When most of us travel by car, we hop on the interstate and head out to quickly transport from one metropolis to another. Views on interstates are often blocked by sound barriers and stops are limited to gas or fast food, just off an exit. The trip isn’t relaxing or refreshing. In this post, I’d like to encourage you to take the road less traveled. Follow me through the backroads to discover and eat with me in several small South Carolina towns. You won’t believe the hidden gems we’ll find along the way. It’s all in SC’s Old 96 District just a couple of hours across state lines and away from my home base of Charlotte, NC.
The state of South Carolina is divided into nine tourism regions, This three day food-centric getaway revolves around the towns of Abbeville, Edgefield and Laurens all in the Old 96 Tourism District about 2 hours south of Charlotte.#TellThemHeidiSentYou
At first glance, each of these small towns might look the same. They each have a downtown square; and historic buildings have happily been repurposed instead of being replaced. It’s likely you’ll find a flower shop, a mercantile or hardware store, a bakery, a coffee shop, perhaps a distillery or brewery, a church or two and maybe a hotel, a refurbished movie theatre or entertainment hall; and in the case of each of these three South Carolina stops, a lot of delicious food.
Delicious Food and Talented Chefs in SC’s Old 96 District
Delicious food and talented chefs. Where there is one you will normally find the other; but honestly, this trip I was amazed at all the options my three-day getaway of food-centric travel offered. These are little towns, with populations ranging from just over 2000 to just under 10,000 people. But in three days, I discovered a “Baker’s Dozen Plus” of delicious hidden gems each worthy of your time and travel to get there. Let’s hit the road!
Let’s stop first in Abbeville, SC. I’ve been to and written about Abbeville several times before and shared several great bakeries and more in the area. You can read that previous post here.
Where to Stay? Call Sharon Manor Your Home Away from Home
Stay in Abbeville at Sharon Manor as your home base. This is a 100-year-old school building reimagined into a charming family run B&B. Your hosts and inn owners are Benita and David Chupp. Their daughter Brandi does a lot of the cooking and catering for onsite events.
Breakfasts are deliciously all local and the coffee – dubbed Thru the Flame – is roasted and ground onsite. Read more about Sharon Manor here.
South Carolina Culinary Ambassador calls Abbeville, SC home
In Abbeville, meet Chef Erica McCier recently named a SC Chef Ambassador, at her restaurant Indigenous Underground.
Here Erica, an Abbeville native and former school teacher who was inspired to learn to cook by watching the Food Network, is serving lunch and dinner. Her menu features classic Southern favorites with her own personal twist.
Shrimp and grits is one of the restaurants signature dishes. And, Erica’s “Soul Rolls” ( center) stuffed with collard greens and black-eyed peas are a crowd pleasing favorite. The gumbo, studded with braised pork and topped with shrimp is a hearty bowlful of down South goodness.
I had the pleasure to chat with Erica for several hours one morning. She told me of her struggles with kidney disease and how she was inspired to cook for a living by watching the Food Network while she was on dialysis.
She signed up for culinary school. Then taught cooking for a while herself. Finally she decided to take the plunge and open her own place. When the pandemic shut things down, Erica kept going, catering and doing home meals to-go. Once people could get out again, she started hosting “underground dinners”, while she was getting her restaurant ready to open. Her community loves her and all she is doing. A 4th generation resident of Abbeville, she feels the same about her hometown. Make plans to visit for lunch or dinner soon.
After you eat, take time to shop, right across the street at Divine Your Space, a unique garden shop. On Most first Friday’s of the month, DYS also offers a Flight Night serving flights of wine or beer. Erica and her team at I.U. regularly do the food.
Next month, though ,there is something special brewing on the block. Make plans now to treat yourselves. Buy tickets to a special pop up Spring Dining Experience these two Abbeville businesses are collaborating on. It all takes place on Thursday, April 20, 2023.
