Saturday, July 18, 2015

Stand Up Paddleboarding Picturesque Morgan Creek With Ocean Fitness

At the northern end of the Isle of Palms, on the edge of the island’s vast backwater estuary, is the rising and ebbing tidal waters of Morgan Creek—a meandering stretch of water with a dual personality. It is home to the IOP Marina and the Morgan Creek Grill—both located where the creek opens up into the Intracoastal Waterway from which visitors and diners are treated to an unparalleled panoramic view of the estuary’s saltwater marshes.

From the marina, paddling northward to a bridge connecting one shoreline to the other, Morgan Creek is a densely lined tract of beautiful villas belonging to the Wild Dunes Resort Complex and a maze of docks and piers crowded with boats of all shapes and sizes, but once you paddle beyond the crustacean covered pillars of the cement bridge and the last villa on the left disappears into the salt grass, you will have slipped into the serene and pristine world along the Pine Island estuary—a place where the surface of the creek’s nutrient rich saltwater bubble with schools of darting fish, marsh crabs scurry about under fallen driftwood deposited along the grassy sand banks, mountains of oyster beds rise above the rising and ebbing tidal waters, and birds of many feathers prowl the banks in search of a their preferred delicacies.

It was 1:00 in the afternoon and the temperature was a humid 97 degrees when I arrived at the marina and Ocean Fitness—the place from which I rented the stand up paddleboard. There was a group of six people waiting to be outfitted with kayaks. I asked if there was going to be any other SUPers. Ocean Fitness said 12 SUPers had come in from the creek just before I arrived. The next group of 12 were scheduled for 6:15 pm—every Wednesday Ocean Fitness offers a “Social Paddle” for $20 and if you bring your own board, it is free. The idea is to meet other people who love to paddle. It is a one hour paddle and afterwards, the group goes to the Morgan Creek Grill across from the rental shack.

With sunglasses, P.F.D., dry bag containing cell phone, and bottle of water secured to the board, I pushed away from the docks. It was low tide. So, the underside of the creek’s high tide water mark was visible. The tall pillars used to secure the many boats were packed with clusters of oyster shells—something you wouldn’t see at high tide. As I floated along the villa lined creek, boat traffic was very light and the docks were eerily deserted—must have been the heat of the day. There was a few individuals working on their boats. A couple of people outfitted in scuba gear were cleaning the bottom of their yachts. And once I passed under the bridge, it was a soul soothing, visually beautiful paddle into the pristine Pine Island estuary along the saltwater marshes of the Isle of Palms. For the two hours I was on the creek, I was the only stand up paddleboarder.

There is only one place to rent stand up paddleboards at the IOP Marina. Shared with Coastal Expeditions, the rental shack is next to the Marina Market on 41st Avenue where the marina boat ramp is located. Ocean Fitness rents the stand up paddleboards and Coastal Expeditions rents the kayaks.

Dedicated watermen and private instructors for many years, brothers Stu and Brian Schuck created Ocean Fitness. It is a rider driven company offering sup lessons, eco tours, rentals, sales, and other lessons such as kite surfing or surfing. Its team of instructors are all around watermen. Its stand up paddleboards are the best on the market. The instructors are knowledgeable, personable and helpful. Although, I paid for the two-hour paddle, the representative on duty told me not to be concerned with returning within the two hours. For the complete story and tours go to Ocean Fitness.

When it comes to a great stand up paddleboard experience, IOP Marina and Ocean Fitness is one of the best places to start. You can choose to either paddle Morgan Creek through Wild Dunes or enter the Intracoastal Waterway. The waters are serene and offers the rewarding opportunity to paddle the secluded and tranquil estuaries along the Isle of Palms—rich with marine and avian wildlife.

Friday, July 3, 2015

This Summerville Restaurant Should Be Your Dining Destination--Five Loaves Cafe

…When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip: "Where will we buy bread for these people to eat?" However, he was saying this to test him, for he knew what he was about to do...Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him: "Here is a little boy who has five barley loaves and two small fish. But what are these among so many?" Jesus said: "Have the men sit down." As there was a lot of grass in that place, the men sat down there, about 5,000 in number. Jesus took the bread, and after giving thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there; he did likewise with the small fish, and they had as much as they wanted… I was told this Biblical story was the inspiration behind the name Five Loaves Café.

