Kiawah Island, South Carolina
How lucky am I? I have friends with a house on the beach on Kiawah Island, and this is the view from the deck in the morning as the sun rises. I spent a few days there recently – enjoying the beach, biking the island, and eating the best low country food. Read on for the highlights and the details for restaurants if you too are going.From the airport we stopped in Charleston first, wandered around the waterfront, drove by some of the classic homes and gardens, and of course, stopped into King Street Cookies to stock up for the weekend.Our friends had secured reservations at Husk, names Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant in America in 2011, featuring a James Beard Award winning chef, Sean Brock. I’ve traveled extensively and have eaten at some incredibly good restaurants. But I actually think that’s a barrier, because my expectations are so high. I loved the food at Husk – don’t get me wrong – I just always have a problem when someone says something is “the best”, and have trouble appreciating it for what it is instead of analyzing whether it deserves the title.Husk is the kind of place that’s intent on serving food from the south, although reinvented, and they proudly display that list of purveyors at the front door. You’ll also find their large array of homemade pickles – every type imaginable – in the back, and if you order a steak, you get to choose one of these massive knives from their selection.We ordered the “must have” appetizers of boiled peanuts, although here they come with a jalapeño kick which is great, some Broadbent Country Ham that comes with buttermilk biscuits, and my personal favorite, the Southern Fried Chicken Skins with Pimento Cheese Dressing. Yes, those are as good as they sound, and probably one of the very worst things you should be eating!The guys split the 32 ounce ribeye, and frankly it was still more than they bargained for; my friend had the Baked NC Flounder with Bok Choy, Snow Peas, Charred Red Peppers, Peanuts, Fermented Chilies and Cilantro (she loved it); and I had the flatiron steak (tasty and tender) served over a nice bed of veggies. Like I said, it was a great meal, just hard to call it the best I’ve ever had.Kiawah Island is perfect for riding a bike, as the tide goes out quite far, leaving a wide swath of hard sand to ride on. We rode to one end the first day (top photo), then the longer trek to the end closest to Charleston the next day (cloudy photo – that’s Charleston far in the distance).Along the way you’ll find plenty of jelly fish washed ashore and lots of shells and sand dollars. But don’t dawdle too long – the tides come in and fill in the tidal pools, and you’ll have to cross several of them with your bike as you go – wait too long and you can find yourself stranded!There are bike paths that run all through the island inland as well, and beauty abounds. From the Spanish moss hanging from the trees……to the picturesque marshes……to any one of the many golf courses (this is the view from the club house of the famously difficult Ocean Course, and it reminded me of courses out on Long Island in NY)……to the rivers with boat-filled marinas. The pace is relaxing here, the people friendly and talkative, and the Southern way of life a bit intoxicating. We ate a LOT of food, so let me just give you a rundown of what and where in case you want to sample some of these delights.The Beach Club (part of the private Kiawah Island Club) is a perfect spot to stop for lunch when you are biking. We shared fried shrimp and fried oysters for an appetizer, then I had their chicken salad with crispy fries.The restaurant at Cassique, a residential area and private golf club, is where I enjoyed my favorite meal of the weekend. The best beef tartare I’ve ever had, the most tender chicken with pan sauce (when the waiter emphatically tells you to pick that between the items you mention, you follow his advice), and a coconut cake for dessert that I couldn’t stop eating, even though I rarely if ever get dessert after dinner. I’m working on getting a couple of recipes from these folks and will share them if I’m successful!As if we hadn’t eaten enough yet during the weekend, we decided to go to Lokal Seabar, in Bohicket Marina on Johns Island, on our last night in Kiawah. We started our meal with the watermelon jalapeño margarita and the traditional southern treat of hushpuppies. Is there any redeeming nutritional value in a hushpuppy? I think not.They serve local oysters, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved the smaller ones, which reminded me of the tiny briny ones from the Pacific Northwest.Corn bread is a given at a meal in the south, but when it’s served with bacon jam, look out!Crab cakes, with little to no filler, are always a treat, but when sandwiched between two fried green tomatoes? Words can’t describe the decadence.So for good measure we ordered up another round of fried green tomatoes which come with sprinkles of feta cheese and corn relish.I had the jambalaya, which is made with chicken, sausage, mussels and shrimp (which I asked them to hold for me). It was perfectly balanced, with tender yet al dente rice, and it was large enough to serve the table. But not as large as the fried chicken with mashed potatoes, collards, and sage pepper gravy. When my husband ordered it the waiter said, “Good luck!”My friend ordered the shrimp and grits – tip, they come heavy on the sauce, so she asked for the shrimp in the sauce on the side of the rice so she could control how much went into her dish.And as if that weren’t enough food, we ordered a deep fried apple pie for dessert. Hope, there is nothing really very healthy about this menu, but it typifies low country food, and it was outstanding.I’ll be back in South Carolina this fall for my niece’s wedding, and then we’re planning a return visit next spring with a group of friends, and I can’t wait. South Carolina is one of those places that I can see gets under your skin. Or as my beach bag from my friend says, it’s just that Southern State of Mind.