Have you ever been in a new city, feeling slightly unsure of yourself, when you stumble into an unassuming place and become instantly overwhelmed with the realization of "Oh my goodness, I'm home"?
Such was my experience the other day when I was roaming the Charleston suburb of Mt. Pleasant, looking for a place to pop in for a quick lunch. I had remembered someone telling me about a place called Southern Season that a fantastic happy hour which, I was also told, happened to be a restaurant+specialty grocery+bakery+deli combo. Instantly intrigued, I typed the name into my GPS and naively drove to its location. My apologies fellow Chuck-towners who are already in the know about this place, but this was a hot tip that I had to follow.
I arrived at an unassuming, new-ish strip mall development, and my destination housed in what looks like a former mega-grocery store outpost. Usually these types of mixed-use foodie places have a more of a bohemian, eclectic-looking vibe, so my high hopes that had accumulated during my drive were not maintained. All that changed upon entry, and once again, I relearned the age-old lesson of "don't judge a book by its cover"....
Suffice to say, culinary Mecca is what waited for me behind Southern Season's perfectly cleaned, automatic sliding glass doors. I felt instantly in my "element", and was consumed by the warm feeling that you can only have when you feel truly at home. As it turns out, the Southern Season flagship store opened in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1975, and expanded down here to the low country in 2013, with plans to open a third location in Richmond, Virginia later this year.
Led by a complex array of delicious aromas, I found myself at the bakery+deli section, which to my pure childish delight, I discovered they were offering freshly made cronuts! Elated to find these scrumptious treats available in the middle of the day and that I did not have to fight off lines of Angelenos or Brooklynites for, I ordered two without hesitation: one Valentine's Day-themed with strawberry creme and heart sprinkles, another one plain to use as the control. (*Interesting side note: upon ordering the cronuts the nice girl at the counter promptly explained how cronut "inventor" Dominique Ansel had copyrighted the name "cronut"; now, any bakery with the good sense to share the goodness of this delectable creation must come up with an alternative name. Southern Season, for all intents and purposes, decided to call theirs a doussant. Anywho, I digress... )
As I distractedly wandered away from the bakery counter, I was amazed at all that I found within the expansive store: an extensive wine department, a cheese+charcuterie counter, a chocolate and candy emporium, a coffee and tea bar, a fine china and house goods section, plus an extensive cooking hardware and equipment division, just to name the highlights. The aforementioned fine dining restaurant (that boasts the satisfying happy hour) and a large staged kitchen devoted to the store's Cooking School are located on either sides of the store (I'll save those details for another day). Just to illustrate the vastness of Southern Season's offerings, take a look at this floor plan that I was able to dig up.
(*Insider's scoop: contrary to the usual advice, this is a great place to shop when you're hungry. Generous cheese, bread, and dessert samples abound. Plus, the sales people are very generous (almost pushy!) with their yummy product tastings. I almost wasn't hungry for my lunch when I left.)
All in all, I escaped an hour later with, in addition to my two cherished cronuts, a freshly-made sandwich on their housemade baguette called "the Devil on the Green" (smoked turkey, goat cheese, mango chutney, arugula), two dark chocolate and nut bars (Valentine's Day treats for my fiance), a heartwarming card for my special man, and the latest issue of Dwell Magazine. I left feeling happy, reassured, and thinking to myself: I"ll be back...