We undertook a quick tour of the south this summer, making a crescent-shaped itinerary with stops in Athens, Charleston, Savannah and pauses while on the road in Florida. More a toe-dip than a full immersion, yet the richness and variety of what’s available below the Mason Dixon line was invigorating. These were some highlights of our trip.
Tlaloc Athens, GA
On the edge of town but easy enough to spot thanks to an exuberant approach to signage. The exterior is pink and enthusiastically painted with scenes of soused aztecs and the restaurant’s mascot, an inebriated paisano yelling the legend ‘Let’s Get Drunk’. This might suggest that food is merely ballast, but on our daytime visit the place was filled with families enjoying cooked from scratch Mexican food, that was fresh and light with excellent fiery salsas.
Hank’s Seafood Restaurant Charleston, SC
It took no special sleuthing to find this place, which has been voted the city’s best seafood restaurant for 15 years in a row. It’s elegant looking, located in a lavishly renovated 19th-century warehouse – only the other diners’ shorts and baseball caps spoil the atmosphere. Try the Seafood a la Wandoo shrimp, scallops, fish in a creamy saffron sauce. Hardly a cheap night out, but one to remember.
Husk Charleston, SC
Most people with an interest in modern American food will recognise this as one of chef Sean Brock’s establishments. He insists on using only ingredients from southern producers, showcasing the quality and variety available. This approach means an ever-changing menu, and steep prices, but lunch is more competitively priced, and well worth it. Just as long as you have no plans for the rest of the day.
Martha Lou’s Kitchen Charleston, SC
The Southern standards are what you get here – fried chicken, collard greens, grits, mac n’ cheese. All are all excellent, flavour winning out over basic presentation on polystrene plates. It’s easy to think everyone’s a local at this tiny family-run operation, such is the conviviality of its owners, but tourists are made welcome. As we paid our bill and prepared to leave, our accents prompted a discussion that ended with a piercing cry of “London in the house, y’all!”. We’ll be back.
Sugar Shack Tybee Island, GA
They’ll gladly take your order for a spinach and feta omelette or a roast beef sandwich, but if a place is called the Sugar Shack, it’s a safe bet that the sweet stuff is what’s going to shine. Sure enough, their ice creams are excellent, and just the thing after a dip in the Atlantic on a hot day.
Southern Soul BBQ St Simons Island, GA
This is a modern take on the barbecue joint but still unmistakably downhome. Sit outside if you want the full experience, it’s where they have their smoker from which delicious smoke fumes. Orders arrive on a steel tray lined with brown paper and a huge and terrifying blade, but the meat is so tender that a butter knife would suffice. As one of your sides, be sure to get the brunswick stew – a smokey, tomato-based dish full of beans and hunks of meat.
Ouzts’ Too Newport, FL
Had we not read about this place, we’d never have stopped here, in fact we wouldn’t even have noticed it. Most reviews describe it as a biker bar, and certainly there’s an aspect of that, mostly though it’s just a friendly, local place serving excellent fresh fish and seafood, some of the best we had on this trip. Signs dotted around the place push the mullet hard, but when asked to describe the flavour all we were told is that “it’s a real fishy fish”. Evidently oysters do better, if the thick carpeting of their shells surrounding the building is anything to go by.