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Plantation Cafe, the Angel Oak & Charleston

Hitting the road for Charleston today. It is a short drive but we are taking a 40 minute detour to see the Angel Oak. We are going to breakfast around the corner at the Plantation Cafe. Full up when we get there, we wait ten minutes and are seated inside. By 10 it is too hot to eat outside.

The cafe menu has plenty of southern classics and some creative breakfast choices. I’m brought a really good cup of coffee and some oj. The chicken fried steak is frozen. Pout. I choose Ellie’s breakfast but substitute country ham for sausage. Our waitress assures me it is the real deal, not processed crap. Rob orders the True Southern Breakfast.

Plates arrive. My breakfast comes with two prefect fried eggs, a delicate, fluffy angel biscuit, three slices of fried green tomatoes, grits and a huge slice of country ham. The grits are unseasoned. This is the second time this trip. I add a pat of butter, salt and pepper and then they are delicious. A light bulb goes off. I ask our waitress if unseasoned grits are how they are served here in the southeast. She said generally yes. People like to doctor them to their own tastes…more butter, less butter, salt no pepper, and maple syrup. The fried green tomatoes are disappointing. No seasoning and no heat. I don’t eat them.

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Country ham is a thing of beauty. Salty. A slice of meat off the haunch. Real meat not processed. We do not get ham like this in Ottawa. If ham is offered for breakfast in a restaurant home, it is processed. The tomatoes are forgotten.

The true southern breakfast came with excellent golden, crispy shredded hashbrowns, 2 eggs, another fluffy angel biscuit, well made pancakes and sausage patties that were absolutely ordinary.

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Time to head north. The short drive brings us by the Marine Corp Air training center, with several fighter jets on display, trailers, open fields, swamps, vegetables like okra, butterbeans are on offer by the roadside, boiled peanut stands, antiques, churches, fireworks and a vineyard. A billboard advertizes The Edisto Beach Shagfest(!). A fireworks store announces “Everything 25 cents and up. Mostly up.” Gas stops stock camo Redbull.

About 15 minutes out of Charleston, we follow a dirt road to the Angel Oak, a live oak tree that may be up to 1500 years old. It is magnificent. The trunk is 8.5 meters in circumference. The branches arch and dip gracefully to the ground and rise up again, growing, reaching. Many of the limbs have supports to manage the enormous weight. The angel oak is something to behold and it is almost impossible to get the entirety of this tree in a single camera frame.

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Before leaving the oak we visit the gift shop and discover an interesting treat. Benne wafers. Africans brought benne seeds with them to America and made them into sweet wafer treats. They taste nutty of sesame, honey and caramel and are nice and crunchy.

We are almost upon Charleston, our destination today and home for two nights. Bags are dropped and we are off to explore. The city is charming and colonial. The waterfront park has children splashing and wading in fountains, cruise ships anchored and boaters enjoying the final weekend of summer.

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It is baking hot. We last a scant forty minutes before finding sustenance at the Blind Tiger. Vodka Gimlets. A seriously refreshing growed-up drink. A small nosh and back to the surface of the sun.

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Dinner tonight will be at The Craftsman Kitchen and Tap House, a short stroll from our hotel.

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Craftsman has 48 taps and an impressive 200-plus bottled beer selection about which our waitress is quite knowledgeable. Rob starts with a Festina Peche, a Berliner Weissbeer from Doghead Fish Brewery in Delaware and I’m having a really excellent Long Day Bohemian Lager from Red Hare Brewing Company in Georgia.

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For dinner,  we decide to split the Crunchy Dame Sandwich, stout braised pork belly, cherry jam, raclette cheese, grainy mustard aioli and a  fried sunny on sweet Hawaiian bread egg. The sandwich is small but rich.

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It’s too hot for a large meal. We order some highly recommended squid fries, beer battered squid with pickled onion, house cured bacon and a lemon aioli.

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Next, we have some some very tasty General Tso’s wings – – 8 wings in a sticky soy garlic sauce with a mild chili bite, served with a cucumber soy pickle.

