George Patrick McLeer’s DNA is wired for art. Bright colors, mournful melodies, a pithy phrase. No matter the medium, he loves to lose himself in an artist’s interpretation and presentation of ideas. The 29-year-old dove into theatre and music as a child—he even played the trombone at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville. But over time, G.P. realized he was better at managing art than making it. So, the self-described “policy wonk” studied arts management at the College of Charleston, and returned to the Upstate to create environments and infrastructure for artists to thrive. Eighteen months ago, the direct and well-spoken patron took the helm of the South Carolina Arts Alliance, which is poised to enter its most important February yet.
February 5–9 is Arts Advocacy Week. What’s planned? >> This is the first time we’ve expanded our Advocacy Day to an entire week. We’re trying to empower people to raise their voices for art across the state. So, if you can’t come to Columbia February 6th, you can do it from your own home all week long.
It’s planned in Columbia? >> We’re starting with 300 chorale students on the State House steps. More than 200 advocates will show up to greet legislators as they arrive and tell them about the importance of the arts, and then a luncheon is following that.
What’s your biggest challenge? >> Every year, for the last 6–7 years, the arts have faced cuts or proposed cuts to funding at the state level by different governors. We’ve had to help coordinate advocates to talk to their representatives, and work with politicians of all parties on making sure the arts stay supported at the state level. We’ve been successful at that, but we need to make sure it happens every year.
Does it matter who’s in office? >> No. Whoever is elected to any office, we work with them. We’ll work with any politician on any side of the aisle. Everyone’s impacted by the arts. No matter if you walk into a gallery or theatre, your community is impacted by them.
Can you demonstrate that? >> The creative sector, which is artists and art organizations, has a $9.7 billion impact on our state. It also represents a workforce of 115,000. That’s a pretty big number in South Carolina and a pretty substantial piece of our tapestry.
What are your favorite stops on the art scene? >> I always try to go to First Fridays whenever I can, whether it’s in The Village, Taylors Mill, or downtown Greenville. Very close to that, I have a bunch of good music friends in this area, and wherever they’re playing, I try to see them. Tipsy Music Pub, Smiley’s, Chicora Alley.
Greenville’s come a long way. >> I grew up in Anderson. We never came to Greenville except to go to the mall. Now it’s a 180-degree difference. There’s so much to do. My fiancé and I will browse through Facebook events, and there are so many bands we want to see, art shows we want to go to, author talks at M. Judson. I like to call Greenville a creatively corporate town. Everything is based off of a creative energy, from the burgeoning arts district, to communities outside the city limits.
You split your week working with artists, artist groups, and lawmakers. Have you discovered an overall theme? >> The arts are engrained in every facet of our community. The arts are always good for the community. People want to have a vibrant life day in and day out, and the general public understands that the arts are a crucial part of that.
“Everyone’s impacted by the arts. No matter if you walk into a gallery or theatre, your community is impacted by them.”
This year includes a fiftieth celebration of the South Carolina Arts Commission, and 30 years of Arts in Basic Curriculum project (ABC)? >> Yes. ABC reaches 167,000 students across the state, including those in Greenville County. In the world of arts education, South Carolina has been on the forefront of a lot of different things. We have to make sure we have the capacity to grow them for longevity.
You’ve visited Nashville, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, and Atlanta for the job. How does Greenville compare? >> The common thread with Greenville is that art is valued. But all of these cities are huge by nature, and you can lose the connection. What Greenville brings to the table, and makes it a really enjoyable experience, is it’s a community rooted in the arts. If you live here, you probably know someone in a show at the Children’s Theatre or a musician downtown. That gives ownership to everyone and brings us all closer to the arts community and gives us a bigger foothold.
Visit SCArtsAlliance.net to explore ways to support the arts during Arts Advocacy Week, February 5–9, and all year long.
