Dine like a Charlestonian Highlights on local traditions and foods Hoppin' John's helped shape cuisine

John Martin Taylor

Even raggedy copies of "Charleston Receipts" now command a few dollars on eBay, but a few short decades ago, documentation of Lowcountry cooking wasn't much valued beyond the region.

John Martin Taylor, author of the highly influential "Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking," in 1984 found a 60-year-old handmade plantation cookbook in a pile of Newport, R.I., trash. The plantation was located near Taylor's hometown of Orangeburg, but, as he later recounted to The Washington Post, none of the listed dishes were familiar to him: "I'm looking at this stuff, and I'm freaking out. I had grown up right (there), and I don't even recognize this food."

Partly to disseminate the history he then began researching, Taylor two years later opened Charleston's first culinary bookshop, Hoppin' John's. The store at the corner of Anson and Pinckney streets was modeled after New York City's Kitchen Arts & Letters, where Taylor had worked briefly. Chefs and culinary students at Johnson & Wales University flocked to Hoppin' John's to learn about forgotten ingredients and techniques, and used their findings to help forge modern Charleston cuisine.

"John's store was the place I first fell truly, madly, deeply for the food of my hometown," Southern Living's Donna Florio recalled in a 2012 blog post. "It's the first place I heard the phrase 'stone ground grits,' the bookstore where the The Lee Bros. mama shopped, and the gathering spot for other foodies just as obsessed with shrimp and grits as I was."

As described by The Washington Post, the "hole-in-the-wall" was jammed with books, allowing Taylor to always find the right volume when a customer requested a title he considered inferior.

Writer Tim Carman explained, "Hoppin' John's, the bookstore, became something of an attraction for food lovers. In that way, the store presaged the Charleston of today."

Hoppin' John's closed for renovations after Hurricane Hugo tore through town in 1989. Although the store was losing money in the years before the hurricane, according to court documents filed in conjunction with a servicemark infringement lawsuit against Hoppin' John's nightclub, it reopened the following year, and stayed in business until 1999.

The book Taylor developed during his year away from the store, "Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking," remains in print.