Monday, December 5, 2011

Tastebud Tour

I didn't expect to start a Culinary Tour of Charleston at a convenience store. But sometimes a local hole-in-the-wall dive delivers more local ambiance than a three-star sit-down restaurant.

The Dixie Supply Cafe & Bakery was the first stop on our food tour of Charleston. (Don't I have a great husband? He knows I like to cook, and goodness knows, we both like to eat. So he arranged a wonderful first morning in Charleston.)

It's not really in the convenience store but beside it. Allen & Kris Holmes own the Dixie Supply. Allen's family has lived in Charleston since 1698. The cafe is located about 100 feet from the first family business, which was originally the Holmes & Calder Leadworks.

It's not going to be off the beaten path for much longer. Guy Fieri visited the Dixie for an upcoming segment of his Food Network Drive-Ins, Diners and Dives.

Outdoor dining is all the rage these days. A few tables in the parking lot of a convenience store probably doesn't qualify. But what this tiny place lacks in seating, it makes up for in authentic taste. We had a sample of their sweet tea. Even though I prefer unsweetened tea, theirs was tasty.

We also had Dixie Stone-Ground Grits ...

... and sweet potato cornbread, which was unlike any cornbread I've ever had.

Charleston's cuisine, like that of most American cities, is a melting pot of the cultural influences from its inhabitants. Charleston was founded in 1670, and its environment was nourished by rivers, marshes, streams and the Atlantic Ocean that teemed with seafood. The tidal waters nurtured Carolina Gold Rice, a staple on Southern tables and an economic boon to early-day Charleston.

The moderate environment also made it possible to grow corn, which settlers stoneground and made into filling grits.

Immigrants to the New World included the French, Scottish, Irish Protestants, English Anglicans, Jews, Quakers and Methodists - all of whom brought their own food traditions to their tables. Slaves also influenced the cuisine, bringing unique ingredients like benne seeds (African for sesame seeds), as well as okra, field peas, sweet potatoes and rice.

These are benne wafers, a sweet cookie we tried at a store called Charleston Cooks.

They weren't the only sweets on the tour. I just may have to try to replicate River Street Sweet's pralines for Christmas this year.

Our tour guide said the candy maker was a master of his art. I believe it after sampling candied pecans, sugared pecans, pralines and chocolate bear claws.

Our last stop was Pink Pig BBQ: Jim 'n Nick's. In South Carolina, they don't consider beef to be barbecue. I told the tour guide that probably wasn't the thing to say to a Kansas cattleman. (Brent's been missing Kansas City BBQ since he's been in the South.)

They served us pork barbecue, collard greens and a mini cornbread muffin. Let's just say we didn't have to eat lunch after a morning spent eating our way through Charleston's Low Country cuisine. We might have burned off a few calories from the walk. (But not enough.)

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