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Just back from the ferry boats, footpaths and winding roads of Capri, Positano, Amalfi, Ravello…

The mountains on the Amalfi Coast rise right up out of the sea, and the towns are built into them, terraced and layered in the stone. Stairsteps and lanes wind between stone walls and everywhere there is a patch of ground, someone is carefully growing something – fruit and olive trees, bougainvillea, tomato and aubergine plants, basil and wild fennel. So many lemons. This Mediterranean variety was long and lumpy and big as grapefruit. We met a local limoncello maker who was cutting off the peels to soak in vodka. “Dulche” he said about the sweet peels. I bit into the juice and zing of the lemon sections themselves. All was yellow and sunshine, pure lemon-ness.


Everything we saw growing we’d also see on the plate. On most menus there’d be a some kind of rustic, handmade pasta. Sometimes it was a fat spaghetti, other times it was twisted into tight curls. In Pogerola, a small town high above Amalfi, we walked by the open kitchen window of an osteria named Rispoli and could see the steam rising. Across the narrow lane was a patio of 6 or 8 tables, and there – at a square table with a pink plaid tablecloth and views of the hillsides above Amalfi, Atranti and the sea – we ate plates of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, a whole panfish with lemon, and pasta vongole with those tiny Mediterranean clams that are so full of flavor in their ridged purple-white shells. For dessert – we’d started to talk with guests beside us from Switzerland, so wanted to stay on longer – we shared a cold and creamy rum baba with wild strawberries. On other tables I saw plates of sardines and olive oil, and of fried squid and prawns, of pitchers of a beer-golden wine. One wiry sister, Marina, waited on guests and called out orders through the kitchen window to another sister at the stove. The pasta was yellow with yolk and roughly cut into wide, flat pieces, as if it had been hand-rolled and cut it with a knife. Bravissimo. And Rispoli had no wine list but a choice of bianco or russo served in glass pitchers for four Euros per litre.  Oddly frizzante and almost foamy at first, their bianco tasted better and better as we drank into the night, and eventually walked happily back down the hill to our hotel.


– Sandy Lang, June 2010 (photo’s: roadside lemon stand, the beach at Positano, my favorite car in Amalfi)

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Food, Travel, Wine


For a winter issue of Grand Strand magazine, I had the chance to write a cover story about a restaurant I’ve known since I was a teenager – the old Sea Captain’s House, oceanfront in Myrtle Beach.  The story and images filled nine pages in the magazine. Here’s a shorter version..

At one of the granddaddy restaurants of Myrtle Beach, the grandfather of 10 had just finished a shrimp po’ boy lunch when he leaned back in his chair and talked of his first years with the restaurant, nearly 50 years ago. Just over the dunes from the pine-paneled dining room at the Sea Captain’s House, the ocean was slate-gray and rising with waves from a sudden winter storm. But where Clay Brittain sat with his family, in the comforts of the restaurant’s “Chart Room,” all was snug and warm, with the smells of sweet fried hushpuppies still rising from woven baskets on the table. It’s the same room where Mr. Brittain, now officially retired, will celebrate his 80th birthday later this month. He and his uncle Steve Chapman founded the Sea Captain’s House in 1962.

‘Tis the season of cozier festivities for the Grand Strand, and notably for a classic gathering place like the Sea Captain’s House, at 30th Avenue North and Ocean Boulevard. Housed in a 1930s beachhouse and former guesthouse, the restaurant’s traditions of food and family fill the space year-round – a modest shingled cape set beside a towering line-up of the strand’s oceanfront hotels.

The core rooms of the original home have remained little-changed through the decades, set with upholstered furniture and game tables for checkers and dominoes. (I first ate at the Sea Captain’s House as a student in the 1980s, and felt the history immediately.) Even more so today, stepping inside the restaurant is like re-entering another era in Myrtle Beach – back when the Pavilion still drew crowds along a wooden boardwalk, and had bathers’ changing rooms, photo booths, and Skee-Ball machines.


History and family traditions are alive and well at the Sea Captain’s House, where the Brittain and Chapman names are still synonymous with the restaurant. It’s now operated by the next generation of Brittains – brothers David and Matthew Brittain and their wives, Ann and Marie-Claire. Steve Chapman, grandson of the co-founder, grew up at the restaurant, and his father, Bob Chapman, managed the restaurant for many years. Seven of the ten Brittain grandchildren – all in their teens and early 20s – worked in the dining room last summer.

