Category Archives: Restaurants

Dine Like a Charlestonian

Frequently I am asked, “Where is your favorite restaurant?” With so many nationally renowned ones, new ones, and ones that have stood the test of time, it is hard to narrow it down.  But when it comes down to it, I have to admit my favorite place to dine is in my friends’ homes and my own.


The art of entertaining is the art of hospitality.  And you do not have to be accomplished to entertain. You just have to care more about your friends than your fear of failure.  Pull out all the stops, not to impress but to delight and for breaking routine.  Your guests will feel they are worth the trouble when you pull out the family heirloom china, crystal, and silver. It is the culture of dining with friends and family around the table, where conversation and breaking bread together are passed on to us in Charleston, that is worth perpetuating.

Why have nice things if you are not going to use them?  Charlestonians have continued through the generations to dine with beauty: home made food served on china platters, covered silver vegetable dishes, with white linens and fresh flowers gracing the table as enjoyed in Downton Abbey. As implied by the circle motif of the Guilloche Pattern in the woodwork of the Antebellum home of the doctor who delivered me, “May the circle be unbroken.”  From generation to generation, the heritage, faith, and culture are passed on.  “The chain is only as strong as… the weakest link.” Who is going to pass on the beauty and culture of Western Civilization in daily life? If not us in Charleston then who? If not now in Charleston than when?  If not here in Charleston than where?  Charlestonians and the Chinese have a few things in common: we both eat rice, drink tea, and worship our ancestors! (Old Charlestonian saying from my parents era.)

Spring flowers from our gardens to grace our tables. Luminescent orbs like Chinese lanterns were my persimmons hanging in my downtown back garden from my  persimmon tree, from which I made persimmon sorbet and pudding. I am picking kale, and lettuce leaves for salads from a raised bed.  After spreading a year’s worth of compost: vegetable, egg shell, coffee and tea scraps, the contents of my warm compost bin, onto the raised beds, I scattered the fuzzy flowering lettuce seeds I saved from last years’ lettuces that bolted. In November and all through the winter til spring I have had a carpet of lettuce, much more than from seed packets or nursery bought plants. The shopping basket becomes the garden basket as I get closer to the earth, like Francis Marian, the Swamp Fox.

We see the portrait of Francis Marion’s aid-de-camp, ancestor of owner, dramatized as Luke in the historic novel, Celia Garth, by Gwen Bristow. The owner’s grandfather was Lucas Simons, descendant of Keating Simons in the portrait.”That Old Swamp Fox” is what the British called Francis Marion. The ancestral portraits in this private home are worthy of art museums.  Mrs. Porter, mother of The Reverend Anthony Toomer Porter, who started Porter Military Academy, which today is Porter Gaud School, is by Samual F. B. Morse.  Toomer Porter gathered together as much of “the seed corn” as he could, as encouraged by Mrs. Jefferson Davis, so as not to lose a generation.  The chain is only as strong as the weakest link, as emphasized in the Guilloche pattern in the woodwork.  The tensions were building in the Antebellum Period where they felt the importance of passing on the culture, the history, the heritage, and the faith to the next generation even as they felt they were entering the unknown at the end of an era.  C’est la meme chose maintenant.

843-708-2228. Laura Wichmann Hipp







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Come Quick! Spring is Bursting out all Over

“Times, they are a changin.”  Azaleas in January and February?  Yes, at least here in Charleston.  We cannot keep it back.  Like the rising sea levels, spring keeps on coming.  Preston and I got married April 9, TWENTY FIVE YEARS AGO this coming April!  Our Silver Wedding Anniversary.  I am such a lover of silver but I cannot think of A THING I need.  When we got married in April, we had photos taken across the street from St. Philip’s in the grave yard because the azaleas were in full bloom.  This is February, not March or April, and they are in bloom now!  Consider the fig tree…  Now the promoters of Charleston tourism do not want you to know this flower report because they are afraid you will cancel your plans for the spring tour season.  Do not cancel. We will have plenty else in bloom then.  I am just saying that you should come quick, NOW, if you can.  You will have the Holy City (and me) to yourself!  It is empty of visitors and is so beautiful, especially a treat not to be delayed for those in blizzard and freezing conditions up North and out West.

