SC Book Festival

SC Book FestivalI don’t know whether God made dark chocolate to go with red wine or whether they found each other after the fact, but it sure is nice to be off my feet and enjoying a little of both after a wonderful weekend of the South Carolina Book Festival.

What a wonderful collection of folks from all over the state and the Southeast. It was great meeting so many new faces and reconnecting with some old friends I haven’t seen in years.

But I think my favorite part was the kids. We had set up a little putting green in our booth to distract the kids while Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa or other supervising adults flipped through our book.

We never thought it would be such a hit. Even Tori from “Tori Explores South Carolina” took a few swings. We hope Tori follows some of our suggested itineraries as she tours the state.

Kelly Larkins with Usborne Books & More was a great neighbor during the festival.

But all of the kids were just great – funny, interesting and well read thanks to the efforts of our neighbors during the festival: Kelly Larkins of Usborne Books & More and Rolling Readers of the Midlands.

We had hundreds of people stop by our booth and a few decided to try our book. Many more took a chance at winning a copy and that goes to: Pamela Fitz. I don’t remember Pamela specifically, but I do hope she is the woman who told me she never wins anything.

Also, I must quickly apologize to the S.C. Humanities Council and the South Carolina Book Festival organizers: You are not in my book. My first time attending the event was last May – after I had sent the book to my publisher. But I can highly recommend it as an event for the whole family. This year, famed South Carolina writers Pat Conroy and Josephine Humphreys were there.

There are always plenty of vendors and authors of children’s books. One that I saw this year that I hope to explore more is JeehyunHoke Illustration. Her “Who do you think? & Why do you think?” series lets kids tell a story to solve a crime.

Well that’s it from my first book festival. I hope you all had as much fun as we did.

Check back in for more updates on fun things to see and do and places to eat and stay in South Carolina.

South Carolina Book Festival (803-771-2477; www.scbookfestival.org), Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, 1101 Lincoln St. This two-and-a-half-day festival brings together bookworms, writers, publishers and others together to share their love of the printed word. The festival focuses on writers from South Carolina and the South or topics of interest to Southern readers. The festival has been held in May in recent years and usually starts with a paid workshop and reception on Friday night with the free events on Saturday and Sunday. Located in the heart of Columbia’s Vista restaurant and entertainment district, the festival offers visitors a chance to get in some sightseeing while they are in town.

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The things they left behind

Entrance

The South Carolina Military Museum traces the state's more than 400-year military history.

Telling the story of soldiers is never easy: sticking to the truth while honoring those who set the standard for selflessness and service for a community, a state, a nation. Mix in South Carolina’s rebellious history and you’ve got an even more difficult time telling the story of a state whose residents fought for and against the U.S.

911 Exhibit

The South Carolina Military Museum includes an exhibit on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S.

That’s why the South Carolina Military Museum was such a surprise. The museum is tucked behind the National Guard Armory on Bluff Road and does a wonderful job of telling soldiers’ stories with a collection of implements, mostly weapons, left behind from the wars that have touched the state from Colonial skirmishes with the Spanish and local Indians to several turning-point battles of the Revolutionary War through the Civil War and up to current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The museum has original artifacts and some reproductions that show uniforms, weapons and other items soldiers carried.

Gorget

The gorget was a uniform adornment that was the model for the first crescent on the South Carolina state flag.

Of particular interest is a gorget, the crescent-shaped symbol of Revolutionary War soldiers from South Carolina. The symbol made its way to the state flag, where it has become shaped more like a crescent moon than the horseshoe shape of the gorget. Just a few exhibits away sits a cracked digital camera carried by a young lieutenant in the South Carolina National Guard who survived an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.

Director/curator Buddy Sturgis knows every item in the museum and can tell you the story behind each piece, which Sturgis and other guides love to share with visitors. Sturgis is not just the curator, he is the visionary behind the museum and a Vietnam veteran. He personally knows many of the heroes highlighted in the exhibits. His stories certainly make history come alive.

The museum is free and open to the public. On my recent trip, I was lucky enough to tour the museum with a group of Guard members in uniform.

