Lessons #82-85: Lessons from Charleston Part III

by Rachel on May 20, 2011

Friday was definitely my favorite day of vacation. And there were lots of lessons to be learned!

Lesson #82: Hominy Grill is worth the hype — and everyone else will think so too.

We got so many recommendations to try Hominy Grill so we decided to go for breakfast on Friday morning. We figured Friday would be less busy than a Saturday or Sunday morning. If it was, I can’t even imagine how a weekend would be! They actually have a parking lot, but it was full, so we drove around for 15-20 minutes trying to find parking. (It’s in a residential area so street spots weren’t really an option.) Finally Eric dropped me off to put our names on the list while he went back to a metered spot…and as soon as he dropped me off, three spots opened up. I stood in one, acting as a human shield, until he could get back to park.

Once we had our names on the list, we were seated in less than 10 minutes, which was nice. The interior was sunny and rustic without trying too hard. We didn’t have to spend too much time looking at the menu…everything was kind of a no-brainer. We started with coffee (for me), orange juice (for him), and banana and pumpkin bread. The coffee was good, the banana bread was really good, and the pumpkin bread was just on a whole new level — the best I’ve ever tasted.

Sticking with Eric’s “we can’t order the same thing” rule — I actually didn’t fight him for the right to order the Big Nasty.

Yes, that is, in fact, a piece of fried chicken betwixt those biscuits and smothered in gravy.

Holy hell.

But I had other things on my mind. The day’s special turned out to be my dream come true, considering I sat down and thought, “I want a biscuit and gravy…with eggs on the side?”

Well, hello, two poached eggs on a biscuit, smothered in herbed gravy.

There really are no words for how good that breakfast was.

We were in and out really fast, although I didn’t feel rushed at all…just incredibly satisfied and happy as we headed out into the morning. I love going out for a really good breakfast — not brunch, there is a huge difference — and I loved everything about Hominy Grill. I was so pleased when we left, Eric told me to “wipe the shit-eating grin” off my face.

I refused.

Lesson #83: Make time to visit a plantation.

From breakfast, we took a half-hour drive in our sweet rental car (another lesson — don’t rent from Hertz because it’s wildly overpriced to drive a teeny tiny little Toyota that had me telling Eric, “Well, at least in this car everyone must think, Wow, that guy must have a huge dick) out to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.

So we got to the ticket counter, and while I was lost in thought, I was totally thinking I shouldn’t have to pay to get in — or, well, I should get 50 percent off — because HELLO REPARATIONS?! when the woman at the ticket counter smiled at me.

“You’re just so beautiful,” she said. “I keep looking at you because you have such a natural beauty about you.”

“Oh, thank you!” I said. I mean, a girl loves a compliment, right?! But then I had an inkling…

Wait for it…

“You just have that beautiful natural tan!” she said.


I am not entirely sure what she meant by “natural tan” and while I pondered this, Eric and I avoided making eye contact because that would have meant we would have laughed…and this woman was really nice so I didn’t really want to be an asshole and explain that my “natural tan” was beautiful actually for the same reason Magnolia Gardens are beautiful — you know…because of our African-American friends.

Unoffended by this — seriously! — we headed to browse the gardens while we waited for our tours to begin.

The gardens were breathtaking.

Wandering through them was like being in a dream.

magnolia flower

(See more pictures here!)

Lesson #84: Pay the extra $8 to go on the cabin tour.

There are a lot of plantations in the area but I was partial to Magnolia because their website described about their unique slave cabin experience. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I felt like it was important. And I don’t know what the other plantations are like, but when the website says, “this ain’t your grandma’s old-time slavery tour,” I’m there.

You pay $15 just for access to the gardens anything else you want to do is extra. We paid the extra for the house tour and for the cabin tour, but I’m not sure everyone would because they might not think it’s worth it…and that’s a serious shame. I think the cabin tour just needs to be included in the price (even if they raise the price) because the cabin tour was my favorite part of the whole trip. And it seems wrong and inappropriate to me to see the gardens or the house without seeing the cabins. Yes, the gardens and the house are beautiful, and it’s easy to get caught up in the romance of it all, but you need to think about how it got that way.

Just to put things in perspective, the front porch of the main house looked like this.

According to the website, “This unique collection of slave cabins, occupied well into the 20th century, has been carefully preserved and restored to document the full arc of African–American life at Magnolia. Each cabin reflects a different period of the African experience on the plantation; from slavery to Reconstruction, through the 1920’s, and on to the civil rights era of the 1960’s. This provides an extraordinary historical perspective.”

