Producing Pastured Chicken And Influencing Change On Oahu

J. Ludovico Farm pastured chicken
J. Ludovico Farm pastured chicken
Julius Ludovico talks chicken with fellow farmer, Amy Shinsato at the Honolulu Farmer’s Market

If you walk over to the Neal S. Blaisdell Center on a Wednesday night you will see rows of white tents, tables full of fresh local fruits and vegetables, the Shinsatos selling 2Lady farmers’ pork and groups huddled around picnic tables slurping up hot bowls of pho at The Pig and the Lady stand.

If you aren’t paying close enough attention you would never know that you can also buy fresh local chicken at this market. In fact, it’s most likely the only farmer’s market on Oahu where you will find local pastured chicken.

At a modest table with no signage, probably scattered with some jars of honey and bunches of apple bananas, you will find a man with a long beard and thick black rimmed glasses named Julius. Julius owns and operates J. Ludovico farm, a chicken farm, slaughterhouse and processing facility on Oahu.

Tired from a long week of working on the farm, you will soon discover that Julius enjoys working the farmer’s market because it is essentially the only way he ever gets to take a “break”.

Almost every week I come down to the market to buy a chicken and chat with Julius. We talk about natural farming, how he got into the chicken business and what his hopes and dreams are for his farm. He’s a smart man. He is also extremely thoughtful when it comes to his business and delightfully unapologetic when it comes to his opinions on natural farming.

The inside scoop

Not everyone always makes the time to stick around and get to know their local farmer. Which is a shame. You may have the best intentions to buy healthy foods or support local businesses, but until you engage, chances are you know pretty close to nothing about what you are buying or who you are supporting. In the past 6 months of getting to know Julius and his farm I have learned a lot about natural farming and why it is really damn hard to find pastured chicken on the island.

Julius’s farm is a rare breed on Oahu and his story is remarkable.

You can take the boy off the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy

Julius grew up in the Philippines raising pigs with his Mom. He remembers always raising them with the intention to have one to eat and one to sell. When the family picked up and moved to Hawaii all of that changed. Julius became an accounting major at the University of Hawaii and found himself working for a non-profit called The Partners In Development Foundation.

But, Julius missed his days growing up, raising pigs. So, it wasn’t surprising that after being introduced to the principals of Korean natural farming by Hawaiian agriculture expert, Mike Dupont at work one year he decided to quit the company and go back to farming.

The next year, Julius and his wife Jamie moved to a one and a half acre farm in Pupukea and bought 16 pigs. They were the second farm on the island to practice Korean natural farming. A system that utilizes naturally occurring bacteria and other microorganisms to fertilize soil and care for animals without chemicals. The result is healthy soil, high crop yields, zero waste and animal pens that don’t smell or attract flies.

Although they were smaller and simpler versions, Julius built five pens modeled after the Korean natural farming system that he learned about from Mike.

Eventually Julius realized that what he had built was a labor of love. The couple realized that they could never scale the operation large enough to make a profit. So, reluctantly Julius sold off all of his pigs.

How Julius “accidentally” became a chicken farmer

After selling off the pigs, Jamie suggested that they try their hand at raising chickens. Julius, being open to the suggestion, agreed and five months later they owned 50 hens all laying eggs.

Baffled as to what to do with all the eggs, Julius went over to his kid’s elementary school and signed up to work the North Shore Country farmer’s market.

After completely selling out at his first market, Julius realized that there was a big demand there for local, pastured eggs. The couple bought more chickens, produced more eggs and kept adding more and more markets to their schedule every week. The hustle was real and ultimately they just couldn’t keep up with the demand. Completely exhausted and burned out, Julius started cutting back, finally only committing to one market a week, The Honolulu farmer’s market at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center.

One day a fellow friend and farmer of Julius’s was placing an order for some meat chickens. He asked Julius if he was interested in buying any. Julius was on the fence but his friend insisted, saying that since he was already going to buy some that he may as well order some for Julius too.

