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Summer Dining in South Carolina

a box filled with different types of food

The smell of summertime in South Carolina is distinctive, and, it should come as no surprise, deeply entwined with the smell of food. The smoky scent of a neighborhood barbeque immediately calls to mind school-free days of childhood, Fourth of July parties, swimsuits, and outdoor play. Southerners lucky enough to have grown up with a produce-savvy elder in our lives, or to have become that elder, might associate summertime with the dusty-nectar smell that you hope for as you press your nose into the craggy skin of a cantaloupe – the sweet edge meaning that the melon is ripe for slicing. And then there’s the smell of a summer tomato, fresh from the vine – a perfect mixture of sunshine, soil, and a certain green vitality.

That our collective consciousness of southern summers are so thoroughly food-centric, it’s a given that the summer season brings out some of the year’s best eating (and drinking) in South Carolina, and even though 2020 is certainly going to look a little different than the summers of past years, fruits and veggies are still growing, hot-weather beers are still being brewed, and there’s still plenty to love about summertime eating in SC. 

Al Fresco: If you’ve spent time in South Carolina during the summer months, you know that it’s hot and it’s humid, and that most folks want to spend the day inside, under a powerful AC unit. But once the sun starts to sink below the western horizon, rooftops, backyards, and patios quickly become the dining rooms of choice. Charleston has seen a precipitous rise in rooftop bars over the past few years, with visitors flocking to destinations like The Vendue Rooftop to catch some breezy views of the steeple-speckled peninsula while sipping cocktails. Further, the arrival of COVID-19 has ushered in a new need for more outdoor dining spaces downtown. In response, Charleston City Council passed an emergency ordinance last month, allowing restaurants to utilize sidewalk space for outdoor seating. Popular spots like Carmella’s have since bumped up their patio offerings to better serve guests that are still hesitant about lingering in enclosed public spaces.

Summer Greens: While sizzling barbeques are certainly the olfactory herald of the season, it’s locally-grown produce that really shines on our plates from June to September. The tomato is a state-wide favorite – it’s a rare South Carolinian that’ll turn their nose up at a summer tomato and Duke’s mayo sandwich. But, as the nationwide interest in rare heirloom varieties has grown, you’ll find that the humble tomato manages to make its way into a wide variety of dishes through the summer months, from a heavenly tomato pie to a simple caprese. 

a box filled with lots of fresh produce

For a sweeter summer specialty, keep an eye out for local peaches on menus throughout the Lowcountry. While they’re usually associated with our neighbor Georgia, South Carolina actually grows more peaches per year! You’ll certainly find them in southern staples like peach cobbler, but we’re always seeing new takes on this summer staple. We’re particularly interested in this shaved peach ice from Tu.

First introduced to the Carolinas via the African slave trade, okra has become one of the best-loved summer veggies for South Carolinians. A favorite preparation is to dredge it in cornmeal and fry until golden, but you’ll also see it crop up in the traditional Lowcountry okra stew – the transatlantic echo of African recipes that utilize okra stewed with tomatoes, spices, and rice. Okra’s connections to the African diaspora makes it particularly important to local chefs working to keep Gullah cooking traditions alive. 

Carolina Seafood: While local shrimp tend to be larger in the fall shrimping season, shrimp are a beloved summer food across the state (particularly those of the peel-and-eat variety) and our summer shrimp are just as delicious as those caught in the fall. If you want to get hyper-local with your shrimp eating, give a Lowcountry Boil a try. It’s a simple, somewhat messy South Carolina tradition that feeds a gaggle of hungry beach-goers with ease.

Sunny Sipping: A hot summer day calls for a cool beverage, and there are plenty of local drinks to sample while you’re enjoying our summer afternoons. Revelry Brewing’s Lay Day is specifically brewed with hot weather in mind and you can enjoy it while getting a stellar view of the Eastside from their rooftop patio. For beach or backyard drinking, Westbrook’s One Claw is an easy-drinking fave, or you can grab one of their trendy Goses for a homemade michelada. 

There’s no better way to experience everything that summer has to offer in Charleston than by booking a culinary tour! Check out our Farm-to-Table Experience for a meal prepared with the freshest local produce, or consider a private tour, if you’d like to ensure a family-only adventure this summer. Happy eating!

-Palmer Stowe

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