Finding Oysters (and other good stuff) at the Beach on Hilton Head Island

Winter on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, is low key. Its wide-open beaches and fewer people. It means oysters are in season and we can still get fresh shrimp.  Last year, J and I experimented with poached oysters dotted with caviar and wisps of pickled cucumber.  It was decadent and delicious.  This year, to save J’s hands and manage to eat before midnight AND be able to enjoy more oysters with family, we stuck to roasting them on the grill to dip in cocktail sauce, a gingery cilantro sauce, and melted butter. Sauces that also shared nicely with a large bowl of peel-and-eat shrimp.

And then there was that blind baguette taste-off, which completed the night’s vibrant meal.  (Some of the family had pre-determined favorites, but it was a tie – really – because each chewy baguette had its own strength – from a hint of butter in one to a perfectly browned crust in the other. See the culpable bakeries below.) 

Sharing table space with the shrimp and oysters were bottles (carted down I-95 in the car with Russ & Daughters‘ smoked salmon, pickled lox, and a chocolate babka for good measure), of sparkling smoky na Punta extra brut and an exceptionally dry Argyle Extended Tirage Brut sipped from unassuming (maybe mismatched and unbreakable?) house wine glasses.  We could bring them down to the beach for a sunset in soft shades of pink, behind the oyster shell-decorated “tree” that shows up every year at Christmas.  Or during a pitch-black night, to see the moon, like J, with his camera, tripod, and headlamp.

Besides the beach at sunset, get to these places on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton, SC, to make the most out of Winter  –  

  • Bluffton Oyster Company, for bushels of local oysters.  Be sure to call and place an order ahead of time during the holidays.
  • Benny Hudson Seafood, another favorite for shrimp and fish like grouper and black drum.
  • The butcher at Scotts Market, for your meat needs.  I’ve had a sirloin roast and bavette (one of my favorite cuts).
  • Hilton Head Social Bakery, for the perfectly crusty and chewy baguette.
  • Twisted European Bakery, for the perfectly golden and slightly buttery baguette.
  • New York City Pizza, where the take-out veggie pizza is piled high with mushrooms, green peppers and onions, and they’re open late-ish if you hit traffic and arrive on the island after dark.
  • Fish Camp on Broad Creek, to sit at the heated outside bar twinkling in strings of soft white lights, eating ahi tuna nachos and calamari with crunchy/spicy fried pickles, a Westover One-Claw and a glass of malbec, listening to the guy in the corner playing guitar.
Fish Camp on Broad Creek…Summer view from the outdoor bar

If you’re not sucked in by Foxy Loxy’s Boombox Brunch…

If you find yourself in Savannah, Georgia, and not sucked in by Foxy Loxy Café’s Boombox Brunch, head to the Historic District and check out —

  • Chocolat by Adam Turoni– even if just to see for yourself a chocolate shop with an Astroturf floor.  
  • On the way, stop by ShopSCAD for 3-D printed nylon earrings (among other things).
  • And at a SCAD (The Savannah College of Art and Design) alum’s Satchel, for very soft leather.
  • Speaking of SCAD…there’s an actual red double-decker London bus inside Art’s Café, across the street from ShopSCAD.
  • Be astounded at the lengths the wealthy went through to showcase, well, that wealth, at the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters.
  • Next time…I want to try the sandwiches and sweet stuff at Back in the Day Bakery and maybe make it through the wait for brunch at The Collins Quarter.  Does anyone know the best days and times to avoid a line?

Finding More than the perfect latté in Savannah

Here‘s how I felt about Savannah, Georgia, in the Summer – miserably sweaty.  The same Savannah in Winter – happily comfortable.  J and I spent a cool December day with family walking a city backdropped by sharp blue sky and bright sun.  Savannah’s ubiquitous squares were richly green, the massive branches of ancient trees gracefully arching above us.  Delicate lamp posts were punctuated by rich red garlands in the days before Christmas.  Blocks past the far end of the green carpet that is Forsyth Park, we made our way to Foxy Loxy Café.  Searching for great latté (of course) got me there.  

