By SUSAN ERICSON
Owners Isa and Peter Hewitt, a couple who live in north Jersey, love visiting the coastal Low Country area of South Carolina, where they have a home. So much so that they now have three Charleston Shops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, betting that other northerners will enjoy what Charleston has to offer as well.
The shop sells authentic as well as healthier adaptations of Low Country condiments. “Charleston has become an international city, and needs to cater to new tastes,” Clare Destoppelaire, manager of the Red Bank store, tells PieHole.
What are people in the new south eating? “The old south was about butter, butter, more butter and lard. Fat was never an issue,” Destoppelaire says. “The new south has accepted new tastes utilizing spices, seasonings and maybe an occasional ham hock.”
While there were plenty of sugar-laden jams and jellies on the shelves, we also found fruit butter: concentrated fruit preserves that contain more fruit and less sugar.
Hard-to-find bags of stoneground, non-GMO white grits which according to Destoppelaire are, “entirely different from any found at the grocers. These are from the Low Country plantations,” were in plentiful supply.
On any given day, you’ll find open jars of Carolina Vidalia Relish or Sweet Bourbon Glaze to spread on a Low Country biscuit or Benne wafer in the store. Brought to the Charleston area by African slaves, benne (meaning “sesame” in Bantu) wafers are an unexpected flavor by way of ground sesame seeds baked with a sugary mixture, rendering them sweet, savory and crispy.
“In the south, it’s fine dining and a cocktail,” Destoppelaire says while pointing to one area of the store dedicated to an assortment of drink mixes. Bottles of Fat and Juicy Bloody Mary mix share shelf space with a fruitier blueberry lemondrop mix. Pear ginger martini and a peachy margarita mix are also available.
Tea, a daily staple for many southerners, comes from the Charleston Tea Plantation. One of the largest tea plantations on the mainland in America, it is found on Wadmalaw Island, a six-by-ten-mile island just outside of Charleston.
Not just food, the Charleston Shops also sells shiny, low-maintenance aluminum serving pieces, such as cake plates on pedestals, large platters and bowls decorated with alligator and palm tree motifs. For chefs and home-cooks, the store offers a range of southern themed cookbooks.
Framed art and pottery from southern artists is for sale, as are home decor items, such as small table lamps in the shape of the colonial symbol of friendship and hospitality, the pineapple.
The Charleston Shops is open Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p;m.; Friday and Saturday from 10 to 6; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.. It’s closed on Tuesdays until March 1. Check out The Charleston Shops on Sifter!