does (those are my third favorite). I love when it does that because it just means more surface area. More surface area = more crust = more glaze. The browned outside crust of this blueberry donut was thick and it had a thick glaze. It was unlike any other donut I've really ever had before. The dough was pretty dense, but there were some great contrasting textures going on.
     The all-star of the show, as predicted, was the full hand sized apple fritter. Lord have mercy on my soul. It wasn't just a donut that had an apple-y flavor. It had a TON of soft apple chunks in it, and throughout the dough there was this applesauce-like filling. Not like a jelly or cream, but like cinnamon applesauce. It was incredible! It took it way above and beyond not just any other apple fritters, but all other donuts. Oh gosh there were so many nobby edges that had their thick fried crust and were coated in glaze. Just like those donut holes (but x 100000), this donut melted in your mouth. I would physically put it in my mouth and feel it melt. It was a magical experience. I wish there was a Sonny's north of the Mason Dixon Line. Ethan, I am forever indebted to you. 


Hyman's Seafood - Charleston, SC

Coleslaw and hushpuppies. Just look at how dark those puppies are. 

     It's ok to laugh at the name. I did too. And at the half naked mermaid in the stairway. And at the fact that Martha Stewart sat at our table. Hyman's was recommended to me by one of Ethan's friends. Since it was one of the only Charleston recommendations I had gotten, I was going for it. Plus, she mentioned something about hushpuppies and well... that's all it really took. Hyman's has some historical significance in that it started as a little shop within the warehouse district back in 1890, but they added the restaurant portion back in 1986. They've been recognized everywhere. All over the food network, travel channel, you name it. They're a Charleston favorite. 
     This place was huge. They had room after room after room of celebrity dining photos and dark wooden tables filled with people.  As a complimentary appetizer, they served boiled peanuts. I had only had them at Hailee's house when we were kids and they were good, but these were great. The primary reason? Salt. Oh man they were so salty. If you've never had boiled peanuts, you ought to. A lot of little roadside stands sell them down here too.
     The hushpuppies came first and were BY FAR the best I've ever put in my mouth. They were much sweeter than others I've had, but don't think they were like donuts or anything. They had a sweet onion flavor, with little strings of onion in them. They had a great, dark brown thick crust with the gritty, dense, cornmeal insides. I could've eaten them forever... or at least until I felt l like death. So phenomenal. 
     The other appetizer they served was coleslaw, which was delicious. It was heavier on the vinegar and lighter on the mayo. Don't get me wrong... me and mayo go way back, but I like the healthier feeling coleslaw better. This one was perfect and light with carrots and red cabbage. 
Fried catfish, collard greens and more hush puppies.
     For my meal, I got the fried catfish. It came super hot, with a thin breading, which was good. I don't like when the breading overtakes the actual fish. This breading had more of a gritty texture to it too, but was a little softer than I would've liked. However the fish was cooked perfectly. It was flaky and juicy and was served with a sweet bowl of collard greens. I wanted that southern meal, and I got it :]


King Street Cookies - Charleston, SC

     There will never be a cookie shop I don't go in. King Street Cookies was located on King Street in downtown Charleston. This cute little shop had all white and orange decor with 2 huge, tall king-like chairs in the front. When I walked in, I was one of three people. When I left, there was a line almost out the door. I'm convinced I started a cookie trend. This place had 33 kinds of cookies (I counted) of all varieties. Literally. There were flavors like red velvet cake, berries and cream, and the three kinds I got: Ms. House, Georgia Peach, and Peanut Butter. I've got to say... that peanut butter cookies was in a whole league of its own. It was love at first bite... and not just because I love peanut butter, but because this provided all of the satisfaction a cookie could provide. The center of this cookie stayed fat, so it was done just right so that it wasn't gooey anymore. The top was a little crinkled and sprinkled with a tiny bit of sugar, and all of the edges had a slight crispness to them. It was incredible. It seemed so delicate. Nothing could've made it better. For real. 
Peanut butter (top),  Ms. House (middle),
Georgia Peach (bottom)
     The second one I tried was the georgia peach. It had peach chunks, toffee, cinnamon and white chocolate chips. It was definitely tasty, but almost a little too sweet for me, if you can believe that. Maybe it was the white chocolate. I think I'm beginning to learn that I'm not all that into white chocolate. The third cookie was called Ms. House and was a basic, chewy oatmeal cookie with chocolate chips and chunks. It tasted very much like your homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, but baked by someone who had done it a time or two and knew how to nail the timing down. 
     The best part of this whole deal was that, when you purchase 3 cookies ($6), you get a cup for unlimited milk and get the option of skim milk, whole milk or chocolate milk. I sure milked that opportunity. Got all 3. 

(see what I did there?)


Triangle Char and Bar - Sumerville, SC

Avondale Nachos
     Dan introduced me to boxing, so whenever we get the chance to go, we go. After trying out a new Title gym, he wanted to take me to this place called Triangle Char and Bar. Clever name. Char and Bar = Bar and Grill, but unique. It reminded me very much of a Boston type restaurant in that they focus on using local ingredients and give you information on the menus about how the animals used for their meats are humanely raised. It's pretty neat. Everything inside was bright and colorful, but also very simplistic, in a country way. It fit in with the local, trendy, inventive vibe one experiences in Cambridge. 
Pad Thai Tacos with Sweet Potato Fries
     Dan said if we got the Avondale nachos we might not need to get a meal, so we got the nachos... and then we both got meals. Good. Those nachos were insane. Absolute madness. They were like a loaded baked potato made into nachos. Instead of tortilla chips, they used their homemade potato chips (which were perfection and I'd pay $20 for a bag if they were sold in grocery stores). They were topped with chunks of salty bacon, jalapenos, tomatoes, green onions, a bunch of real melted jack cheese and ranch dressing. It was a sodium overload but it was incredible. I'm generally not too into eating ranch dressing, but in this case it was a really unique take on adding the bit of cream to nachos instead of sour cream. Dan was right. We didn't need meals, and I'm proud to say that I only ate half of my Pad Thai tacos when they came. Go me. The two tacos came in big soft shells and were loaded with grilled chicken, peanuts, peanut sauce, and onions. The chicken was a little peppery and spicy (but in a good way) and the warm peanut sauce went surprisingly really well with the chicken. Seems like such a weird concept in my head, but it worked out. I probably would've been better off with something more mild and lighter after the nachos, but you don't see pad thai tacos often. Oh plus they were served with sweet potato fries sprinkled with salt and some seasoning (maybe paprika?). They were some of the best I've had. I really liked that they were skinnier and I loved the sauce they were served with. It was some sort of dipping sauce that was a dark red but tasted like applesauce and cinnamon. I still have no idea what it was, but it was delicious. 
     Needless to say, my shoes were a little tight the next morning, and my soul was content. 

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