“This is YOUR museum,” Sturigs told them. “Enjoy it.”

I would allow at least two hours to see and hear all about the artifacts in the museum, which includes a few nonmilitary exhibits.

Carbine Williams exhibit

The South Carolina Military Museum includes an exhibit on the weapons created by North Carolina native Marshall "Carbine" Williams.

Sturgis said the museum’s exhibit of rifles designed by North Carolina native Marsh “Carbine” Williams is one of the largest such collections around. For those who haven’t seen the 1952 Jimmy Stewart movie “Carbine Williams,” Williams was a moonshiner who was convicted of killing a deputy sheriff. While in prison, he created what would later become the M-1 rifle used by soldiers during World War II.

Another exhibit looks at the life of Melvin Purvis, the South Carolina native who gained famed as the FBI agent who killed John Dillinger and later served in the Army during World War II.

If you want to double-up a weekend museum visit with breakfast, I can recommend two restaurants from across the river in West Columbia. If you want to get to the museum when it opens Saturday at 10 AM, check out Compton’s Kitchen on B Avenue. You can get a wonderful Southern breakfast at better than reasonable prices. If you’re going on Sunday, the museum opens at 1 PM and you can get a wonderful brunch at 116 Espresso and Wine Bar and enjoy a short walk along the river before heading to the museum.

South Carolina Military Museum (803-806-4440; scmilitarymuseum.com) 1 National Guard Road, Columbia. Open 10-4 Tuesday-Saturday; 1-5 Sunday. Closed on all federal holidays and when the University of South Carolina plays football in nearby Williams-Brice Stadium. Guided tours of the museum can be scheduled on request. Tours work best for groups of 30 or fewer. School classes are welcome, but exhibits are best enjoyed by children older than six. Although the museum is free, donations are welcome.

Compton's KitchenCompton’s Kitchen (803-791-0755; comptonskitchen.com), 1118 B Ave., West Columbia. OPen 6 AM-2 PM Monday-Friday for breakfast and lunch; breakfast only on Saturday 6-noon. If you want to be sure you get to the museum at opening time on Saturday, stop by Compton’s for a great breakfast at a great deal. You can get the No. 1 special: two eggs, bacon, grits and biscuit or toast for about $4. Add in one of the nicest waitstaffs in the business and you have yourself and wonderful start to any day.

116 Espresso and Wine Bar (803-791-5663; 116state.com), 116 State St., West Columbia. Open Tuesday-Friday for dinner starting at 4 PM; 10 AM-midnight Saturday and 10-5 Sunday. This restaurant located on the “West Bank” of the Congaree River that separates Columbia from West Columbia and Cayce is a wonderful weekend brunch spot. Traditional breakfast items such as steak and eggs, quiche and French toast meet up with 116’s specialty pizzas to offer an eclectic brunch selection. Everything on the menu is full of Mediterranean flavors, plus it’s almost impossible to eat here without a stroll along the Riverwalk, which I highly recommend.

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Also known as

So we went to Spartanburg (aka Hub City, aka Sparkle City) to sign some books at the Hub City Bookshop and to see if we had missed anything on earlier visits.

Sugar-n-Spice

Sugar-n-Spice restaurant, aka The Spice, has been serving roast beef, burgers and fried chicken livers a-plenty since 1961.

Boy, did we ever miss something. We started off at Sugar-n-Spice(aka The Spice), a former drive-in restaurant that still serves great food.

I had the roast beef-a-plenty, which we all know in S.C. means with a bunch of fries and onion rings. This also came with slaw, which was low on mayo and high on flavor. The roast beef was tender and as flavorful as any roast beef I have ever had. I didn’t even mind that it wasn’t rare.

Jan had the fried chicken livers, which I have no frame of reference for because I simply do not eat them. She said, however, that they were fantastic, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The livers also came a-plenty and the onion rings were pronounced “just as good as Fat Boy.” (That’s in West Columbia.)

The Spice is one of those great South Carolina restaurants owned and operated by Greek families since the 1960s – there are many such places scattered across the state. One of The Spice owners – the Stathakis family – has cousins by the same name who own the Stax restaurants in Greenville.