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The house made pickle plate included squash, green beans, red pepper, more cucumber soy, cauliflower and napa cabbage. The pickles were salty and vinegary. No subtlety. Not a favourite for sure.

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We have a second glass of beer, local Thai white, with Thai spices, that our able waitress has selected for us. Excellent end to satisfying meal.

 

 

 

Gullah & More Backyard Eatin’

Gullah culture survived on Hilton Head from the end of the Civil War period to the 1960’s when it started to deteriorate. A bridge from the main land to this barrier island brought the outside in. Developers followed and Gullah peoples, who once owned 1/3 of the Island given to them by Union troops, now own less than 1000 acres.

Originating in West Africa, Gullah people were enslaved and brought to South Carolina by the British, where they were ideally suited to work the island’s rice, indigo, sugar cane and sea cotton crops as they had some immunity to the diseases that ravaged the area as well as knowledge about herbs and medicines to treat yellow fever and malaria. There are no grand plantation homes on Hilton Head as British plantation owners preferred to live in a less plagued environment.

Union troops descended during the Civil War. 1700 of them are buried on Hilton Head. Escaped slaves were considered property and spoils of war. Contrabands. They were paid to work, and children were educated, but they were not exactly freedmen until the emancipation proclamation issued by President Lincoln, January 1, 1863.

Hilton Head offers a tour of Gullah lands and culture. It was very disheartening to see how little of this rich culture survives. In our lifetime it has all but disappeared. Gullahs survived as a hunting, farming and fishing community for 100  years before modern development overtook them. Still, today, some of their language and food culture persists.

Our tour guide and driver Irvin is Gullah. We chose this particular tour because of him. Irvin, one of 13 kids and a Viet Nam veteran, is living history. He remembers when you could look from the coastal waters clear across to the Atlantic. When he is gone pretty much so will anyone who remembers the old ways. His family for the most part has held on to their Gullah lands. They own a good chunk of Spanish Wells. As he drove past golf cottages, manicured medians, retirement villas, he painted a vivid picture of his boyhood and what used to be there. There is nothing left to see but a few delightful homes his relatives own, their gardens and their kitschy yards filled with doodads and portraits of Jesus and the like. Offensive enough to newcomers that they were asked to please fence them in.

After we get back to the bus depot, the Basket Man, Micheal Smalls, is sitting in the shade weaving sweetgrass baskets.  “Sweetgrass is a fine bladed, sweet vanilla fragranced perennial grass that grows behind coastal sand dunes in moist soils.” says Wikipedia. Coils of dried sweetgrass are sewn together with palmetto threads. Beautifully crafted, the baskets are a much sought after Low Country art form. Basket Man says it takes him about three days to complete one piece. I had noticed the baskets in the gift shop before the tour left. I had to have one. It was a treat to get off of the bus and find the artist there.

After saying goodbye to Irvin, we head once again to the Low Country Backyard for a lateish lunch. We so enjoyed our dinner last evening we decided to hit it up again as their sammy menu was so appealing. So many items look great on this creative menu, available all day. We opt to order and split a Nancy’s Tomato Sandwich and a Shrimp Burger. We have a choice of two sides and go with Mom’s Macaroni Salad and Collards. Ice tea, half and half (half sweet, half unsweet for the win) for me and Diet Coke for the man. Moonshine is legal in South Carolina and the Low Country  Backyard has a good selection but we opt out as we would like to get to DC at some point.

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The tomato sandwich comes lightly toasted on excellent white bread. Made with perfect, ripe, juicy South Carolina tomatoes, mayo and iceberg lettuce, this is the perfect hot day lunch. The macaroni salad is unremarkable except for pieces of green olive which are quite nice.

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Collard greens are often overcooked or too greasy with pork fat. Backyard’s collards are the BEST EVER collards. Perfectly cooked, not over stewed, lightly sweet and sour. The Shrimp Burger will absolutely make you forget that beef burgers were ever a thing. A patty of chopped, seasoned shrimp served up in a soft, eggy bun topped with more of those South Carolina tomatoes, mayo, lettuce and butter pickle, this is a world class sammy.