I can’t even say much more to that except YES. Yes, it really does provide extraordinary historical perspective. Our tour guide, BJ, was awesome. He was knowledgeable and charismatic (but not in that douchey tour guide way) and, most important, handled the sensitive subject perfectly. I learned so much new information about the slave trade, Southern agriculture, and the antebellum South during his presentation.

After his 20 minute talk, we were free to explore the cabins (which were restored with incredible attention to detail and respect for the subject), we were really able to grasp what life actually looked like for a slave. I’ve read about it and seen movies, but there’s something different about standing in their cabins that makes you get it on a new level.

The cabins were restored in some parts, featuring recreations of what it would have looked like, based on the remnants left behind — but in many parts, things were just left as they were, like this newsprint from the 1920s, peeling off the ceiling where it was glued like wallpaper to provide insulation for the cabin.

I could gush about the cabin tour all day. I loved the gardens, and the house tour was cool, but for me, the cabins are the can’t-miss thing to do.

Lesson #85: End on a lighter note — pour yourself a drink.

While the plantation tour wasn’t depressing, it was certainly sobering. So we followed it up with…some alcohol.

Eric and I weren’t sure if we’d make it to Firefly Distillery Friday afternoon — they are only open until 5:00 and are located about 30 minutes away from Charleston. Even though it was already 3:30, we decided to try. We hauled ass and ended up making it with plenty of time to explore.

I’ve had a special place in my heart for Firefly ever since I had it on my third day of datecation. We did a tasting, which is $6 and includes six mini shots of the Firefly products of your choice as well as a full-sized souvenir shot glass.

I tried peach sweet tea vodka, mint sweet tea vodka, raspberry sweet tea vodka, lemonade vodka, and two types of rum. The staff was super laid-back and cool. When their cash register was out of paper, they offered us an extra drink while we waited for our receipt.

We bought the peach sweet tea vodka and the java rum to bring back to Houston with us and the wandered around the grounds for a little while. Everything was just…picture-perfect.

I’m so glad we decided to visit the Firefly Distillery! It was the perfect way to end an already lovely day.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 [SMASH] at Sweat. Style. Swoon. May 20, 2011 at 10:10 am

What an awesome vacation. That breakfast looked AMAZING and I’m now completely jealous [and hungry]. Badass distillery experience!


2 Manon May 20, 2011 at 10:30 am

I want to go there NOW….and I’m hungry…..and I nearly pissed myself when I read the “natural tan” comment…..love it.


3 Rachel May 20, 2011 at 10:45 am

Ha…I knew you’d appreciate that one!


4 Natalie @ Scarlett Notions May 20, 2011 at 10:40 am

Sounds like an amazing time! And I’m obsessed with your blue dress – so pretty!


5 Fatty File May 20, 2011 at 10:55 am

I have never been to Charleston but your photos make me really want to visit. The food — holy crap. Amazing. Also, I LOLed — no, really, I bahahaha’d out loud — at the natural tan comment. Great post!


6 Caitlin @ The Caitie Experiment May 20, 2011 at 11:35 am

Visiting plantations is one of my favorite things to do in the South — and the history behind the slaves and servants is a huge reason why. There’s so much there that gets glossed over, and it’s so moving to get the opportunity to SEE some of the experience with your own eyes! I’ve done a lot of the historical tours here in New England (the CliffWalk houses in Newport; Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth, NH), but it never seems as “real” as it does south of the Mason/Dixon line!

And I always make assumptions on the size of a guy’s goods based in proportion to the scale of the car he’s driving. It just seems fair! ;)


7 Danielle May 20, 2011 at 11:36 am

I cannot believe I drove right past Charleston on my road trip. I continued on to Savannah which was beautiful and one of my favorite cities… but still. I think I need round 2 :) Glad you two had such an amazing vacation!


8 jessi May 20, 2011 at 11:53 am

i seriously just had a foodgasm from your breakfast pics. i want some of that stat!


9 Savannah May 20, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Love all the picture/lessons and glad that you two had a great time. My GF and I are contemplating a visit to the South and are really torn about plantation tours (esp. if we have to pay…you are right on about reparations!). Was it very emotional for you? I don’t want to break down crying on a tour…


10 Rachel May 20, 2011 at 1:00 pm

It wasn’t too emotional for me. I felt like I had a deep, quiet sense of respect for the people who went through this experience. I think I was able to handle it because the guide’s presentation was SO good — he talked about the horrors of the slave trade in a way that was passionate, accurate, indignant, and pissed off, but he didn’t make everyone there feel depressed or guilty. I don’t feel like being there made it seem more horrible…it just made it seem more real. It’s easy to think of this as something that happened to other people during a long ago time who were super different than we are, something we see in old pictures and history books but don’t always relate to? But when you see everything in living color, there is something different about it…and I don’t feel like it was necessarily a new sense of horror or sadness. It was just…a deepened sense of knowledge, a new layer to how you think of it.