We have had nonstop rain, but now the sun is out, and the sky is a deep blue, illuminating what looked so gray, now transformed to brilliant colors.  White By the Gate is my glorious, snowy white camellia in bloom in the back garden right by the back steps, so white it is an affront to all impurity. Our Old Charleston Carolina Gray brick wall has green moss appliqued by time on rose brick making that brick more than just building material. The very bricks have become saturated with emanations of heroism.  What deeds of sacrifice and patient toil have gone into this city’s making and preservation!  Charleston is a City Mellowed By Time, as captured by the Charleston Renaissance artist, Elizabeth O’Neill Verner.  Once you get Charleston under your skin, she gets in your blood, bidding you to return, like a pilgrimage to refresh the soul and to set it in order, or as a lover with her siren call.  As a vegetable lady street vender with her wheel barrow said who went away and then moved back,”Chas’n keep  dem uda places from seemin natchel.”  Ain’t it just the trute!

I discovered a new shop that I had only run past and noted before.  It is hidden away on Burns Lane between Meeting and King, The Hidden Countship.  It is actually owned by count and countess.  (My brother’s Godson, Edward Scarborough, works there.  His father and I sailed together on the sailing team at the College of Charleston, he the senior and i the lowly freshman.)  The Count and Countess were in Savannah, leaving for Italy, when someone challenged them to come to Charleston saying they had not seen the South if they had not been here, and so close to Savannah.  They delayed their return home a day, came to Charleston, and bought a house here the next day!  They prefer Charleston to anywhere in Italy!  Wow!  No wonder Conde Naste voted the same way, with Charleston being the number one destination in The Whole Wide World!  We are blessed beyond measure!  A delightful retired Dartmouth professor, Dr.D’Lia, on my tour introduced me to this shop.  It is filled with interesting things, new and old.  I have a painting of an Italian villa, La Peggio, in an arch over my dining room door, which they have on their ad card.

For those who go on my Shop Till You Drop Antiques Tour, it is added!  You can see my most recent purchase, a functional piece of equipment, an 18th century mahogany linen press.  It is in the humble butler’s pantry, a room newly wallpapered along with my dining room in Fra Angelica’s glistening gold as in San Marco in Florence.  The light has to be right in both places to capture it.  I am using the linen press for storage of cookbooks and crystal and china, but also for additional counter space!  The trays slide out, one inch high, so as to provide additional space to plate food when the marble counters are full of dishes.  A practical piece it is,  for me to enjoy using as well as regarding from the kitchen.  Thank you, Lord, and thank you, the guests on my tour!  I am enjoying the fruits of my labor.

If you cannot find an affordable place big enough, I have a vacation rental by owner in downtown Charleston some of you may wish to consider.  It is booked for most of May but has openings for the last week of February and most of March. It is listed with Home Away # 5127820805, and VRBO #404882  as Charleston Tea Party Private Tour Launches Vacation Rental.  I has 3 bedrooms, a living room, dining area, and a full kitchen, and two full baths.  It sleeps up to 7.  I have enjoyed furnishing it with vintage finds from Charleston antique shops and estate sales.  It is not luxurious, but is easy, with a two car garage, unheard of in Charleston.   It is within walking distance of Hominy Grill, a popular restaurant where you  must have fried grits.  It is better than it sounds!  there is also a free trolley pick up a minute walk away to take you all over the historic city’s peninsula.