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The pickles are homemade and remarkable in that they are the perfect balance of salty and sweet. They come on the side but Rob slipped them onto the burger.

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Lunch is a nice size, leaving room to share the home made Banana Pudding we regretfully skipped last evening. Sweet, creamy pudding with chunks of just ripe banana on a shortbread cookie base and a dollop of lightly sweet whipped cream. Perfect. Now a swim and some afternoon sun.

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I wanna go back for dinner, but they will think I’m a stalker.

As it turns out it is a lovely evening to sit pool/oceanside and The Porch restaurant in the hotel, independently operated, has decent food. We order a pitcher of peach sangria made with peachshine and cava and fruit purees. Icy cold and perfect for watching the sun set. We order a few apps to chill with before deciding on dinner.

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The house made pickle is creative and spicy with chilies. The pickle has a varied veg mix, including cauliflower, chiogga beet, asparagus, grape, carrots and a pepper.

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The hot out of the oven, served in a well seasoned cast iron pan, corn bread was perfectly sweet and the spicy pimiento cheese was a nice foil.

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Since we ate leisurely watching the sun and sea, we were not overly hungry so we ordered the half rack of ribs. Slowed cooked for 8 hours, they were very decent BBQ. Came with a spicy and a sweet bbq sauce as well as a honey mustard. The bourbon beans had neither bourbon nor were they home made, Libby’s I suspect but none-the-less tasty, as I prefer a sweeter bean. Coleslaw was decent and the soft, hot rolls were excellent.

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Tomorrow we start our trek north to Charleston.

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RT2014: Hilton Head Island, SC

Today is a lazy day. Sleep in, grab a leisurely hotel breakfast, gas up and hit the road for Hilton Head, a mere one hour drive away. We cross over the sky high Talmadge Memorial Bridge into South Carolina. Not much to see at first, scrub, strip clubs, swamps and a few ibis. Very rural. Soon pretty, small bungalows pop up beside run down trailers and farm equipment. We enter a scenic byway which becomes a dappled drive on a country two-laner. Tall pines, live oaks, banks of horsetail ferns, palmettos, mailboxes, rail fences and American flags line the road. This very pleasant drive turns to beautifully manicured medians and stores and services housed in tidy little one story homogenous buildings as we get closer to the resort areas of Hilton Head. When we arrive at our home for the next two nights, they are not quite ready so we grab a drink at the Tiki Hut. It’s close to 90 degrees. We spend the rest of the afternoon in leisure, swimming, reading and drinking coconut-pineapple mojitos.

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Dinner tonight is at the aptly named Low Country Backyard. We are seated outside at the bar in what looks like someone’s backyard. Very homey.

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Staff is pleasant and helpful. Kim, who is looking after us is knowledgeable about the local beers. I’m trying the Blonde Bottletree, a white that is less citrusy than Blue Moon and Rob is having the Palmetto, a full-on lager.

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We have a warm, gentle breeze at our backs and a live musician cranking out Neil Diamond, Buffalo Springfield, Lobo and the ubiquitous Margaritaville. All very pleasant. The menu is creative and everything is home made to order. We try two apps, Blue May Crab Dip and the Pimento cheese. Both come with crisp corn chips and soft pita wedges. The melty, cheesy crab dip is delicate and tasty, while the pimiento lacks much needed heat and is made with both cheddar and cream cheeses instead of just cheddar. It’s decent enough especially when spiced up with a little hot sauce.

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I’m having the Shrimp and Grits. I can’t wait until we get to Myrtle beach where I know I will have some fine shrimp and grits at Mr. Fish. Low Country Backyard’s grits are white grits, impossible to find in Ottawa. They are creamy and well seasoned. The shrimp are sautèed in an applewood bacon cream sauce which I find a tad salty and served up on top. This classic also has a few coins of a very good smoked sausage tossed in.

