When I moved to Augusta a little over 3 years ago, there was one thing I was most excited about: how close I was to such a variety of cities. Augusta sits right on the border of Georgia & South Carolina, meaning I'd be able to easily work, vacation, & eat in cities ranging from Atlanta to Charleston to Savannah to Athens to my most recent adventure: Columbia.
In early July I had the privilege to shoot a Culinary Food Tour of Columbia, SC for Garden & Gun and the Experience Columbia SC. An opportunity to eat & drink my way through the city and capture all the goodness sounds exactly up my alley. Plus, Garden & Gun has always been a favorite publication of mine, so this truly was a dream.
So early July, I loaded up the car with a foodie friend & popped over to Soda City - and what I later learned was called "The Capital of Southern Hospitality." While I may have had significantly more alcohol than soda, it definitely lived up to its claim to Southern Hospitality! Everyone we met was so kind & welcoming, and oh man, the food was good. I absolutely loved hearing the stories behind the restaurants and chefs, their dishes and the impact their making on the Columbia foodie community.
Excited to share a peek at what we experienced & some of our favorite dishes. A huge thank you to Garden & Gun for the opportunity to partner & to the Experience Columbia SC team for such great recommendations full of local flavor. You can find the images in the October/November 2017 issue on stands now, as well as on the G&G website!
Our trip began with a stop at Indah Coffee Company to fuel up for a few days of eating & drinking our way through Columbia, SC. After years of selling coffee at the Soda City Market (more on that later!) on Saturdays, the Indah team opened doors to a brick and mortar location in May. The lavender latte immediately caught my eye, and it was a perfect combination of sweet and floral!
The Indah Coffee Company journey began while owner, Nick, was traveling through Indonesia, where coffee is grown, but traditional methods of preparation were a thing of the past. While the authenticity and freshness of the food scene in his travels were incredible, the coffee culture was not the same. He quickly found himself exploring coffee farms and immersing himself in the process from seed to cup. This journey sparked a hobby of roasting coffee locally in Columbia.
Inspired by the beauty of Indonesia and the coffee process, they named their coffee company “Indah” which means beautiful in Indonesian. They roast all beans in house in small batches to bring about the finest and freshest product possible. Seeing his passion brought to life was such an inspiration - and he even took us to the "back of house" to show us the roasting process! So neat!
Up next was Tallulah, where I immediately did real life heart eyes over the decor & patio with the most glorious light. I may or may not have asked if I could switch the table top from the original one to this clean, white table to really let the freshness of Chef Jones' dishes shine (and those amazingly gorgeous blue floral appetizer plates). We perused the menu over cocktails (I particularly loved the “We Ran Out of Strawberries” featuring vodka, purple basil simple syrup, PAMA liqueur, lemon juice, blood orange bitters and brut rosé) and decided that the Watermelon Tomato Salad was a must: local South Carolina tomatoes, watermelon, feta, vincotto and olive oil. I loved discovering that “vincotto” loosely translates to “cooked wine” and has a similar flavor to a sweet, aged balsamic vinegar.
I also loved discovering that we were in town during prime South Carolina heirloom tomato season... which were also a delicious addition to the Heirloom Tomato & Goat Cheese Quiche. Praise be to the produce Gods! I can't wait to visit these places again in different seasons to see how they incorporate local, seasonal ingredients throughout the year.
After a stop at Sweet Cream Company for Blueberry Crumble & Local Haven Farm Honey ice cream, we opted for a stop at a farm of a different kind: City Roots - South Carolina’s first urban farm. We had already heard about it multiple times since arriving to town that morning because their entirely organic produce & microgreens are used all over town! A gracious host, Co-Owner and Manager, Eric McClam, gave us a tour of the property, starting with the City Roots Farmers Market where I discovered they have a resident Flower Farmer, Brinton Fox, and the most beautiful flower CSA every week during the summer. I wish I could have taken a bouquet home to the hotel! I think they would have made a lovely addition to our room at Aloft! I plan on returning for a visit when Farm to Table Event Company has an event on the property... rumor has it there is a rosé festival... ok yes.
We closed out the first day at Motor Supply Co., where made-from-scratch takes a new life with a daily changing menu of primarily sustainable & locally sourced, or made-in-house ingredients. Make reservations, but arrive early to sit a spell at the bar. Consistently one of my favorite things to do at any restaurant, head barman, Josh Streetman, definitely impressed us with his cocktail creativity. We had been told that he'd whip us up a custom cocktail on the spot if we shared our favorite liquor and flavors with him. We learned that Josh is always up for a good challenge.
"My" cocktail: A combination of dry gin Dolin Blanc, orange bitters, Amontillado Sherry, and peach. And another favorite: a cocktail in honor of the Tasty Tomato Festival at City Roots held in August featuring Sipsmith London Dry Gin, Luxardo Maraschino, muddled heirloom tomatoes, basil, lemon and honey in a vintage teacup. He’s known for his wide array of glassware that adds the perfect visual to an already delicious drink.
