Edisto Island: Food Worth Leaving France For

Trip Start Jul 05, 2006
Trip End Jul 26, 2006

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of United States  , South Carolina
Saturday, August 5, 2006

A vacation after the vacation. Isn't that what we always long for once we get home and the suitcases pile up in the foyer, the answering machine blinks frantically, and the pile of mail lurks like a deadly beast? 99.9% of the time, we make the wish for a post-vacation vacation and then proceed to slog our way through laundry, phone calls, and forgotten bills, all the while fighting back pangs of nostalgia for the recently departed vacation. Upon coming home from France James and I experienced the 0.1% chance of a lifetime: a real vacation after the vacation. Our bulging suitcases remained in the foyer, the answering machine got no respite, and despite the fact that the lurking pile of mail insisted on accompanying us to our next destination, we returned to Pittsburgh for one day before packing up and leaving again for another week. Destination: Edisto Island, South Carolina.

I know. This travelogue was supposed to be about our trip to France, right? Well, I'm including this entry because the smells of low country Southern cooking wafted across the Atlantic from Edisto Island to France and called us home. I would not willingly leave France for a pile of cash, a brand new Volvo S40, or a chance to see the Steelers play in the Super Bowl this year . . . but for a bite of 'Po Pig Bo-B-Q, I may be tempted.

Before I get into the culinary delights to be had on Edisto, just a quick note about the island itself. According to the Edisto Island Chamber of Commerce website, "Edisto Island's historical legacy began with the imprint of the Edistow Indians-its first known occupants. The Spanish arrived in the 1500's, followed by English settlers in the 1600's. The English remained, first living off the sea, then cultivating money crops of rice and indigo. By 1790, planters turned to a long staple cotton, known as Sea Island cotton-one of the finest cottons ever produced. It was this crop that brought the great wealth to Edisto Islanders. Many of the elegant houses and plantations remaining today are reminders of that affluent age." Edisto Island has been my family's summer destination of choice for the past fifteen years ever since my grandparents bought a timeshare condo when I was in my pre-teens. This gem of an island getaway has 1 Piggly Wiggly grocery store, 2 gas stations, 0 fast food restaurants (Buger King tried about ten years ago and failed), 0 hotels or motels, and endless acres of marsh, twisting creek inlets, dirt roads shaded by arching branches of live oak draped in stately Spanish moss, white sand beaches boasting a higher population of loggerhead turtle eggs than human bodies slathered in oily sunscreen, and a dizzying array of marine life. In short, if your idea of fun on a Friday night is a crazy round of bar hopping, do not come to Edisto. But if you want to experience a diverse saltwater ecosystem, Gullah cooking, leisurely bike rides serenaded by cicada melodies, and long walks on shell-strewn beaches, Edisto is your place.

Edisto also boasts two restaurants worth traveling hundreds of miles to visit: 'Po Pig Bo-B-Q and The Old Post Office Restaurant. While both offer mouth-watering delicacies, the two restaurants could not be more opposite in ambiance. 'Po Pig shares a building with a gas station while Old Post Office inhabits (you guessed it) a renovated historical post office. 'Po Pig's southern gourmet spreads across the classic "all you care to eat" buffet table - warming lamps, chafing dishes, and all. Old Post Office's fare comes individually prepared on delicately balanced white plates. A meal for four at 'Po Pig will set you back a whopping $40. Quadruple that (including wine) at The Old Post Office. Yet on the walls of both restaurants hang framed articles of acclaim from magazines like Food & Wine, Gourmet, and The New York Times--the culinary equivalent of a big red X on a treasure map.

The Old Post Office draws crowds from Charleston and Savannah (both about an hour away) on a nightly basis. People come for the grits and stay for the wine, desserts, low country oysters, and crackling duck. The grits--that staple of the Southern diet--are ground espcially for The Old Post Office and then slow cooked all day to arrive steaming at your table. In fact, one of the most popular dishes on the menu is steamed shrimp lounging on a bed of grits and mousseline sauce. The first mouthful of the thick, creamy grits is truly divine. May I suggest it is even addictive? Luckily, the grits are included as a staple side with any dish you may care to order off of the menu. Fortune also smiles on diners as a two-pound bag of grits (for sale) decorates each table, along with the requisite bud vase and candle. Shameless advertising? Perhaps. But also necessary to continue feeding the newly-gained addiction.

