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.