Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"The Market" Near Keowee-Toxaway State Park, SC

Click here for the first post in this series.

Modern RV-traveling man lives not by grilled hotdogs and marshmallows alone! He must have access to a wider range of foodstuffs and beverages. As important, he needs ready access to a reliable WiFi internet connection! Especially if he publishes a blog. Yes, yes. Some purists insist that computers and camping don’t mix. Well …. It’s an opinion. But not one I share.

This internet access requirement can create problems. Some of the best RV camping sites are miles from any internet connection. Or even reliable cell phone service. In fact, I’ve found an inverse relationship between availability of convenient internet access and beauty of campgrounds’ natural surroundings!

At least, that’s how it used to be. Things are changing, though. In this case, for the better. Last year, South Carolina’s State Parks system began launching WiFi service at some of their more popular facilities. I know of seven so far. And have connected successfully at three of them. A good start. Though Keowee-Toxaway, unfortunately, isn’t on the list.

So, what’s a person to do? In the case of Keowee-Toxaway, “The Market” just down the road solves the problem.

[Click each photo for a larger view]

I don’t normally feature commercial establishments on this blog. But “The Market” deserves an exception. It allows the RV traveler to enjoy the beauty of Keowee-Toxaway State Natural Area without abandoning access to the internet and supplies. It’s just 2.4 miles from the Park entrance. Exiting the Park, turn right, and drive southwest. Highway 11 here cuts across Lake Keowee.

You’ll see some beautiful views. Be sure to pull well off the roadway, though, if you stop to take a photograph. This is a straight two-lane road that seems to encourage super-highway speeds. “The Market” is on the left-hand side. You can’t miss it.

Park as close as you can to the front of the building. Then fire up your laptop and connect to the WiFi service provided free of charge by The Cliffs. No password is necessary. I connected several times during my stay at Keowee-Toxaway. The link proved completely reliable. This alone, in my book, makes The Market worth mentioning.

Once you’ve checked your e-mail and read the news, you’ll probably be anxious to see Highway 11 from the other direction. Don’t blame you. The roadside scenery’s even more spectacular on the way back to the Park. Try for at least one photo of Lake Keowee from the top of the hill. But don’t charge off quite yet. Take a moment to go into The Market to have a look around.

This is hardly your typical South Carolina country store! Nothing wrong with South Carolina country stores, now. They’re great places to visit, and to learn. Social scenery at some of its best. But few South Carolina country stores offer the diversity of products found at The Market. I visited three times during my Keowee-Toxaway sojourn. Prowling the aisles with camera at the ready. Talking with as many of the employees and customers as I could without arousing suspicion.

According to my informal informants, the store’s been open for about 18 months. Sponsored by the developer of The Cliffs. Several high-end gated communities in the area built mostly around golf courses. The Market at first sold only natural foods and grocery products. As part of The Cliffs’ emphasis on health and wellness. Soon, though, they expanded to include regular items as well. The sorts of things the rest of us buy in everyday grocery stores.

The result is a most unusual shop. Most important for us, one less than three miles from Keowee-Toxaway State Park! Here’s an example. Look carefully at the shelves of cooking oil displayed in the photo above. On the lower shelves, huge containers of Crisco, Corn Oil, and the like. For less than five dollars.

But right above them, a wide variety of fancy cooking oils in much smaller bottles. Each priced well above ten dollars. The whole store is arranged that way! A wide range of higher-end, expensive products right beside standard supermarket fare.

For me, the produce section was the most impressive. Anyone who’s worked in a grocery store knows how hard it is to keep the produce section clean. Well, this one was spotless. Not a single potato, onion, or orange out of place. And all of it fresh.

Here, and throughout the store, the emphasis is on healthy cooking and eating. Impressive! Oh, and don’t forget something to drink. A great selection of wines. I don’t know the first thing about wine. But judging from the prices, they have to be “fine”! And a dairy section that includes even fresh buttermilk!

I’ve never understood why otherwise normal people are willing to pay for bottles of water. Even the lightly flavored variety. But most everyone seems to these days. The Market offers row upon row of it. Even a few of the more down-to-earth plastic gallon jugs you can see in the lower right corner in the photo below.

The meat and seafood counter was another surprise. Here too the emphasis was on diversity. But the prices on all but the most exotic offerings were quite low. I even picked up a nice steak for the Mobile Studio’s grill.

One end of the store has been turned into an interesting sandwich/lunch area. They offer made-to-order sandwiches and the like for take-out, or for eating at the inviting tables you see below.

People from all over the country – even the world – have come to live at The Cliffs. So, given the diverse clientele this store serves, I doubt that any sandwich order would surprise the folks working behind the counter. I asked two of the sandwich makers to name their most unusual sandwich request. Both wisely declined to answer. But talk about “fusion cuisine.” Have a look at the sign board for the lunch session!

Now, if that doesn’t take the cake! [They have cake too, by the way. About 10 varieties.] Can you imagine a restaurant featuring tomato and goat cheese soup, while at the same time offering a “blue plate special” of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and fried okra? I mean! The contrast is interesting. The daily blue plate special, by the way, is only $8.00.

So, there you have it. “The Market” at The Cliffs. Just 2.4 miles from RV camping surrounded by some of the most beautiful woods and hills in South Carolina. High-speed internet access. Anything you could imagine in the way of groceries and supplies. And a restaurant that combines high-quality health food-type dishes with down-home style blue plate specials at very reasonable prices. You won’t have to suffer internet or latte withdrawal while enjoying the incredible beauty of the Keowee-Toxaway State Natural Area.

Click here for the next post in this series.

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