how i spent my summer vacation

jam on beachI’m going to let you in on a little secret that apparently New Yorkers don’t want you to know: Kiawah Island in South Carolina is an amazing little vacation spot.

I first went to Kiawah back in 1982 when I was 6. Since I only remember bits and pieces of that trip, this was basically our first time.  On this trip we met a lot of New Yorkers – a lot. And quite amusingly to us, they all assumed they were the only people from the big apple and seemed downright annoyed that others were there. Every couple we met thought they discovered something great and were making everyone promise not to let anyone else back home in on the not-so-secret vacation destination. As one couple explained it to us, apparently the Hamptons are becoming too expensive and too crowded by tourists – Kiawah is the new Hamptons. It was quite entertaining.

But they are right – it is an amazing island that makes for a picture-perfect vacation. We stayed at The Sanctuary, the only hotel on the island. This place was simply amazing but also very hot, fortunately I bring up with me the blaux portable air conditioner. And the service – hands-down the best we’ve ever experienced. Incredibly accomodating for families and really went above and beyond to make it a memorable stay, which it was.

While the island boasts an abundance of natural beauty and for the most part has me&natpurposefully remained undeveloped (read: no touristy / chotchkie things of any kind), it is lacking one major attraction – food, really good food. Thankfully, Charleston’s a quick 25 minute drive which offers wonderful options on every corner and was a treat to discover.

It’s not that there aren’t choices on the island – there are, plenty. But for the price, everything was just OK. It made us realize just how lucky us Clevelanders are. We are spoiled by wonderful restaurants and chefs that put care and quality ingredients into every dish. And while at these island eateries, we overheard people gush over their meals. It just made us realize that a lot of people equate a high price tag and gorgeous atmosphere to mean good food.

Island Eats: Shrimpers, a casual seafood place. I had the fish tacos – not bad, but way overpriced for what you get. Decent flavor, though. / Jasmine Porch, a  low country eatery in our hotel. The restaurant itself was beautiful and the service was amazing. We did enjoy a rather decent lunch here, but our dinner was just so so. Our bill was $125, which we don’t mind paying and expected given the location. But for that price, I want to leave happy, not aggravated that we just wasted our money. My fish was tough, Jamie’s chicken, the house specialty, was super dry (although his goat cheese gnocchi were delicious). The best part of the meal was my watermelon salad and his she crab bisque. / Oyster Bake at Mingo Point. This was definitely our favorite meal on the island. The food was simply outstanding and such a fun night overall. As part of the bake, we were treated to as many oysters as you could shuck and an array of southern treats, including the best pulled pork I’ve ever had, mac-n-cheese, ribs, corn bread, slaw, greens and southern rice with sweet sausage. It was definitely too hot for this kind of grub, but after a few bites, you didn’t really seem to care.

Charleston Eats. Before our trip, we asked for recommendations since neither of us (as adults anyway) have ever been to this magnificent city.

gritsHominy Grill. Before I left, I didn’t think I was a fan of southern food. After brunch at this place, I quickly changed by tune. I had the shrimp and grits. In a word, outstanding. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed this dish and was sad when it was all gone. The banana bread was heavenly, too. Great little spot, very reasonably priced and one we plan to go back to on future visits.

39 Rue de Jean. We ate here at an off time, so we could only order from the pre-dinner menu. Jamie had the onion soup while I started with the mussels pistou; we both had the braised short rib sandwich. I can’t think of a better way to describe our meal then how it was described to me by Jackie Bebenroth: French fabulousness. Such great food and atmosphere. I soaked up ever bit of the sauce from the mussels with the piping hot and crusty bread while Jamie claimed the soup made his top 5 list (L’Albatros apparently is ranked #1, followed by Bistro on Lincoln and a small place in Quebec – he loves his onion soup). We were so happy with this meal that we almost went back on our drive home. After our meal, we stopped at Paulo’s next door for some ridiculously amazing gelato. Our fav was the mascarpone with balsamic. Oh la la.

