The differences between the Coastal Empire and the Lowcountry are mostly in the nomenclature. That and, sort of ironically, Lowcountry boil in the Lowcountry is sometimes called Frogmore stew, but if you ask for that in Savannah you'll get blank looks.
For those of us in Savannah, the distinction pretty much boils down to which side of the bridge you are on, and it was over that cursed bridge that we found ourselves venturing on a cool April weekend. I was drawn by the fifth year of an event called the "Taste of Bluffton"; Bluffton referring to the tiny "resort" town that precedes Hilton Head Island. I had been a few times in my life, but not at all recently, so since the event was being held in the heart of "Old Town" Bluffton, had free admission, and meant cheap-ish edibles we decided to make the 45 min drive up.
I actually read about the festival on Jesse Blanco's Eat it and Like it website, where he wrote that the vendors would be taking tickets on a 1 to 1$ ratio and nothing would go for more than five tickets. This turned out to be false. Nevertheless, it was a relatively inexpensive shindig in relationship to other "taste of" events.
The things you could taste in Bluffton happened to be the same things you can taste all over the region: she crab soup, shrimp, fried chicken, grits, oysters, and county fair-type junk like fried oreos and funnel cake. There was a stall slinging typical Mexican street food, tacos and elote and the like, as well as a few different Bluffton restaurants dealing out shrimp and oysters. There were bakers present, a kettle corn outfit, and the inexplicable inclusion of the chain restaurants Longhorns and Jim n' Nicks BBQ. I'm pretty sure you can "taste" those last two all over the country.
What the South Carolina Lowcountry is truly renowned for is Gullah and Geechee culture, and to their credit there was one vendor present called Gullah Fried Sweet that appeared to be rooted in those traditions. The problem really is that, as interesting and important as Gullah may be to the cultural fabric of the region, the people themselves have more or less died out. Their haven for centuries, Daufuskie Island, is but a shell of its former self. On top of that, the cuisine that is traditionally Gullah is, to an extent, mainstream in the South, i.e. slave cuisine that became Soul Food. Thus, when I looked over the menu I saw fried whiting, fried chicken, okra, and the like. They did have a halved pineapple filled with some kind of shrimp concoction, but that seemed a little less than authentic. I went with an order of their sweet potato bread pudding to finish off my day, and wasn't wholly disappointed. It basically tasted like a slice of sweet potato pie with an chewier, more substantial crust. I like it, but wouldn't rush back over the bridge to eat it.
After we'd had our fill, we wandered around the Old Town, which is peppered with historical makers that make sure any and all vistors know all about the Yankees unjustly burning the place to the ground during the war. There are a couple of churches that were spared, and they are indeed interesting historical relics that are still operation as houses of worship to this day.
Bluffton, owing to its initial history as a "resort" community for plantation owners, its proximity to Hilton Head, and its intentional efforts to promote tourism has an incongruous amount of higher-end dining establishments. Pair that with its tiny size, a renovated downtown area, and the usuall Lowcountry environmental trapping of oaks, Spanish Moss, and pluff mud and the end result is a strangely compelling slice of Southern Small-town America. I will be revisting the subject of Bluffton on this blog in the future, you can be sure, but for now enjoy the photos of what we tasted.