I love it when people can stay a week, not because I make more money, but because you get free nights if you stay past 4 days!  I want you to come and experience what it is like to live here.  My vacation rental is for those who make Charleston part of their spiritual renewal, what keeps them hanging on.  Times they are a changin, but Charleston just improves, like a good rich wine.  Come!  Drink deeply!  Call me for a tour or a stay or both at 843-577-5896–Laura Wichmann Hipp

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Summer 2011 Edibles from my Garden

Friday’s tour with Luis and June was the first to be graced with my Golden Pear Tomato, which I have  grown from seed in my back garden, and Fresh Fig with Goat Cheese, Blueberry,  and Gingered Fig Preserves.  I feed the soil around the tomato bushes with pureed egg  shells  and bury shrimp shells for the tomoto plants’ needed calcium.  Our figs are grown on our ever expanding  tree from the baby tree Fred Sosnowski kindly gave me from his mammoth one at Rockville on Wadmalaw Island.   The first time I remember having fresh figs was from that same tree at the Rockville Regatta, where eventually I would meet my husband on my father’s ketch, Mobjack.  

Tommy Edwards is my shrimp man, from whom I buy fresh shrimp at his Shem Creek dock  as soon as he comes in from sea.  When he said they were medium on the phone, I  thought, he means small.  But when I saw them, I was impressed; the warm ocean waters have produced a goodly size shrimp already, nothing small about them.  What I do with shrimp is a family recipe my mother has made all my life.  When my father presented me at a black tie party, my mother made pickled shrimp.  Mrs. Hamby is the household name caterer in Charleston who did the rest of the food.  She asked if she could take the left over shrimp and pickling dressing home to try to duplicate it.  She has published hers, but it ain’t my momma’s!  We do not use white vinegar but tarragon or wine vinegar with half olive oil and half canola oil, marinated for several hours or over night. 

The important thing is to save your coriander seeds from your cilantro: when cilantro goes to seed in hot weather, those green balls and then the dried balls are excellent for pickled shrimp.  My mother and I also put lots of fresh bay leaf in ours.  Bay grows from my mother’s neighbor’s wall over to Momma’s where she sits with her walking tour guests for tea.  Her neighbor, Barbara Hollings Seigling, our Senator Fritz Hollings’ sister, always wants people to pick it as it grows so fast.  I take my guests into Dr Gene Gaillard Johnson’s garden, where he grows Bay as round topiaries in the center of boxwood  garden.  Bay is beautiful in an ornamental garden, as well as a culinary treat when that fresh.   Vidalia onion is also a must in pickled shrimp.  The shrimp is already cooked and shelled when you put it in the marinade.

I also put coriander and lots of fresh basil from my garden in my latest hit of the summer, a retro dish I have unabashedly perfected from our grandmothers’ era.  I call it  Gazpacho Aspic.  My 91 year old friend, Lucile MacLennan, whose coctail birthday party Preston and I went to last night, says her mother AND her grandmother made aspic.  She got me making it, but I have taken it to a nouveau cuisine level, which I find much more appealing to our fresh from the garden tastes.   Rather than starting with a can of tomatoes, I hand chop vine ripe tomatoes, cucumber, different colored bell peppers, vidalia onion,  fresh garlic, adding chiffoned basil,  and coriander balls.  To this gazpacho I add a red wine and olive oil home made vinaigrette, salt and pepper.  Dissolve 3 packages of clear gelatin in a little cold water and then stir to dissolve with a little boiled H2O.  Add this cooling gelatin to the gazpacho. 

Dig up your grandmother’s beautifully designed aspic tins that have been sitting unused for a generation (or comb antique shops with me).  I have owned some for decades and have used them  for baking tea cakes, but this is the first time I have used them for their origiunal purpose and made real aspic in them.  I like to use the individual serving size so that everybody gets their own artistic design when I unmold it, all shiney and multicolored and FRESH on their Canton ware plate.  Fill and refrigerate, or as old Charleston friend Richard Hutson says, put it in the ice box.  Run each one under hot water individually for 3 seconds. Voila!  It unmolds beautifully onto the plate.  The first time I used my molds, a lady asked, “Did you make this with mold?”  Stricken, I looked down at my plate.  They laughed as she said she meant IN A mold.

I surround the gazpacho aspic with pickled shrimp and wisps of pickled vidalia onion.  The effect is simply stunning, and the fresh taste bursting in your mouth is even better.  This healthy, light, quintessential Southern summer lunch gives us room for fig tarts and fresh home made peach iced cream with my loquat liqueur and a cup of tea. 

