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Road trip attraction: A Taste of Charleston

Today for my road-trip entertainment, I went to A Taste of Charleston, a festival where you buy a taste of this from one Charleston restaurant and a taste of that from another. In a place like Charleston, capital of Low Country cuisine, it's a great way to sample both the traditional and contemporary riffs on the traditional.

The festival was held at Boone Hall Plantation, which has been in existence more than 250 years and is still a working farm in the suburb of Mt. Pleasant. We had to park way out on the far reaches of the property, where the tomato and squash plants are still producing, and walk in, past the historic slave quarters, the Gullah Theater, the alley of oak trees that are more than 200 years old.

Ch-tasteBooth after booth offered small servings of two or three dishes each: jambalaya, gumbo, shrimp 'n grits, grilled skewers of meat, about 18 kinds each of fish tacos and sliders (mostly pork), key lime tarts, truffled mac and cheese -- you get the idea -- for $2 to $6. Plus there was a beer garden. The Biltmore Estate apparently had the wine franchise locked up.

I bought a tiny cup of she-crab soup and a serving of grits sticks -- cooked grits mixed with that old Southern favorite, pimento cheese, shaped into sticks, deep-fried and served with a sweet-hot sauce. Then I found a place to sit on the lawn and listen to the music.  Alas, I soon discovered, the place had another Southern favorite -- gnats. Gnats in my face, my hair, my ears, under the straps of my sandals. Happily there was no charge for gnats.

Sitting there, I noticed a fashion trend: women in finely tooled cowboy boots. I'm usually oblivious to fashion, but when I was on the lawn, other people's knees were at eye level, and all the cowboy boots were impossible to miss. Apparently they go with everything (kinda like pimento cheese): Short shorts, ankle-length sundresses, mini skirts, leggings, peasant dresses, boots worn inside jeans, boots worn outside jeans. At least they would have kept the gnats off my feet.

Ch-tasteshrimpOn my next round I sampled two truly excellent dishes -- bruschetta with spicy grilled shrimp and arugula from Langdon's Restaurant & Wine Bar, and fried pimento-cheese ravioli from Cork Neighborhood Bistro. The ravioli was savory-sweet and almost could have passed for dessert. The filling was a combination of sharp cheddar and rosemary pimento cheese, but it tasted like it was part cream cheese. The ravioli had been lightly fried, then topped with peach-bacon marmalade. Yum!

(Photo: Best dish of the day -- spicy shrimp bruschetta with arugula)

I had to get moving. The gnats were driving me .... buggy. I heard they were selling tickets for A Taste of Marjie. I bought one more taste, a pumpkin cobbler dessert, and started waddling toward my car. Now, I realized, there was a purpose in making us park so far away -- to walk off all that pimento cheese.