I recently broke bread at the Summerville location--the newest of three in the Lowcountry area and formerly the Farringdon Bistropub. The building, at 214 N. Cedar Street, was completely gutted and beautifully remodeled.

Walking up the front steps unto the restaurant’s broad porch, I was treated to the first of its distinctive features. Mounted overhead, on the ceiling, were three old entry doors with 12 randomly spaced lights dangling from them--examples of the restaurants use of sustainable materials. Upon entering, we were immediately directed to our table. On the way, I noticed many familiar faces from around town. Where we were seated, it was bright, open, and cozy. The surrounding walls were free of clutter with pictures mounted smartly here and there. Hanging nearby, the dinner specials were listed on a large role of brown paper that could be changed when needed by pulling it through and tearing it off.

A second distinctive feature was on the top of the wooden table we were seated at. Painted in black and in a circle was a quote from Voltaire, which read: "Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity." Eating and drinking was the obvious reason for being at Five Loaves. As to the pleasure reference in the quote, the proof would be in the pudding, which by the way was not on the menu, but no matter, if I was looking for pudding I would have gone to a certain fast-food restaurant I will leave unnamed. There were plenty of other reasonable choices available on the menu for making a suitable appraisal of the food.

Scanning the menu, the first thing that pleasantly caught my eye was the modestly priced, gluten-free Entrees, Shareables, Ruffage, Soups and what Five Loaves called Between the Bread (sandwiches). Artfully named and scrumptiously described, it was difficult making a choice, but ultimately I chose the Mediterranean Garden Burger ($8.25) in between sour dough bread with a Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella ($8.50) salad accompanied with balsamic roasted garlic dressing. Other dishes ordered at our table: Local Shrimp Gnocchi ($14) and Roasted Pork Saltimbocca.

When the dishes arrived, they were picture perfect and magazine ready—fresh, colorful, and creatively arranged in an artistic fashion. In answer to Voltaire’s quote mentioned earlier, it was a pleasure consuming the delectable dishes. Congratulations go to Chef Stephen Harman for a table of superbly prepared dishes.

Bottles of wine were offered at ½ price. Our choices were a Hook and Ladder Gewürztraminer and a Zolo Malbec 2014. The Gewürztraminer was an intensely spiced, aromatic wine with a hint of honeysuckle and grapefruit. The Malbec was a blend with a high intensity of black fruits, raspberries, and violets. The bottles were delivered to the table by managing partner Ruthie Harmon. Displaying a friendly smile and inviting disposition, she opened and poured the wine and answered questions we had about the wine and the restaurant.

Five Loaves Café has undeniably become a Summerville favorite. On any given day, lunch or dinner, their healthy, gluten-free, and vegetarian-friendly dishes make them a highly recommended choice for omnivores and vegans alike. It provides a variety of vegetarian options with popular soup/salad/sandwich combinations. Salads made with vegetables grown locally are served with house-made dressings. Its appetizing sandwiches feature meats from local Charleston area farms. Soups are house made and different each day and night. The entrees are unmatched and reasonably priced. Its staff is courteous, hospitable, and helpful. Its atmosphere is uplifting and people friendly. If you are looking for the overall satisfying dining experience, this restaurant should be your destination.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bask In The Aura Of Historic Charleston Harbor On The Wind And A Sail--Schooner Pride

Standing in the shade of the Aquarium Wharf's brick retaining walls dockside, while waiting to board the 84 foot tall ship, the soothing breeze coming off the water was a welcome relief to the sultry heat of the mid-afternoon Charleston sun. On the deck of the three mast schooner, the able crew of three were making final preparations for our groups 4pm departure on a sailing tour described as a way "to escape the crowded streets and sweltering heat of downtown Charleston" to "take in the Holy City the way it was meant to be seen, from the peaceful waters of Charleston Harbor."

With the humid air brimming with excited anticipation, the appointed time arrived. After being checked off the passenger list one by one, we boarded the green and white vessel and took our preferred seats. With everyone aboard, the ship was filled from stem to stern. The captain gave some final departing instructions and immediately after the command, "Let's shove off."