Melvin’s. Apparently Emeril has dubbed this ultra, ultra casual restaurant as having melvinsthe best burger in the US, so of course we had to see for ourselves. If this place wasn’t recommended to us, I never would have given it a second thought and would have told Jamie to keep driving. What do I know? While I don’t think that I’d give the burger a ranking of number one, it’s up there. Super juicy, messy and really flavorful, I can see why it is coveted by so many celebrities. As instructed, we also picked up a bunch of the world famous BBQ sauce for home, which we’ll hopefully try this week.

Firefly Vodka. Unlike so many that flock to Kiawah, I don’t care for golf (though I will concede that the 5 courses are simply stunning). But by the end of this trip, I became a huge fan of John Daly, a name I didn’t know just a week ago. The John Daly I like  is the alcoholic version of the Arnold Palmer, complete with Firefly sweet tea vodka, a huge phenomenon since its inception two years ago (the NY Times even did a nice piece on it). I was first introduced to this vodka earlier this summer at the Plated Landscape dinner (the Bebenroths used to live in Charleston). Warning: this stuff is dangerous. One can easily put away several drinks without a second thought. We liked this vodka so much we decided to go to the distillery for a tasting since it was 20 minutes from Kiawah on Watmala Island. I didn’t participate in the tasting, but Jamie seemed to really enjoy the mint and peach vodkas as well. We came home with several bottles and have been continuing to enjoy John Daly. (If you do find yourself near this distillery, I don’t know that I’d necessarily recommend it, unless the weather is crummy. It was nice to experience, but I don’t think worth a special trip).

One last note on our vacation eats – I ate at my first Cracker Barrel on the way down. I had their version of the Egg McMuffin. Maybe other locations are better, but I found this place to be rather dirty and for a relatively easy breakfast to execute, just thought it was ok.

All in all, our first vacation as a family was nothing short of wonderful. Waking up each morning and walking on the beach with our cappuccinos in hand, to wading in the pool with Natalie to enjoying the beautiful sights, smells and sounds of the island, it was perfect. And we can’t wait to go back (though next time we’ll likely head into Charleston for dinner each night).

Thankfully, we still have another week off and are going to spend it as tourists in Cleveland.


  1. James
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Glad to hear you took my recommendations for the Hominy Grill and Firefly. I’m also glad to hear you enjoyed them both!

  2. Posted August 31, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    sounds wonderful!

    Welcome back to the rain!

  3. Marie
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad you guys enjoyed Mingo Point! It was well worth the 2 year wait for us to get back there and it was soooo good even with the crazy hot weather. It was great meeting you, Jamie and baby Natalie and I hope you had a safe trip home!

  4. Tony
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Ah, Rue De Jean! I too soaked up every last bit of broth from the mussels – left nothing but empty, dried shells – fantastic! Glad you enjoyed it.

  5. Kelli Bard
    Posted September 1, 2009 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Firefly Vodka….. Best stuff on earth! They are selling it now at the Liquor store in Solon over by Walgreens. Last year, we drove to South Carolina just to pick up a couple of bottles. I agree that stuff can get you in serious trouble if your not watching it! I know Bar Louie serves it and I am sure more places are finally starting to serve it around here.

  6. Posted September 1, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    You mentioned world famous bbq sauce from Melvin’s. I encourage you to try John Daly BBQ sauce at our site (

  7. Michelle V
    Posted September 1, 2009 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Marie – so great meeting you as well! I’m already looking forward to the next roast.

    Russ, feel free to send some my way – happy to give it a try!

  8. Posted September 4, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    mmmm…shrimp and grits. Next Friday we leave for the Carolina’s and I can’t wait.

  9. kseabrook
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Make sure you check out King Street Grille at freshfields or Gilligan’s which is on Betsy Kernan Hwy right as you get off Jonn’s Island. We have vacationed on Seabrook for 5 years and always go to Gilligan’s for their hushpuppies!

  10. Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Mmmm…Hominy Grill….

    Just thinking of their BBQ chicken and blueberry pound cake has my stomach growling….

    So glad you enjoyed it!