Broken brushstrokes with sunlit tones, everyday scenes portrayed en plein air—a work of Impressionist art is easily identified. Epitomized by the art of Monet and Renoir, the period’s techniques were once considered radical. During the late nineteenth century, a group of Parisian-based revolutionaries chose to brighten instead of blend, to capture the sacred in the simple, leading to one of the most celebrated artistic movements in modern history. The Greenville County Museum of Art pays tribute with Impressionism and the South, displaying 15 American-Impressionist pieces by the talents of Kentucky-born Frank Duveneck, Virginia’s Gari Melchers (above), and Lowcountry artist William P. Silva. Combined, the varied works represent the progressive passion of the Impressionist era.
The Greenville County Museum of Art, 420 College St, Greenville; Wednesday–Saturday, 10am–6pm, Sundays, 1pm–5pm. Impressionism and the South is on display through September 16.
The best thing about fly-fishing is that it gives you a reason to get out and explore, according to master fly rod craftsman Bill Oyster. “There’s no fly-fishing in ugly places,” he says, with a knowing smile. This multi-faceted angler divides his time between gorgeous fish habitat and his workshop in tiny Blue Ridge, Georgia, where he designs and creates highly coveted custom fly rods.
“From a purely craftsmanship standpoint, fly rod making is part of the American craftsman heritage, alongside woven baskets and pottery,” Oyster explains, from the comfort of the workspace he’s had more than 20 years. His small but booming business, Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods, has elevated a practical American tradition to a thrilling marriage of art, science, and nature. Oyster’s clients have included President Jimmy Carter, professional athletes, famous writers, and billionaires, whose identity he fiercely protects. But it’s the water, rather than the movers and shakers, to which this Blue Ridge maker feels most connected.
Oyster—who studied art, philosophy, and engineering before weaving them into a career based on his love of fly-fishing—makes rods, but not reels. “The rod is the most important part,” he explains. “It’s what transforms and transitions the energy from the fisherman’s hand to the fly. These days, fly rods are typically made of carbon fiber and graphite,” he explains, of the industry’s mid-century move to synthetic materials. “They’re manufactured en masse, mostly overseas, by relatively unskilled labor. The rods we make are bamboo, the worldwide standard from the mid-1800s until the move to synthetic materials. Bamboo really takes some serious handcraft,” he says. “There’s no way around the time or skill involved, which means we have the higher price tags.” Today, Oyster’s custom fly rods include (but are not limited to) the most expensive fly rods in America, if not the world: a custom rod can fetch nearly $20,000 (although the average is $6,000–$8,000).
Southern Accents: Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods are carefully crafted for the expert fisherman, and include intricate nickel silver engravings, a process Bill Oyster learned to further customize his work. His rods can include gold inlay, specific sculpting, and artistic scenes.
In essence, Oyster is creating beloved family heirlooms. Bamboo rods “are all about beauty, tradition, and remembering,” says Oyster. “In today’s throw-away mentality, people don’t expect things to last anymore, but if you don’t put these bamboo rods back in the tube wet, and you keep them out of extreme weather, you pass them on for generations,” says Oyster, “especially if they’re customized.”
The bamboo of Oyster’s fly rods is harvested from a small 20–30 square mile river valley in southern China. “That particular bamboo has just the right properties, the perfect fiber densities,” he explains. Each of his rods is made of 24 individual pieces of bamboo: hollow, and about three inches in diameter. “We’re cracking and splitting the shell into strips, planed down into triangles,” explains Oyster of his process. Those triangular strips are tapered fat to thin, then glued together lengthwise to form a hexagon. Even basic rods still take him over 30 hours of work, before he begins the engraving process. The more complex rods can each take hundreds of hours each. Oyster’s are precision-planed within 1/1000 of an inch.
The many lengths and weights of rods are for specific performance situations, but he also has to customize the action of the rod, which a devout fly fisherman like Oyster understands and translates into his work. Any change will make a change to the action of the rod. The line guides make the fly line take the shape of the bending rod. “The different bands of color you see near the line guides are silk thread,” Oyster explains, “wound round and round, and then varnished over the top. We also do a thing called ‘inserts’: twelve additional strips, inlaid above the grip, to give an alternate, tapered accent of color . . . wispy streaks of color like you’d see on a pool cue.”