The landmark restaurant still serves three meals each day – from grits and fried egg breakfasts, to lunches and dinners of house specialties like fresh-made crab cakes, chowders of chopped clams, and South Carolina oyster singles on ice served with a champagne mignonette. In a recent conversation with Phil Ratcliff, one of the chefs, he easily put his hands on an original menu for the restaurant, and pointed out many dishes that are still served. “The prices are pretty nice from when Mr. Brittain set this up,” he said, and started reading some of the list… $2.25 for the Seafood Platter, Shrimp Creole for  $1.75, and desserts for 25 cents each.

Mr. Brittain and his wife, Pat, recall those early days well, and the recipes they collected when the restaurant began serving food back in early 1960s. There’s the She Crab Soup with cream and sherry from a Charleston recipe; the Avocado Seafarer, made with lump crabmeat and avocado; and the Sea Island Shrimp, from a recipe shared with the Brittains by a home economics expert who was a frequent guest at the Chesterfield Inn, two miles south. “Now, that’s a great recipe,” Mr. Brittain said of the popular cold shrimp dish that’s marinated with capers and onions. “It comes from when the Sea Islands had no electricity, so they’d pickle the shrimp, even burying it underground to keep it cool.”


Today, the restaurant regularly serves hundreds of customers each day, with two longtime chefs – Ratcliff and Andrew Gardo – leading the busy kitchen and creating daily specials with each day’s delivery of fresh seafood. New seating areas have been added over time, but other changes have been few. The biggest the family can point to are how in the 1980s, beer and wine was added to the menu, and two years ago, live music on the patio was added for the first time. And whenever they make any changes, the family says, rumors often follow that the restaurant might be torn down, as has happened with so many other buildings of old Myrtle Beach.

At the weekly lunch meeting with his family, when Mr. Brittain talked of the history of the well-worn restaurant, the mention of such rumors brought a teasing twinkle to his eye. Running the restaurant was never intended to be long-term proposition. “It’s still temporary!” he declared. His wife, sons and daughters-in-law smiled. Then, as sure as a shrimp boat chugged past the ocean-facing windows and the hum of conversations filtered in from other dining rooms, they all talked of plans for another holiday season and the new year.

– February 2010, Sandy Lang (images by Peter Frank Edwards)

Greenville1-2 Charleston Magazine Dec. 2009

Just out in the December issue of Charleston Magazine, I’ve got a travel story about leafy Greenville, South Carolina. A few paragraphs…

After an almost four-hour drive and nearly 1,000-foot rise in elevation, I had my nose in a long-stemmed glass of Bordeaux. Actually I’d get to seven glasses. It was a tasting, so there was an arc of wines around me and the 35 or so other sippers and swirlers, each glass with a tasting pour of French red. The setting was a room lined with racks and crates of wine in the 118-year-old, brick “Trolley Barn” in Greenville, now home to Northampton Wine, with its tasting room, bar, and café. There on a recent Friday, it was a heady start to a couple days in the Upstate city for an informal eat-around in the leafy downtown and nearby.

You could say the trip was a bit of a drink-around, too. Several hours earlier and about 20 miles south of downtown, we’d stopped at the Happy Cow Creamery and tossed back shots of fresh milk in tiny plastic cups. The big excitement at the farm that week was the debut of their strawberry milk, a new addition to their offerings of whole milk, chocolate, and buttermilk. I bought a bottle for the road. The cashier thanked me, adding, “Don’t forget to shake it before you drink it—get that cream mixed in real good.”

Yes ma’am, I did. That rich milk was gone before we’d see downtown Greenville’s mix of modern and historic buildings through the windshield – the Blue Ridge Mountains just beyond. I was ready to get to back to this city at the top of the Palmetto state. There’s been a growing buzz in recent years about the food scene, about Atlantans driving the 150 miles for a day-trip or dinner, and Charlestonians extending business trips, or getting to town early just to catch a meal before concerts at the Bi-Lo Center or the Peace Center for the Performing Arts. National media have been checking out Greenville, too. In last month’s issue of Esquire magazine, the chef at The Lazy Goat, Victoria Ann Moore, was named one of their “Four Breakout Chefs to Watch.”  The city’s food and wine festival, now called Euphoria and held in September, draws thousands of food followers and celeb-chefs like Tyler Florence and Frank Stitt. Personally, on previous trips I’ve had top-notch sushi at Murasaki on Main Street, tasted the melty-comforting, “48-hour Short Ribs” at Devereaux’s, and drunk tall glasses of hard-to-find Dutch beers in the cozy, Euro-feel Addy’s Dutch Café. I was ready to taste more…

The full piece is in the December 2009 issue.