The mooring lines were loosened and we drifted away from the murky tidal waters of the docks. The captain fired-up the Schooner Pride's cruising engine and we entered the bluer, deeper waters of the harbor where the crew, with the help of volunteers, unfurled the canvas sails and secured the running rigging beginning with the jib.

You could feel the forward thrust as the sails scooped up the moist, salty harbor breeze, splitting the rolling surf and bowing to one side in submission. The experience was everything I expected and more as we basked in the aura of the Charleston Harbor waterfront to the consoling sounds of splashing water, creaking masts and bay breezes rushing by.

Not a narrated tour, the Schooner Pride's daily sails offer its passengers a unique way to enjoy the serenity of Charleston Harbor and the soft breezes and beautiful views without having to take in nonstop information. When not busy adjusting the sails and serving refreshments, the knowledgeable crew are happy to point out the numerous landmarks and answer questions you may choose to ask. Landmarks like the storied WWII air craft carrier, USS Yorktown, docked at Patriot's Point, Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Fort Johnston, Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, the East Battery, White Point Gardens and along the shores of James Island into the entrance of the Ashley River and the waterfront of the South Battery to the Charleston Marina.

Each day, three different tours are offered: an Afternoon Dolphin Sail($37 for 2 hours), a Sunset Sail on Charleston Harbor($47 adult for 2 hours), and a Moonlight Sail on Charleston Harbor($40 adult for one and a half hours). There are three special event sails: a Sunset Wine Tasting Cruise($60 adult), Ghost Tour on the Schooner Pride($32), and Christmas Parade of Boats Evening Sail. For each cruise, there are rates for children ages 11 and under. Refreshments include wine, soft drinks and packaged goods such as chips and pretzels.

There is no experience comparable to skimming through open waters on the wind and a sail serenaded by the soul-soothing chorus of taunt rigging and a rolling sea with the unmatched scenery of the Charleston waterfront as the backdrop. All you have to do is sit back, soak it in, and let the crew of the Schooner Pride do their thing. If you have not as of yet done this, I highly recommend you give it serious consideration. It will be worth your while to book a cruise.

For an added pleasure, park your car at the Charleston Harbor Resort Marina and take the water taxi to the Aquarium Wharf for $10 a person round trip, all day. It makes four stops every 15 minutes. To view all the pictures, go to Schooner Pride Afternoon Dolphin Tour.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Summervillians And Visitors Filled The Town's Streets To Capacity And Enjoyed The Sweetness

On May 26, 2014, The Azalea Magazine published an article in which it documented the history of the tea plant in America and the South's affinity to sweet tea. It concluded with this momentous statement, "So I'm going to do it. In regards to Summerville's role in the great Southern drink of tea, ice, and sugar, I'm going to step out on a pretty thick limb and say it. Come on and say it with me, Summerville is the birthplace of sweet tea. My appeal to all Summervillians; take pride, take ownership. I feel the need to say it again…Summerville is the birthplace of sweet tea." Well, that limb was the size of Angel Oak's bottom branch and Summervillians have determinedly responded to the appeal.

Since taking ownership of this historic mandate, the town of Summerville has guzzled in the sweetness. The Sweet Tea Trail was established to help visitors and locals alike explore all that Summerville has to offer. Also, the Sweet Tea Festival was inaugurated and is celebrated every September. And quite fittingly, as of June 10, 2015, on National Iced Tea Day, the Birthplace of Sweet Tea smashed the Guinness Book of World Record for the World's Largest Glass of Sweet Tea.

A ten foot container manufactured by Scout Boats and painted for authenticity, the largest glass of sweet tea was positioned in front of Town Hall at the head of the Square. The process for the 1,400 gallons of sweet tea began at 7:00am. At which time, 116 pounds of tea leaves from the Charleston Tea Plantation was brewed. At 11:30am, the concentrate was combined with 2,100 pounds of local sugar from Dixie Crystals and 3,000 pounds of ice was added. The official record ceremony with the Guinness Book of World Records took place mid-afternoon with Bill Collins and the Guinness Book of World Records' representative. Shortly thereafter, the party began, and what a party it was.