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Rob has ordered the Potato Chip Meatloaf. It is accompanied by his choice of sides, a delicious coleslaw with apples and raisins and a rather dry piece of corn bread. Unfortunately, corn bread is one of those things that stales fast and must be served hot out of the oven. If you don’t turn it over fast enough, don’t serve it. Portions are not huge but they are substantial. The meatloaf is made with beef, pork and potato chip crumbs instead of bread crumbs, and then glazed with a home-made BBQ sauce. The potato chips aren’t noticeable but we’re sure they amp up the calorie count. It was very good meatloaf, however.

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No room for that delicious looking home made banana pudding. We finish up our local beers and listen to the kids playing the home made games in the Backyard.

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RT2014: Savannah History & Bonaventure

I keep repeating myself but we wake to yet another beautiful, sunny day in the south. Expected to climb into the 90’s today. We want to head out early to capture Historic Savannah before the sun becomes too harsh for photos…and people.

Yesterday’s hop on hop off tour was excellent for knowing where we wanted to be today. For breakfast we are trying the well recommended Clary’s Cafe. Right downtown in the historic district and open for breakfast, Clary’s seems ideal. We elect to sit outside on the sidewalk.

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Many other patrons choose to as well and we meet a few roadtrippers like us and many many canines, travelers and locals. Our waitress drops by for our drinks order. OJ is not fresh squeezed and she notes probably for the first time that yes this is a shame. I opt for it anyways, coffee as well. I’m going to go with their specialty Crab Cakes Benedict, after asking if the Chicken Fried Steak was fresh or frozen. Frozen. Rob is having the corned beef hash.

Everybody but us has a dog or dogs with them. Waitresses are prepared with treats and all the the furbabies are well behaved. Savannah is dog friendly. I walked by at least one business with a gorgeous long haired kitty preening in the window. This speaks well of a city.

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Sitting in the warming shade, chatting with fellow travelers and dog lovers is a pleasant start to our final day in Savannah. Coffee arrives, lukewarm. It is refilled generously several times but it never gets hot. Breakfast is served and we dig in. My benny is fine. The eggs are well poached, nice and runny. The English muffin is perfectly toasty and chewy. Breakfast came with the choice of grits or homefries. When in the south I choose grits. Unfortunately these grits were tasteless and unseasoned, but nothing a pat of butter and salt and pepper couldn’t fix. They turned out okay after all. The crab cakes are merely fine. Maybe it’s my expectations. I think big chunks of luscious, white crab barely held together with egg and potato and I get shredded crab held together with a lot of potato. I don’t fault Clarey’s, but I think I’m over crab cakes. Also I’m confused about something. My eggs benny comes with “Canadian” bacon. In Canada, Canadian bacon is peameal bacon. We don’t call it Canadian bacon but Americans do. But when you go to the States and get Canadian bacon it is this round of over processed, pale ham-like substance. Anyways anything less than salty, cured pork tenderloin with a layer of juicy fat and a peameal crust is unacceptable. I digress.

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Rob’s breakfast is quite good. Clary’s calls corned beef hash one of their specialties. They corn their own beef briskets and it shows. Rich with corned beef, onions and potato, it’s a winner. Served with two cooked eggs, the aforementioned heavily-adjusted grits and a good biscuit. All in all, the food in Savannah has been fine. Nothing exceptional, nothing we will gush about to future dinner guests. We have done our research, talked to people, taken the advice of the hotel, been to highly recommended places, but we have not found the real Savannah dining wise. If it indeed exists. (Stay tuned).

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After we settle up, we park Moby and head into the Historic District to take pictures. Downtown Savannah is as charming and quaint as they come. Architectural detail abounds, gaslights flicker, gardens are lush, alleyways are secret treasures, planters and topiaries are exquisite.

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Row upon row of colourful homes delight the viewer. The lush green park squares allow you to sit, reflect and refresh.

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The cicadas serenade. Many squares feature fountains or statuary usually dedicated to a military hero. Some have bodies interred within. One square is a legitimate cemetery. Savannah is a fabulous walking city if you are mindful of your footing. Sidewalks are old and paved with bricks. I could walk for hours.