The Boombox Brunch – in the outdoor courtyard – and the cheesy grits in the Foxy Haystack – kept me.  Get the Horchata latté, too, which was the right amount of sweet and cinnamon.  To top it off, I discovered a new favorite sinus clearing hot sauce! While the DJ pulled out vinyl records, the garden tables and picnic benches were gradually filling up, to the classic sound of The Cars‘ Who’s Gonna Drive You Home.

Beach Bar-ing it at Northside Social in Arlington

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Arlington’s own urban beach bar is just a couple of blocks from the Clarendon Metrorail station.  Yes, I said Urban Beach Bar.  The outdoor bar (and patio triangle) at Northside Social occupies a former trolley depot, smack in the middle of a tough intersection of now traffic-heavy boulevards.  I had been frequenting Northside for their morning lattés and great baked goods (blueberry muffins come to mind) and dense, flavorful bread (especially on a spinach, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich).

But when I’m sitting mid-day at the outdoor bar with my BLT and sparkling water, a light breeze – always – whether sunny or cloudy, watching the bartenders pour glass after glass (after glass) of pastel pink rosé from bottles in galvanized tubs and wheat-yellow beers from the outdoor tap, Steven Tyler rasping overhead, “Don’t want to close my eyes, I don’t want to fall asleep, ‘cause I’d miss you babe and I don’t want to miss a thing,” I feel like I’m happily hanging out at a beachside bar, the ocean just a few steps away.

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Beach Walking to the Closest Latte

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I’m always looking for the closest walkable latte.  On Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, it happens to be at The Westin Hotel’s take-out café, and a good excuse for a daily morning walk on the beach.  Once I step out onto that soft sand surrounded by endless sky, I immediately sense that I could walk to infinity.  (But then I would miss that latte, only 15 minutes away.)  There are few people on the beach in Winter, more in Summer, and always a handful of dogs walking happily on the sand or splashing recklessly through the waves.

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One morning a photographer was trying to make the most of the soft morning light on two small uncooperative fluffy white dogs.  Beachside yoga class was wrapping up on towels close to the water’s edge.  I check out the other goings-on at my destination, walking from the beach through the tiered decks of the hotel’s pool area and into the back lobby and take-out café.  Latte in hand (iced in Summer but ordered hot in Winter), I reverse my route back toward the comforting hum of soft waves and light ocean breezes of the beach.

Finding My Latte Out West

…While Spring Skiing in Sun Valley; Ketchum, Idaho

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Everything was about 5 minutes away by foot in Ketchum, Idaho.  Which made exploring it approachable (that, and how friendly people were from the hotel desk clerk to the ski lift operators).  Before heading out to the base of Bald Mountain at River Run in Sun Valley, there was breakfast at our funky-sheep-accented boutique hotel, the Hotel Ketchum, and a couple of quick morning walks to check out two of the coffee shops in town.

Just past the Ketchum Town Square is Maude’s Coffee and Clothes, a cottage at the corner of Walnut Avenue and 4th Street.  It’s March and still seasonably cool in the mountains of Idaho, but I recollect a bench out front for sipping coffee in the summer.  Maude is the name of the dog (there was a Polaroid of Maude propped up on the counter).  The “Clothes” part is in fact a vintage clothing store within Maude’s.  Bold belt buckles, bowling shirts, and fair isle sweaters were displayed on racks and counters to the left and behind the “Coffee” part.  Coffee and clothes – literally for purchase at the same time.  Opening the door, I felt like I was walking into someone’s light-filled quiet kitchen.  Maude’s was relaxed and welcoming, and let me gradually wake up to the day.  The coffee counter was heaped with pastries and there was an eclectic mix of a few low tables and chairs at which to sit and appreciate the serenity.  I took my smooth latte to go in a paper cup unassumingly stamped with Maude’s logo.

