From the Office and Backyard to the Road, Boat, or Plane–Backstories and
Side Stories While on Assignment. Updates on Personal Projects, Too.

Archive for the ‘Lowcountry S.C./Charleston’ Category

For the September 2012 issue of Brides magazine, I had the chance to write about the romantic side of Charleston, from oak tree-shaded outdoor settings for a wedding ceremony, to some of my favorite cake bakers, including Jim Smeal, Lauren Mitterer at Wildflour Pastry, and Sugar Bakeshop.

Beyond bakeries, the around-town guide features venues, florists, dress shops, photographers, caterers, and event planners. From the opener:

Charleston is filled with secret gardens, cocktail parties on piazzas, and horse carriages that clip-clop past historic townhouses on cobblestone streets. The young and hip flock here for art and fashion, and the food scene is as hot as a bonfire on a local beach. For modern-day belles from near and far who dream of a wedding fit for a Charlestonian, here’s our comprehensive guide…

– Sandy Lang, October 2012  (photography by Peter Frank Edwards)

Love the Maine and South Carolina connections of this project for Portland General Store (PGS). Last summer, I had the chance to write copy for the company’s first look-book and its line of “handsomely addictive, sea-and-forest based products for the shaving regiment, and beyond.”

Peter Frank Edwards Photographs did the photography on location shoots over a couple of summer days in Old Orchard Beach and Portland. I got to assist with shoot production, and it was a terrific experience working with the founders of PGS, Troy Tyler and Lisa Brodar, who each have wonderful personal style and energy–Troy is a former NYC marketing exec and Lisa formulates the scents and concoctions.

In other nods to the South, PGS chose our friends at STITCH Design Co. in Charleston to create the look-book’s over-sized, 16-page design, and Garden & Gun has just taken note of the company on its website. Some favorite spreads…

– Sandy Lang, July 2012

I had a great time interviewing 11 Charleston-area chefs for the cover story of the premiere issue of THE LOCAL PALATE, now out in print. The premise was to ask each chef five basic questions about Charleston’s food and food culture. They talked of everything from the simple joys of “cooking the line” and rolling out the night’s pastas (Chef Ken Vedrinkski, Trattoria Lucca) to a summer score of white peaches from the Upstate (Chef Frank Lee at Slightly North of Broad).

Ben Williams did the photography, including this terrific cover shot of Graham Dailey of the Peninsula Grill. That’s Frank Lee and Sean Brock, below, in the article opener.

The full roster of chefs in the piece:

Sean Brock, McCrady’s & Husk, 2010 James Beard Award, Best Chef-Southeast

Graham Daily, Peninsula Grill

Craig Deihl, Cypress & Artisan Meat Share

Jacques Larson, Wild Olive

Mike Lata, FIG, 2009 James Beard Award, Best Chef-Southeast

Frank Lee, Slightly North of Broad & Maverick Southern Kitchens

Sarah O’Kelley, Glass Onion

Robert Stehling, Hominy Grill, 2008 James Beard Award, Best Chef-Southeast

Nate Thurston, The Ocean Room at The Sanctuary

Ken Vedrinski, Trattoria Lucca & Enoteca

Michelle Weaver, Charleston Grill

Just typing in that list of restaurants makes me hungry. I look forward to eating with all of them again soon.

– Sandy Lang, October 2011

To help recognize the growing creative force in Charleston – now said to be 27,000+ strong – I’ve been working on a campaign with STITCH Design Co. and Parliament.

We’ve had fun with this. The first round of print pieces were handed out last night at Pecha Kucha 7 at the Sottile Theater – letter-pressed member cards and sleeves, and a full run of adhesives. Love the kraft paper, the non-color. Check ’em out.

I’m told we’ll get to work up some T-shirts, scout books and other swag soon. Meanwhile, everyone’s invited to CREATE, COLLABORATE, PROSPER.

– Sandy Lang, August 2010



Found art

A summer visit to John Duckworth’s studio…


There’d been a ruckus in the yard that morning, John Duckworth said when I drove up. A neighbor’s dog had carried off one of his flock of young chickens and feathers flew, but the hen survived. A black-plumed rooster was still nervously scurrying between the 100-year-old farmhouse and the barn-sized building that’s now an art studio. Duckworth wasn’t unsettled though, and stood patiently watching the yard. He offered to brew some tea.

Where a writer writes, where a painter paints – these are important places. Duckworth’s is a lofty studio, with oversized canvases set on easels and hung from wheeled tracks that allow paintings to be slid into and out of view. On another wall, there are computers with the broad screens needed for the digital aspects of his photography. (When we walked in, his assistant was mapping the effect of slight color variations on a specific print.)   The studio building itself is a rustic compilation of found materials – walls of reclaimed beadboard and wide pine, of rough stucco-covered brick, and a mix of striated and smooth cement blocks. The artist hasn’t renovated to hide or replace any of these mismatched elements, all of which he says existed when he bought the place a few years earlier. Rather, he tells visitors what he’s learned about the origin of the materials – specifics about bricks from a South of Broad tear-down, or planks from an island barn.


A few dozen yards away, Duckworth’s white-painted, tin-roofed house of porches, wood floors and single-paned windows is pure early-20th century rural South. There’s no television inside. Instead, there’s framed art on the walls (his and others), a well-used fireplace, and a spare amount of wood furniture. On tables, sills and countertops, there are found bones, feathers, and shed cicada bodies – a goldfish in a bowl, two tiny frogs in a terrarium cube. That morning there were also glass jars of moths and butterflies at various stages of development – a collection of cocoons and caterpillars that he’d been observing with his 5-year-old son, Baze, and then labeling the jars with notes about each insect’s diet and what to expect when it transforms and takes wing.

