An Epic Southern Foodie Road Trip

Happy New Year! We’ve taken a hiatus for the past two weeks to enjoy the holidays, travel and see friends and family, but we’re back for more Getting Bent fun!

I spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day on an epic foodie road trip of the South with my high school friend Colleen, who now lives in Anchorage. Since both of our offices close for the holidays that week, we’ve made road tripping an annual tradition. This year, we decided to take a road trip to Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. You can drive to both of these cities in less than 14 hours from South Bend, making them great destinations for a family or foodie road trip.

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville

We began our drive the Monday morning after Christmas, the day of the ice storm. Luckily, we woke up early enough that the serious ice hadn’t formed yet, and by the time we reached Indy it was only slush. As we drove south through Kentucky and Tennessee, the terrain began to change into beautiful rolling hills and horse farms. Our drive took us through the outskirts of Cincinnati, Lexington, and Knoxville. Once we got to Knoxville, the rolling hills turned into the Appalachian Mountains, which were stunning. Highway 40 between Knoxville and Asheville was a spectacular drive through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The drive from South Bend to Asheville, North Carolina, is about nine hours, making it a great stopping point on the way to the coast. Asheville is a beautiful city in the mountains with tons of restaurants and shops. Hotels can be pricey, but we were able to find an inexpensive rate through Priceline’s Express Deals. We stayed at the Clarion Inn at the airport, about 20 minutes from downtown, which was very nice and had an excellent free breakfast.

After nine hours in the car, we were ready to begin our foodie tour of the South, so we decided to eat at Tupelo Honey Café, a restaurant in downtown Asheville that specializes in Southern comfort food and cocktails. I had the shrimp and goat cheese grits with roasted peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Colleen had a grilled cheese sandwich with fried green tomatoes on it. The food was delish.

We had the opportunity to meet up with my cousin in Asheville who took us to Dobra Tea, a tea room within walking distance to Tupelo Honey. Dobra had the most extensive tea list I’ve ever seen and delicious desserts made with natural ingredients. We enjoyed tasting the Matcha Cheescake and Raspberry Butter Tea Cake.

The Biltmore Estate overlooks the Smoky Mountains

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville

The next morning we woke up early and accomplished something that had been on my bucket list for many years – visiting the Biltmore Estate, America’s largest home. The Biltmore was built by George Vanderbilt in the late 1800s, has 250 rooms and sits on 8,000 acres of property overlooking the Smoky Mountains. It was an incredible place to visit and the estate was decorated for the holidays. If you decide to go, make sure you buy your tickets online in advance and select an early time slot. We toured the estate at 8:30 a.m. and had no issues, but inbound traffic was backed up for miles when we departed around noon.

After touring the estate and gardens and sampling some wine at the winery, we set out on our 4.5 hour drive to Charleston, South Carolina, where we met up my college friend Liz, who lives in Jacksonville. It was 75 degrees and beautiful, an amazing contrast to the ice storm we had left in South Bend the day before.

Husk Restaurant

Husk Restaurant

Charleston was founded in 1670 and is South Carolina’s oldest city. The architecture is stunning, and many buildings pre-date the Civil War. Strolling the cobblestone streets through the French Quarter and along the Battery and Waterfront Park transported us into a different era filled with antebellum mansions.

We spent most of our time in Charleston exploring the city, shopping and eating – King, Market and Bay Streets are where most of the famous shops and restaurants are located. When we arrived, we started by having a cocktail on a rooftop terrace overlooking Charleston Harbor at the Market Pavilion Hotel and ate Lebanese food for dinner at Leyla, a high-rated Lebanese restaurant on King Street (Personally, I like South Bend’s own Elia’s Café and Aladdin’s a lot better – this was probably our least memorable meal.)

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Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit Sandwich with pimiento cheese

Since we didn’t have time to participate in one of Charleston’s many guided food tours, we decided to create our own foodie tour on Wednesday morning. We started the day off by sharing famous biscuits from Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, raspberry and maple bacon doughnuts at Glazed, and lattes at Kudu Coffee and Craft Beer. We then had lunch at Husk, one of the most talked about restaurants in Charleston. It was voted one of the best new restaurants in America by Bon Appetite a couple of years ago and consistently gets rave reviews. Husk, which is located in an old Southern mansion, is pricey for dinner, but lunch is reasonable. We shared a salad, fried chicken with cornbread and Hoppin’ John, and the Husk Puppies with pork appetizer. The food was delicious and was our best meal in Charleston. This place is probably not the best for vegetarians, as almost everything on the menu has pork in it and the waiter introduced us to the restaurant by telling us about how they process their pork on site. If you want to eat at Husk, be sure to make a reservation – they book up weeks in advance.

After spending the morning eating our way through Charleston, we walked through the Historic Charleston City Market and then took a boat out to Ft. Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. The boat ride and tour takes about two hours and costs $19. Even if you’re not into Civil War history, the fort was pretty cool to see and the boat ride offered great views of Charleston and Charleston Harbor. It also offered a great backdrop to take some Civil War themed selfies.

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Grits are good for you!

We spent Wednesday night exploring the many classy bars on north King Street, having cocktails in outdoor beer gardens (80 degrees in December!) and enjoying dinner at Closed for Business. It’s hard to find a reasonably priced dinner location in Charleston, but Closed for Business did the job, especially since we were looking for giant salads after our day of eating fried foods.

