Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hunting Island State Park, SC. Part III

Click here for the first post in this series.

What a day! After a morning of writing, reading, and soaking up the atmosphere of this incredible campground, around 11:15 a.m. I drove toward Beaufort in search of a public WiFi connection.

The closest is about seven miles back along Route 21. In front of the St. Helena Island branch of the Beaufort County Library. This library branch is housed in a primary school building. And therefore doesn’t open until 3:30 p.m. on weekdays. It’s wireless signal is strong enough, though, to reach clear to the side of the road!

GG Sign After checking e-mail and news, and posting a couple of new blog entries, I continued on Route 21 toward Beaufort to the Frogmore intersection, and stopped at the “Gullah Grub Restaurant” for lunch.

Gullah Grub FrontNow, owner Bill Green hasn’t invested huge resources in this restaurant’s facade.

A Rating There are a few signs, and a porch with several inviting rocking chairs. And the “A” rating displayed in a side window, almost as an afterthought.

GG Interior 1 Once inside, though, it’s a different story. Comfortable chairs, and tables covered with functional tablecloths. Each with a flower arrangement, salt and pepper, and a bottle of hot sauce, neatly arranged. Now, that’s not unexpected. Just unpretentious, functional, and, of course, spotless.

Wall Display 1 But as you wait for your food, take time to look at the displays on the walls. These aren’t decorations. They’re displays! Every square foot of wall space in this restaurant is devoted to providing information about some aspect of Gullah culture. Tastefully, unobtrusively.

Gullah Land SignViewed thoughtfully, this dining area is as much classroom as restaurant! Basketry, wood carving, pottery, agriculture, and the African roots of Gullah arts and crafts. All described here, with examples.

Fox Hunting Display One whole section of the back wall is devoted to fox hunting.

“Fox hunting??? A fox hunting display in a Gullah restaurant?!” I can almost hear you ask.

Absolutely. I said the displays in this restaurant are instructional as well as ornamental! Gullah Grub owner, Mr. Bill Green, is Gullah Driver for the Middleton Hunting Club near Charleston. According to another display, that’s the oldest American hunting club with Gullah drivers.

Drivers have responsibility for dogs and horses, and determine its success or failure. They actually run the hunt. It’s not casual work. Gullah drivers have played this role for nearly 400 years. And Bill Green has passed these skills down to his sons.

Horse Deer Yes, Mr. Bill Green is, above all, a man of the woods. A hunter. Most comfortable astride a horse, listening to the sweet music of hounds on a scent.

Not quite your preconceived image of a successful Gullah businessman in Frogmore, South Carolina? Certainly not mine, before I arrived. Well, the displays on the walls of Bill’s restaurant have served their purpose!

But before leaving Gullah Grub, I have to mention the food. It is, in a word, incredible. I ordered soup, fried fish, red rice, collard greens, potato salad, and iced tea.

This isn’t “short-order” cooking. It’s done per-order, and takes a few minutes. And it isn’t cheap! Not Charleston prices, by any means. But not typical roadside meat-and-three prices either! Don’t worry. You’ll be glad to pay once you’ve tasted the food.

The tea comes first. Fresh-brewed and clear. Just the kind of iced tea you wish you could make at home. With a square of corn bread.

Be very, very careful with that corn bread. It too, like everything else in this restaurant, is carefully made. Tin by tin. Not by the square yard. Incredibly good. And, if you should finish one square, another appears magically from the kitchen. Now, this is cornbread!

That’s the second “incredible.” But it’s deserved. Even required here.

Then comes the soup, fish, and all the trimmings. How long has it been since you’re eaten fried fish in any restaurant – regardless of price – without asking for the usual sauces to go with it?

Well, I’m unfamiliar with local Frogmore statutes. But it could well be at least a misdemeanor, if not a felony, to smear any sort of sauce on Gullah Grub’s fried fish. It comes perfect from the kitchen. And in just the right quantity. The same for everything else on the table.

All of this is the creation of Mr. Green’s daughter, Ms. Oshie. She is restaurant manager and chef. As well, when she has time, a delightful source of additional information about the displays on the walls, St. Helena Island, and Gullah culture in general.

Leaving Gullah Grub, full and impressed, I discovered Mrs. Jery Bennett Taylor, celebrated Gullah basket weaver, sitting in one of those comfortable chairs on the porch. But that chance meeting will have to wait for another post.

Coastal Seafood Back to Hunting Island State Park. Detouring down Eddings Point Road to check a public boat ramp.

Oyster Bed It’s there, and nicely situated. But nearby oyster beds make me fear for the hull of my inflatable kayak.

More on Hunting Island and its environs tomorrow.

Click here for Part IV.

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