Q: I’m spending a few days in Beaufort next month. What should I eat?
A: Local shrimp, whenever you can. In fact, depending on the timing of your trip, you might be able to catch the Beaufort Shrimp Festival, scheduled for Oct. 5 and Oct. 6. In typical festival fashion, the downtown bonanza will have live music, crafters and a fun run, but the event stays true to its purpose with food booths featuring local restaurant chefs; they’ll compete for the crowd’s affections and a best dish Silver Cup. Additionally, if you’re skilled at removing shrimp heads, there’s a heading contest in the works. Check out facebook.com/BeaufortShrimpFest for more information.
Beyond shrimp, your safest bet is to stick to Italian food, for reasons I haven’t entirely puzzled out. Pat Conroy’s beloved Griffin Market, which he described as “glorious” in a review that he insisted Lowcountry Weekly allow him to write, remains the city’s best restaurant. Owners Laura and Riccardo Bonino seven years ago relocated the restaurant from Washington, D.C., and their devotion to seasonal, Piedmontese cooking made the trip unscathed. Laura Bonino’s dishes are both soulful and thoughtful, and well worth the required reservation.
In the Italian-American realm, the folks behind stalwart Saltus River Grill last summer opened Hearth Wood Fired Pizza, an attractively warm dining room with a red domed Marra Forni brick oven at its center. The oven is surrounded by wood salvaged from Hurricane Matthew, offering a quiet reminder that the nearby sea isn’t just a source of sweet shrimp.
Pizzas here are thicker than the oven’s makers likely intended, and apparently nobody accounted for the moisture content of the mushrooms on the pie I tried: The pizza was wettish throughout, instead of just soggy at the center. But the meatballs, made with a blend of pork and beef, are terrific, whether served with pasta or on a sandwich.
If pizza’s on your list, the impressive Old Bull Tavern keeps its oven roaring long after the moody pub’s kitchen has closed. John Marshall, who opened Al Di La in West Ashley in 2002, launched Old Bull in 2012, winning over locals with his sophisticated approach. Even if you’ve already eaten elsewhere, Old Bull is an ideal stop for house-smoked mullet dip and an estimable old fashioned. (I haven’t yet had a whole meal there, but it’s atop my list for when I’m next in town).
Finally, while it has nothing to do tomato sauce or anything else passably Italian, Lowcounty Produce Market & Café is a charming place for breakfast. Try the made-to-order doughnuts.