Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Little Free Library In Summerville--Sharing A Passion For Reading

Tucked away on Summerville's winding streets, among the tall pines and old oaks, sits one of its most elegant properties. Dating back to 1925, it was built by one of the town's richest families, the Prettyman's.

With a business founded on Summerville timber, they established the Prettyman Lumber Company. One of the first sawmill operations in the area beginning in 1902, J. F. Prettyman built his own logging railroad north of town to provide the steady flow of highly demanded timber.

The W 2nd South Street residence is no longer owned by the Prettyman's. Guarded by a short brick wall topped with a black wrought iron fence at its street entrance, a long brick walkway with a tall flower urn at its center leads you to its welcoming front door while a long brick driveway disappears into the properties thick foliage beyond the house where a beautiful old cottage sits.

Comfortably surrounded by an impressive gardenscape accented with birdhouses and pergolas, the three-story, Georgian style house is flanked by tall chimneys and sweeping porches. The homes present owner was tending to his passion when I pulled into the driveway. For the next half hour or so, the gray-haired, soft spoken, 81 year resident shared with me some of the more interesting features of his beautiful home and personal stories of growing up in Summerville.

Pointing to a group of trees beyond the rod iron fence and speaking with a eloquent southern accent, he related how as a young boy he would climb the fence to get to a hickory tree on the other side. As an avid jogger, he often ran past the house and dreamed of owning it. From time to time, he would stop to converse with a black gentleman who took care of the property and would tell him, "Someday, I will own this property." And so, he fulfilled his dream.

He continued, "The property dates back to the Civil War. The cottage behind the house was originally the carriage house. The exterior wood is all cypress and the interior floors are covered with oak and pine. The wood planks run the full length of the floor without any seams." And then, he related the most interesting part of our conversation about the house. "One of the house's fireplace mantles and a window were salvaged from the old Francis Marion Plantation."

My focus now turned to the reason for my stop, his passion. George is an avid reader, who desired to share his chosen hobby with fellow Summervillians. To do that, he hired a carpenter to build a glass door enclosure in the shape of a house with one shelf, which then was mounted on a post and installed near the entrance of his driveway accompanied with a sign reading, Little Free Library, with the additional encouragement, "Take a Book, Leave a Book or Both."

George got the idea from an article in the Post and Courier where an illustration was provided on how to make it. Actually, Little Free Libraries are a community movement that offers free books housed in small containers similar to George's. They are also referred to as community book exchanges, book trading posts, pop-up libraries, and Noox (Neighborhood book exchange). They are popping-up everywhere in the United States and the world.

The idea was popularized in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2009 when Todd Bol mounted a red and white, wooden container designed to look like a school house on a post and placed it on his lawn. He did it as a tribute to his mother, who was a book lover and school teacher. His far reaching goal was to promote literacy and the love of reading and build a sense of community with a sharing of skills, creativity, and wisdom.

Locals have expressed their appreciation to George for his initiative in sharing his passion and valued contribution to the Summerville community by leaving thank you notes in his Little Free Library.

Summerville is well-known for its historic character and hospitality. It is a southern comfort zone wrapped in a warm blanket of community sunshine. George's neighborly gesture confirms those qualities are still tightly woven into the evolving fabric of our Town. From time to time, you may see him tending to his Little Free Library. Be sure to express your appreciation to him for the little bit of sunshine he brings to our growing town. And if you take a book, make sure you leave a book the Timrod Library would be proud to display.

Speaking of reading and books, be sure to attend.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Eating At Eva's On Main In Summerville Is Like Coming Home

There is no flashy, neon sign marking its location at the one window, one door, discreet red brick building that sits unpretentiously across from historic Hutchinson Square two doors north of the iconic James F. Dean Theatre. Upon entrance, you are greeted with much the same.

The interior is mother's dining room simple with Charleston blue walls covered half way up with white panels topped off with chair rail molding. A window bar spans the front with a view of the Square. On the walls, groupings of decorative plates fondly recall a cherished practice of yesteryear.

When you have a loyal following that spans a lifetime, simple is all you need. Longtime locals come for the down home fixings. It's beloved owner called the fare "southern cuisine."

The celebrated history of Eva's Restaurant has been well documented. An article from the Journal Scene hangs near the entrance. Established in 1944, it has been at 129 South Main Street since 1952. Like the theatre, it's been an anchor of constancy among the grouping of buildings east of the Square that otherwise have weathered many changes over the years. Sadly, Eva Hinson passed away in 2011 at the age of 96.

Not long after, ownership changed hands. Now called Eva's on Main, the new owners made a few changes to the interior and decor, but dedicated to integrating its storied past with the present, Eva's imprint and legacy remains in tact, and that is the way her longtime customers like it.