Honestly, I was really frustrated how there were no black people there as tourists. I totally get it and did have some sense of hesitation, but I was fine. Now, maybe I’m just a frigid bitch, but, I don’t know…I’m sure different people have different experiences, but I can definitely say I’ve been more emotional in African-American history classes and documentaries about the Civil Rights movement than I was at the plantation.

Hope that helps a bit…feel free to send more questions my way!


11 Phoebe May 20, 2011 at 8:05 pm

I was really captivated by your thoughts about touring the slave cabins, thank you for sharing! I think I’ve had a similar reaction to viewing Holocaust sites, especially the rail car they have in the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. I’m a big Holocaust history buff so I’ve read about all the stuff people experienced at great length but there is something irreplaceable about actually being there and, as you said, looking at the walls and ceiling and stuff and seeing what people would have seen. I feel like you can get comprehend the full depth of the emotional experience from reading first-hand accounts, but you get a sense of immediacy and realism from actually being there.


12 cindylu May 20, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Your “tan” story reminds me of a time when tanning was still popular in southern California. My mom’s friend was one of those white women who spent a lot of time in the sun. We ran in to her in the grocery store and my mom noted her tan, or she did. I can’t remember. This was over 20 years ago. She said, “I’m getting so tan! I’m almost as dark as Danny.” She line up her orange-ish arm next to my brother’s deep brown arm. Even at 7-8 years old, I knew something about her comment was, uh, off color.


13 Rachel May 20, 2011 at 12:46 pm

That happens to me ALL THE TIME….and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves! I actually wrote a post about it last winter.



14 Rachel May 20, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Great recap! And who doesn’t love Firefly!??!


15 Laura Georgina May 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm

So, so true about the difference between reading about historical stuff and actually standing there and taking it in. And I recently saw newspaper used as insulation too when I was touristing in London–the Museum of London put up a real Victorian “house” (for lack of a better word) and it used that as insulation.

You certainly know how to have my kind of vacation!


16 Claire @ Live and Love to Eat May 20, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Thank you for sharing this experience – yours is one of the few blogs I read word for word (instead of just skimming).


17 Casey May 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I am loving your dress! Where did you get it?


18 Rachel May 20, 2011 at 2:53 pm



19 Kaytee May 20, 2011 at 2:33 pm

This is totally my kind of vacation. Love it.

Maybe sort of random, but re: the natural tan comment… I am sort of on the opposite end of this spectrum. People constantly ask me where I tan, what special lotion I use, what sort of bronzer I have on. This is seriously just how I look if I spend even a short amount of time outside. I guess because my mother is blonde and my last name is Ferguson, people assume I’m just your “typical white girl” who got her tan from a bed, but I actually got it from my Cherokee grandmother. I’ve learned just to smile and nod and move on, because I hate making people feel like an ass when they are just being nice/curious. I’m glad you were sweet to the lady who complimented you, too.


20 Krista May 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Well, I’m convinced! I want to go to Charleston right now, eat that amazing looking breakfast, and maybe even wear that gorgeous dress you are wearing. Sounds like a great day of vacation!


21 Hannah May 21, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Wow, the more I see of Charleston, the more I want to go!
That Big Nasty looks delicious… terrifyingly delicious.


22 Matt May 23, 2011 at 1:44 pm

I was in Charleston this weekend for a wedding and at one point went “I think I know that person”, but couldn’t figure out how…I’m thinking now it may have been you and Eric. Weird.

Charleston is an amazing town. I hope you two got to go to Hyman’s Seafood. Amazing food there.

Either way, looks like you two had a blast.


23 Rachel May 23, 2011 at 2:06 pm

That is so weird! Where did that happen? What day was it?

It was SUCH a blast indeed!


24 Hana May 25, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Hi Rachel! I just discovered your awesome blog and had to laugh at the part about the lady commenting on your natural tan. I’m black, japanese and white and no one ever believes me when I tell them that my “tan” is from being African American. Oh people. Anyway, cheers to an awesome read!


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