Hub City Bookshop

The old Masonic Temple in downtown Spartanburg houses the Hub City Bookshop along with the Hub City Writers Project and Hub City Press as well as Indian River Coffee Bar and Cakehead Bakeshop.

After lunch, we drove downtown to the Hub City Bookshop in the old Masonic Temple. The bookstore, part of the nonprofit Hub City Writers Project, is on one side and the Little River Coffee Bar and Cakehead Bakeshop are on the other.

The bookstore is fantastic. Hub City publishes about a half-dozen titles, mainly by Southern writers or about Southern things, each year. The bookstore specializes in new releases with a regional focus on fiction and nonfiction, hence the inclusion of “Explorer’s Guide: South Carolina” in their inventory. The store also has a wide selection of bestsellers, children’s books and other general interest fiction and nonfiction.

Hub City executive editor Betsey Teter says the bookstore helps keep the presses rolling. On my signing day, Teter’s husband, John Lane, was signing his latest book “My Paddle to the Sea,” which I haven’t finished yet, but I highly recommend just from the first few chapters.

If you miss the old-school local bookstore, this is the place to drop in. Even though it is just a few years old, it feels like it’s been there forever, and it’s just across the street from the Herald-Journal, Spartanburg’s daily newspaper, and right next to a little downtown park, Morgan Square, and the city’s clock tower.

The coffee shop has some wonderful offerings and the bakery specializes in simply delicious cupcakes (try the Sweet N Salty Brown Sugar Cake with caramel icing and sea salt, yum).

Downtown Spartanburg also has what I think every medium to large city needs: racks where you can rent bicycles (like luggage carts at the airport) with several different return locations. Spartanburg has two B-stations: At Morgan Square and at the Rail Trail, a flat, paved walk/bike/skate-way built in an old railroad bed that will become part of Spartanburg’s 12-mile section of the Palmetto Trail.

There are some shops downtown, including Pink on Main: a Lillie Pulitzer shop. Although nothing in the store fit me, it was fun to look at the lovely dresses and they were not as expensive as I thought. More than a handful were available for less than $200.

A few consignment shops and a couple of restaurants round out the offerings on Spartanburg’s Main Street. Just outside of the downtown are Wofford and Converse colleges.

The artist version of Hub City Writers Project, called Hub-Bub also offers 100 nights of art, culture and entertainment in the downtown business district, keeping the area alive and humming while other downtowns fall silent after business hours.

Hub City Bookshop (864-577-9349; www.hubcity.org) 186 West Main St. Open Mon.-Sat. starting at 10 a.m. Hub City specializes in regional writers and mostly new releases. The store carries all the books published by the nonprofit Hub City Press and proceeds from the sale of books fund creative writing education and independent book publishing in Spartanburg.

Little River Coffee Bar (864-582-1227; http://www.littlerivercoffeebar.com) 188

West Main St. Open Mon.-Sat. starting at 7 a.m. Little River offers espresso and coffee and features baked goods from the nearby Cakehead Bakeshop.

Cakehead Bakeshop (864-585-8774; www.cakeheadbakeshop.com) 188-B West Main St. Open Tue.-Sat. starting at 9 a.m. Full-size cakes and petite cupcakes fill the display case at Cakehead, which is conveniently next to a coffee shop and bookstore. The Sweet N Salty Brown Sugar Cake with caramel icing and sea salt filled the bill on our day.

Sugar-n-Spice (864-585-3991; www.thespicerocks.com) 212 South Pine St. Open Mon.-Sat. for lunch and dinner. The Spice as it’s known has a variety of sandwiches and platters from the roast beef sandwich (fantastic) to a chicken liver platter. Order it up a-plenty for fries, onion rings and cole slaw. The restaurant harkens back to its early days as a drive-in. It is still owned and operated by members of one of its founding families.

Pink on Main: A Lilly Pulitzer Via Shop (864-515-0088; www.pinkonmain.com) 156 West Main St. This cute little shop has oodles of Lilly Pulitzer dresses, many on sale for less than $200. It’s fun to just cruise through even if you aren’t buying.