Like the theater, Eva and her restaurant have been designated a Summerville icon. Some of her patrons and closest friends dedicated a portrait to her in 2011. It presently hangs on the wall near the kitchen entrance surrounded by a grouping of her esteemed plates. It bears the inscription: "Mrs. Eva brought residents of Summerville together to share good food and happenings in their lives for over half a century."

One of those friends and former mayor of Summerville, Berlin G. Meyers, knew Eva since grammar school. Meyers, a constant regular since the early days, can be seen every morning around 7:00 am sitting at the same table, in the same chair, savoring his prepared-on-schedule white grits, one egg scrambled, bacon, white toast, and coffee.

Other longtime customers, Michael Murray and his mother, Margaret, consider Eva's to be their extended family. "I love coming to Eva's," 88 year old Margaret said with a smile. "The nicest part is you get to see friends." Margaret plays the organ at a local church. She will tell you stories about her first piano and her years living in Turkey, but longs for Vienna, Austria. Michael, also a seasoned world travel, says he looks forward to eating at Eva's when he returns home. "You get a good tasting, well rounded meal." He also believes people who eat at Eva's live a long time. How's that for a plug.

Keri Whitaker-Journal Scene
Eva's family is growing. Reggie became a loyal customer six months ago. He said of his regular server, "Robin called me by name from day one. The hospitality I am shown makes me feel like one of the family. The staff is always introducing me to new acquaintances. Everybody knows everybody." Then he added, "The food is always served hot."

Eva's on Main is like no other restaurant when it comes to the customer-business relationship. As an expression of appreciation, on their travels, customers would collect decorative plates and give them to Eva, who then would hang the plates on the walls of the restaurant. Since the change, many of them have been stored away, but small groupings remain as a reminder. Patrons drink from coffee cups commemorating 60 years of business given to Eva by a local group.

On the day of my visit, I witnessed an extraordinary display of appreciation. After something spilled, an older gentleman and frequent customer got down on the floor and helped clean it up. I was told this same man clears his own table and takes the dishes to the kitchen to be cleaned.

The food has always been prepared Eva's way. "It must look good and taste good." Three of the kitchen staff have a combined total of ninety years of service. Truly southern ladies, Beanie, Patricia, and Sarah knew Eva personally. When I asked about Eva, they chuckled and respectfully exclaimed, "She was a pistol," and then added, "She was very caring and helped everybody. She didn't want anybody to leave hungry."

Sarah, Patricia, and Beanie
The day I visited, a Friday, the specials were Old Fashioned Meatloaf (prepared Eva's way), Fillet of Whiting, and Fried Pork Tenderloin with rice. Buttered Corn, Black-Eyed Peas, and Collard Greens were the vegetables. Deserts included Banana Pudding, Chocolate Silk Pie, and German Chocolate Cake. Everyday is different. A chalk board on one wall and on the front of the hostess desk lists each days specials.

The generous serving of Old Fashioned Meatloaf smothered in a mild tomato sauce was succulent and tasty--the sauce great for corn bread dipping. The Fried Pork Tenderloin prepared in thin strips was savory. I generally do not eat Black-Eyed Peas or Collard Greens, but enjoyed them none-the-less; the Collard Greens were of a pleasant flavor and consistency. The Banana Pudding was delicious.

The staff from hostess to cook are friendly and hospitable. Restaurant manager, Judy Spencer, orchestrates an efficient house with a personable touch making herself available to satisfy whatever need that may arise. She knows her customers by name.

The presence of Eva still can be felt at the restaurant she made famous, not in a ghostly way, but by the spirit with which she did things--simple, southern, and Summerville. Eva's on Main is easy going and the prices are easy on the pocket book. A wooden plaque hanging over the window bar says it all, "Family and friends gather here." It's like coming home.

Perfect for people watchers
For menu and times of operation go to Eva's on Facebook.

Upcoming events: Food and Wine Tasting with Eva’s Restaurant, Summerville at Accent on Wine-Tuesday, January 27th at 5pm to 7pm.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Frankly, This Is One Damn Funny Play You Don't Want To Miss--"Moonlight And Magnolias"

What happens when three Hollywood types, who respectfully despise one another and flaunt egos as big as a southern plantation, get locked in an office room for five days subsisting on bananas and peanuts? Oh, let's throw into the mix an overworked, somewhat ditsy secretary. For the answer, schedule a night out at the James F. Dean Theatre from January 16-25 for a viewing of the Flowertown Players latest presentation of "Moonlight and Magnolias."