Start Your Day in Abbeville with a Healthy Tea or Shake at Revive
Just next door to I.U. , look for Revive Abbeville. This is THE place in town for refreshing beverages when you don’t really want a meal. On the menu meal replacement shakes, energizing teas and protein coffees. While I was interviewing Erica, she turned me on to the protein and collagen packed Matcha Lemonade at Revive. Delicious and a great way to jumpstart the day. Erica’s nickname is Trudy. The drink is called Called “Chef Trudy’s Mega Matcha” – it’s not on the menu, but IYKYK – so, be sure to ask for it by name!
Also in Abbeville, don’t miss the Signature Caramel Pie at The Village Grill – read more here; Coffee and sandwiches at Main Street Coffee and Cafe ( they do desserts for Indigenous Underground and serve the Thru the Flame coffee roasted and ground at Sharon Manor) ; and don’t leave without tasting any of the fresh baked goodies and the sky high cinnamon rolls at Daily Bread Bakery.
Hotdog lovers will also enjoy offerings at Saxon’s. A little local spot, just outside of the downtown area, you won’t want to miss. In business since 1957, so you know they are doing it right! They also have a great chicken salad sammie – order it the way the locals do, on toasted white bread with lettuce, tomato and mayo, you can thank me later.
Next Stop in SC’s Old 96 District : Edgefield, South Carolina
If the town of Edgefield sounds familiar to you, its because I have mentioned it before – each time I have written about a local dairy located just outside of the downtown, Hickory Hill Milk. Edgefield is home to ten SC governors and the National Wild Turkey Federation as well, so don’t be surprized when you spot large turkey sculptures all around the historic downtown area.
The good eats in Edgefield include the Old Edgefield Grill. This is husband and wife owned gorgeous historic home turned restaurant. Everything was delicious and beautifully prepared, must of the ingredients sourced locally. Top not-to-be-missed dinner starters: the homemade Asian dumplings and the fried green tomatoes, two of the restaurant’s specialties.
But That’s Not All…
If you are in Edgefield during the day and need a little pick me up, order a heaping scoopful of ice cream at August & House – a delightful home store meets clothing and accessories shop ( and ice cream parlour).
The mother-daughter team of Jennie and Summer own the shop, make the stunning pottery and teach all sorts of classes from macrame to painting. It’s a great destination for a fun girls’ afternoon or evening out.
If you are craving more than dessert, the Edgefield Poolroom, is a long time family run poolroom, where I think it is more about the grill than the billard’s table. They have a walk-up window to order to-go and the best fresh off the grill burgers! This big bite, really hit the spot!
Farm to Fork and then some, makes SC’s Old 96 District ripe for Destination Dining
In Edgefield, don’t miss Christine’s Farm to Fork, where the menu boasts selections prepared with produce from the family farm and lots of local proteins and products from other producers and farmers in the area.
This season don’t miss the biscuits with Christine’s strawberry butter and her strawberry creme brulee.
When I come to visit a town in search of hidden gems, I always ask people I meet for suggestions on places to eat. Several people mentioned Christine’s to me; but one gentleman in particular said I must order biscuits with local strawberry butter. He wasn’t wrong!
These strawberries are grown on Christine’s family farm and right now her two sons are in the chef’s in the kitchen working magic with everything on the menu.
Make plans to visit this summer when Christine, her husband Jake and their family are supporting their close knit community and hosting musical entertainment in the outdoor space next door to the restaurant. This is same place she often sets up a small farmers’ market when the farm has an overflow of local produce. What’s not to love? Get more info on weekend entertainment and Christine’s patio menu here.
More Farm to Fork in Laurens, SC
Last stop on this culinary adventure is Laurens SC and the dining destination here is Rootimentary, a relatively new restaurant located right on the square in downtown Laurens. This family-owned, chef-driven restaurant is run by the talented husband and wife team of Caleb and Jessica Satterfield.
The food here is spot on. I enjoyed lunch on this visit; but i can’t wait to go back for dinner. Don’t miss the Chicken and Dumplings, the Wedge Salad with local NC Brasstown beef or … wait for it… the knife and fork grilled cheese sandwich.
This thick rich sammie is actually served in a bowl of tomato soup, topped with chips oh my, its brilliantly delicious; and yes, it is best eaten with a knife and fork!
The sweet ending to this story is Rootimentary’s bread pudding and side scoop of ice cream with a caramel bourbon sauce. Yes, please!