Many of Oyster’s commissions have been executive retirement gifts. “When a man’s retiring from 40 years on the job, he doesn’t want a Rolex,” laughs the rod-maker, fully understanding the desire to flee clocks and simply unplug on the water. Oyster’s customized fly rods also incorporate intricate hand-engraved nickel silver accents, a process he learned so he could further customize his work, without relying on an engraver who didn’t know anything about rods. Oyster can also incorporate gold inlay, sculpting, even artistic scenes. He gets some specific requests, but most clients—after seeing the dazzling rods he’s already created—give very little input, typically only dates of retirement, or perhaps a name or event to commemorate.
Reel Man: Bill Oyster crafts his fly rods out of bamboo shipped from a small river valley in southern China. Each rod contains 24 individual bamboo pieces and can take more than 30 hours to create, and that’s before he begins engraving. Oyster’s customers have included professional athletes and authors, as well as President Jimmy Carter.
Visit this passionate angler’s Blue Ridge headquarters and you’ll discover large observation windows for seeing firsthand the many steps of Oyster’s well-honed craft. As he engraves, a nearby camera affords the opportunity to see—on a monitor in the showroom—exactly what he’s seeing on his workbench. You can also discuss upcoming fishing trips led by Oyster himself; past destinations have included Patagonia for trout, Andros Island for bonefish, Paraguay for golden dorado, and Belize for tarpon.
Oyster’s business evolved with the construction of a building that houses his retail shop, studio, and upstairs, The Oyster Cast & Blast Inn. Guests of the four-room inn are a combination of tourists, devout anglers, or students of Oyster’s fly-rod-making classes, where 60 hours lead to one’s own handmade rod. Close to 150 people, from around the globe, come through Oyster’s school each year.
The quaint village shop and studio regularly gets Main Street walk-ins who assume a business named “Oyster” must sell seafood. In fact, the man behind the name hasn’t kept a fish in 15 years or more. Most fly fishermen eventually develop a strong catch-and-release philosophy, and he’s no different. “There’s so much beauty to the experience,” he admits, “that there’s a real feeling of satisfaction to watch that fish swim away, and knowing it’s still there. You never know what 12-year-old kid is going to hook it the very next day for a memory of a lifetime.”
Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods, 494 E Main St, Blue Ridge, GA. (706) 374-4239, oysterbamboo.com
The soothing rhythm of repetition, the play of light and color, the smoothness of crisp, white paper: these are some of the things that Keiko Kamata loves most about making prints. Her simple shapes, which play on repeating patterns and layers of transparent color, exude lightness and joy.
As a girl, Kamata always wanted to go to art school, but pursued a B.A. in education in Tokyo instead. It wasn’t until she was 22 that she took her first formal art class. One taste of screen printing, a year later, was all she needed to fall in love with the medium. That led her back to school, where she earned an M.F.A. from the University of Hawaii, with a concentration in printmaking.
The Japanese-born artist and mother of two moved here from Hawaii in 2008 when her husband, Eiho Baba, took a job teaching philosophy and Asian studies at Furman University. At her home studio near downtown Greenville, Kamata hand-cuts a limited amount of stencils and repeats the designs, regarding the stencil like a painter would a brush.
She relishes what she calls “the detachment of printmaking,” the fact that she doesn’t paint directly on the paper. “That detachment is similar to the mental distance you get in Japanese painting,” explains Kamata. “In the process of layering colors, you remove yourself from the subject. By the end, the image becomes distilled and there’s a silence to it. And I love that.”
While patterns from Kamata’s childhood became the models for her early prints, these days she finds inspiration in the fleeting designs of nature all around her. “I strive to convey in my images the sense of impermanence and the beauty of the transitory nature of things,” she says. A repetition of geometric shapes in gradations of black and white, for instance, becomes a fragmented image of the sky.
