Off the Beaten Path: Newberry, SC
Edible Road Trip
I've been driving down I-26 most of my life. Back and forth to Columbia. Back and forth to Charleston. I clock my travel by exits: I know once I reach the Clinton exit, I'm usually halfway to my destination (or conversely, almost home). I associate the middle-of-the-interstate rest stop with the Laurens/Gray Court exit. And the Newberry exit... well, I know I am almost to Columbia, somewhere wedged between Jalapa and Prosperity (two exits I've never taken).
It dawned on me only recently that for whatever reason, I'd never actually been to Newberry. Sure, I'd long been aware of its Opera House. And who hasn't heard tales of ghosts haunting various parts of the town–from the campus of Newberry College to the old cemeteries to the streets whose homes have withstood time itself? So, I headed out on I-26 and took the Newberry exit into town, having no idea what lie ahead.
First Stop: Books on Main
Y'all, I am a bookophile, a book freak–I'm that person who will never use a Kindle or tablet, who has an intimate, tactile connection with a real, printed book. And, yes, I dog-ear pages, write in margins, scribble on back covers. I am that person (to my husband's chagrin). So, when I first made my way onto Main Street and saw a bookstore, I was immediately called to my first stop.
I found parallel parking with ease and snapped a few shots of the historic Ritz Theater before pushing through the door of a most unique bookstore: Books on Main. It's really what you imagine an old bookstore to be: (almost) floor-to-ceiling shelves of books upon books upon books, a juxtaposition of textures and colors and smells. New and used, tattered and pristine, all living together in uneven, imperfect stacks and rows. Heaven. Books on Main has Southern Literature, WWII history, classics, almanacs, Irish Literature, and plenty of poetry. Looking for a book on bullfighting? Books on Main has a dedicated section. Seriously. How could you not love a place like this?
I knew I couldn't spend all day here (although my natural inclination was to do just that), so I tore myself from the bookstore's clutches back into the overcast afternoon light.
Second Stop: Antiques
If you're anything like me, you enjoy a good quirky object. Something that makes you smile or evokes a childhood memory. As I walked around downtown, I visited probably five or six antiques shops, each with its own flavor and mood.
EuroLux was plush, sometimes gilded, with lots of antique furniture and lighting fixtures. Think crystal and brass chandeliers, rich textiles, mahoganies and ornate details. Not necessarily a lot of oddity, but rather fine items worth putting into a fine home. The only exception to this was a howling coyote/dog lamp that may have been from the art deco period. It spoke to me (or rather, howled to me). I did not buy it, which I regret in retrospect.
Prissy's Antiques transported me back to my childhood, as I spied a bracelet of various colored rocks adhered to gold squares, similar to one I'd worn during my pre-teen years. I'd completely forgotten about that piece until I saw it in Prissy's. Before I could be coaxed to re-purchase it, however, an ivory-colored floral necklace caught my eye. For $12, I completely upped my Saturday afternoon look.
Next, I walked up the road to As Time Goes By Antiques. This, my friends, is my kind of place, chock full of wonderful stuff: from bottles to DIY furniture projects to local artwork to jewelry to tchotchkes to trinkets and busts and baubles and balls and just about everything in between. And the store seemed to go on forever. Mind you, this one is not for the claustrophobic, as stuff is everywhere. But if you like that kind of thing (and I do), As Time Goes By is an oasis of possibilities.
Next, I ventured one block off from Main Street to Leslie, Ltd., an antiques shop in a blue metal building just behind the main drag. Retired postmaster Lee Leslie owns the joint, and he has a thing for refinishing and restoring wooden pieces to their original glory. No turquoise painted tables here. No chalk paint or faux distressing. Instead, you'll find yourself surrounded by the beautiful brown tones of walnut and mahogany, pine and oak. Nodding to his former occupation, Leslie also scours for old postal box faces and repurposes them into custom banks and lock boxes. Leslie and I figured out we both appreciate seeing the beauty and utility in old things and got to talking for a really long time. I purchased a Franklin mint commemorative '64 Corvette pocketknife for my son's collection before heading out in search in food.
Third Stop: FOOD!
Walking brick-paved streets all day– did I mention that? Newberry's downtown streets are paved with bricks, often stamped "Augusta" and "Peerless" (there's a history to that!), creating a warm, inviting, quaint, charming downtown–really worked up my appetite. I was surprised to find Figaro (which I'd seen on billboards on I-26) open at 4 p.m., but open they were, and once I told them I was visiting, my waiter Chris happily began telling me the history of the building. Once a bank, the restaurant owner decided to leave much of the original fittings intact, including the wood floors, black and white tile, ceiling, and vaults, to preserve the building's character.
Chris was also quick to point out that a large, round table beside mine came from Princess Diana's family (signed Charles Spenser right on the wood), and demonstrated the unique design of the table itself: its leaves expand and contract within the table. But...food!
While the entire menu appealed to me, I ended up ordering several small plates so I could sample a variety. The she-crab soup was close to perfect, with tiny bits of carrot that complimented the sweetness of the plentiful crab. The bacon and honey braised Brussels sprouts hit just the right note of smokiness and sweetness, counteracting the natural bitterness of the vegetable. The pan-seared scallops sat atop a warm and delicious balsamic sauce. Probably some of the best scallops I've had, although the dish didn't even need the Duroc bacon that was crumbled onto the plate. Chris poured me a generous glass of the house Pinot Grigio, which went well with all three dishes.
It's worth mentioning that evening specials included a filet mignon marinated 24 hours in 80-year-old Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon. Next time, Figaro, next time.
Happily satiated, I made my last stop this round, to Figaro Market, just across the street. Here, locals are treated to an array of specialty foods and beverages. Fresh deli meats and cheeses, hand-cut steaks and pork, smoked duck, pastries, pies, and cakes, and an assortment of just about everything for the culinary palate: candies, coffees, beers, wines, and a fully- stocked mini grocery with items such as cheese straws, specialty ice creams, and local honey.
I purchased two flavors of "exotic" ice cream to take home: Middle West Whiskey and Pecan (for the hubs) and Sun-Popped Corn (for me). Explaining that I had a bit of a drive ahead of me, the clerk generously bagged my purchase with ice packs so the ice cream didn't melt before I had time to enjoy it.
It didn't melt, even after getting stuck on I-85 for a spell.
And, boy, did we enjoy it back home.
Mandatory Return Trip Sightings
C.T. Summer Hardware: Local rumor has it that Mr. Summer rarely actually parts with the merchandise. Just ask American Pickers, who paid him a visit and left empty handed.
Wells Japanese Garden: I will definitely be back to see this Zen-inducing spot. Installed in 1930 as a memorial to Cornelia Schumpert Wells, it features Japanese pavilions and ponds with lotuses and Japanese irises. Spring seems like the perfect time to go.
Drinking Spots: The owner of Figaro and Figaro Market is opening Figaro Bar later this year. Lancero Lounge, Half Full Coffee and Wine Bar, and The Storm Cellar Wine and Cigar Bar, are all must-stops on my next visit.
Carter & Holmes: Carter & Holmes is one of the premier producers and suppliers of orchids in the world. Orchids! In Newberry! This is an experience I will be coming back for.
The Gallery: One of the many local artists featured in this quaint shop sells jewelry made of delicate and colorful butterfly wings.
She-Crab Soup at Figaro: Next time, I will get a bowl instead of a cup. It was that good.