Then, Chef Fulmer's ability to meld local & international flavors together was pretty amazing. Being in the city of Southern Hospitality, we were intrigued by the “fried chicken,” and loved to hear about Chef’s unique take on an upscale, yet soul-food friendly fried chicken dish. Fulmer removes the bone, as the chicken is roulade then sous vide, and paired with ricotta dumplings, sweet English peas, cherry belle radish, blistered tomatoes, oyster mushrooms and roasted chicken jus. An elegant play on comfort food, and an amazing balance of flavors, this dish hit it out of the park. I was amazed at the variety of flavors in our meal and that he comes up with such a variety every day! When you visit, don’t be afraid to ask the server for the recommendation of the day to experience Wes’ variety of cooking!
It’s no question I love carbs. When I was introduced to Silver Spoon Bake Shop last year by a friend, I knew that we needed to make a stop while in town. Then I discovered Silver Spoon has: Croissant Fridays... and I couldn't have been more excited. My recommendations? Try the almond, brie and jam croissant with a seasonal jam. Ours was a mango, peach and passion fruit jam that balanced sweet and tangy with buttery and flaky. Coming from a girl on a perpetual hunt for the best croissant in the South, I give Silver Spoon two thumbs up! Also: muffin glory (banana chocolate chip muffins, cinnamon pecan coffee cake muffins, and the monkey bread muffins (croissant dough rolled in cinnamon and sugar)) were unreal good.
And finally: oatmeal brown butter sea salt chocolate chip cookies. Anything with brown butter is good in my book. I'm salivating right now.
After a little lunch & margarita flights at Publico, we made our way through Five Points, a cute area of town with restaurants, shops, and culture. Another spot I remembered fondly from a previous visit to Columbia & needed to visit again was The Gourmet Shop: a Columbia "institution." It began as a liquor store in 1977 and later opened a cafe in 1981. Now, a café/store hybrid that has everything from pots and pans to exceptional wines, to famous chicken salad sandwiches and (my favorite!) pimento cheese, we popped over to the patio for some Five Points people watching, Dulce de Leche Cheesecake, Italian Rum Cake, and a little bubbly.
When in the Carolinas, you must do BBQ... and The War Mouth is the place to go for that and more. The team led by Porter Barron and Rhett Elliott says they are “Celebrating the pleasures of living where we do.” And after dining there, I'm also celebrating the goodness: from deviled eggs to boiled peanuts to cheese straws, cocktails & appetizers are enough for a meal... but then: barbecue.
In fact, when they were renovating the space for the restaurant, they discovered that it used to house the wrought iron workshop that created the grill grates for the yearly South Carolina/Clemson football game barbecue... it was only a matter of time until the space became dedicated to a South Carolina staple again.
We ordered a Half Rack of ribs (with signature South Carolina and War Mouth barbecue sauce) and the Carolina Heritage Barbecue Plate featuring hash and rice, a slice of good ole’ white bread, pickles, slaw, and pork skin. The meat was moist, the slaw crunchy, and homemade pickles with the perfect amount of tang. And rumor has it we must try the pickle plate on our next visit!
We finished out the evening with a stop at River Rat Brewery where the post-work Friday crowd was bustling despite the rain! A sucker for any sour or gose, we had the chance to try the seasonal Top Gose, which hit all my salty beer needs. If you’re not a beer person but still want to enjoy the ambiance (the property is huge, and expanding this year with a rooftop bar!), try the Prosecco & Popsicle cocktail featuring King of Pops.
We kicked off our final day in the city at Drip Coffee on Main Street before a stop at the Soda City Market. As a photographer, I couldn’t help but notice the amazing natural light and big windows inside the shop, and love the difference in ambiance from the Drip in Five Points which is a bit cozier. Get your coffee fix... or if you're not a daily coffee drinker like me and want more of a sweet treat: the Caramel White Mocha Espresso Milkshake, and then mosey through the market!
With everything from food trucks to fresh produce to artisans and entertainment, Soda City Market was bustling with locals and visitors alike (and their dogs too!). I loved how dog-friendly the city was and kept wishing Sophie & Chip could join me for the weekend. We are coming back for sure to experience this 3-day foodie tour of Columbia, and like any true Lauren Carnes vacation, it will include a trip to the Farmers Market. I can't get enough of them... ever.
After making our way through the Market, it was time for everyone’s favorite meal… brunch. We visited Bourbon, a whiskey bar and Cajun-Creole restaurant with a South Carolina twist. Led by restauranteur, Kristian Niemi (also of Farm to Table Event Co) and Head Chef Frank Bradley, Bourbon was a much-anticipated visit (after multiple people made the recommendation we stop in). Upon chatting with Chef Bradley, recommended we try the Biscuit of Champions. And oh man, did it win, or what? A freshly made buttermilk biscuit is topped with house made andouille sausage, crispy fried chicken breast, bourbon smoked bacon, sausage gravy, and a fried egg. Load more sausage gravy on top and get yourself a fork and knife (or tons of napkins) because this champion is too delicious to not get messy.
