Daufuskie Island might not be known as a dining destination, but its Gullah culinary influences hold a place of honor in the story of South Carolina's food heritage. Foraging, hunting, fishing and gardening aren't mere sport here. This is how food traditionally made it to the table.
Abundance came in the form of shellfish, fish, corn, okra, beans, rice, yams, wild game, nuts and fresh fruits. Daufuskie folk found all the nourishment they needed from the sea and the roughly eight square miles of land on which they lived.
While this is still the case for a small percentage of islanders, taking the ferry to the mainland to shop or placing an order with a grocery shopping service that delivers are the ways most of the 400-plus inhabitants get their grub.
Of course, the charm of Daufuskie lies in the fact that such modern access only recently changed the ways things are done here.
Lowdown on Fine Dining
There was a time when fine dining was an option on Daufuskie. Economic problems, however, led to the closing of two resorts where such restaurants operated. A third, Haig Point, is still burgeoning and features two restaurants - the Calibogue Club and Haig Point Clubhouse - but these are only open to residents and members of the resort.
If you're visiting Haig Point as a guest of a resident or attending one of the resort's Discovery Weekends to see what it's all about, you are welcome to dine at these establishments.
Fine Enough Dining
Other visitors should come to Daufuskie prepared for a more casual experience. If you're daytripping, feel free to pack a picnic or substantial snack. If you're staying a while to soak up the island vibe, bring anything food-wise you desire.
Don't fret, though, if you leave your vittles on the mainland. While the island is short on dining options, the offerings are so big on local freshness and flavor, you might be glad you showed up empty-handed. From blue crab to shrimp and grits to a bag of chips and a cola, you won't go hungry.
Here's where you can find sustenance on this historic, cultural South Carolina treasure. Just keep in mind that everybody - even proprietors - are on island time. Operating hours are sometimes sporadic, and some businesses close altogether in the off-season, so calling ahead is highly recommended.
Old Daufuskie Crab Company
This hopping indoor/outdoor bar and restaurant is your headquarters for an island delicacy: Daufuskie deviled crab. This signature dish is the handiwork of longtime kitchen wizard, Ernestine Smith. Spicy and baked to a golden brown, deviled crabs once issued from the island's home kitchens as a way for the Gullah to earn an income in the wake of the local oyster industry's demise.
You'll thank the crustacean gods that you can still indulge in Daufuskie deviled crabs at this hopping bar, grill and gathering place overlooking the Freeport Marina. The fried flounder sandwich, crab stew and shrimp dishes are scrumptious, too. Order up a cold adult beverage, grab a seat indoors or outside and savor the flavors of the island.
Proprietor Wick Scurry puts it this way: "The best food in South Carolina came from the cooks of Daufuskie."
This is one place where you can put that to the test. (Note: This restaurant is open nearly every day, which makes it the island's main go-to for grub.)
General Store at Freeport Marina
Situated next to Daufuskie Crab Company, this "no so general" store has enough to fuel a day of island exploration. Ice cream, candy, chips, soft drinks and a modest variety of convenience foods can be found here.
You can also snag a bottle of wine from Silver Dew Winery, the first licensed winery in South Carolina still making some of their wines from island-grown scuppernongs. Take a bottle back to the mainland to sip while you recount your unforgettable Daufuskie adventure.
School Grounds Coffee Shop
Housed in the Mary Fields School where Pat Conroy famously served as a teacher in the 1960s, this coffee shop (window service only) is java centric. Come have a rich, satisfying fair-trade cuppa joe and pair it with a chewy brownie, piece of cake or whatever freshly baked treats are offered that day by owners Pam and Brian Cobb. Enjoy them at the picnic tables on the playground.
Afterward, browse the stunning indigo-dyed scarves and other creations in the adjoining shop, Daufuskie Blues.
Ice Cream at Fuskie Bikes
If you want a second-to-none sweet treat, head to Melrose Landing where you’ll find this nifty little kiosk serving up amazing soft-serve ice cream studded with the fresh fruit of your choice: strawberry, mango, pineapple, peach, blueberry, raspberry and more. Lines can be long, and each serving is made-to-order by the person manning the stand that day, so patience is in order. It's well worth the wait.
This floating burger joint pulls up to the Daufuskie Island Public Dock some Fridays during the season. Burger, veggie burgers, hot dogs, tacos and more are included in their lineup. Check their Facebook page for their most current schedule and menu.
Deck Diner at Daufuskie Island Distillery
This distiller of island rum, vodka and bourbon added a dining and live entertainment deck in 2022, and islanders and visitors are eating it up. Chef Mau Plascencia, an island caterer, serves up a rotation of delectable dishes that run the gamut from shrimp gumbo to Philly cheesesteak sandwiches to Greek salads. The rum cocktails are great, too.
At the Beaufort County dock, you’ll find this hotspot for noshing and picking up necessities and kitchen goods. Hungry? Head inside and place an order for a made-to-order pizza or deli sandwich like the Smoky, with layers of top round roast beef, smoked Gouda, roasted red peppers and pickled banana peppers, slathered with a bit of pesto mayo and tucked between marbled rye. Taco Thursdays are a huge hit on the island, so get their early.
Pull your golf cart up to Daufuskie's little chicken shack for fresh chicken strips and wings, Vidalia onion rings, fresh-cut fries and homemade coleslaw. Enjoy at a shady picnic table or carry back to your abode.
There are a small number of cooks on Daufuskie who will prepare and deliver a meal to your vacation digs. Please note that these are individuals whose availability is sometimes scarce. Here are a couple that get consistent raves; call far in advance to get more info:
Ernestine Smith (the deviled crab wizard of Old Daufuskie Crab Co. fame) prepares and delivers family-style meals to locals and visitors. Think fried chicken, deviled crab, collards, peas, rice, cornbread and other delicious sides – more than your family can eat in one sitting. Call (843) 842-3011 to make arrangements.
Sallie Ann Robinson, an island native, who first found fame as one of Pat Conroy's students at the legendary Mary Fields School, is an American cookbook author, celebrity Gullah chef and cultural historian who often prepares meals for vacationers. Please call (912) 604-8210 to coordinate prior to your arrival.