Julius opted to raise pastured chickens using the Korean natural farming practices he had used with his pigs. He asked the farmer’s market if it was ok to started selling his chickens along with his eggs. Being naïve at the time he didn’t realize that he would need special permits in order to sell his chickens. Now Julius had a new problem, he had to track down the USDA FSIS supervisor to find out how he could acquire a permit.

After searching for the supervisor for two months Julius had to laugh at himself. He had actually been living next door to him all along. The supervisor told Julius exactly what to do, he did it and a few months later Julius was in the chicken business.

From the farm to the table

The first restaurant Julius approached was Real Gastropub. He brought them a sample of his chicken and, after finding out if they were interested, disclosed that it would be two months until he could produce their first order. Real agreed and after just one delivery the chef was hooked. He no longer wanted a few chickens every couple of months, he wanted 12 chickens a week.

Julius realized he had a problem on his hands. He had the demand, but since the chickens took two months to grow, he didn’t have the supply for a weekly delivery. After a lot of thinking and researching Julius finally figured out how to make it happen. That is when the real chicken production started.

A year later Andrew Le from The Pig and The Lady called up. They had heard about Julius’s chickens and wanted in. Real Gastropub had officially put J. Ludovico farm on the map. They were now the go-to for pastured chicken and all the high end restaurants on Oahu wanted it on their menu.

Controversy at the market

As the farm to table movement grew more popular on Oahu so did the demand for local, organic ingredients. Customers at the market started coming up to Julius looking for his certified organic sign. When Julius informed them that he was not indeed certified, they looked at him confused (even repulsed sometimes) and would keep walking.

“My farm is not certified organic nor do I plan to get certified”, he says. “I feel like there are other ways to do it. It may come down to a little bit more education or information but I’m not getting certified, it’s too expensive.”

I know from my talks with Julius that he does not use fertilizer or chemicals. In fact, chemicals scare him. He moves his birds everyday. They eat grass and worms in addition to commercial grain.

He admits he gets frustrated sometimes having to explain to people about his natural farming practices only to get shut down by customers who don’t understand.

“Just because something is labeled organic it does not mean that it is chemical and pesticide free. In fact, there are synthetic chemicals on that registry that the organic lobbyists petition the USDA to keep. When you are doing small-scale agriculture (like in your backyard) you don’t need chemicals or pesticides. But when you are farming on a larger scale (even just an acre) there are certain challenges that you are never going to have a solution to without pesticides. The use of organic bacteria (such as BT ) used for pesticides is regular practice on many certified organic farms”, Julius explained.

The other question Julius is inevitably always asked is if he gives his chickens GMO feed. “When people ask me if the corn I feeds my chickens is GMO I say, I don’t know but, it is likely, since unfortunately 96% of all corn in America is now GMO”, he says.

Tired of being told week after week from customers that he should feed his chickens non-GMO feed, he decided to look into it. “I dug deep”, he said. “I looked at the literature on the Non-GMO project’s non-GMO feed. And what I found out is that, they have a threshold. Let’s say they get a container of corn for example, they take a sample and do a PCR test on it and if it doesn’t go beyond 10%, meaning if there is 10% GMO in that batch of corn they will label it “non-GMO.” I though about this and realized that if I bought the non-GMO feed I would be paying a premium, have to raise my prices and my feed could still potentially contain GMOs. I just didn’t feel comfortable with that.”

Julius says he no longer engages with customers who turn their noses up to his natural, yet not certified organic, chicken unless they ask the right questions. “I don’t have time to educate everyone and if someone is stuck in their ways or uninformed then that’s their fault. I’m not here to educate them, I’m here to feed my family”, Julius says.

Luckily, as I have found out on my own, if you do ask and you do seem interested than Julius will tell you everything you want to know.