– Sandy Lang, December 2009 (images by Peter Frank Edwards)

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Food, In print/published, Travel, Wine


In the annual “Food & Wine” issue of Charleston Magazine that’s out this month, I’ve got a piece on the single oysters that some of the oystermen are cultivating around here. Here’s a bit more than could fit in print:

Fresh salties by the bushel

As sure as it’s December, on low tides up on the oyster beds of Bulls Bay, in the creeks around Wadmalaw, and over on the Folly River, oystermen are pulling wild oysters from tide-washed banks.

The harvest is mostly of our Lowcountry clusters, but there should also be some new singles on the scene. Bill Anderson of the SC Department of Natural Resources says that thanks to the labor-intensive experimenting by longtime oystermen like Bill Livingston at Livingston’s Bulls Bay Seafood up in McClellanville, the local catch also now includes cultured single oysters – also known as single selects, Charleston Cups or Carolina Cups. It’s the same oyster, but is manually kept from clustering, and often grows horizontally and sometimes sub-tidally.

The results are single oysters that can have more of a cupped bottom, instead of the longer and narrower “knife blade” shape of cluster oysters that grow vertically. DNR gave a handful of grants back in 2006 to help South Carolina oystermen get single cultivation started, since the singles fetch a higher price than clusters. Livingston’s work with singles was part of that cooperative research grant program. South of Charleston, Tony Geisman got involved too. He built a platform on a creek off of the North Edisto River near Wadmalaw Island, and had some good success last year.

The holidays are a peak season for oysters, with clusters and singles at seafood purveyors like Stella Maris Seafood, a longtime wholesaler that also sells to the public. Chaz Green, who works with Stella Maris, describes the local “cups” as being more flavorful and rare than the ubiquitous oysters from the Gulf.  They’re also big, but not too big. “They’re like that one good-sized one you’ll get on a cluster,” he says. “A perfect bite.”

– Sandy Lang, December 2009

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Food, In print/published, Oysters, Travel

Morse Sauerkraut, Nov. 2009 Peter Frank Edwards

On a November drive on the Maine coast north of Portland, we stopped in at Morse’s Sauerkraut for a quart of their brined cabbage. I love the sour crunch, hot or cold. We met one of the owners and learned that the sauerkraut-making and farm had its beginnings back in 1910, and its farm store now includes a well-stocked German-Euro deli with a tiny restaurant in the back –  the  “Little German Cafe,” with specials like goulash and sauerbraten. In the deli, they had some just-sliced local pastrami from Bisson’s right down the road in Topsham… so cool, where else do you see local pastrami? We had to have some of that. Later at the cabin we’d make hot sandwiches, but in the car, we pulled out strips of the pastrami to try – simply dried beef with good saltiness, and not too peppery. It was delicious.

On that Thursday afternoon we had no particular schedule, which was pretty amazing in itself. But it was also a clear, cold Maine fall day. In the bright sunshine we drove the curving, rising two-lane road to the honor stand at the Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm. Past farm fields and spruce woods, stood the small and tidy building – maybe 15-feet across – beside a house where several wetsuits were hanging over the porch rail near the back door. (They dive for the oysters in the Damariscotta River below.) You pick out the oysters you want and leave your cash in a wooden box. One by one, we counted out a dozen each of the icy Damariscotta singles that are known to be clean and sweet tasting (they definitely were); and of the flatter, rounder and more iodine-tasting Belon oysters. (I’ve been learning about these, the French-Euro oyster that Julia Child wrote of eating in Provence, and that was introduced in Maine waters in the 1950s.) An elder Mainer pulled in just after us. Wearing a flannel shirt and walking slowly with a cane, he made his way over to the coolers to choose three of the “jumbo” singles (big as my hand) that go for $1.50 each. He didn’t look up for talking, but as he counted his change into the cash box, I said hello and asked how he’d eat the big oysters. “I eat ’em with a spoon,” he said, “like any other oyster.”

Belon & Damariscotta oysters Nov. 2009 Peter Frank Edwards

At the cabin the next day, we got into the sauerkraut and pastrami for an early lunch – made a Reuben version – and a few hours later, we iced down and pried open the Belons to eat on the half shell with lemon, followed by sips of Madeira. By then, the temperatures were in the mid-thirties and I had a fire going in the woodstove.