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On Sunday morning, across from The Board Bin snowboard shop and rental, the low-slung house that is Ketchum’s Java on 4th – part of an all-Idaho group of five coffee shops from Twin Falls to Boise – was bustling with weekend skiers in insulated pants and zippered turtlenecks waking up with coffees and breakfast burritos before the short drive down the road to Sun Valley’s slopes.  People were in and out and back and forth, breakfasting at the bar and at the few scattered tables, their movements like that of a large family able to seamlessly go about their morning breakfast routine.  Service at the ordering counter was quick.  And my latte was presented in a cup calling me to, “Wake Up and Live.”  Perfect words for making my way with J to the next adventure of snowshoeing on the well-marked and beautiful trails at Galena Lodge.

…While Dodging 2017’s Rains in San Diego, California

The motel was located on a main road, a blah strip with other motels and low-slung shops on either side.  It happened to be the rainiest weekend that January 2017 – in 10 years  – in San Diego.  So maybe the strip would have looked more laid-back California than sadly grey, if the sun had been shining and the streets had been dry?  Finding a walkable latte-making coffee shop seemed like it was going to be a difficult task here.  But it wasn’t.  Like a beacon through the driving rain Better Buzz Coffee’s turquoise sign, bright lights, and carefully weathered exterior guided me inside to meet a California that wasn’t itself on the outside.

Better Buzz was only a few blocks from our motel, and J and I gratefully hopped on stools at the distressed wood table and dug into some avocado toast, me with latte in hand, cup cheerfully printed with “Life’s Better Buzzed.”  A collective obsession with avocado toast may have come and gone, but I’m still a fan, and the 3 Seed Avocado Toast at Better Buzz is the best I’ve had.  On thick slices of multigrain bread and piled high with mashed avocado, a little lemon and red pepper flakes, topped with microgreens, and made pleasantly nutty with a combination of chia, sesame, and hemp seeds – I still remember it a year later.   Better Buzz and, yes, that toast, powered J and I to joyously plot our mostly rainy few days in San Diego.

Latte Away

IMG_2131La Morra, Italy (Piedmont)

I try to seek out coffee shops in the neighborhoods where I’m staying in each place I travel.  In La Morra, that experience was at the charming Bar Nuova Italia on the lower level below our rented apartment on via San Martino.  Every corner and surface of the cafe held cellophane bags of pasta or chocolates or candies or bottles of wine or water or was covered in Italian newspaper or magazine articles highlighted and underlined so that your senses were filled and eyes flitted and jumped over one and to the next, not being able to rest on one object or one clipping.  It’s the place on the street you go to for that little something.  My cappuccino was presented by signora Silvana with a dusting of chocolate and a light biscuit.  She enthusiastically greeted each local who came in for a shot of espresso at the small front bar, or a coffee and newspaper at one of the round tables scattered around.  Young mothers with babies in strollers and older rugged workers in hard hats.

Back in our AirBnb apartment, making my own coffee on the stove in in a Bialetti wasn’t quite the same as Silvana’s espresso.  But stepping out our front door, still pajama-clad, onto the narrow landing and into one of the wooden folding chairs, legs out and feet pressed against the railing, bowl of coffee in hand, I could gaze out at a soft pink morning sky rising over the undulating green vine-lined hills of the Piedmont.  A coffee experience worthy of not having a proper latte.

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Camogli, Italy (Liguria)

Coffee harborside at a tiny bistro table on the sidewalk right in front of our hotel, I Tre Merli, and just a few feet from the water’s edge.  Movements only from that cheeky seagull eyeing me and my breakfast onion focaccia, and from the small dogs trotting beside their owners.  There were the harbor pilots sipping espresso in their flip flops and board shorts and reading the morning’s paper, the day-trippers consulting the water-taxi schedule to San Frutuosso and glancing at the dock, where no water-taxi is anchored (the sea’s probably too rough and the taxi won’t run today).  Coffee was brought out in a white carafe with a side pitcher of frothy milk.  I could sit for hours here, absent-mindedly pouring more coffee and milk into my cup and gazing out and across the harbor of Camogli, watching the cliff-side town slowly, ever so slowly wake up.  J and I were easing into our day, too.  Making the most of our mornings meant sitting at this very table for as long as it took, and then wandering back upstairs to our room to gather water bottles, sunblock and head out for a day of hiking over the hills and coastline stretching south of Genoa, the Riviera di Levante of Italy’s Ligurian coast.