I’ve never understood the negative connotations of the term “bookworm.” I guess it’s because I’m a bit of a bookworm myself—OK, a magazine, travel show, and newspaper worm, too. I’m guilty of completely immersing myself as a character into novels, and imagining myself wandering the destinations described in travel articles. The second time I read about Beaufort, South Carolina—this time in Outside magazine—I mentioned it to my husband.
“Look hon, they’re talking about Beaufort again.” We live a couple hours away, so I thought it was worth pointing out to him. “Dale, why don’t we go see what all the fuss is about?” I closed the magazine, set up the GPS, and we hit the road.
First taste of the town
We kicked off our trip living on the edge—the edge of town that is. Bay Street, which borders downtown Beaufort’s famed waterfront, is the town’s cultural epicenter. With 17 working art galleries on Bay Street alone, it’s not hard to understand why Beaufort was named “one of the top 25 arts towns in America” by American Style Magazine.
One of my favorites was the Thibault Gallery, which featured the work of area artists, including Mary Thibault. While I browsed the diverse pieces throughout the gallery, Dale was transfixed—he was watching a local artist work on an oil painting, a spot-on rendition of one of the many marsh scenes we passed on our drive into town.
As the sun set, we headed to nearby Waterfront Park for an evening walk amidst the oaks and Palmetto trees, along the shore of Harbor River. With the expansive water views on one side, and charming outdoor dining and live music on the other, it didn’t take long to be overcome by the relaxed spirit that permeates through Beaufort. It also didn’t take long, as it turns out, for the wonderfully delicious smells coming from the Bay Street restaurants to interest our taste buds. We headed into the Saltus River Grill, tempted by its beautiful outdoor patio, which overlooked the park and river.
With it being our first night on the coast, it was too tempting not to start the meal with oysters, steamed to perfection and paired simply with a splash of hot sauce. For my entrée, a classic Southern dish: fresh local shrimp and decadent bacon lardons served over creamy mascarpone grits. Dale chose the sautéed scallops, which were served with braised pork and duck fat-fried okra.
The next day, we took a drive out to St. Helena, an island rich in both cultural and culinary history, starting with the Penn Center. One of the most significant African-American historical institutions in the country, the Penn Center was the site of one of the country’s first schools for the children of freed slaves and, many years later, a favorite meeting location for Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, Dr. King is said to have drafted his famous “Dream” speech in Gantt Cottage, one of several buildings on the Penn Center grounds.
The Penn Center is also at the heart of the area’s Gullah Culture. The Gullah are African-Americans who live throughout the Lowcountry of South Carolina, known for keeping their heritage alive through language, arts, storytelling, cuisine, and more. There’s even an annual Gullah festival every May that celebrates the culture in a weekend filled with great food, music, and art.
After spending the morning learning about the Gullah culture, it seemed only fitting that we stay on St. Helena for lunch at Gullah Grub, made famous on programs like Martha Stewart Living and Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. True to the Gullah way, the menu featured only local and in-season ingredients, which, of course, meant plenty of delicious shrimp, red rice, and fresh collards.
Famed Frogmore flavor
In addition to the amazing Gullah food, St. Helena is also home to the community of Frogmore, the birthplace and namesake for Frogmore Stew, a famous Southern delicacy featuring a mix of shrimp, smoked sausage, new potatoes, and tender corn, slow-cooked together in one mouthwatering pot. Knowing our trip would not be complete without trying it, we stopped at Lady’s Island Dockside Restaurant for dinner to enjoy the famed stew and the equally famous Lowcountry views.
Both delivered spectacularly. With each of the ingredients bringing their own distinct flavor, they created a kind of unique symphony of taste, tied together with a subtly spicy seasoning. It’s a taste that you can’t really understand unless you’re given a spoonful.
Tastes and textures like that are where being a bookworm stops, and being a traveler begins. There’s only so much you can experience by flipping a page—unless, of course, that page is a recipe for Frogmore Stew.
Dale and I had a good idea of what to expect from Beaufort, due to our prior research. But it was the experiences we stumbled across during our time in the area that made the trip beyond simply “good,” and into one of our own.