The southern states have never been my favorite part of America even though my parents are from there. Maybe it’s because I was raised in Colorado that I’m not fond of the south with its flat low country and near tropical weather. Over the last year I have visited Charleston, SC and Fairhope, Alabama for short breaks from the northern cold. These two places are changing my mind about the south. Both towns have much to offer vacationers with a love of food and culture.
Charleston is a foodie paradise as long as you don’t get hung up on counting calories! This is food that will fill you up and warm you up.
Ordering the shrimp and grits with a biscuit on the side is a must to get the true southern experience. At Poogan’s Porch they serve up some of the best biscuits money can buy. They have a fried chicken breast biscuit sandwich on the breakfast/brunch menu that knocked my socks off. I didn’t order it but was glad my father-in-law did and shared it with us. It was crispy, juicy, spicy perfection served hot from the fryer between the top and bottom of a buttery biscuit. Dinner at Husk is not to be missed. They were named best restaurant in Bon Apetit in 2012, a lofty honor that they deserve.
The duck confit and chicken were great but the pecan pie should be enshrined in the Smithsonian American History Museum as an example of pecan pie perfection. Served with a scoop of ice cream this one dessert for one was ample for the four of us! A carriage ride through the historic streets of Charleston is a great way to hear about the history of the city while you ride comfortably spell bound by the clip clop of the horse’s hooves. I doubt I’d visit Charleston in the summer months but in January it was a great to get away from the chilly Baltimore winter.
Fairhope, Alabama is not your typical southern town. This hotbed of artistic creativity was founded in 1894 as a single tax colony by a group from Des Moines, Iowa. It didn’t work out as planned, but did transition into an artsy southern paradise on Mobile Bay. The small downtown area is well preserved and sports many cute shops long gone from most American downtown areas, victims of big box stores and online commerce. You can walk the entire downtown area in an hour or so, including popping into several shops. If you are a lover of books and bookstores the Page and Pallet will grab you and keep you for a while as you browse their local authors section and have a cup of coffee from the attached coffee shop, “LatteDa”. Some famous authors are seen at the Page and Palette; like Winston Groom of Forest Gump fame, or Fannie Flagg of Fried Green Tomatoes.
If wine is your thing just across the street from the Page and Palette is a wine bar and shop called Red or White wine & Gourmet. With small plates and a knowledgeable staff you are sure to find interesting wines there. Just half a block away is Pinzole’s restaurant and wine bar. Stop by for a glass of Italian white wine like an Orvieto and maybe a pizza too.
Fairhope has dozens of restaurant choices from Sweet Olive Bakery & Juice Bar for breakfast, or the Grand Hotel for a glimpse of Fairhope’s glorious past when people vacationed for a week or more in the big hotel on the bay. If you are lucky enough to be there on Sunday be sure and try the legendary brunch buffet at the Grand Hotel. The view of Mobile Bay and their down south dessert spread is enough to get me in the door, but the entrees and sides are of high quality too. After your meal stroll along the bay shore walkway or park your stuffed self into a bench under a Live Oak as the breeze animates the Spanish moss dangling low from its massive branches.
On my most recent trip to Fairhope I was able to attend a writer’s group meeting, and met two ladies from Colorado. Both were impressed enough to make it their home, one full time, the other part time. There aren’t many places in the south a Coloradan would move to, but Fairhope is so charming I can see the draw. It’s a free thinking, liberal community with a focus on art and good times in a beautiful southern setting. What’s not to love?