The artist and single father is California-born, but has obviously found a comfortable place on this sea island so near to downtown Charleston, South Carolina. He used to rent an apartment in the 300-year-old city and often still makes the peninsula a subject or backdrop of his art. Duckworth paints and photographs the landscape, people, animals and elements around him. Wood fires in his firepit last winter led to photographs of wispy smoke that look like sheer fabric blowing. Horse farm visits with Baze inspired the artist to create a series of horse portraits painted over landscape photographs. And Duckworth still shoots and prints photographs of the marsh expanses, a passion born of bicycling on Johns and Wadmalaw islands and being struck by the beauty, color and peace of the wide landscape. He explains that he’s continually experimenting and blending these passions for photography and painting – studying the masters, mixing old techniques with new.

After final looks at some of this island artist’s current projects, I’m back in the car and ready to drive off from this visit, when a sudden mid-day rainfall erupts. Big drops sheer the windshield, and I think of the built and natural scenes that are so often Duckworth’s subjects – paintings and images almost always out of clear focus. Viewing his art, I think, as I pull away from the island farm, can be like looking through rain on glass.

– Sandy Lang, June 2010  (Images by Peter Frank Edwards.)




Oyster note in T+L


Oysters make a nice valentine, I think. I had the chance to write up a few South Carolina oyster-eating places in Travel + Leisure’s cover-story round-up of romantic destinations. Here’s my blurb, on page 9o, titled “A Low-Country Drive.” You can also see it online in their list of “50 Best Romantic Getaways  2010.”


– Sandy Lang, February 2010


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)



Life by tides

This is so cool. A dozen writers were asked to write odes to the Lowcountry for this month’s issue of Charleston Magazine. (The other writers included Josephine Humphreys, William Baldwin, Marjory Wentworth, Roger Pinckney, Jonathan Sanchez and more who I’ve read and admired for years.) My ode is below. In the print version, it was paired with a beautiful painting by Mickey Williams.


On a sailboat we called the Eel Pye, we’d drifted right up to a dozen or more dolphins that were in a swirl, almost a frenzy, of fishing. It was a summer afternoon on the Fort Johnson side of the harbor, where the water was mixing with a changing tide. It was one of those scenes that gets seared in memory, a little movie to be played later—the dolphins’ slippery gray backs rising over and over, twisting in water that popped with a school of silvery fish.

Tides come and go, and things happen. On that old 22-foot Eel Pye, we’d let the rush of the changing tide pull us. The boat was moored in Wappoo Creek, a channel that connects the Ashley River end of the harbor with the Stono River. The currents there are famously strong, and we decided to make the most of it. I’d strap on flippers and jump in, swimming against the flow, and then turn around and let the water pull me back to the boat. It was such easy floating. And whenever I dunked under, I would hear so much life. Unlike freshwater lakes, where all you hear is your own splashes, the riverbed offered up a constant clicking (of crabs? oysters?) and bubbles rising. The creek water on my lips tasted salty and thick, like a tea of pluff mud and decaying marsh grass.

I loved to swim from that boat, until she was sold, but there are other stories of tides and boats and dolphins. One summer evening, on a swim around the pools and sandbars that build and fade with the tides on Sullivan’s Island, two dolphins surfaced so near and so many times I thought I’d get to touch one. I watched and called to them as the sun lowered, and they eventually swam off.

Back over near James Island, the currents and tides once brought in a beautiful wooden yacht that stretched at least 30 feet, with CONTESSA lettered in gold paint across her transom. We were out on a fall afternoon ride in the johnboat when we first saw her, stranded and abandoned in a creek off the Stono. For the next few weeks, we kept checking on the once-elegant boat, passing near.

Before long, the Contessa started a slow tilt in the low tides, and the lean got more exaggerated each day. We’d motor up sometimes and touch the wooden hull, and, when the tide was good for getting there, we ferried a few friends out for their own close-up look. Everyone made up stories about the impressive boat’s past—where she had come from, who owned her and left her, and why. But we never knew the real story, only what we could imagine. Then one day, the Contessa was gone. In my mind, I pictured the tides and mud had finally swallowed her.

Yesterday afternoon on a run over the Stono River Bridge, I looked down at the same swelling water and wondered what’s next. Around here, that six feet or so of ocean is always coming and going—mixing things up and adding a little mystery. Just the way I like it.

– Sandy Lang, January 2010




Oyster season is on


No, it’s not that you get a mouthful of pluff. It’s more like when you swim in a saltwater creek and can lick the saltiness from your lips. That’s the taste of our oysters, what we can pull from the Folly River now that the weather’s cooled down. Some people say they’re too much trouble, but I’m partial to the Lowcountry clusters. Every fall I can’t wait for the season to start, for the backyard fires and the oyster knives, the whole cold weather scene.

On an assignment in Georgetown, SC the other day, I stopped again at Independent Seafood. I had my camera along, shot the scene above. Back in Charleston, here’s Chaz Green at Stella Maris Seafood pulling out some local singles and clusters. And at the outdoor sink at home, some Folly River oysters, just before getting steamed for dinner.


– Sandy Lang, November 2009

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

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