Spartanburg B-Cycle (864-598-9638; spartanburg.bcycle.com), 226 South Spring St. For $5 you get a 24-hour pass to rent a bike. The first hour of riding is included in the $5 pass. After that it’s $1 per half-hour, up to a maximum of $35 a day. Two conveniently located rental racks let riders enjoy the downtown area without clogging the streets with cars. Downtown workers also can use the bikes to run quick errands during the day.

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Daytripping in the Holy City

I never want to go to Charleston just for the day. Living in Columbia, that is a good four hours on the road for only about five-six hours in the city. But, if a day is all you’ve got, let me tell you something great to do.
First of all, go to Captain’s Source (843-767-4200; http://captainssource.com/) and book a sail or harbor cruise. We left from the Patriots Point Marina in Mount Pleasant for two of the most relaxing and fun hours I have ever spent on a day trip.
Since the cruise was 2:30-4:30 p.m., we had a perfect plan to arrive in the city by 11:30 a.m. for brunch before heading to Mount Pleasant to get on the boat.
We chose Carolina’s: A Southern Bistro (843-724-3800; www.carolinasrestaurant.com), just south of Broad and one of the few restaurants in Charleston that I had never visited.

Carolina's just south of Broad is a perfect Sunday brunch spot.

The place is warm and brightly decorated, especially for brunch with the early Sunday sunshine streaming through the oversized windows.
The front room is flanked by two large banquettes and banquettes line the back wall of the lower back room, which also has a bar made for eating.
Carolina’s offers a bottomless mimosa (in three flavors) for just $14 (the price of two, if you’re not going bottomless). We had the Poinsettia (with cranberry juice) and the bellini (champagne with peach nectar).
For food, we started with the roasted tomato bisque. It was a fantastic explosion of flavors and very rich. A little taste was perfect.
Then came the Hangtown omelet: an open-faced omelet with fried oysters on top. On the side were salt-roasted smashed fingerling potatoes.
The house specialty is the crab cake Benedict, which is a minced-meat crab cake on top of a fried green tomato with two perfectly poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce on top. The Anson mills grits on the side were cooked perfectly.
For dessert, we had French press coffee and a pecan yummy dish comprised of ice cream served in an edible basket made of something like pecan-pie filling with fresh fruit on top. It was ooey, gooey, goodness.

Pecan goodness bowl filled with ice cream and fresh fruit at Carolina's.

After that huge meal, we needed a walk. From the Carolina’s location at Exchange and Prioleau streets, it is just a short stroll to waterfront park and wonderful views of Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter and, with the right lens in the camera, a look at the Sullivans Island lighthouse.
It was a beautiful, sunny fall day, so there was a cool breeze and plenty of sunshine. After our stroll, we hopped into the car to head across the harbor the hard way and to Patriots Point.
The drive took about a half-hour and although Capt. Mike had invited us to bring our own adult beverages, we had had enough at brunch. Some of our sailing companions brought cheese, crackers and some red wine. Capt. Mike and first mate Michelle had plenty of water and sodas if we needed.
The “Emotional Rescue” lived up to its name as we all settled in and let Mike and Michelle take care of all the grunt work of rigging the sails and getting us out into the harbor. It was a fairly crowded day as folks were taking advantage of a warm November day to say good-bye to sailing for the season.

Capt. Mike at the helm of the "Emotional Rescue."

We got underway right on time and began crisscrossing the harbor while hugging the waters around the peninsula. We sailed from the South Carolina Aquarium to White Point Gardens and further south. Mike and Michelle had stories for every point of interest – many things the six South Carolina residents on the boat had never heard before. They knew all about sailing, about Charleston’s maritime history and who lived in those great big houses on the Battery. One belongs to an obviously very successful local car dealer and another to the president of grocery chain Piggly Wiggly (that’s the ones with the ornamental pigs out front.)
Mike lets you feel what it’s like to catch some wind in your sails, but keeps the keel fairly even so you can walk out onto the foredeck and can snap some great shots of the Battery and the Ravenel Bridge.
We were pulling into our slip just as the sun was sinking behind the steeples of the Holy City. Patriots Point happened to be hosting an oyster roast on Sunday, but we had miles to drive before our sleep, so we headed off to Trader Joe’s (843-884-4037; www.traderjoes.com/website) for some shopping and stopped in Summerville for a quick bite to eat – but that’s another story for another day.

