When traveling, it’s nice to afford yourself one or two “luxurious” meals at a high-end restaurant, to be sure. But more and more, when I eat at those types of places, I find myself thinking how I could get the same kind of food in Detroit, and wishing I had opted instead for something more casual that offers the kind of experience unique to that city or area.
When visiting my mom in Bluffton, SC over the holidays, we spent a day walking around Savannah, just 30 minutes away. I had wanted to eat at the famous Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, but apparently you need to line up HOURS beforehand to get in, so that was scratched. We wandered around near the market trying to find somewhere decent to eat and it seemed that there was a wait everywhere. Then I spotted a little hole-in-the-wall diner serving burgers, hot dogs, and… beer! Just the thing after a morning’s walking. My mom looked a bit skeptical but everyone else was hungry enough to agree.
The diner, called Sweet Melissa’s, had a vibe that was sort of a cross between an arty dive bar and the Coneys in Detroit… maybe that’s what drew me in? I ordered a hot dog with sauerkraut and tomato, and Marvin and I shared a cup of chili. The dog was large and good-quality, but the chili was the real standout. I didn’t ask, but it definitely tasted like it was made in-house rather than chili from a can like some diners. Others ordered burgers and BBQ pork and everyone seemed pretty happy- especially Marvin, upon being told he could take his beer to go and drink it while walking.
My quest for regional food also led me to Sgt. White’s Diner in Beaufort (pronounced “Buford”, not “Bow-forr”, much to the chagrin of my French-speaking brain). I read about this gem in Jane & Michael Stern’s book Roadfood, and I’m glad I did because it’s a mile or so outside the downtown area and I don’t think we would have run across it by chance alone. We got there late (they close at 3:00 and we arrived at about 2:45) so many of the side dishes were depleted, but we managed to do just fine. For $7.99, you get a plate heaped with your choice of meat and two sides- I had BBQ pork with collards and okra gumbo (okra stewed with tomatoes and corn), and my mom had fried chicken with fried okra and huge, creamy butter beans. The food was as good as barbecue gets, and I especially liked the condiments on each table- a spicy and slightly sweet hot sauce, and a bottle of white vinegar filled with peppers and other vegetables.
After we ate, I chatted with the Sarge (that’s him in my masthead photo) and snapped a few shots of the restaurant, which is decorated with lots of colorful pig paraphernalia as well as military memorabilia. Sarge is obviously deeply patriotic and proud of his military service! He and his cook were both very friendly and amenable to my picture-taking and questions. I can’t wait to get back down South and try some more regional specialties, and will definitely head back to Sgt. White’s next time we’re in Beaufort. Cheers, y’all!