Preston and I picked the peaches last week from our  neighboring tree South of Broad, the first time ever.  I have only seen until now peach trees in Charleston bred for the blossoms, Peppermint Peach, we call them.  THESE newly picked South of Broad peaches rival those South Carolina peaches sold at Mr Leonard’s Vegetable Bin and Burbages Corner Store.  Peaches marry well with my home made Loquat Liqueur as the peach and loquat have similar flesh. 

We also as a family picked Sweet Blues from Dr. Randy Bradham’s blueberry farm, our yearly trek.  On the way there, I make my children and neice and nephews memorize Dr. Bradham’s WWII book quote, “Freedom is not a free gift.  It is achieved by the sacrifice and patient toil of many individuals,” which we then recited for him.  His is the untold tale of Hitler’s U-Boat Fortresses in Brittany, France.  The children learned that a U-boat is a submarine, and that France’s hedge rows are very high, making tunnels out of the roads, a surprise for which the American soldiers were untrained.

Come in from the heat,  and ride with me in my new air conditioned van as we visit friends’ homes and gardens.  For those who have been on my tour, ask about going out on our boat.  Saturday our family went way up the Ashley River and swam off the anchored boat in the floating fresh water off the bank of Middleton Place Plantation, where in the 18th and 19th centuries the fresh water was skimmed off the heavier salt water for flooding rice fields.  I quizzed our teenagers and their friends on that history and environmental horticulture, which they got!  We are blessed with refreshing, fun times such as only summer and heat can bring.  Please come and enjoy Charleston.  Call me at 843-577-5896–Laura


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Your Helpin Hand is at the End of Your Wrist

  I walked with my heavy laden basket of home grown and home made edibles from my garden to Husk, the new, chic restaurant of local edibles on Queen Street.  Queen St ends on Colonial Lake, and our house is around the corner from the far side of the lake.   My old English shopping basket was spilling over, I mean green, lacy foliage cascading over  with a jug of fresh coriander both blooming and with fresh, green coriander balls, its pepper corn size seeds.  Another jug contained my Confederate Mint originally from the Confederate Home in Charleston 25 years years ago, transplanted from garden to garden, the sweetest mint there is.  Then there was the bottle of Essense of Loquat to both drink and use as flavoring, fruiting heavily right now all over Charleston  in its mellow orange round plum form.  Lastly, I had a big jug of Elderfower Cordial, a concentrate of sweetened  lemons and elderflowers blossoms to be diluted with water, champagne, or wine.   It also makes a great sorbet or iced cream.  These are all edibles I serve often on my private tour where they are grown and made at our Tradd St home.

“De alms, dey git so TI-yid,”   explained Flower Lady Albertha Stokes telling me long ago of how she learned to carry her flower baskets a top her head.  Her words rang true echoing through the years as I switched my heavy basket from arm to arm as I walked.  What would people think if they saw ME with a basket a top MY head? I thought.   I ain’t too high and mighty to do such a thing.  I’ll do it out of necessity!  A top my head the wicker basket went, and oh, what a relief it was!  I found that the top of my head is pointed so that I cocked my head to the side.  A lady called on my cell phone about my private tour as I walked.  Two  eras converged  as I walked down Queen St talking on my cell phone and carrying a basket heavy laden a top my head. 

As I happened to walk home alone at dusk after dinner at Husk for my husband’s birthday, I met Mr Alston, descendant of Charles Alston of the Edmondston -Alston House at 21 E. Battery, where I was the assistant administrator out of college.  Mr and Mrs Alston live on Queen Street in the residential section.   I  discovered the Old Charleston I love again in a fresh way in meeting Mr. Alston.  He is a descendant of the black mistress he says of Charles Alston.  He is very black so that it is hard to believe and yet he is convincing.  He and I alone in all of his acquaintances know his ancestry in the Alston familyand can dicuss it.  We got to talking about life and work.  He gave me a good bit of practical advice in response to my taking my edibles from my home and garden to sell to local restaurants.” People these days need a helpin hand and you’ve found your helping hand  is at the end of your wrist!”   Words to live by. 

