Perhaps a few dozen people were in attendance when leading Charleston caterer Nat Fuller in 1865 marked the end of the Civil War by hosting a biracial “miscegenation dinner”: The guest list doesn’t survive. In 2015, another 80 people gathered at McCrady’s to reenact the historic feast.
Regardless of the exact numbers, it’s clear very few diners have had the chance to intimately experience Fuller’s vision for a reunified city. Detour, a walking tour app, is now aiming to correct that figure with “Nat Fuller’s Reconciliation Feast,” an hourlong audio feed that leads listeners on a 1.4-mile route through downtown Charleston.
“Now look up to the second floor: That’s the room where the feast actually happened,” tour guide Kevin Mitchell of the Culinary Institute of Charleston says in the tour’s introduction, which begins to play after a phone’s GPS tracker establishes the listener is standing at the corner of Church and Elliott streets.
“Blacks and whites seated together at a giant banquet table, as fancy waiters served Nat’s dishes,” continues Mitchell, who played Fuller’s role at the 2015 anniversary dinner. “It may have been just one meal, but that meal changed Charleston.”
With evocative music sometimes playing in the background, Mitchell directs listeners to sites including The Old Slave Mart Museum, French Huguenot Church and Charleston City Market, recounting Fuller’s life story and issuing traffic alerts near driveways and intersections.
“The tours introduce layers of audio on top of the real world,” creator Andrew Mason told Wired in 2015, when the app debuted its first collection of tours, set in San Francisco. “They serve as an augmented reality experience.”
“Nat Fuller’s Reconciliation Feast,” one of four Charleston-themed Detours, was designed to incorporate eating. For example, the second stop is Normandy Farm Bakery, because “breaking bread” was central to Fuller’s profession and philosophy.
“The owner, Mike Ray, recommends the Daily Toast…topped with something seasonal and amazing,” Mitchell advises. “If you don’t care for the toast, don’t worry! Everything they make is delicious. So order what you like. Alright pause me, and once you’ve ordered and you’re settled in, press play again.”
While eating toast, tour followers hear briefly from University of South Carolina professor David Shields, who uncovered Fuller’s story and organized the commemorative meal.
Restricted by restaurant hours and the geographic boundaries of Fuller’s Charleston (as well as tour takers’ potentially sore feet), the Detour later drops by The O-Bar for oysters; Henry’s for a drink and McCrady’s Tavern for dinner.
“McCrady’s is a world-class restaurant,” the tour overview warns. “You may want to call ahead for a reservation.”At McCrady’s Tavern, tour takers who mention Detour are entitled to a free dessert with entrée purchase.
But it’s harder to pinpoint exactly what they’ll gain by ponying up two bucks for a Bud Light at Henry’s: While the concept is admirable, listening to out-of-towners recount how drunk they got last night feels like a distraction from the Fuller story (although my bartender at The O-Bar sheepishly admitted he was trying to read a decades-old history of the Revolutionary War between waiting on customers, which seemed like pretty good testament to the ongoing local significance of the city’s past.)
Far better than the contrived culinary tie-ins is Mitchell’s narration. At the start of the tour, he tells listeners that his life was changed by the Fuller feast. He doesn’t tell them that he’s since embarked on a scholarly path at the University of Mississippi, researching African-American chefs in pursuit of his Southern Studies master’s degree.
Still, his connection to the topic is evident in the way he helps listeners locate the fingerprints of enslaved laborers on bricks along Church Street, and speaks proudly of his ancestral connection to Carolina Gold rice.
“Let me tell you, rice may not sound sexy, but Carolina Gold is in a league of its own,” he assures listeners.
Detours are priced at $4.99 apiece. For more information, visit detour.com.