On Thursday, we walked from our hotel – the Holiday Inn Downtown Charleston – to Hominy Grill, one of the most famous breakfast and lunch restaurants in Charleston. We lucked out and got the last table before the crazy breakfast rush began at 10 a.m. We enjoyed eggs, biscuits with homemade jam, and grits.

After breakfast we embarked on the two-hour drive to Savannah, Georgia. Savannah was established in 1773 and is known for its many squares and huge oak trees draped in Spanish moss. When we arrived, we checked into the apartment we rented on VRBO.com (way cheaper than nearby hotels!) in the historic district and took a walk to Leopold’s Ice Cream, a famous ice cream shop. We tried the Rum Bisque, Chocolate Chewies and Cream, Peanut Butter Chippy and Lemon flavors. The ice cream was excellent. We then walked over to the riverfront. River Street is Savannah’s version of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street and consists mostly of of trashy bars. We continued on our journey and stopped to purchase honey at the Savannah Bee Company (try the Winter White Honey – yum!) and then walked over to the Savannah City Market, a pedestrian street with lots of shops and restaurants.

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Liz and me reenacting Forrest Gump eating his box of chocolates

After a long nap, we got dressed up for New Year’s and took a stroll around downtown. Both River Street and the City Market host annual New Year’s Eve street parties. Savannah has no open container laws so you can grab a drink in a plastic cup and wander from bar to bar, which is extremely convenient on a night like New Year’s Eve. It began to rain, so we ducked into a bar called The Ordinary Pub. While we enjoyed perhaps the most delicious beer on our journey here – Second Shelf Thai Wheat from Georgia – we were looking for a more upbeat establishment to ring in the New Year.

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Beetlejuice at The Jinx

Our favorite travel website, Yelp, led us to the dance club The Jinx 912, which is one of the most unique bars I have ever been in. As the name suggests, jinxes are the theme and the walls are decorated with monster cartoons and masks, band posters, day of the dead skeletons, and other eclectic decor. The heating pipes were painted like the snake in Beetlejuice. The DJ seamlessly mixed 80s and 90s hits with modern dance music. It was a great place to ring in the New Year.

On New Year’s Day we grabbed coffee at the Maté Factor, had lunch at the historic Olde Pink House Restaurant, and visited Savannah’s historic monuments and squares. Although many of the historic sites were closed for the holidays, walking around Savannah was a delight and we were able to see the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low (founder of Girl Scouting in the U.S.), the home that General Sherman used when occupying Savannah during the Civil War, and Chippewa Square, where Forrest Gump sat on his famous bench and ate his box of chocolates.

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Bonaventure Cemetery

We then drove to Bonaventure Cemetery, a hauntingly beautiful cemetery in the Southern Gothic style, on our way to Tybee Island Beach. Bonaventure Cemetery was incredibly beautiful and one of the highlights of our time in the South. (Although our rental car may have been haunted by a music-loving ghost after that….seriously…)

A fifteen minute drive past Bonaventure Cemetery led us to Tybee Island, Savannah’s beach destination. We walked out onto the pier to see a dolphin frolicking in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a lovely beach even in the winter, and I wish we had more time to explore the Sea Islands between Savannah and Charleston.

On our way back to Savannah we stopped at Gerald’s Pig and Shrimp for a snack of fresh fried shrimp and hush puppies. A food truck located outdoors under a huge open-air porch, Gerald’s was perhaps my favorite food stop on our tour of the South. The hush puppies were definitely the best I’ve ever had and the shrimp was yummy too.

Gerald's Pig and Shrimp on Tybee Island

Gerald’s Pig and Shrimp on Tybee Island

That night, we went out for a late dinner at the Flying Monk Noodle Bar, an Asian restaurant specializing in – you guessed it – noodles, and then we wandered over to the Colonial Park Cemetery to meet the tour guide at 10:00 p.m. for our Savannah Beyond Good and Evil Ghost Tour, which we booked through Ghost City Tours (our guide was Nicodemus). The tour guide was quite entertaining and led us through the many squares in the historic district to tell us about the haunted houses and cemeteries in Savannah as well as the history of Voodoo in the city. It was a great way to see a different side of Savannah. We were also able to see and learn more about the Mercer House, which is where the real-life murder in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil takes place.

On Saturday morning, we woke up early and headed to Back in the Day Bakery for breakfast, which we had read about on various websites. Unfortunately, it was closed for the holidays so we ended up at a nearby coffee shop and taco bar called Foxy Loxy Cafe. Whoever thought to open a coffee shop with tacos and cheese boards was a genius and I fully encourage those of you reading this blog to consider opening a similar establishment in South Bend.

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The Mercer House

After gulping down my horchata latte (yes, Mexican horchata with espresso), Colleen and I embarked on our long drive back to Indiana. About fifteen hours later, including a lunch stop at a great vegetarian restaurant in Asheville – the Laughing Seed (try the vegetarian reuben!) – I was sleeping soundly in my bed back home in South Bend.

-McK

PS – For those of you considering a similar road trip, another great stop on the way to or from Savannah or Charleston would be Gatlinburg, Tennessee. You can drive through the center of Smoky Mountain National Park between Gatlinburg and Asheville. I’ll save that excursion for next time. (Although I was a little bummed that I didn’t get to achieve another one of my many travel bucket list items – going to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Dolly Parton’s kitschy amusement park.)

 

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