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After a very pleasant morning spent in the Historic District, we head to Thunderbolt to the Bonaventure Cemetery, famous for being featured in the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The cemetery is also the final resting place of two confederate generals and Little Gracie Watson, a six year old who died of pneumonia in 1889. A top her grave is a life sized sculpture of her rendered by then up and coming sculptor, John Walz. It is rumoured that if you place a penny in her hand and walk around her grave three times it will be gone. The much visited grave site now has a pretty wrought iron fence around it.

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Bonaventure is peaceful and serene. You can drive through in a car and pull over along the way to walk and snap photos. The cemetery is noted for its beautiful statuary. Live oaks and Spanish moss grace the plots. Gravely paths have to be navigated with some care as ancient tree roots have broken through the surface. It is less orderly than Oakland in Atlanta but every bit as charming and lovely.

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Rob digs around a little more on the internet, determined, and finds a dinner place walking distance from the hotel. Vic’s on the River. We set off despairing of finding a meal to write home about.

Vic’s is on Bay street. Part of the building faces Bay Street and part faces the river. A piano man tinkles the ivories as we enter and we are seated at a lovely table for two by the 12 foot window looking out onto Bay and an exquisite live oak.

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Vic’s oozes southern gentility, with black linens, silver and warm, light peach walls. Blonde wood floors show generations of wear, window boxes overflowing with hostas, sedums and soft, silver wormwood boldly underline the magnificent old windows. So very simple, so very elegant.

Warm buttermilk biscuits with whipped, honeyed butter appear on the table while we refresh from the day’s heat with gin and tonics. We are enjoying watching our neighbour, “Pebbles”, a strawberry blond 18 month old with her wispy curls piled on top of her head in a fountain tail, eat with great gusto.

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The menu is inspired but we manage to settle on two apps. I’m having the Crawfish Beignets and Rob, reminiscing his childhood, orders the chicken livers. Both are excellent choices.  The improperly named crawfish beignets are  more of an empanada. 3 soft, flaky, delicious half moon pastries were filled with a lightly sweet crawfish filling and dressed with a sweet hot tabasco drizzle. Excellent, inspired, but one would have sufficed. Ok, maybe two.

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The chicken livers were exquisite. Perfectly cooked (overcooked and they get tough and chewy) and bathed in a luxurious sauce of sauteed onion and bacon in a wine and stock reduction. They brought Rob back to his childhood where he got to eat the cooked liver from that night’s chicken and loved it.

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Mains come with a salad course and we both opt for the classic iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing. The salad comes nicely chilled with an excellent, mild, blue cheese dressing. Cucumbers and cherry tomatoes accessorize, as do home made buttermilk biscuit croutons. Bacon would have added a nice smokey, salty punch but was absent from this classic. This wedge was a nice, manageable size unlike some of the monsters I have been served.

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Mains arrive in a nicely paced fashion. Rob orders a steak with truffle butter, accompanied by a corn grits souffle and sauteed spinach. The steak is a delicious medium rare and the truffle butter is entirely superfluous and gets scraped off to the side. The grit souffle is cheesy and light with a slight smoky edge from some smoked chile.

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My southern fried pork chop is a thing of beauty, golden, crisp, crunchy coated, bathed in a luscious, rich, creamy wild mushroom sauce and nestled on golden mashed potatoes with perfect tender crisp green beans. This was Southern comfort on a plate. I will be thinking about this dish for sometime to come. Perfect on all counts.

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We slowly sip the remainder of our rosè and stroll back in the evening light to our hotel. End of a perfect day.

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We have really enjoyed the beauty of Savannah. I continue to admire the cleanliness and civic pride in the city and within Georgia as a whole. Tomorrow, we cross the Talmadge Memorial Bridge into South Carolina and head north to Hilton Head.

Road Trip – Savannah!

We have two full days in Savannah. First things first. Get the lay of the land. Best way to accomplish this is a “hop on-hop off” bus tour. We sign up with Old Savannah Tours. 16 stops and it leaves from the front of our hotel. The tour is informative with actors hopping on occasionally to bring the Old City alive.