– Sandy Lang, December 2009  (images by PFE)

I’ve been back on the underground supper club beat again, and wrote a profile of jimihatt for the new “people” issue of Charleston Magazine, just out. Here’s an excerpt:


Meeting at James Island’s Zia Taqueria over tacos and beer, “jimihatt” arrives wearing camo pants and a T-shirt, his Burmese python tattoo snaking down his left arm to his wrist. “I once lived in a house with at least a dozen reptiles,” he says and then adds, “all non-venomous.”

jimihatt 2009, photo by Jonathan Stout

His real name is Jimi Cooper—but the lowercase “jimihatt,” a kitchen nickname, is how he’s known to most. He’s the dinner-party-throwing, art- and music-loving, charity-supporting, conversation-starting, back-yard-hen-raising, local-produce-buying cofounder of Guerrilla Cuisine, the underground supper club that celebrates its second anniversary this month…

He’s worked in kitchens for most of his professional life, and he’s got stories. Like the night chef Sean Brock called to say David Chang (chef-owner of NYC’s Momofuku) was in town and wanted to meet “the Guerrilla Cuisine guy.” They ended up having a late night at The Griffon on Vendue Range. Years earlier, Jimi got his start in the kitchen with stints at Capt. Don’s Hot Fish Shop on Savannah Highway and the original Med Deli in South Windermere, “both back when I was a hippie kid with dreadlocks”…

You can read the complete piece here. (Image by Jonathan Stout.)

– Sandy Lang, November 2009


Typically I’m not much of a lush, but last weekend I got pretty well intoxicated by Greenville, South Carolina. The premise was an assignment about the city’s food scene, and we spent the better part of two days along the leafy Main Street lined with café patios.

I’ll write more soon, but for now, here are a few images by PFE… at a bar known for its Limoncello and Campari cocktails (even George Clooney has stopped in, they say), an afternoon by the Reedy River, and the line-up of Bordeaux wines at a Friday testing. (I loved that Château de Fieuzal, Pessac-Léognan 2005.)


– Sandy Lang, October 2009

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Food, Travel, Wine



A classic beauty


I just walked around my house and found old copies of Gourmet in four different rooms. We don’t throw them away. The Paris issue, one with a John T. Edge piece on barbecue, this cover shot by Martyn Thompson of a Sicilian-inspired table, and so many others. I really don’t want to face the truth that November will be the final issue in print.

Last fall I had a chance meeting and some over-sized fried chicken wings with Jane and Michael Stern when they were doing research in the South for their Roadfood columns. (Somehow we got into their stories of tattoos and motorcycles, the old New York food scene and dinners with James Beard.) The summer before, I’d assisted Peter Frank Edwards on a photography assignment for Gourmet that involved handmade tortillas and plates of chicken mole in Chapel Hill, NC.

I’ve loved having even these small connections to Gourmet. This is the magazine that makes me dream. To the contributors and everyone on staff, thank you. Your work will live on.

– Sandy Lang, October 2009

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Fall’s coming and the eating is fine. Last night we ate hot forkfuls of smoky orange-yolk eggs, gathered in the backyard and fried with butter and chopped basil. The grill is set under the pecan trees, and we broke pecan twigs onto the coals, then sat at the picnic table to wait and watch the fire.


This morning, something sweet. I’ve been making yogurt for a couple of years, this latest batch completely rich with whole milk and heavy cream. On the bread is the last of the raspberry jam from a Maine farm visited one rainy morning in July. I tasted the fading summer with every bite.

– Sandy Lang, September 2009 (images by PFE)



July Mainer

Cindy’s takeout, Freeport, Maine. PFE Photo.

Sunshine is even more precious in Maine this summer. Everyone talks of the rainy weeks of June. One lobsterman shook his head and said, “Ain’t had no spring. Hardly had no summer.”  But since arriving on the eve of July 4th we’ve had several of the fleeting sunny afternoons, the clear-sky evenings when the light hangs on longer than you think possible, gleaming in the coves, over the spruce tops and across the lakes. We’ve got a tiny cabin about half way up Maine’s shoreline – a coast  that juts out so raggedly into the cold, clear ocean, breaking off into islands, the rocky outposts of long-ago glaciers. After the long drive up from South Carolina, our first Maine stop was north of Yarmouth on Route 1 at Cindy’s, where the owner showed us his old Ford. “Bought it from the second owner,” he said, passing some hot onion rings out of the stand’s window, and then a hefty, buttery lobster roll wrapped in white waxed paper.

A couple days after getting to the cabin at Long Pond, we drove a few miles up the road above Silver Lake to the Silveridge Farm. The strawberries were plump, red and ready for picking. I filled an old clam basket with 9 or 10 pints, which weighed in at $9. We gave some of the sweet berries to friends, and ate the rest with yogurt, with tapioca, on biscuits, fresh in slices or on the hand, and the last couple pints I cooked into jam. Summer is good here. You can see it and taste everywhere, and it’s all the more prized with the come-and-go sun.

– Sandy Lang, July 2009 (images by PFE)

jam, Silveridge farm, Bucksport, Maine. PFE Photo.

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Food, Maine days, Travel

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