Spoleto this year was wonderful ending June 12.  This arts festival was dynamic this year with the Spoleto Festival Orchestra accompanying the Westminster Choir in Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms sung in HEBREW with subtitles across the top of the Gaillard Auditorium proclaiming to a packed house of several thousand:

“We praise Thee, Oh God.  We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.  All the earth doth worship Thee, the Father everlasting!”

Many thanks to the people this spring who have gambled  their vacation time (and money) with me on my private tour of Charleston.  I used some of the proceeds to treat my family of three children and husband and my mother to a few of Spoleto’s finest offerings. In addition to the afore mentioned, we also saw Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, and the Australian dance/gymnastic group Circa, which was, in our technological age,  impressive to see  what can amaze us with the human body.  A lady climbed a rope with no knots as easily as if it was silk and she a spider.  Make Spoleto reservations for next year, late May, early June!

 This week is calmer as we transition to summer.  Call me for a private tour of Charleston.  843-577-5896.  If I do not answer, please leave a message as to the date you are interested in, and I will call you back.  On rare occasions when not on a tour or with my family, I can  be reached on my cell at 843-708-2228.  I hope to meet you soon.–Laura

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Strawberries, Roses, Larkspur, and the Royal Wedding

“Some are monarchists and some are not”, said a critic after my tour.  I mentioned that in 1990, Prince Charles stayed next door to my friend Francess Palmer’s house at 5 East Battery, which we were visiting.  Allow me to confess.  I am a monarchist  and a prayer warrior for the Royal Family as well as  my own.  I was of neccesity to all things English born though a native Charlestonian.  My mother is from England, and Auntie Edie, almost 98, still lives on her own in the village my mother is from, and Auntie Pam in the next village over.  Thankfully, my mother lives in Charleston where she gave birth to me and is a daily part of my life, as well as the one doing the two hour walking tour part of my business. 

What do strawberries, roses, larkspur and the Royal wedding have in common?  They are all being celebrated this week!  My children and I picked strawberries this weekend at Pete Ambrose’s  at Selkirk Plantation on Wadmalaw Island.  We also collected eggs and picked lettuce and swiss chard from our friends Becky and David Baird’s Live Oak Plantation.  They are both doctors to support their farming habits.  Becky Gregorie Baird was one of the first women to graduate from Porter Gaud with my husband, Preston.  She also delivered our three children.  Her sister, Ann Kulze, is also a doctor who has written two books on eating right for life. 

My shoulders ache from picking, washing,  and slicing strawberries for hours last night, making  strawberry jam.  But this Easter morning, I was able to give my family a strawberry cream tea before church at St. Philip’s.  No, you do not put strawberries or cream in your tea.  You put them on your split scone and drink your cup of tea with it.  The dollop of cream makes it decadent, along with a drizzle of my calamondin marmalade.  I have made freezer strawberry jam for the first time, a fresher, healthier taste with less sugar needed. 

 This week of the Royal Wedding, I will be serving strawberry cream teas after lunch at my house where the tall Canton blue larkspur is in bloom down our walkway with the lacy cilantro, lettuces,  and johnny jump ups.  The Doctor Van Fleet pale new dawn pink roses make you want to weep to see and smell them on our fence.  The jasmine is in bloom along the same, the scent of Charleston!  The loquats are swelling up from the hard green to the fleshy yellow.  When  they are golden I will be picking them for more loquat liqueur, or essence of loquat.  It is a plum, not in the citrus family.  I have been cooking with it, adding a taste you have never had in any other American city.  It is like a sexy, fruity almond, hard to describe.  Come taste for yourself!  I hope to see you soon!  I have little time to get back to the computer with tours, cooking, gardening,  family, and friends so that the best way to reach me is by phone.  Leave me a message and I will call you back.–843-577-5896–Laura

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