Monday, February 8, 2016

Cue the Cypressata

If this isn't like vacation, I don't know what is.

First, sleeping in 'till 10:30 and then walking on the beach. While epic puddles still abound - in yards, across streets, between houses - the solution to that is as simple as removing your shoes every time you need to (follow Mother Superior's advice and) ford every stream.

Because the island is protected by shoals, there isn't much of a surf, but I can get over the lack of crashing waves when the February sun is shining and I'm walking on sand.

Bonus: I found a sand dollar so fresh and unbleached by the sun that it's still purplish. That's a first in a lifetime of beach-combing.

The group of us drove into Charleston shoehorned in the birthday girl's Audi convertible to have lunch at chef Craig Deihl's Artisan Meat Share, trend-settingly situated in an industrial chic part of town where I'm willing to bet most tourists won't walk at night.

Inside, the deliciously meaty smell alone was enough to guarantee I'd picked the right spot. The counter was full of bearded men two-fisting sandwiches, so we settled for a generously-sized booth and dove into the menu. For all of us, choosing what we wanted was the hard part.

My final decision was a hot fried chicken and biscuit slathered with 'nduju sauce, black pepper mayo and a thick layer of pickles, a sandwich resulting in the server handing me a knife and warning, "You might need this," a safe prediction given that it was Dagwood-like in its thickness.

Choosing a side dish was equally as tough, at least until we all conferred and agreed to get different ones so we could taste around.

No matter what they tell you, my local bean salad with sweet onions, herbs and Parmesan vinaigrette was the best, although that's not to say that the pea and peanut salad with radishes and green goddess dressing wasn't tasty or that the sweet corn and okra salad couldn't have made a convert out of an okra hater (maybe it was the summer ranch dressing) because it did.

I didn't even get to the cheese grits and sausage gravy, but judging by the birthday girl's moans of pleasure, they were every bit as pleasurable as a foot rub. A bite of the Italian sub put to shame every other Italian I'd had.

Behind our booth was a print of local artist David Boatwright's mural done for Mira Winery depicting a South Carolinian take on Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party," but featuring chefs. There was Deihl, Nathalie Dupree, Hominy Grill's Robert Stehling and Gullah Cuisine's Charlotte Jenkins, Fig's Mike Lata. Sean Brock was conspicuously MIA.

Once in full food coma mode, we left for the Battery and a stroll along the waterfront admiring the architecture of houses with porches bigger than my entire apartment. As if that wasn't ostentatious enough, none of these homes had merely one porch, it was usually three.

Fiddle-dee-dee, sugar, sometimes a girl doesn't want to have to take the stairs to go out on the veranda.

As the birthday girl put it, "If someone gave me one of these houses, I wouldn't give it back," but I felt no such coveting. The water views - with Fort Sumter the centerpiece - were fabulous, no question, but I've got no interest in that much living space.

Invite me down for a stay, though, and I'll be the ideal guest.

After a drive through the island's downtown Mount Pleasant, a grouping of maybe eight businesses, we trolled the neighborhood admiring fanciful Victorian-looking cottages like the converted church compound currently on the market for $2.4 million. Nice pointed Gothic windows, though.

Since it wouldn't be a true beach vacation without taking an outdoor shower, I grabbed a beach towel and headed outside shortly before sunset, sharing the trapezoid-shaped space with a small sink (something I'd never seen in an outdoor shower) and a brown skink, or some kind of lizard lazing in it.

Sprinkling water on it to check for life, he slowly looked up at me as if to say "what the hell?" and went back to chilling while I turned the hot water on full blast and enjoyed the sound of the wind rustling palm tree fronds overhead while steam trailed upwards.

I don't care what the outside temperature may be, there is nothing quite like an outside shower to remind you of the pleasures of beach living.

Truthfully, I could go home now a satisfied woman. But I won't, not quite yet...

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