The largest crowd I have ever seen in Summerville, outside of the Flowertown Festival, ascended on the town and filled the downtown streets. All of Summerville's sweet tea lovers, desiring to stake their claim in a piece of the action and history, stood in a line that continuously stretched from Town Hall to Central Avenue for several hours. Along with the sweet tea, music lovers danced to great music by Midnight City and others filled the shops and restaurants.

It was amazing and it was historic. It was a testimony to Summerville's affirmation to the appeal made by the Azalea Magazine in 2014 and a demonstration of the Town's community pride. Congratulations and the pictures tell the whole smashing story.

If you want to read the full article from the Azalea Magazine, click on "Birthplace of Sweet Tea."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Cheers To Oak Road Brewery's Momentous And Successful First Opening

It's been a long and winding road for Ben Bankey, Kyle Colston, Brian Cox and Brad Mallett. From inception to fruition, with numerous twists and turns, the road less traveled in a town famous for pine trees and sweet tea made all the difference. The Oak Road Brewery, Summerville's first craft brewery, finally popped the bungs on five of its brews and a crowd of enthusiastic craft beer followers who have been patiently standing on the sidelines for this long awaited day poured through its doors on June 5th.

High above its L-shaped bar constructed from corrugated steel and cement, the inaugural brews were listed on a large, flat screen TV for the exuberant patrons, I will dub Oakies, to peruse and make their selection. On the beer list was a pale ale(Jam Up), a robust porter(Carolina Evening), a Vienna lager(Vienna Lager), a blonde ale(Glass Cutter), and an IPA(Laughing Weasel).

From opening to close, the tasting room highlighted by raised barrel tables, barrel stools, window counters, and stainless steel bar chairs was standing room only and the pours were fast and furious. After the froth finally settled to drink in the goodness, the Oak Road Team savored a very momentous and successful soft opening.

Loyal Coastal Coffee patron and craft beer lover, Michael Waters, summed up his experience with these appreciative words, "Many thanks to the enthusiastic and supportive customers. Again, a great job done well by the wonderful ladies who made it all possible by serving up the best local brew with a smile and all the hard work from Brian, Kyle, Chris, and Ben."

If you haven't been there as of yet or are a visitor to the Birthplace of Sweet Tea, Oak Road Brewery is located in the same building as Summerville's gathering place called "The C"--home of Coastal Coffee Roasters. The Brewery is the perfect collaboration and an integral piece in the community jigsaw puzzle being assembled by Brad Mallett at 108 E 3rd North Street where talent and ideas flourish and grow.

The brewery's CEO, Ben Bankey, shares Brad's commitment to Summerville and stated at its beginning, "Oak Road Brewery will be an integral part to the growth of Summerville with a focus on working with local small businesses to enhance the quality of life for its citizens and tourist alike."

At the moment, there is no set schedule, but future planned openings will be on Friday's and Saturday's. Be sure to follow Oak Road Brewery on their Facebook page for scheduled openings. Meanwhile, cheers and enjoy the pictures of the Brewery's long and winding road.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Five Charleston Lowcountry Events You Want To Experience Before July

As the "number one tourist destination in America", Charleston embraces its lofty claim to fame by providing an endless summer of things to do. Its sun-drenched beaches, beautiful parks, historic landmarks, and hospitable communities are its pride and joy. From the heart of its Old City Market to all points of its surrounding Lowcountry, it is a multifaceted topography jam packed with interesting tours, yearly festivals, tasty cuisine, fashionable shopping, rooftop bars, and an active nightlife to fill your days and evenings.

From Charleston's expansive catalog of things to do, I have picked five events you will want to do before July arrives.

Spoleto Festival Finale
Internationally recognized as America’s premier performing arts festival, the 17-day Spoleto Festival is a celebration dedicated to showcasing and honoring the artists and performers while providing high caliber entertainment from beginning to end for all its patrons.

Beautiful, historic Middleton Place Plantation, home of "the oldest gardens in America", is the host and the backdrop for the finale. The setting is unmatched, the music is entertaining, and the fireworks at the close are spectacular. This is one of my top must-do events.

The 3rd Annual Beer Garden begins at 3:30 p.m. with local craft beers, gourmet picnic fare, and music from the best local and regional bands--4:15pm - 5:00pm Johnny Delaware, and 5:15pm - 6:00pm Steven Fiore. At dusk, the attention turns toward the main stage performance featuring the Alabama-based seven-piece soul band, St. Paul and The Broken Bones, at 8:30pm.

