Daufuskie Island might not be known as a culinary destination, but its Gullah 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:
Old Daufuskie Crab Company. Two words: 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. State regulations were eventually imposed, putting an end to these home operations. 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.
Lucy Bell's Cafe. Two words: deviled crab. This is good Daufuskie deja vu. The kitchen at this homey cafe buzzes as crab meat is mixed with seasonings, spiked with a hint of pickle relish for added kick, then stuffed into crab barks (shells) before browning. They are served sizzling hot with lemon wedges. Lucy Bell's most popular lunch special features twin deviled crabs, a side of slaw, fresh vegetable of the day and rice. For breakfast, don't dare skip the shrimp and grits. Creamy stone-ground cheese grits are topped with plump shrimp, then doused in a rich country ham gravy. Homemade pies with flaky crusts come in irresistible versions like apple caramel and Southern pecan. Owners James Bays and Brad Klieve masterfully serve up fine china food on paper plates - no frills, but plenty of taste bud thrills. Klieve's late grandmother, Lucy Bell, would have been proud.
School Grounds Coffee Shop. Housed in the Mary Fields School where Pat Conroy famously served as a teacher in the 1960s, this bright, pretty coffee shop 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. Afterward, browse the stunning indigo-dyed scarves and other creations in the adjoining shop, Daufuskie Blues.
General Store at Freeport Marina. Situated next to Daufuskie Crab Company, this 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.
Recent additions to the Daufuskie dining scene include Bell's at the Beach, serving lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch with ocean views at the site of the former Melrose Beach Club. Reservations are highly recommended. Another newcomer, D'fuskie's, has taken over the former site of Marshside Mama’s. This small eatery and store serves sandwiches, pizza and salads with a focus on regionally sourced ingredients.
There are a couple of caterers on the island who will prepare a meal and deliver it to your vacation digs. In keeping with the ways of Daufuskie, the best avenue for information about prepared meals is to ask the islanders. In addition to a small weekend farmers market with fresh veggies and seafood, here are a couple other options for eats, though availability can be sporadic. (Hey, everybody’s on island time here!) Check their websites or call prior to confirm Daufuskie stops:
The Burger Boat -- Literally, a floating burger operation that swings by the island on weekends.
The Green Kitchen -- Delivers vegan meals to the island.