Light Room: Keiko Kamata’s prints express lightness and the beauty of impermanence, concepts she hopes to translate onto the broader scale of wallpaper design. Kamata’s work is on display at Art and Light Gallery and will feature in a show from April 6-28.
This subtle ambiguity lies at the core of all of Kamata’s work. “I don’t want to dictate the entire impression to my viewers,” admits the artist. “Suggesting is enough. I want the viewer to experience a moment of uncertainty. Being able to sit with uncertainty and accept it is very important to me.”
Kamata turned to fiber when she needed a larger canvas, which she now finds in her recent experiments with wallpaper. “Like a scoop of the ocean,” as she puts it, the details in her prints awaken Kamata’s ideas for digitally illustrated wall patterns (she creates the original design, which is then repeated by computer). She would like to see her wallpaper cheer patients in hospitals some day. “Walls are the biggest unconscious image that surrounds us,” Kamata notes. “So wallpaper can have a big effect on people.” She hopes people will feel lighter when they see her work.
Kamata, who took piano as a child, claims she never appreciated Bach until recently. Now she relates her artistic process to his music. “My images are like overlying melodies,” she clarifies. “There’s a pattern to them, but the variations create the melody. There’s no beginning and no end.”
You can see Keiko Kamata’s prints in Art and Light Gallery in the Village of West Greenville. The gallery will feature a new show of her work from April 6–28. 16 Aiken St, artandlightgallery.com
When I was a kid, there were still lunch counters. Around the corner from the movie theater, an Eckerd’s Drugstore sold the most perfect grilled cheese sandwiches: Sunbeam Bread and American cheese, slathered in butter and pressed flat on a hot grilltop, flipped between the pinch of two very expert, impossibly callused bare fingers by a woman who worked there for as long as I remember. It’s a strong memory, because we ate those grilled cheese sandwiches often, and because we watched the rows of sandwiches line up from our perch on the swivel stools, watched her pink fingertips and dark hands, the flick of her wrist when she knew, from years of practice, it was time to turn.
Reading John T. Edge’s recent book, The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, I realize there is context to this memory that makes it even more powerful. Lunch counters were once places of protest. Women, especially black women, had worked over Southern stoves for generation upon generation, all the way back to the plantations. And kitchens had always been theaters, where our cultural inequities played out against our real human need to eat.
It’s a rare book that gives you a fresh perspective on what you already know.
With a curious, associative intelligence, The Potlikker Papers gathers the details of our complex Southern history, from the Montgomery Bus Boycotts through the Civil Rights Era, the farm-to-table movement, and the influence of multicultural chefs and restaurateurs on our collard greens and cornbread. In doing that, it illuminates the power of the choices we’ve made and the ones we’re still making every day when we feed ourselves.
For those of us familiar with Mr. Edge and his work with the Southern Foodways Alliance, this should come as no surprise. Based out of the University of Mississippi, SFA is a narrative-focused media non-profit organization. It produces a dozen films, a podcast, and a quarterly journal called Gravy, a couple of books a year, and four different food symposia, “all of it to tell a new story of this place using food as a leverage point,” says Mr. Edge. He puts emphasis on new. “We’re not preserving anything,” he says. “The South needs to change, has needed to change, is changing. We don’t attempt to preserve some version of the South in amber.” But The Potlikker Papers suggests you might want to understand the past in order to see the future.
The book begins with an author’s note to the late John Egerton, a Southern writer and friend at the table who once stated, “the more messed up a place is, the more inventive and free-wheeling its creative voices.” For Edge, which culinary voice speaks above the rest?
Georgia Gilmore was a cook, midwife, and mother of six who raised money selling baked goods, feeding the protesters in the Montgomery Bus Boycott from her home, and it’s her story that opens the book. “She took her talent in the kitchen, frying chicken and baking cakes and pies, and took the talent she honed in white kitchens and flipped the script, in essence,” Edge says. “She took this seemingly mundane knowledge, that every African-American woman had garnered, and did something very individualistic.”
It was a piece he wrote on Georgia Gilmore in 2000 for The Oxford American magazine that gave rise to what would become The Potlikker Papers. “I realized when I wrote this book that she was a far more important character than I’d initially thought,” Edge says. The way she recognized and galvanized her own economic power was revolutionary. And her life felt real. In writing Gilmore’s story, Edge went back to those early notebooks where he’d paced out the length of the counter in her home, imagining what it was like when Martin Luther King, Jr. walked through the door. “My best source was that notebook that had been sitting in a pasteboard box for 15 years,” he says.
Gilmore was famous for her pork chops and potato salad, her low growling voice, and habit of calling people humbling names regardless of their stature. Edge says, “If you were someone like MLK at that time, someone who was deified in the popular culture, to be truly welcomed, to be called a heifer, is a greater a gift in some ways than the food.”
This same drive against sentimentality seems to light all corners of The Potlikker Papers, from profiles of larger-than-life figures like Colonel Sanders to the sometimes precious elevation of Southern foods to white-tablecloth status. “We often valorize the wealth of the land,” Edge says. “We tend to describe our relationships to food and agriculture in these kind of simplistic, virtuous terms. The truth is uglier, and more honest.”
Recent news reveals how truth is still a battleground in kitchens across the country, as well as kitchens in the South. Edge even-handedly discusses Paula Deen and the rift that formed between her and her cook at The Lady and Sons Dora Charles over Deen’s use of racially insensitive language. “Kitchens have long been places of inequity where women, and women of color, have been exploited,” Edge says. The #metoo movement included accusations of sexual harassment against New Orleans chef John Besh, which call to mind the stories in The Potlikker Papers about plantation-era kitchen rape. “Beyond that kitchen door, out of sight, we Southerners allowed our worst impulses to play out,” Edge says.
Kitchens are still private, unprotected spaces. “Literally, you think about those prototypical metal kitchen doors, with the little peepholes at the top, and what you see is clouded with smoke from the brazier . . . ” He drops the metaphor, but there’s a lot of truth in it.
But there is also progress: “brisk progress in the South, but fitful progress.” Edge welcomes it, always with an eye toward Georgia Gilmore–style evolution, innovation over preservation, shown most fully in the rich sensory realm of food. The final chapters of The Potlikker Papers explore the way immigration is changing our physical picture, and the culinary picture alongside it. Fried okra with fish sauce and peanuts. Crawfish boiled with lemongrass. Edge says, “When the next generation of chefs take their exploratory trips through the South and they’re looking for the best dim sum in Upstate SC,” Edge says, “We will have made our point.”
In so many inclusive, generous, delicious ways, it’s a good point to make.
John T. Edge will be discussing The Potlikker Papers on February 11 at M. Judson Booksellers and Storytellers as part of its Sunday Sit-Down Supper series. Chef Shawn Kelly, of Fork and Plough, has crafted a menu inspired by the book. Tickets and more information are available at mjudsonbooks.com.
Eat, shop, and read like John T. Edge in his beloved hometown
Not long after I moved from Atlanta to Oxford in 1995, I got a chance to peek into the kitchen at Rowan Oak, novelist William Faulkner’s home. The spice cabinet yielded a bottle of Escoffier brand Sauce Diable, two tins of sage, two bottles of filé, a thimble of red food coloring, and enough cloves to choke a horse. Beyond stood the scuppernong arbor, and the smokehouse, where he cured and hung hams.
It would be a stretch to say that, until recently, culinary travelers to Oxford could do little better than root through Faulkner’s pantry. But the last decade has been truly dynamic. Oxford is now a bona fide food town, worthy of a weekend long ramble. If you make the trip, and I hope you do, here’s a quick primer.
Provisions & Souvenirs
Chicory Market, owned by the husband-and-wife team Kate Bishop and John Martin, is the place to score farmstead milk in glass bottles, produced by Billy Ray Brown, son of late local writer Larry Brown. Look for cold brew, bottled by Heartbreak Coffee in nearby Water Valley. Come summer, they stack rattlesnake and yellow meat watermelons by the front door.
Neon Pig focuses on whole animal butchery. Working with farmers across the mid-South, Mitch McCamey and his crew break down cows and pigs and sheep and display their best in a glass-fronted case. Burgers, ground from that beef, are their claim to fame. I like mine medium-rare on a house-baked brioche bun with refrigerator pickles, mustard, and pickled onions.
Square Books is one of the best bookstores in the nation. Full stop. Proprietor Richard Howorth has shepherded the literary careers of many locals, including current residents like novelist Ace Atkins and poet Beth Ann Fennelly. Off Square Books, his second space, stocks a wealth of signed food and cooking books and hosts the weekly Thacker Mountain Radio Hour.
Bottletree Bakery proprietor Cynthia Gerlach earned her master’s degree in Southern Studies. When she opened a bakery, Gerlach decorated the walls with art she collected when researching and writing about folk artist B.F. Perkins of Alabama. Start with a cream cheese pastry, smeared with local honey.
Big Bad Breakfast takes its name from Larry Brown’s book of short stories, Big Bad Love. Post in the front window and you can see the spot, now a park, where Brown began writing when he worked at a city fire station. To dunk your biscuit, ask for a saucer of tomato gravy.
Canteen, housed in a former filling station, is a mod space in a town that tends toward columns and porticos. Corbin Evans, who made his name in New Orleans, does right by sandwiches, noodles, and all-day-breakfasts. The breakfast torta, stacked with a sort of chorizo quiche, is my go-to.
City Grocery is the city’s flagship restaurant. Our family prefers lunch to dinner. Snag a table by the front windows, drink a bloody, and savor a roast beef po-boy. On Sunday, eggs Sardou, garnished with perfectly fried shrimp, is the money order. Come late afternoon, City Grocery Bar, overlooking the Square, is an ideal cocktail perch.
Mama Jo’s is the city’s steam table soul hub, attracting college students and working class folk. Jo Braselton fries pork chops, skillet cooks creamed corn, and stews turnip greens down with hunks of sidemeat. Look for her hot water cornbread. Creamy at the core, crisp at the edges, it’s bliss.
Taylor Grocery, eight miles south of Oxford in Taylor, is deservedly the most famous catfish joint in the South. Bring your own bottle of wine or whiskey to Lynn and Debbie Hewlett’s graffiti-scrawled, porch-fronted, tin-roofed restaurant. And bring a sleeve of foam cups, too. Local decorum requires that your beverage go incognito.
Grit, owned by the husband-and-wife team of Nick Reppond and Angie Sicurezza, around the corner from Taylor Grocery, in a new urbanist development called Plein Air, presents like an atelier. Try Reppond’s smoked corn pudding. Or the beef short ribs with peach-braised collards.
Saint Leo opened in 2016. Before Emily Blount introduced this Italian-inflected restaurant, just off the Square, she studied hospitality with Danny Meyer in New York City and pizza-making with artisans across Italy. Start with a Chartreuse tonic from bartender Joe Stinchcomb, and an order of farinata, which translates as rosemary-dusted chickpea crepes.
Snack Bar, like Big Bad Breakfast and City Grocery, is owned by John Currence, the city’s chef ambassador. But this is really Vish Bhatt’s restaurant. A native of Guajarat, India, Bhatt serves collard paneer, black-eyed pea daal, and cumin-scented boiled peanut salads. To drink, ask for the Lurleen, a bourbon cocktail kissed with ginger and named after our family dog.
John T. Edge, author of The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, directs the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi: southernfoodways.org
Though New Orleans—or Nola—has sprouted up and out in its post-Katrina chapter, travelers often limit Louisiana’s legendary city to the 13 blocks of the French Quarter. Sure, Frenchmen Street might have lured some adventurers across Esplanade, but in years past, little more than Commander’s Palace could woo tourists south of Canal Street. All this to say, I felt a touch hesitant about staying in the Central Business District (CBD), but with a laundry list of must-try restaurants, high concept bars, galleries, and hotels, I was drawn to the downtown neighborhood’s resurgence.
