Savannah is awesome! Everyone knows this. But for residents of the quintessential Southern city, it’s good to get away from it all every now and then. Luckily, a day trip to Beaufort, SC (with some stops along the way in Bluffton) is easy to do, and it is well worth it because these two towns are full of delicious gems, local brews, and character to rival their bigger sisters in Savannah and Charleston.
Bluffton is about 30 minutes from downtown Savannah, and there are a handful of thrift stores along the way with excellent vintage housewares, furniture, truly awesome vintage clothes, and the odd assortment of books that only a small-town thrift store can accumulate. Leaving early is a priority, not just for the thrifting, but also to sample as much stellar food and drink as possible.
Nearby one thrift store, we passed a mom ‘n’ pop joint called Squat and Gobble. A name like that beckons to me across ages of Southern heritage, odd eating postures, and post-everything hipster irony. They’re only open for breakfast and lunch, and I regret having had my breakfast before leaving Savannah. Next time, Squat and Gobble, next time.
The Cottage Cafe, Bakery and Tea Room
Upon arriving in downtown Bluffton, one may not initially be impressed. But one would be wrong, so wrong. It doesn’t look like much is going on, but if you dig a little beneath the sleepy facade, the town is full of hidden treasures.
My fiance, Elizabeth, and I made our way to The Cottage Cafe, Bakery and Tea Room for an early lunch. This place is a wonder to behold. The cottage has some tables outside on the porch and a few more underneath some umbrellas in the front yard, but it was a blistering hot day, so we went inside. Inside, more cozy seating fills the space and the walls are filled with homemade blackberry jam, pickled okra, cornbread mix, and the all-important Cottage Cookbook, so you can try to recreate some culinary wizardry in your own home.
We were slow to look at the menu, as we sat adjacent to the dessert case and stared with eyes full and jaws slackened. I had to physically turn myself away from it just so I could manage to focus on the menu lying open in front of me.
Our server, Matt, was friendly and attentive, letting us know the day’s specials as he made some recommendations and answered all of our questions. I went with the shrimp and oyster pot pie, and Elizabeth chose the fried green tomatoes. The salads arrived first, and on Matt’s recommendation we both ordered the housemade caesar. We were not disappointed. The salad was a lively blend of greens and romaine, topped with shaved carrots and fresh parmesan. The dressing was the star, though: A creamy caesar vinaigrette with hints of basil was indulgent, yet light, and left us wanting more salad–a rare occurrence for me.
After finishing our salads, Matt appeared with the entrees. My pot pie was semi-deconstructed, as all the goodness of the vegetables, shrimp, and oysters sat beneath a beautifully crisp, airy puff pastry that seemed to float atop the dish. It was genuine fun to break apart the pastry and mix it into the pie filling as I ate greedily, ensuring I had scallions and creme fraiche mixed into every bite. This is one dish that will not leave anyone hungry, as the portion is large and the mix of carrots, mushrooms, corn and peas–not to mention the shrimp and fresh oysters–is hearty and rich.
Now, I have a confession. I’m not a huge fan of fried green tomatoes, and I know that makes me at least 5% less Southern, but, there you have it. However, the Cottage made me a believer. Elizabeth’s dish was a generous serving of three beautifully fried green tomato slices, topped with a chunky red tomato sauce and sauteed shrimp and served with a side of their homemade cornbread. The tomatoes were juicy and slightly tangy, and the combination of red sauce and shrimp elevated this Southern staple beyond what I had previously thought possible.
We ended our indulgent lunch with two desserts: a mini key lime cheesecake and a pecan tartlet. We got these to go, so we could stroll about the quaint, artsy side of Bluffton that surrounds the Cottage and enjoy these outside. The mini cheesecake had a lime jelly on top that gave a citrus pop to the rich, creamy bite, and the pecan tartlet was reminiscent of a homemade pecan pie reproduced as a personal miniature. Needless to say, the desserts didn’t last long once we sampled them.