If the grits at Old Post Office constitute an addiction, then the food at 'Po Pig Bo-B-Q constitutes an epidemic. We can't get enough of their barbecue and buffet selections. In fact, we now plan our vacation around when 'Po Pig is open: Wednesday through Saturday. That means if we want to eat at any other restaurant on the island, we simply plan on visiting those establishments on Sunday through Tuesday. Easily overlooked among the other typical sea island restaurants, 'Po Pig Bo-B-Q seems like an afterthought addition to the Horizon gas station. Beside the convenient store flooded with antiseptic fluorescent light, the small dining room seems like a space typically occupied by a revolving door of renters: perhaps a nail salon, souvenir shop, take-out pizza joint, struggling insurance company, or island bike rental shop. Yet despite appearances, 'Po Pig seems here to stay. Weekday patrons tend to be locals or long-time island visitors who have discovered the culinary gem. Talking to other locals on the island about restaurant recommendations, they cry in unanimous praise "Oh, well. You just can't beat 'Po Pig!"

The menu at 'Po Pig allows for some variety of taste. You can order a ham barbecue or beef barbecue sandwich. Fries are an option. But really, the only menu item worth considering is the "All You Care to Eat" buffet. There it spreads before you: ten feet of my-sides-are-splitting-but-yes-I-will-go-back-for-one-more-helping-of-barbeque-and-hash heaven. A daily soup selection starts off the line, and unless you're a soup fanatic, we recommend skipping this course and saving all available stomach real estate for the dishes to come. Next on the buffet are the cold salads--potato, pasta, vegetable--followed by the crowning glory (worth a 1/4 of the space on your plate) of freshly marinated pork barbecue. The tender, juicy strands, while delicious naked, can also be tastefully dressed with the hash options next in line. Hash, which I believe counts as a vegetable on the Southern food pyramid, is a vinegary kick of a gravy sure to delight anyone's taste buds. The buffet has just gotten started. Still to come are chittlins', green beans, steamed okra, butter beans, creamed corn, tuna casserole, macaroni and cheese, honeyed yams, carrots, hush puppies, buttered cabbage, and more. The final stop on the impossibly long buffet train is the tea. The staff at 'Po Pig set out generously portioned white Styrofoam cups filled with ice, and after grabbing the first available cup, your final decision must be made: Sweet or Unsweet Tea? May we recommend the Sweet? Sure, I understand that Sweet Tea is a Southern speciality served just about anywhere south of the Mason Dixon line (including McDonalds), the Sweet Tea at 'Po Pig is about the best I've ever had. It is dispensed from large, metal, urns bearing the Luisanne Tea Company logo, but tea this good surely has to be a secret family recipe of some sort. When you finally sit down with your first plate (of many), the sticky plastic table cloths and lazy fan circulating the room from the far corner will be as fancy as the ambiance gets. We will be willing to bet that after the first few bites, you will be planning your next trip to 'Po Pig.

So were we ready to leave France? No. And yes. How can we recapture the sun-warmed apricots, the tangy olives, the unidentifiable fish that drips from the bones, the black velvety coffee, or the yeasty crunch of a great baguette? Then again, how could we not leave for a taste of Edisto? I guess once bit by the wanderlust bug, there will always be another place calling to me. The irony is that I can never experience it all at once. At least I have yet to find a place on this wide earth that serves up a savory plate of barbecue next to a freshly baked croissant. If you find it, let me know. Until then, I'll be travelling.

Slideshow Report as Spam


sheepes on

Thank-you, thank-you. It was a wonderful journey and this voyeur in particular has been enriched immensely by your generously allowing us to travel along. Until the next trip...
Love, Mom S.

bhendrickson on

Thanks for following!
Thank you to everyone, especially my frequent commenters, who took ethe time to post a message or two for these entries. To a road-weary traveller, these messages were roots that anchored me to loved ones at home who were along for the ride as well. Thank you for sharing in the journey with us!

Add Comment

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: