If you go
WHAT: Southern Season
Hours: 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: 730 Coleman Blvd., Mount Pleasant
MORE INFO: 416-1240 or southernseason.com/charleston
Southern Season, the lauded gourmet retailer which last week opened in Mount Pleasant, stocks 80,000 items. What you won’t find here, though, is dinner.
Sure, you can order a $14 burger with pimiento cheese and bacon jam at Southerly, the adjoining full-service restaurant. Or if your idea of cooking involves boiling water and adding salt, you can buy pasta, rice or beans and a box of Maldon flakes. But Southern Season doesn’t carry grocery staples such as milk, vegetables and raw meat. It’s more like a stylish, scaled-back version of Trader Joe’s; a sort of Trader Joseph’s for refined eaters with an affection for artisan goods.
Yet even without the necessities, Southern Season is a very, very big deal, as anyone who’s toured the Chapel Hill flagship store will attest. Perhaps the best way to understand what makes the store so exceptional, and why it’s bound to bolster Charleston’s status as one of the nation’s premier eating cities, is to approach it from the vantage point of someone with a sudden need to entertain.
Rather than stalk the store aisle-by-aisle, let’s tour Southern Season in the company of an imaginary shopper who’s just learned that a group of old friends wants to come over this weekend to watch a football game.
Step 1: Wish the reunion could wait until October.
A sizeable portion of the store’s 44,000 square feet is dedicated to classroom space. Southern Season’s busy cooking school offers daily demos and interactive programs, led by staffers and visiting chefs.
On Sept. 28, Jimmy Hagood of Food for the Southern Soul is leading a hands-on pulled pork workshop, during which students will devise rubs and sauces, then judge their classmates’ creations.
“We make cooking easier,” promised a staffer when I strolled into the sunny teaching kitchen; apparently I look like somebody who eats out most nights.
Other topics covered by September’s schedule include basic knife skills; pairing wine with almonds; cooking with smoked olive oil and making Thai curries.
Classes are typically priced at $25-$65, but the store’s holding a pair of free open house events Sept. 17 and 18. The complete schedule is online at southernseason.com.
Step 2: Secure beverages.
The focal point of the wine section is a glass-walled, temperature-controlled rare wine room, but many of the selections stored there won’t strike steakhouse-goers as especially rare.
This is where Southern Season keeps its $21.99 bottles of Qupe, as well as familiar labels from Caymus, Duckhorn and Silver Oak.
Southern Season puts a heavy emphasis on gift-giving, and shoppers shouldn’t have any trouble finding a name their hosts will recognize.
While more daring wine drinkers may be mildly disappointed — the German and Austrian section is devoted almost exclusively to whites, for instance — the staff is helpful, and special orders are a possibility.
But folks plotting game-day strategies can steer their carts to the beer department, where beers are sold by the individual bottle and growler.
Although Southern Season never neglects its regional roots, it does an admirable job of balancing the South’s best products with edibles from elsewhere.
At the growler station, a Bell’s tap is directly alongside a Foothills’ Seeing Double IPA tap, giving customers the choice between Michigan and North Carolina brews.
Still, mixed drinks might be the best option for Southern Season shoppers. Although the store doesn’t sell spirits, its collection of nonalcoholic beverages is extraordinarily impressive: It carries NuGrape and Moxie, among other sentimental favorites, and Buffalo Wing Soda and Bacon Soda from a California novelty company.
The best bet for a Saturday afternoon could be a Bloody Mary. In addition to Charleston Mix, Southern Season’s mix lineup includes Powell & Mahoney and McClure’s.
For garnish, you’ll find Talk o’ Texas hot okra pickles in the condiment aisle.
Step 3: Show your colors.
The back wall of Southern Season’s expansive candy department is dominated by clear plastic, self-service tubes filled with jelly beans and coated chocolate drops in every imaginable color (although it’s obvious the owners’ imaginations are heavily influenced by 38 years in the Triangle: The light blue and blue “milk chocolate gems” are the exact shade of UNC and Duke fans’ blood.
And over in the pasta aisle, only Tar Heels can buy noodles shaped like their team’s logo.) The variety of hues is sure to be appreciated by prom chairs and wedding planners.
The department’s display case features concoctions from local and national chocolatiers. But if French Broad Chocolate’s sorghum molasses salted truffles aren’t your speed, Southern Season also sells Junior Mints.
Unlike Whole Foods, Southern Season doesn’t suffer from any brand-name snobbishness: Among the Southern products proudly showcased are Coke and Pepsi.
Step 4: Stock up on snacks.
If it’s Southern and salty, you’ll find it here: Consider making room in your cart for Route 11 Chesapeake Crab potato chips; Uncle Bunk’s mustard relish (good for slathering directly on pretzels or mixing with cream cheese to use as a dip); Sunburst Trout Farms’ trout jerky and Bertie County Batchelor Bay peanuts.
Step 5: Make a pizza.
There are a few convenience foods in Southern Season’s freezer, and prepared salads in the deli case. But Southern Season shoppers who want to go beyond sticking a Dal’s Pizza pepperoni pie in the oven can put together a pretty passable homemade pizza, provided they can scare up their own crust.
While the cheese counter is remarkably tiny, it features many of the region’s most-esteemed names, including Sweet Grass Dairy and Meadow Creek Dairy, and fresh mozzarella.
Southern Season offers an array of tomato sauces, but bakers looking to regionalize their pizzas might instead opt for a jar of Blackberry Farm preserved “Tiny Tomatoes.” The store also carries dried herbs and a smart selection of hot sauces, including the wonderful Marie Sharp’s.
But the pizza-making host is likely to be especially appreciative of the extensive housewares selection: Southern Season sells tablecloths, dish towels, plates, pizza stones and pizza cutters, among other kitchen gewgaws and gadgets.
And if you don’t have the appropriate attire for spectating in style, you can purchase a bow tie. By specializing in the very small touch, Southern Season is likely to make a very big splash.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.
Southern Season’s jelly beans come in every imaginable color and are in clear plastic, self-service tubes.×
There are several bloody mary mixers at Southern Season.×
Even bowties can be found in the store.×
Southern Season held the grand opening of its 44,000-foot Mount Pleasant store on Sept. 6.×
The store’s collection of nonalcoholic beverages is extensive and sometimes unusual.×
The store’s cooking school offers daily demos and interactive programs.×
The candy department’s display case features concoctions from local and national chocolatiers.×
Crisp Okra Pickles from Talk O’ Texas can put a Southern spin on a bloody mary.×
Southern Season’s Sunburst trout jerky.×