The Cottage also features a full bar and surprisingly robust wine menu, considering the relative size of the space. For those looking for a more traditional Southern indulgence, they also offer a full tea service, replete with fresh baked scones, finger sandwiches, and assorted sweet treats.
Old Bull Tavern
After walking off our lunch, we made our way to Beaufort, where a cool little restaurant called the Old Bull Tavern awaited us. We only had one afternoon here, so we stuck to the scenic waterfront walk and perused some shops there. However, Beaufort is worth exploring; the amount of history compressed into this town is breathtaking and well deserving of a deep dive. But, alas, maybe next time…when I hit the Squat and Gobble on the way.
The Old Bull Tavern sits just off the main drag in downtown Beaufort. They open at 5 p.m., and you’d better get there early or make sure you have a reservation because they fill up fast. We arrived about 30 minutes after opening and snagged a couple seats at the bar to settle down with a cocktail and look over the menu.
Their menu is individually printed each day, so it changes often. (Some might even say daily.) That doesn’t matter too much, though, because whatever you get will be outstanding. We ordered the specialty cocktail of the day, the Back 40. It was a refreshing drink for a hot day, featuring house-infused watermelon vodka, cynar, lemon, and mixed with wheat beer. For those leery of beer cocktails, this will make you wish more places experimented with them. They also feature an extensive wine and beer menu, house cocktails and classics like Sazerac and Corpse Reviver, so no matter your fancy, they’ve got you covered.
We started by ordering a bar snack of pork belly steamed buns. If you’ve never had the chance to experience pork belly, you need to reevaluate your priorities. These fatty little darlings melt in your mouth after an initial bacon-like crack when you bite. They go perfectly with anything and everything, because they are the perfect snack. Forever and ever. Amen.
After devouring the pork belly sliders much too quickly, it was time to order a middle course. We went with duck confit, served over butternut squash and apple jus. The duck’s skin was crispy and pulled right off the meat, which was juicy and tender thanks to the slow cooking process and rendering of duckfat. The sweetness of the squash and apple jus was a perfect complement to this savory little bird.
Another round of cocktails and some conversation with our server let us know that they take their drinks seriously around these parts, and that many of the house cocktails are created by the staff in order to showcase their tastes and personalities. Then he asked if we were still hungry, and I nearly laughed out loud. Even if I wasn’t hungry, nothing would come between me and a grilled black angus tenderloin with gorgonzola butter. Sure the menu also offered grilled pork chops with sweet corn polenta, lamb shank, and salmon on black lentils, but the beef was calling to me.
The plate arrived. Behold–a layer of seasoned olive oil on the bottom, upon which sat tender slices of grilled angus (I order steak medium-rare, and this was cooked perfectly) layered with gorgonzola butter, creamy mashed potatoes, and fresh green beans that had a satisfying crunch to them. The steak itself was seasoned lightly as the real star of the show became the gorgonzola butter, which made every single bite a mouth-watering affair of tender, savory black angus and sweet, aromatic oil and cheese. This is one steak that you want to eat slowly, letting the flavors melt over your palate in succession. The potatoes did a superb job of soaking up the remnants of gorgonzola and olive oil that remained, ensuring a truly complementary side dish.
All told, our three-course meal at Old Bull Tavern lasted about 2 hours, and though Elizabeth and I shared each dish, we left with both bellies and hearts full. The staff at Old Bull is attentive, lively, and personable, and if you don’t mind sitting at a bar stool, they are great conversationalists without ever being intrusive–they definitely know how to make sure your evening is delicious and memorable.
After the Old Bull Tavern, we decided to head back to Savannah. The sun was setting, and as we passed over the Talmadge Bridge, the city we call home welcomed us back with arms open, enveloping us in its charm and mystery. A day trip to Bluffton and Beaufort had shown us that great foodie experiences are closer than we thought, but it also had one more unexpected consequence: We both now have a renewed zeal to rediscover what makes Savannah’s foodie scene so renowned.