The original warehouse district for the Port of New Orleans, the area and plenty of its nineteenth century buildings survived to experience this recent incarnation. The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery is one such structure. Built in 1854, it stored coffee but later became a chandlery for E.J. Hart & Company, a large wholesaler of shipped goods. Today the reimagined boutique hotel exudes an easy funk with its antique brick interiors, original wood-plank floors, adorable Tout La coffee counter, and hopping restaurant Compère Lapin, whose energy spills warmly into the lobby.
Like each of Provenance Hotels’ ten concepts, art is central at The Old No. 77. A partnership with the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts keeps original work in public spaces as well as in every room. A rotating exhibit located in the hotel’s gallery space showcases local artists and is curated seasonally by the Marigny’s Where Y’Art Gallery.
The hotel’s 165 rooms are distinctly Nola and cleverly described. Only in New Orleans would a windowless room be dubbed a “Sleep Late Retreat,” marketed to night owls with no desire to see the light of day. Premium rooms boast multi-pane, original casement windows, many overlooking the electrified Old No. 77 signage. But for an incredibly posh stay, book an Artist Loft Suite with a massive footprint, mid-mod furnishings, deep leather sofas, exposed brick, stocked bars, and beautiful, ever-rotating paintings and sculpture.
With so much just steps outside the hotel door, it was difficult to imagine dining in, but Chef Nina Compton and her team at Compère Lapin are a force majeure on the CBD dining scene. The Top Chef superstar produces beautiful plates featuring local Gulf ingredients influenced by her Caribbean upbringing—like a seafood pepper pot that you’ll not soon forget and Brussels topped with Caesar crumb. Compton was deemed one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs of 2017, and her aptitude is apparent, with locals clambering for reservations, especially for a rather flawless cocktail brunch.
The Old No.77 Hotel & Chandlery, 535 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans, Louisiana. (504) 527 5271, old77hotel.com
If a North Carolina fish camp and a 1950s-era California steak-and-seafood restaurant had an offspring, it might look like Hello, Sailor, Joe and Katy Kindred’s new lakeside eatery in Cornelius, North Carolina. Like this project, by the owners of Kindred restaurant in nearby Davidson, it might show off a chartreuse freestanding fireplace, a wood-paneled ceiling, and terrazzo and slate floors for a mid-century modern look. And it might even fashion a Palm Springs vibe with cactus-print wallpaper and a wood screen wall by the entrance.
This is how Katy envisioned the couple’s redesign of the former Rusty Rudder space, a Lake Norman institution for the past 15 years. In addition to the vaulted ceiling, stacked-stone wall, and U-shaped custom-made bar, she called for a window wall to frame the lake view. Outside, a three-level deck with a thatched-roof Tiki bar will be the place to hang out come warm weather. Boaters can tie up at the 20 dedicated slips on the adjacent dock.
Before the Rusty Rudder was built, this site was occupied by a fish camp called Harbor Lights (long ago torn down), which holds cherished childhood memories for Joe. “We used to live a couple of coves over, and my parents would take me every Friday night to eat at Harbor Lights,” recalls the chef. “I remember eating fried bologna sandwiches and hush puppies and popcorn shrimp, and going down to the lake after dinner and feeding the fish.”
That nostalgia now infuses his menu, which features fish-camp fare such as Calabash shrimp, whole fried flounder, and fried bologna sandwiches—all executed with Joe’s signature finesse. He may make hushpuppies, but Joe elevates his version with Jimmy Red cornmeal from Geechee Boy Mill on Edisto Island, and serves them with yuzu kosho (fermented lime) honey butter. For dessert, more nostalgia: soft-serve ice cream in vanilla and chocolate, as well as seasonal swirls like pomegranate and winter citrus.
