Friday, May 2, 2014

Lunch At A Plantation With The Oldest Landscaped Gardens In America--Middleton Place

The felled bricks strewn across the ground are all that was left--burned by the 56th New York Regiment in 1865, the Great Earthquake of 1886 finished off the remaining shell leaving the present heap of ruins. A black, iron-gated fence opening unto a chained walkway cuts through its middle. Beyond, the terraced landscape sloped gradually downward to the shore of the rising and falling tidal waters of the Ashley River. Looking landward, a spacious field of green grass accommodated gigantic oaks and grazing sheep. Little lambs scurrying about amused watching patrons. Moments later, a horse drawn wagon filled with tourists pulled up and paused outside the gate. The guide began her narrative, "This was where the main house of Middleton Place once stood."

Born in a time when trips into Charleston were excursions and the Ashley River was a thoroughfare, Middleton Place was a panorama of southern grace and opulent gardens. The Duke de la Rochefoucault, who visited in 1789, wrote, "the garden is beautiful." In 1941 the Garden Club of America conferred on Middleton Place the Bulkley Medal and declared the landscaped gardens not only to be the oldest, but also "the most interesting and important in America."

The original estate complex consisted of the afore mentioned main house flanked by two other buildings. The South Flanker, built in 1755, served as a gentlemen's guest quarters and the North Flanker, a library and conservatory. The South Flanker was the only to survive the Civil War conflagration with its structure in tack. It was restored and served as the families living quarters from 1870 to 1975. It is now a museum. Another building added in 1933, served as a guest house and later became the restaurant--the main reason I visited Middleton Place on this beautiful Charleston day.


There are two choices for seating at the restaurant--the dining room or the garden. The view from the dining room is stunning. Lined with large windows, it overlooks the old Mill Pond and picturesque Azalea Hillside. If available, the garden seating offers an intimate, quiet space with a view of the spacious green field in front of the South Flanker. Enclosed by a three-foot brick wall and draped overhead by Spanish moss, it is accented with a variety of potted plants--a perfect setting for sipping on an afternoon sweet tea or if you are feeling a little more fruity, a glass of wine.

Recipes from one time resident southern Chef Edna Lewis are featured with emphasis on authentic Lowcountry cuisine. Selections like she crab soup, SC collard greens with ham hock, corn bread, Hoppin Jon, pulled pork, fried chicken and corn pudding. Despite the varied menu, I kept it simple and chose the special of the day, which was a roast turkey sandwich topped with green fried tomatoes and field greens picked from their on site garden partnered with a side of French fries--simple and sublime.

On this April day, a casual lunch is all I was interested in. I was at Middleton Place for the historic surroundings and garden atmosphere its restaurant offers. With the warm, Charleston sun shining overhead, the setting was perfect for basking in the aura of an antique building and savoring a delicious meal under the shadowy canopy of an ancient oak tree. Well worth the visit.

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