Friday, October 3, 2008

Eating the Low Country Part III: Oysters and Deep Fried Strawberries

Already full of fajitas, shrimp, grits, and Yuengling, I was undeterred in my quest to eat as much as I could before flying out of the Low Country. And what better way to experience the terroir of coastal South Carolina than with some of its infamous oysters? Answer: deep fried strawberries.

Having just eaten 40 or so excellent oysters at the Legal Seafood tasting in Cambridge, and having had terrible, watery, flavorless oysters in South Carolina on my last trip, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. But while the oysters didn't quite have the chutzpah of a good Wellfleet or Duxbury, they were very flavorful with a nice shift from salt to sweet. In fact, they had all of the elements that I so love in New England oysters, just on a smaller scale. If a Wellfleet is getting drenched by a winter Nor'easter, these were the pleasant drizzle of the outer bands of a tropical depression. I had them raw, except for a few steamers courtesy of a friendly off-duty chef at the next table.

How were the deep fried strawberries? Do I really have to answer that?

From there (Pepper's Porch) we quickly moved on to Choo-Choo barbecue, a small but competent operation set up in an old train car, or at least a fake old train car. I ordered a half rack of their ribs and was thrilled to see that familiar, almost fluorescent splash of orange-yellow mustard and vinegar sauce that dominates South Carolina. If anyone else out there grew up in Boca Raton, you'll remember it from Tom's on Old Dixie.

Tender, smoky and flavorful, they had nothing wrong with them and everything right. Like the fajitas, I ate them from a to-go container on my lap in our rented Corolla. Unlike the fajitas, I wish I was eating them again right now.

At this point you may be wondering how a guy who likes raw tomatillos was able to eat so much Southern food. The answer is beer. I don't know if it's the carbonation, the friendly microorganisms, or the dulling effect on the nervous system, but alcohol definitely makes the ribs go down. With this course I had a Terrapin. Seth imitated the turtle on the label as I ate, which also helped.

From there it was a mad dash to the Bluffton farmer's market, where I bought two pounds of bright yellow, slow ripening peaches, several varieties of organically grown cucumbers, the afore mentioned Gullah cookbook, a jar of whole, preserved figs made by the author, a tall cup of lemonade and an enormous bowl of gumbo made by an extremely nice couple who call themselves We Island.

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