With Craig Deihl, the celebrated former chef of Cypress and Artisan Meat Share in Charleston, as chef de cuisine, Hello, Sailor equally accommodates casually dressed boaters who come for a quick nosh and date-night couples who want to feast on King crab legs and smoked beef ribeye. “We do that with a chef-driven, ingredient-focused concept, knowing where everything is sourced from,” Joe declares. “This is always going to be our philosophy for any project we do.” A slushie machine behind the bar adds to the fun, churning up icy cherry lemon Sundrop Negronis. Aperol spritzes on tap and other craft cocktails are whimsically embellished with bright knotted bendy straws and little paper umbrellas.
Christened with a cheeky name, recalling a mid-century sailor’s tattoo that Katy found while flipping through nautical images to trigger ideas for the décor, Hello, Sailor aims to be an oasis year-round. Undoubtedly it will. Who could resist a waterfront restaurant where you can forget the world for a while—one with craveable food and a light-hearted ambience that Katy sums up as “a little bit classic, a little bit Tiki, a little bit North Carolina”?
Hello, Sailor, 20210 Henderson Rd, Cornelius, NC. (704) 997-5365, hellosailornc.com. Open Mon, 5pm–close; Tue–Sun, 11am–close; reservations not accepted.
Try these must-eat dishes at Hello, Sailor
Hamachi Poke /
In this lovely light starter, cubes of buttery raw Hamachi play off the crunch of shaved radishes, benne seeds, and macadamia nuts, while uni mayonnaise adds an umami note.
Oysters Rockefeller /
Smoky, spicy collard greens replace the traditional spinach in Hello, Sailor’s updated version of this classic dish.
Salt and Pepper Catfish /
Fried cornmeal-crusted catfish, a North Carolina fish-camp standard, is made here from local farm-raised catfish that are fed a vegetarian diet. Tart house-made sauce gribiche comes alongside.
Hand Pies /
Dusted with sugar, the ethereally light and flaky layers of Joe Kindred’s divine Southern hand pies enfold seasonal combinations such as bourbon pear and cranberry ginger.
In the late 1960s, a couple of years before I was born, my father moved from Manhattan to a small town in the mountains of western North Carolina. A business he’d co-owned in New York had sold, and he’d used the proceeds to purchase some land forty miles southwest of Asheville with the dream of building a golf course. He was in his midforties, recently divorced, and had some cash in his pocket. The conditions were perfect for an exceptionally elaborate midlife crisis.
I’m now the age my father was when he uprooted his city life and moved to North Carolina. Looking back, I wonder if I would’ve taken the kinds of chances he took all those years ago. My dad knew nothing about the golf business. In New York he’d been involved in publishing and fashion and spent his days in boardrooms dealing with executives from Condé Nast and Vogue. Suddenly he was in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains working alongside guys with names like Junebug and Cooter. It must have been a sight to see this New York dandy in a tailored suit try to operate heavy machinery in hopes of shaping a piece of old farmland into a series of par threes, fours, and fives. Some of the locals said it was like watching an episode of Green Acres.
By 1972, my father had built his dream, eighteen holes that snaked across the rolling hills that sit in the shadow of Cold Mountain. He’d also fallen in love with a local woman thirteen years his junior, married her, and adopted her two-year-old son. What started as a midlife crisis had now become just life, and he enjoyed every minute of it until he died thirty-three years later. During those years, my father taught me more about being a Southerner than any born and bred North Carolinian ever did. He loved his family, loved his land, and embraced the Southern values of respect, hospitality, and the relaxed pace that allows plenty of time to while away an afternoon with a rocking chair and a tumbler of bourbon.
For a few years after his death, my mom kept my dad’s ashes in a filing cabinet that sat in the back of the golf course’s pro shop. “It’s where he’d want to be,” she’d tell me whenever I would suggest a more suitable final resting place. But one day my mom grew anxious about those ashes, and we put them in a golf cart and drove up to the end of a long par four where a small creek flowed past the green. My mom couldn’t bring herself to do it, so I poured the ashes into that cold water and watched the dust settle on the surface and then disappear in the current. I like to think my father is still flowing through that stream, past the fairways and bunkers he built on a piece of land in the South. The place where he felt most at home.