As a South Carolina native, I’ve been a sampler of fine Southern cuisine for many years, and as one of the founders of the Southern Sampler Artists Colony, I was thrilled to be sharing that cuisine with a great troupe of writers joining us for our Eat, Play, Write April writers retreat. Having set up, along with SSAC co-founder Mary Brent Cantarutti, an unusual and far ranging culinary tour, I was looking forward to dining at T.W. Graham & Company Seafood Restaurant, an eating establishment in McClellanville, South Carolina. In fact, T.W. Graham & Company is the only restaurant in McClellanville … and it is enough.
We had just finished Bud Hill’s walking tour of this small coastal shrimping village with its population of only 491 and were delighted when Bud joined us for dinner, never pausing in his stories about the town he loved. Bud told us that the original owner of the building in which the restaurant is situated was a man with the improbable name of Buster Brown. Apparently, Buster lived by the philosophy of not following the usual rules. Bud pointed toward the vacant lot next door and explained that Buster had expanded the building way beyond its present location. The only flaw in this ambition? Buster didn’t own the land. In addition, he installed the septic tank on yet another property he didn’t own.
But, that was yesteryear. That night I ate the best crab balls I’d ever eaten. Although I was born and reared in the South, I had never heard of crab balls—crab cakes, yes, crab balls, no. About the size of a good meatball, they were fresh, light, with just the right spices—large enough for maybe two or three bites, but tasty enough to gulp down in one. Bud proudly related that they had been written up in Bon Appetite. I should stop here and explain that T.W. Graham & Company was originally a general store and still retains many artifacts from its past; this is not a fancy white-tablecloth-and-flickering-candle upscale place. No, it is at best called “rustic”.
When one of our party spotted fried green tomatoes on the menu, it brought memories of the 1991 movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, starring Cathy Bates and Jessica Tandy. Laughing at shared passions, my travel companions and I ordered a plate for the table. Crisply fried, the firm green tomato retained enough “bite” to make it a tasty treat. Since some of our group came from California, this was a new experience in Southern cuisine. The next course was a delicious carrot and ginger soup topped with a crostini and a small yellow flower. I ate it all.
It was a good thing one dinner partner and I decided to split the shrimp platter. It came in a traditional red plastic basket. Carefully placed on a bed of mesclun greens sat twenty-five perfectly fried shrimp that must have been swimming in the ocean that very morning. Sweet potato fries, cole slaw and hush puppies completed the meal. We almost cleaned the plate, and I’m certain my satisfied smile indicated to us both that we had indeed eaten at the best restaurant in town.
—Martha Dabbs Greenway
Martha Dabbs Greenway was born in a central South Carolina small town and today lives a few miles out from that town at Dabbs Crossroads—a community of cousins—in the family farmhouse built by her grandfather. Though she has left the comfort of this familiar setting at various times in her life to pursue new opportunities and adventures, her Southern roots have always called her home. In 2006, she and Mary Brent Cantarutti founded the Southern Sampler Artists Colony, an organization that offers workshops for writers, artists and photographers both at The Crossroads and in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Poetry and short stories are her writing media, although her reading choices range from memoir to mystery. She’s a USC graduate with an English Literature major and a minor in History. Martha’s thirty-one years with the Sumter County Cultural Commission provide a rich background in all the arts as well as experience in forming spaces for artists to be creative.