You know that scene in the “Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy opens the door to Technicolor? That’s what eating seasonally is like. We’re sick of zucchini and then here come the collards, and just when we think we really can’t take another collard leaf on the plate, suddenly there’s an email from Ambrose Farm about u-pick strawberries. It’s like that farmhouse door opening from black-and-white to color each season.
Well, welcome to spring Technicolor on Lowcountry restaurant plates. These are some of the best the season has to offer, but note that just as the seasons change, so do many of the following menu items. What might be atop a salad one night will be folded into grits the next, but however these restaurants showcase these seven seasonals, they prove “there’s no place like home.”
Dish: Strawberry Salad, The Granary
A strawberry salad can be a beautiful thing (especially when accompanied by a glass of sparkling wine), and this Mount Pleasant restaurant adds a subtle, modern twist to the classic by including both fresh and pickled berries from Ambrose Farms along with house-made mozzarella. Curried pecans and a white balsamic vinaigrette are the garnishes, and as long as the strawberries last, the kitchen assures me, so too will this menu item.
Dish: Sliced wahoo, asparagus, parsley mayonnaise, spring onion, FIG
Located on the appetizer menu, this delicately welcomes spring in crudo fashion. The mild wahoo is complemented by the green freshness of the veggie, but the new twist is a mayonnaise instead of an acid to bring all the elements together. If you have ever had hollandaise on asparagus, then it’s in that vein but way better.
Dish: Softie Salad with Pea Tendrils and Lemon Shallot Dressing, Slightly North of Broad
Pea tendrils are like jaunty bowties for the crab, this belle of the spring ball. Chef Frank Lee has been sourcing and cooking local seafood for years, and so his fried softie is one of the best of all the offerings out there. All that rich, fried goodness mixes with fresh greens and a bite of acid to place this salad in a category far above any tossed variety.
Dish: St. Jude Flounder With Roasted Ramp and Asparagus Tajarin, The Lot
Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are highly prized wild leeks/onions that grow in moist, woody areas, not in neat rows on farms. So these humble, oniony, garlicky gems are akin to softies in that they have a cult following and are only available a short time. The Lot’s dish, which starts with housemade tajarin pasta, includes a ramp compound butter. Butter and flaky fish is classicly delicious, but it also ensures a depth of ramp flavor in every bite.
Dish: Farro With Sweet Peas and Green Garlic, Husk
Sure, you can technically get sweet peas all year in the frozen food section, but fresh-from-the-farm peas are something else all together. (You’ll need to sample again if the last time you had them was on a cafeteria tray.) These mini-orbs burst with sweetness, a deft counterpoint to nutty farro. Green garlic, another spring star, makes this side dish satisfying enough to anchor your plate.
Dish: Ribeye for Two, Cypress
“Field and Stream” calls these funky fungi “America’s mushroom” because they are so widespread, but chefs love to use them because they are seasonal and have more of a complex, earthy flavor than many mushrooms. Chef Craig Deihl’s dish screams spring — there are the ramps and peas in it, too — but the morels anchor it all since they bring out even more flavor in the select cut of meat.
Dish: Lemon Blueberry Sorbet, Beardcat’s Sweet Shop
Blueberries are starting to arrive from GrowFood Carolina, says Obstinate Daughter pastry chef (and gelato sorceress of Beardcat’s) Victoria Warren. So that means this light and fruity sorbet is making its debut in the gelateria on Sullivan’s Island. It is a flavor combo that is a perfect sweet ending to any of the aforementioned dishes and has a color that will even get the kiddies to try it.
Stephanie Burt grew up in Charlotte on good Southern cooking and lots of books. She received both her BA and MA in English from UNC Charlotte and was a former instructor of English and American Studies there. She has made Charleston her home since 2005. Most recently the director of digital content for The Local Palate, Stephanie also is the host of The Southern Fork, http://thesouthernfork.com, a weekly podcast of culinary conversations with a Southern twist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.