Other Bourbon favorites? Try the Booze Berry Biscuits topped with bourbon soaked blueberries and Royal icing, or the Cast Iron Pork and Potato Hash: smoked pork shoulder, roasted sweet and fingerling potatoes, caramelized pearl onions, Cremini mushrooms, crispy Brussels sprouts, and fried eggs. It even comes in its own mini personal cast iron skillet! I'm a sucker for anything mini, so I got a little too excited when it came out.
Finally: brunch isn't brunch without an adult beverage IMHO: y'all, get the Cuppa Joe: Bulleit Bourbon, Drip (yep, the same Drip from earlier!) iced coffee, Amaro di Agnostura, mole bitters and a maple cream float, all served with a smoked salt and sugar rim. Imagine all of your sweet, salty, bourbon caffeine dreams coming true. But I’d expect nothing less coming from a bar that boasts the largest whiskey list in South Carolina.
Our final stop for the culinary tour of Columbia was immediately across the street from Bourbon (and the South Carolina State House!) at the amazing Oak Table. Upon walking in for our time together, their staff offered up some of the most delicious and beautiful food and drink we could have imagined. Beverage Director, Jordan Moore, kept the cocktails coming. She knew the way to my heart with gin cocktails, and came up with a twist on the French 75 that was even better, more local (as in... herbs from their patio!), and incredibly gorgeous. With basil, fennel, mint, sage, tarragon and thyme from The Oak Table’s garden, lemon juice, sugar, green chartreuse, gin and bubbles, this herby twist on a French 75 is delightfully refreshing and pretty, like a little garden in your glass.
Executive Chef Todd Woods dreamed up a Maine Scallop Crudo to start for us featuring Holy Basil, heirloom tomato water, basil seed, local cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. The sweet, smooth texture of the scallops was an amazing complement to the refreshing tomato water, and basil. Not to mention, the dish looked like a work of art! Chef Woods’ presentation definitely impressed!
Focusing on local ingredients and farm fresh produce, the Tartine of Roasted Local Vegetables is quite possibly one of my favorite things I’ve eaten in a while. A perfectly charred piece of bread topped with herbed ricotta, Johnston County ham, fava beans, and a variety of roasted vegetables, this small plate was absolutely gorgeous and so full of flavor. Flavor continued with equally as striking and tasty entrees of the Carolina Heritage Pork Chop and the Handrolled Trofie Pasta. The Pork Chop was on top local Congaree Milling red corn grits, a Cabin Branch Farm cherry tomatoes and compressed peach salad, and a basil vinaigrette. Then the pasta with Cabin Branch Farm basil pesto, cherry tomatoes, South Carolina chanterelles, a pine nut crumble, and grana Padano with a soft egg, was amazing to experience and learn that it can be made vegetarian or vegan! For those not afraid of a runny yolk (yum), imagine breaking into the soft egg to create the most delicious sauce alongside the basil pesto.
We couldn’t close our tour of Columbia without one more dessert, so Chef Woods offered us multiple options, and naturally, we took them all. The goat milk cheesecake with blueberry-balsamic-thyme gel, almond streusel, and sugared blueberries was about as delicious as it looks. The tangy goat cheese cheesecake and balsamic flavors were an ideal contrast to the sweet blueberry and streusel, and Chef’s creativity was much appreciated. Speaking of creativity... Chef Woods doesn't shy away from incorporating local... and unique... flavors in his signature ice creams! They change with the seasons and the dreams of the team, but peach basil ricotta with grilled Watsonia Farms peaches, smoked cinnamon, and blueberry chamomile finished out our meal. Plus, one last surprise - I can’t forget about the most unlikely and delicious of them all: French fry ice cream! It’s exactly as you imagine: sweet, salty, creamy perfection. Picture Wendy's vanilla frosty & fries but 10 times better. Ask for the flavors of the day to see if anything strikes your fancy! Needless to say, we were FULL when we left.
My 3-day Columbia, SC travel itinerary consisted of some of the most delicious & inspired food I've had in quite some time - all with some of the kindest people I've met in a while. That Southern Hospitality shined through, and I couldn't have been more grateful to eat & drink my way through the city for this food tour & photo adventure. A huge thank you to Garden & Gun for the opportunity & the Experience Columbia SC for being a part of making the town such an amazing place to eat & drink! Chip & I are already counting down until we can relive the long weekend getaway to Columbia, SC full of food & drink!
When you make your way to Columbia for your culinary tour, let me know where you go - or better yet, let me know when... and I'll go with you! ;) Cheers, friends!