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Our only complaint was that it was hard to take pictures. The trolley driver never slowed for photo ops. Even the train on last summer’s “road trip” slowed for pics. It was also hot and not the best light. We will go back early morning or evening for more pictures. On the plus side several of our touring companions were of the canine persuasion. This is Bailey.

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Our “hop on-hop off” pass enabled us to debus at The City Market. Very little in the way of breakfast places were open at 10:30. We found just one place, Pie Society, open. A happy accident indeed.

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They serve tea and savory pasties as well as sweet pies. We both ordered egg and sausage pasties hot out of the oven. Wrapped in a buttery, flaky pastry were two hard boiled eggs and a sausage.

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We split a smaller sausage and apple roll that seemed intriguing. This roll was also nice and flaky with a sausage interior spiced with sage and large pieces of apple. Inexpensive, excellent fare.

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After completing the 90 minute tour and experiencing some of Old Savannah, a city designed around 24 town squares/parks, we climb aboard Moby and head to Tybee Island for lunch and a view of the Atlantic ocean. A short drive through the porous coastline brings us into the island and to the famous lighthouse.

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We explore a little more, through kitschy seaside neighbourhoods reminiscent of the Florida Keys and then head to the ocean beach for a look-see.

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…and then head over to The Crab Shack for lunch.

The Crab Shack on Tybee Island, is a string of “hurricane-chic” huts strung together. Completely homemade. Completely fun.

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When we first arrive we are attracted to The Cat Shack, a home made cat house for the semi-feral cat population. The staff ask that you not feed any wild or domestic animals. Signs assure patrons that the kitties are well fed and spayed and neutered. Meet Oreo and Smokey.

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On the patio overlooking an inlet, the sun is hot, there is a gentle breeze and the beer is cold. Misters and fans keep us cool.

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We order Blue Moons and Yeungling and wait for our massive House Specialty Sampler Platter of local crab, shrimp, mussels, crawfish, sausages, potatoes, corn on the cob and Alaskan king crab, done in the Crab Shack’s own spicy boil.

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I do not want Alaskan king crab in an area that has its own fresh seafood, but I must admit it was good. The corn on the other hand was mushy. This is a common complaint of ours at “boils” or BBQ joints. They cook it ahead of time and leave it in a pot of hot water all day. Corn cooks fast so make it fresh or don’t bother. The meal was good, messy fun and perfect with the sunshine, the view and the company. On the whole, the local seafood is delicious and the beer goes down well.

Time for a little siesta back at the hotel before rooftop cocktails, a stroll along the Savannah River front and dinner at Rocks on the River. Rocks, located in our hotel, The Bohemian, is right on the Savannah River where the river is fairly narrow affording amazing views of huge ocean freighters loaded with colourful cargo containers drifting by so close you think you could touch them.

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After a stroll by the shops along the river front and a cocktail at Rocks on the roof, we head down for dinner. Staff is friendly and efficient as it has been throughout our stay. We are seated and order. Chicken and waffle app to share and she-crab bisque for me. The bisque is reputed to be the best in the city. It tastes delicately of crab with a mild alcohol bite. I have to say my shrimp cognac bisque kicks this bisque’s ass. More booze for a larger sting and a good reduced seafood stock are the key for a deeper flavour.

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The chicken and waffles is decent but no where near the gold standard that is Roscoe’s in LA. This is an app and it has been tarted up with boursin and arugula (Snoop Dog dies a little). A sweet strawberry-black pepper coulis adds a nice foil to the fried chicken. All in all a fine app.

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Mains arrive, seared scallops and succotash for me and a hopefully righteous burger for Rob. The scallops are perfect and the succotash is excellent. Lima beans, corn, peas and smoky, salty bacon.

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Rob’s burger was indeed righteous – Great bun, great toppings and most importantly, good beefy flavour.

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Washed down with a bottle of Perrier-Jouet, a fine evening indeed.

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