Highlights:
Carolina’s: A Southern Bistro (843-724-3800; www.carolinasrestaurant.com) 10 Exchange St., Charleston. Open daily at 5 PM for dinner; 10 AM-2:30 PM for Sunday brunch. Prices: This is definitely a “Dining Out” dinner or brunch. We spent $100 (taxes and tip included) on brunch for two with cocktails, appetizer, entrees and dessert.
Waterfront Park (843-762-2172; www.charlestoncity.info) Concord Street.
Captains Source (843-767-4200; http://captainssource.com/). Tours are by appointment only and prices vary widely based on trip chosen.
Trader Joe’s (843-884-4037; www.traderjoes.com) 401 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., Mt. Pleasant. Open daily 8 AM-9PM. This grocery store is famous for its Two-Buck Chuck – a collection of wines for $2.99. It’s highly drinkable and, at those prices, well worth the drive. Although Trader Joe’s is a chain, it has the feel of a neighborhood grocery, which is fairly hard to come by in these big-box days.

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Tuesdays at Cellar on Greene

Every other Tuesday we have to kill a few hours between 6 and 10 p.m. so we try to find some great dinner specials.

Columbia’s Cellar on Greene has one of our favorites: Champagne Tuesdays.

Champagne Tuesday at Cellar on Greene

Jan tries to decide which sparkling glass she wants

We sampled four different sparkling wines, including a dry, sparkling Reisling that was very tasty. The Clara C prosecco wasn’t quite dry enough for me, but Jan enjoyed it. My favorite was the Cava Brut, Poema Extra Dry, from Spain. All the wines were less than $8 a glass.

On this particular Tuesday, there also was a wine-pairing three-course dinner for $27 in addition to Cellar’s usual $19 three-course offering. We opted for the usual offerings, I started with a duck duo, one is Cellar’s house-made duck proscuitto and the other is medallions of five-spice seared breast cooked to perfection.


Champagne Tuesday at Cellar on Greene

The Duck Duo at Cellar on Greene

The fried calamari was tender and the breading was light and yummy. A new offering for the second course was a stuffed tomato over pasta with an artichoke and pesto sauce. This vegetarian dish packed more flavor than most and the pesto was almost as good as mine. I had the pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes and green beans. It wasn’t as flavorful as the pasta, but it was perfect for me.

Champagne Tuesdays at Cellar on Greene 3

Stuffed tomato and pasta dish

For dessert, we ordered the fried poundcake and the berry tart. The poundcake is drizzled with caramel and the tart has so many berries and flavors, it just explodes in your mouth. The whole evening was $75 with tax and tip.

I recommend getting to the Cellar a little early, say before 7 p.m., as Champagne Tuesday is very popular and you may end up waiting on slow pokes like us if you want to eat.

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Explorer’s Guide: South Carolina

Explorer’s Guide: South Carolina will be coming out Oct. 3. While we are in production, I will keep you updated here, on my Facebook page: Explorer’s Guide: South Carolina and you can follow me on Twitter at ExploringSC.

I have tried to tell first-time visitors to South Carolina everything they need to know to hit the high spots of the Palmetto State. I also hope that natives will find something they didn’t know about or a new way to see something they thought they had seen before. That’s kind of what this experience has been for me – rediscovering the state that I love and have called home for all my life.

According to research by one of my aunts, my mother’s side of the family arrived from France and landed in Charleston in 1685. Some relatives are scattered around the southeastern United States, and I have cousins in Hawaii and Colorado. But by and large, we have stayed in South Carolina.

I welcome any information on places I may have missed in my book as I am definitely planning to continue ExploringSC.

~ Page Ivey

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