The title, "Moonlight and Magnolias," was derived from the scene where Scarlett, after fashioning a dress made from green velvet drapes, visited imprisoned Rhett Butler in Atlanta in an attempt to get money from him to pay taxes on her home, Tara. She claimed to have everything she could hope for and "not a care in the world." Rhett noticed her hands, calloused from working in the crop fields, and knew she was lying and said, "You can drop the moonlight and magnolia, Scarlett! So things have been going well at Tara, have they?"

In this wacky farce, a highly paid script doctor and Jewish activist by the name of Ben Hecht and a demanding, volatile director by the name of Victor Fleming are voluntarily accosted by the highly dramatic David O. Selznick to hammer out a new script for the production of his recently stalled epic, "Gone With The Wind."

The problem: Hecht has not read the 1,037 page "big book" by Margaret Mitchell. The solution: Fleming and Selznick decide to act out some of the more important scenes for Hecht, so he can type out the dialogue for the script.

At times reminiscent of the "Three Stooges," the play touches on some of the more controversial issues of the day, which eventually leads to a situation where the three of them get entwined in a hilarious confrontation over the scene where Scarlett slaps Prissy, a young slave-girl. Hecht doesn't like it, Fleming has no problem with it. Fleming was rumored to have slapped Judy Garland while directing "The Wizard of Oz," which is brought up from time to time by Hecht during their incarceration.

Director Chrissy Eliason, over her many years with the Flowertown Players, has established a well deserved reputation for bringing together the perfect cast partnered with beautifully detailed sets, and with "Moonlight and Magnolias," she added another accent mark to that reputation. From props to costumes, Chrissy and her crew coordinate creative chaos on a set that will each night end up looking like an explosion in a paper mill.

Chad Estel as Ben Hecht and Daniel Rich as Vic Fleming were comically confrontational throughout. Chad's funniest moments came while agonizing over a typewriter distressingly pounding out the infamous script and Daniel's was the comical imagery of Vic laying on the floor mimicking Melanie Wilkes having a baby. David McLaughlin portrayed the dramatic and determined to preserve the integrity of the book David O. Selznick with Emmy flair and Hannah Weston as Selznick's compliant secretary immersed in a ocean of Hollywood machismo was delightful--ditsy accent included.

Frankly, this is one damn funny play. It is hands down the funniest I have seen at the James F. Dean Theatre in Summerville. It was masterfully directed and superbly entertaining. You will go bananas over "Moonlight and Magnolias."

Purchase tickets here.

I attended the "Friends and Family" showing.

(Kelsey Palmer; Assistant Director, Stage Manager; Dianna Devito, Sound/Light Operator; Jeff Wolf, Costumes; Dianna Reeves, Light Design; JC Conway, and Set Design and Construction; Ernie Eliason)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sumptuous Food And Super Fun Guaranteed To Be On The Menu--Charleston Restaurant Week January 2015

Charleston has more fine dining establishments per capita than any other city in the South. All are ready to cater to your taste buds with their own personal blend of locally grown produce, herbs and spices perfectly matched to the offering and sprinkled with a generous serving of pleasant ambiance and old southern hospitality.

One of my favorite events of the year, there is no better way to acquaint yourself with Charleston's world renowned chefs and top restaurants than through its highly anticipated culinary gala called Charleston Restaurant Week--now underway and running until January 18, 2015. The list of participating restaurants is long and illustrious offering options ranging from 3 courses for $20 to 3 courses for $50--some restaurants offering 4 courses. The list also includes restaurants offering lunch options ranging from 2 courses for $10 to 2 courses for $20.

So, whether you plan on making it a family affair or a romantic evening out, sumptuous food and super fun is guaranteed to be on the menu. I have provided ten of my past favorite choices accompanied by a review. My selections from the list are Edmond's Oast, Poogan' Porch and Michael's on the Alley. For a complete list of participating restaurants, you can click on this link.

What is better than spending a day with a special someone? Beginning that great day with a fantastic meal at a downtown Charleston restaurant. The restaurant was the Husk on Queens Street. My expectations were high going in. I had read nothing but rave reviews from various sources. I got further confirmation...

82 Queen
Looking in from the street, you look up a narrow, beautifully landscaped alleyway. Alleys are common features in Charleston and part of its picturesque charm. At the end we could see a couple of well-dressed young ladies and after navigating the alley, we discovered they were the hostesses for the restaurant. We informed them of our 5:45pm reservation. With reservation confirmed...

High Cotton
I had a change in plan for Charleston's Restaurant Week. Sermets Downtown was to be first on my list of restaurants, but I received an invitation to join a group of White Gablers at the downtown restaurant High Cotton. So, I couldn't pass it up. High Cotton...

39 Rue de Jean
This would be my first visit to the posh 39 Rue de Jean--a French brasserie located between Meeting and King on one of Charleston's most notable streets. With the Charleston Museum close by, the museum's newly constructed glass enclosed building housing the first locomotive built in America...

