When you think of Beaufort, you can’t help think of food. For centuries, our local dishes have combined the local seafood available in abundance in our waters with the bounty of our rich agricultural industry.
The names of some of our native Lowcountry dishes are almost as colorful as all of the super-fresh local ingredients that go into them: She-crab soup, Frogmore stew, and Hoppin’ John, just to name a few.
The Lowcountry teems with life from the Atlantic, and for centuries our local cooks have turned to the water for culinary inspiration. Crabs, shrimp, fish, and oysters form the basis of any traditional menu; as well as rice, grits, and the produce of the coastal plain all play an instrumental role in Lowcountry cooking.
While we enjoy a menu full of amazing dishes, we chose five that we feel nobody should miss out on.
Shrimp & Grits
Shrimp & grits combines two of the simplest and most abundant local foods in the Lowcountry. Shrimp, and stone ground corn..aka grits. It’s historically a traditional breakfast dish, though many consider it more of a lunch or supper dish. Starting out as a seasonal fisherman’s dish of shrimp cooked in bacon grease served over creamy grits, they were also known as “breakfast shrimp.” The simple seafood breakfast became an iconic Southern dish after Craig Claiborne wrote about it in the New York Times in the 1980’s, taking the dish national and creating a huge interest in it.
It’s a fantastic comfort food and, simply put, it’s good.
You can find it on menus throughout the Beaufort area including, Panini’s on the Waterfront, Sea Eagle Market & Good Eats, Blackstone’s Cafe, Plums Restaurant and Steamer Oyster & Steakhouse.
Frogmore Stew, also known as Beaufort Boil or Lowcountry Boil is a staple here in the Lowcountry and has been bringing friends and families together for generations.
The meal is easily cooked with a variety of on hand ingredients including shrimp, sausage, corn and potatoes in a huge pot. (some use seasonings, Old Bay and even their favorite beer) Then it’s traditionally dumped onto the table and enjoyed by all.
Frogmore is name of a community in the middle of St. Helena Island. Although there are many versions of this dish around, the name Frogmore Stew was coined in the 1960s by Richard Gay, one of the owners of Gay Fish Company, circa 1948, on St. Helena Island. Frogmore Stew became far more well-known after is was featured on the cover of Gourmet Magazine in the 1980s, and is enjoyed by all, with this name, to this day.
In 2005, The Travel Channel featured Richard’s brother, Charles Gay, cooking Frogmore Stew in its popular program Taste of America with Mark DeCarlo.
The origins of this meal go farther back to the cuisine of the Gullah/Geechee peoples of the Sea Islands along the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. Africans in the slave trade often brought with them not only cooking influences from their homeland, but Spanish and French cooking influences as well. Meals for large gatherings of people would have to be made as quickly as possible with readily-available foods. The boil was a quick and easy way to prepare all the foods at once.
Today, it has legendary status. Southern Living Magazine has referred to it as ‘the whole Lowcountry in one pot’.
It’s a must have, and you can find it on the menu at Sea Eagle Market & Good Eats and at Plums Restaurant.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Local Beaufort tomatoes have been making their rounds throughout the U.S. for decades and folks love ’em. Before they become plump ripe red beauties perfect for slicing and making that tomato sandwich, the unripened green tomato has a following all of its own.
We like to keep things simple in the south and traditional preparation of fried green tomatoes is just that, simple…seasoned with salt and pepper, coated with plain cornmeal and shallow fried for a few minutes each side. That’s it.
People just love them. There’s something about the dish is just extraordinary; the combination of firm-fleshed tomato with crunchy cornmeal coating, the slight tartness of the unripe fruit (vegetable?) balancing out the oiliness of the exterior.
She Crab Soup
The addition of the crab roe (or crab eggs) is credited to William Deas, a butler and a cook to R. Goodwyn Rhett, mayor of Charleston. According the local legend, William Howard Taft (1857-1930), 27th president of the United States, was being wined and dined by Mayor R. Goodwyn Rhett at the home of one of the original signers of the United States Constitution, John Rutledge. Supposedly, the Rhetts’ asked their butler to “dress up” the pale crab soup they usually served. The butler added orange-hued crab eggs to give color and improve the flavor, thus inventing the delicacy known today as She Crab Soup.
You can find it on the menu at Panini’s on the Waterfront and Emily’s Restaurant in downtown Beaufort and at Bella Luna Cafe on St. Helena Island.
You’ll be glad you did.