Last we spoke, I was living it up in Charleston, pigging out at FIG and Husk and Butcher and Bee. The next morning, I was supposed to leave right away for Columbia but felt the pull of the one place I hadn’t managed to squeeze in over the previous 48 hours: Hominy Grill. And Hominy Grill serves breakfast. Surely, I could race over there and shovel some food down my throat before leaving for Columbia? Reader, that’s exactly what I did.
This was a really good move. Hominy Grill is just the kind of restaurant you want to visit when you journey South: warm and welcoming and good for the soul.
The menu put a smile on my face, especially the Big Nasty Biscuit:
But knowing I’d be eating a big lunch just a few hours later, I stuck with the basics: eggs, grits and a biscuit.
It’s not the prettiest plate in the world (a little parsley on those eggs might’ve helped), but boy was it good. Those grits were revelatory. I’ve never had anything like them. Their texture reminded me of Irish oatmeal, only cleaner-tasting. And the biscuit was the real deal: flaky, buttery, and firmer than the biscuits I make at home. Slathered with homemade jam, it was a dream come true:
Then it was off to Columbia, about a 90 minute drive. I cued up the Taylor Swift which worked for most of the way though eventually it got a little repetitive so I put on Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection which is one of the most overlooked albums of all time. Worked very nicely as I drove into the city.
For lunch, I was going to a place I knew nothing about: Terra.
At the table, I was joined by Katie Alice Walker (Terra’s PR person), Eric McClam of City Roots farm, Kim Jamieson (of Midlands Authority) and Dawn Dawson-House (director of P.R. for the Department of South Carolina Parks Recreation and Tourism).
Normally, eating a meal with a bunch of P.R. people (and a farmer) who want you to say nice things about the food would put a person in a very compromised position. What if the food wasn’t good? What if they threatened my loved ones? Or roofied my sweet tea? (Actually, I think someone DID put something in my sweet tea because it made me have to pee so many times.)
Luckily, I didn’t have to worry. I loved my meal at Terra (prepared by Chef Mike Davis who you see at the top of this post) and I’m saying that because I mean that sincerely, not because anyone wants me to. I think the food speaks for itself in these pictures. Check out the platter of house-made charcuterie:
Impressive right? So was the domestic shrimp remoulade with fried green tomato salad and Benton’s country ham:
And the “Quack” Madame with duck confit (get it?) and caramelized onions with a quail egg on top:
My favorite dish of the day was the “Lamb Mac” with poblano peppers, Fontina and Goat Cheese and shredded lamb in what tasted like a sophisticated BBQ sauce.
I begged for the recipe. No one gave it to me.
The entrees were beautiful to behold. Here’s the Seared Beeliner Snapper with Anson Mills farro piccolo, cranberry, mushroom, frisee, satsuma and salsa verde:
And the seared duck breast with duck confit potato hash, roasted beets, cauliflower, parsnip and apple-cider sage gastrique.
For dessert, we enjoyed three different kinds of ice creams (including one flavored with Maker’s Mark):
And this chocolate dome that was pretty difficult to stop eating:
At the end of the meal, Chef Davis sat down with us and I learned that he did his training with Chef Frank Stitt who’s at the helm of the Southern-Mediterranean restaurant I visited last year in Birmingham, Alabama: Bottega. You can clearly feel Stitt’s influence in the food at Terra, though Davis has his own signature style. We talked about how opening such an ambitious restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina was difficult at first (“There were a lot of things on the menu people didn’t want to try at the beginning,” he told me) but it’s now an important part of the community. Columbia’s lucky to have it.
After lunch, I followed Eric to his urban farm, City Roots.
Eric has a great story too. His dad’s an architect and, like him, Eric went to school to study architecture. But as his dad retired and Eric was looking for a job, they decided to start an urban farm together. City Roots is the result and it supplies over a hundred restaurants with fresh-grown vegetables and eggs and other products made within a structure Eric and his dad built. It’s all very impressive:
For example, on the left you can see nasturtiums that are grown hydroponically. The water has live tilapia in it whose excrement (sorry) helps the soil along and creates a perfect ecosystem. Here’s Eric showing me some of the tilapia:
And the soil that results:
Here are some of the ladies who lay the eggs:
And here are their eggs:
Perhaps the biggest thing going at City Roots, when I visited, were the microgreens. Eric grows a lot of them. Here’s one of the City Roots employees sorting through the beet greens:
I tasted one and it really did have an intense beet-like flavor. They also have kale microgreens, mustardy microgreens, amaranth microgreens. It’s a veritable microgreenery.
As I was leaving, Eric mentioned that to be an architect farmer is in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson which I found very impressive. That night I decided to fly a kite during a thunderstorm to model myself after Benjamin Franklin. Sadly, there weren’t any kites to be found. And there wasn’t a thunderstorm, for that matter.
Specficially, he’s making pulled pork sandwiches that come topped with outrageous, unconventional toppings. Here’s the entrance to his restaurant:
And here’s a scene from inside (the place has lots of character):
This is Abby, the chef, who’s cooking up some of their signature sandwiches:
A better view:
The meat is smoked out here with hickory wood:
And then finished in the oven, sort of like a braise, with pineapple juice and apples. (I know, BBQ die-hards are going to riot!)
So here’s one of those potentially controversial sandwiches: The Southern Belly Dipper with Swiss and bacon and white BBQ sauce.
Cheese on BBQ! But it tasted really, really good. Reminded me of a Reuben, actually, in how pastrami with cheese on it seemed really weird to me before I tried it but once I tried it, I really liked it.
The other sandwich I tried, the King Kahuna, came with grilled pineapple and cheddar on the sandwich:
Again, it was very winning.
A fun fact about Jimmy: his mom is from Columbia South America and she wound up in Columbia South Carolina.
As you can see, I met a lot of really cool people and ate a lot of really good food in my journey from Charleston to Columbia. Next up, I’m hitting Greenville before journeying back to L.A. Now I have to go pee again. That sweet tea is still working its magic.
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Brought to you by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism. South Carolina is Just Right