Sermet's Corner Downtown
From the 3 for 30 offerings found on Charleston Restaurant Week's list of participating restaurants, I narrowed my choices down to two restaurants-downtown dining establishments I had on my cuisine radar since the last event and both located on eclectic and bustling King Street. It wasn't easy arriving at the definitive decision...

Slightly North of Broad
It is often said, "Nothing is perfect." We say this in keeping ourselves well grounded and in maintaining a reasonable balance concerning our expectations of things and rightly so, because speaking from a human standpoint, perfection is an unattainable standard. But despite our misgiving to label anything perfect, we do use the word to describe exceptional experiences...

The Fish House
It was to be an unusual day for me. I would be stepping out of my comfort zone. Store hopping was in the works. This is a rare event and the kind of activity I generally shy away from, but is at times knowingly necessary. There was this space that needed filling and an idea for a wall arrangement. I was joined by a friend who, by the way...

RB's Shem Creek
In 2002, the scene on Shem Creek would have been much different than the stunning waterfront we experience currently. A 35-seat eatery located in an old fish shed next to Red's Ice House was reduced by an accidental fire to ashes and rubble, leaving a blackened and charred heap that was once RB's Seafood Restaurant...

Boathouse Restaurant
The roads into the Isle of Palms from Summerville were sparsely traveled on this Thursday. Lowcountry residences were gathered around their tables with family and friends feasting on turkey and pumpkin pie, except for the few of us who selected to eat out at one of the various restaurants that chose to open their doors for the festivities...

Pages Okra Grill
It was a busy weekend in Charleston with all the festivities. The Boat Show started on Friday at the Charleston Convention Center, Winterfest at Patriots Point on Saturday, and the worlds largest oyster festival on Sunday at Boone Hall Plantation. If I went to the boat show, I would probably end up buying one. For now, that folly is reserved for the near future...

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Chilling Beginning To The New Year On The "Edge of America"--Bill Murray Style

It was a chilling beginning to the new year for many on the "Edge of America." Happy Lowcountry residents and visitors did more than "Freeze Your Bill's Off" at the "2nd Annual Bill Murray Look-a-Like Polar Plunge."

In the spirit of Bill Murray's request "Can I have another one of these with some booze in it?(Groundhog Day)," celebrants boozed their bills off. With four dollar Smirnoff Bloody Mary's and Seagram's Vodka Screwdrivers coursing through their bodies for anti freeze, thousands of new year celebrants joyfully ran into the 50 degree waters of Folly Beach. "I make it a rule never to get involved with possessed people... Actually, it's more of a guideline than a rule(Ghostbusters)," but I could not resist the urge to join them. As a footnote, I feel it necessary in light of my facetious reference to "boozed" to insert this: It was all done in modesty and for a good cause.

The event started at 11AM. The early morning sun warmed the cool sands of the beach in front of the Tides near Folly Beach Pier as the gentle, rolling waves of the ocean kissed the shoreline. Encouraged to dress as their favorite Bill Murray character, the steadily growing crowd gathered and waited for the judging to begin, which took place at 12:30PM--a half hour before the actual plunge was scheduled. Awards were given out for the Best Guy, Best Girl, Best Team and Best Overall Bill Murray costumes. By the time the judging ended, thousands of celebrants filled the beach and the wooden decks of the Tides. Not everyone came dressed as Bill Murray wannabes. In a way, it oddly looked like an overdue quasi Halloween event.

With awards handed out and 1PM rapidly approaching, the plungers gathered at the yellow taped starting line, while spectators holding cameras and cell phones lined the edges of a section of Folly Beach about three hundred feet long and a hundred feet wide that would serve as the corridor leading to the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

They cheered and chanted as the minutes ticked by. Some, probably second guessing their decision to be associated with this group of crazies and others repeating over and over, "I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful... I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful... I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful...(What About Bob)," as a way to psyche themselves up for the frosty awakening to the new year shortly to take place.

And then, the tape dropped and the herd of frenzied Bill Murray misfits ran into the calm, cold waters on the "Edge of America" and froze their Bill's off; many of them running out of the water quicker than they ran into it. After taking pictures of the initial plunge, I put my camera down, removed the unnecessary articles of clothing and joined them.

Actually, froze is somewhat of an exaggeration. Fifty degree water really isn't cold at all. I have swam in cold water before. The feet and the legs are the easy part. Acclimating the upper extremities is the difficult part of the experience, but if you dip into the water quickly without thinking about it, the shock is lessened. It's exhilarating and it's refreshing.

So, feeling good from head to toe, it was time to savor a four dollar Seagram's Vodka Screwdriver and high five fellow plungers on the decks of the Blu Restaurant. It was a polarific way to start the new year.