Patrons are welcome to bring their own chairs, blankets, and picnics; food and beverage will also be available for purchase until 7:30pm. Adult Advance ($35.00), Senior ($31.50), Military ($31.50), Child ($15.00). Video of fireworks from 2014. Purchase tickets.

Party at the Point
Charleston Harbor Resort on Patriots Point hosts this beach party every Friday from April to July. You can kick off whatever foot wear you are wearing and sink your toes into its soft, cool sand while listening to the tunes of local bands--one of the top ten on my list of things to do.

Connected to the beach, a long walking pier provides you with a great view of the whole harbor while its balmy breezes wash over you with a splash of salt water scent. It is the only beach in Charleston where you can drink a brew.

The schedule--Seven Handle Circus with The Kenny George Band - May 29th, Banana Pancakes - June 5th, Sol Driven Train with Jordan Igoe June 12th, Reggae Night with The Dubplates - June 19th, and Season Finale with The Dave Matthews Tribute Band - June 26th. Party begins at 5:30pm with a cover charge of $7. More pictures.

Party in the Park
With a stunning view of the Ravenel Bridge towering over the pier at beautiful Memorial Waterfront Park, the Party in the Park offers free music concerts featuring national country music recording artists every Tuesday evening in June at 6:30pm to 8:30pm. The Firefly red pick-up truck is always a welcome sight for me. I always enjoy Firefly's Sweet Tea Vodkas and Moonshine mixes.

The complete lineup: JUNE 2ND--Dan and Shay, JUNE 9TH--Kelsea Ballerini and John King, JUNE 16TH--Canaan Smith and Mo Pitney, JUNE 23RD--Chase Bryant and Craig Wayne Boyd, JUNE 30TH--Kristian Bush and Mickey Guyton.

It is highly recommended you park offsite and hop on a Lowcountry Loop Trolley for a free ride. No coolers allowed; food and beverage are available for purchase.

Wednesday Wine Stroll
The weather and the setting were perfect. There was but a whisper of a breeze playing on the long branches of the old oaks. The fading sun cast a tranquil shade of pleasant over the beautified gardens. The numerous reflective ponds, alive with the chatter of its amphibious residents, were one with the surroundings. Their mirror like surfaces disturbed only by the watchful eyes of the long-toothed reptiles common to these Lowcountry waters.

Beyond the gated ruins and overlooking the Ashley, the four strategically placed tables were elegantly set, two bottles of vino on each, servers in place. Friends, relatives, acquaintances, and couples with cups in hand soaked in the ambiance and engaged in light conversation as they walked from table to table and strolled the numerous intertwined paths of the plantation landscape. All this is courtesy of Middleton Place and its Wednesday Wine Stroll--More pictures. Purchase tickets.

The final stroll is May 27th beginning at 6:00pm to 8:00pm.

Record Smashing Tea Party
The annual celebration of National Iced Tea Day occurs on June 10th. The day is set aside to celebrate the summer drink that has become one of the most popular ways to quench one's thirst in the United States. As an alternative to carbonated soft drinks, iced tea makes up about 85% of all tea consumed. It can be enjoyed sweetened or unsweetened, but here, in the South, sweetened is infused, and the historical concoction is proudly called sweet tea.

On June 10th, the Birthplace of Sweet Tea is going to celebrate the day by attempting to set a new World Record for the World's Largest Glass of Iced Tea, and you are invited to participate. Summerville will be making from scratch a single 1,400 gallon glass of sweet tea, brewed with local tea leaves from America's only tea grower, the Charleston Tea Plantation, and the brew will be sweetened by Dixie Crystals--the sugar of the south.

An Adjudicator from the Guinness Book of World Records will be on hand to oversee, verify and present the record for the 'World's Largest Iced Tea'. It all takes place at 5:00pm - 8:00pm at the southern end of Hutchinson Square in front of Town Hall.

Friday, May 15, 2015

"Little Shop Of Horrors" Is One Bloody Good Show--Now Showing At The James F. Dean Theatre

What does the 1980's musical spoof Little Shop of Horrors strangely have in common with the classic fairy tale story of Sleeping Beauty. Well, for one, the plot eerily includes someone pricking their finger, which in turn changes their life. Second, the script contains a boy falls in love with girl element, a cranky, demanding shop owner who adopts the boy to benefit himself, and a malevolent character with evil designs. But despite these similarities, the two diverge at their climax. There is no happily-ever-after for the Little Shop of Horrors. Although, the final analysis can be dependent on one's point of view. Whatever way you may see it in the end, you will be happy you came to the James F. Dean Theatre in Summerville because Little Shop of Horrors is a bloody good show.

With a story line loosely taken from a B-rated film of the 1960's bearing the same name, the musical Little Shop of Horrors is a wacky combination of comedy horror and rock musical--lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken; Alan Menken ironically has a Disney connection, but Sleeping Beauty was not one of his works. Ashman and Menken use a combination of rock and roll, doo-wop and early Motown music sang by a trio of street urchins to set the scenes and tell their story.

Set in the 1960's with a Skid Row backdrop, the character who pricks their finger is a down-and-out, socially inept employee of the run-down Mushnik's Skid Row Florists by the name of Seymour. Perplexed over the dire condition of a mysterious plant he had been caring for since coming into possession of it, he accidentally pricks his finger and in the process discovers what the plant craves--blood. The realization changes his life profoundly. Audrey II, named after a fellow employee Seymour has been secretly in love with, flourishes on Seymour's finger pricking's. As it grows, so does its appetite and its demands. Mushnik's flower shop also flourishes due to the plants fame and fearful of losing Seymour and the monetary benefits to other suitors, offers to adopt Seymour. With the help of Audrey II, Seymour gets the girl and unwittingly a whole lot more. In the end, the malevolent plant's evil design is revealed.

Director Jean Gaston and Company successfully synchronize a true winner. The plays eye-popping set and props are beautifully constructed and functionally serve the scene changes well. The sound system delivered the lines and numerous musical scores with a rich clarity.

The four Doo-wop Girls, Allison Brower, Tiffany Eliason, Chanel Mariette, and Alex Shanko, delivered their harmonies in Supreme style. In his usual high energy fashion, David McLaughlin showed his musical talent and was spot-on convincing as the nebbish Seymour. In her first production as a Flowertown Player, Elissa Horrell as Audrey will win you over with her quirky Jersey girl accent and affectionate smile--loved her delivery and vocals in Somewhere That's Green. Danny Jones was a dead ringer for a Mushnik and Tyler Reed was a gas as the obnoxious, abusive dentist, Orin. Tyler also played a host of other characters in the play.

The show stealing character, and rightfully so, was the blood-thirsty, talking Audrey II, which was a collaboration between Robert Venne and Daniel Rich. Robert artfully designed the plant and operated it through its various stages of growth and Daniel provided the deep, booming, voice--at times reminiscent of Otis Redding. Watching the flawless synchronization between the two of them was spellbinding. You are totally persuaded into believing the voice was coming directly from the plant, when in reality, it wasn't. That's how good Robert and Daniel were. Daniel also made a brief appearance in the beginning as a homeless person on Skid Row.

The play is loaded full of musical favorites with a 60's flavor such as Skid Row (Downtown), Mushnik and Son, Sominex/Suppertime, and my play favorite, Suddenly, Seymour.

The Flowertown Players close-out the 2015 season with another blockbuster hit. Little Shop of Horrors was both delightfully entertaining and comically humorous. Just plant yourself in a seat and it will grow on you. I guarantee it.

Purchase tickets at Flowertown Players Little Shop of Horrors.

8PM Shows May 15th, 16th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 28th, 29th, and 30th
3PM Shows May 17th, 24th, and 31st

Director-Jean Gaston, Musical Director-David McLaughlin, Asst. Director-Chrissy Eliason, Choreographer-Karyn Ellis and Tiffany Eliason, Stage Manager-Alex Skipper, Assistant Stage Manager-Adriana Melendez, Run Crew-Sarah Smith and Erik Brower, Set Design-Jason Olson, Set Carpenter-Ernie Eliason, Light Board Operator-Jeff Wolf, Lighting Designer-JC Conway, Costumer-Diana Reeves.