Desperately trying for sustainable farming in Hawaii

A while back Julius was teaching and taking frequent trips to the Big Island. Mike Dupont invited him, several other local farmers and a couple of the animal nutrition experts from the University of Hawaii to a meeting in Hilo. What they discussed at this meeting was, “What do we have in Hawaii in abundance and what can we do with it?”

Julius left the meeting intrigued and curious. Two years would pass before he and Mike would be reconnected. Julius asked Mike, “What happened to the ideas we came up with at that meeting?” Mike told Julius that he analyzed the list of ingredients and created a data base. Without hesitation, Julius said, “I’m farming chickens, lets do a feed trial.” Mike agreed to it.

Working with a local mill Julius proved that if his farm milled it’s own feed locally, cutting out the need for shipping, than they could cut their costs in half.

Now came the hard part. Getting the feed just right.

It is not a matter of just finding ingredients that are in abundance. It’s also a matter of creating a blend of ingredients that creates the perfect balance of nutrients for the chickens to thrive on.

From talking to Julius I learned that there is a reason why commercial feed is made up of soy, corn and wheat (farm subsidies for GMO crops also play a role I’m sure). The combination provides the exact amount of protein, carbs and fiber needed for a chicken’s diet. Julius’s challenge is to find local ingredients that would replace each of those without disrupting that formula.

“We have tried macadamia nuts and they are amazing. They are high in protein but can only replace about 35 percent of the soybeans. Anything more than that and the chickens do not do well. They just don’t have the same amount of protein that the soybeans do. Next, is replacing the wheat and corn. We are currently doing a cassava trial to see if that could replace the wheat. But there are certain properties of corn that are irreplaceable, so if you want to replace corn you need to have a few different ingredients. The corn doesn’t necessarily make the chickens grow bigger but the carbs do give them the energy they need”, Julius said.

Julius wondered why they couldn’t just make a blend of cassava, macadamia nuts, corn and soy so that they could at least eliminate the need to ship over wheat. Mike explained to him that they can’t do that quite yet. They need to do trials with each ingredient separately first to isolate the nutrients and find out what each ingredient does exactly for the chickens. He said that sometimes combining certain ingredients can potentially turn them into anti-nutrients, which cancel each other out.

Once they tested each ingredient separately than they could start formulating a feed recipe. Julius says, “If we had the funds we would have the information we needed by now and would already be producing locally grown feed, but as it is now the trial has been dragged out the past 4 years and it could probably take several more.”

As it stands right now, Julius and Mike are the only ones doing this trial and it is completely self funded. When Julius applied for a grant he was told, “Sorry, we aren’t interested. Even if you are successful the country won’t benefit from it since it will only work in Hawaii.”

Julius did the math, if he grew all of the crops in order to make his own chicken feed he would lose money. “You’re better of selling what you grow”, he said with a defeated look.

It was then, that it really sunk in for me. Commercial feed exists for a reason and it is extremely difficult to change that reason.

Julius says, “We may have the same commercial feed that conventional farms use but since we are not a factory we handle everything by hand and produce a better quality product. It’s kinda cheesy to say but, we actually care. We know the chicks from the time we pick them up at the hatchery day old to harvesting them and taking them to the slaughterhouse. We know them intimately. There is a certain connection that we have that factory farms never will. When you put in the effort and care about what you are doing it shows in the final product.”

How you can support local farming

Julius encourages people to develop relationships with their farmers. “Get to know what they do and how they do it. Just because they are doing something different from what you think (or have heard) they should be, doesn’t mean that they aren’t putting out a good product or that it’s wrong. There is a good reason for what they do. Every farmer has their own quirks and special ways of doing things. In Hawaii there are so many microclimates that you have to adapt accordingly. You have to make it work where you’re at. One of the things that makes us not a factory farm is the fact that it can’t be replicated on another side of the island. You have to always observe and adjust according to your environment. Your farming practices and feed are changing constantly. You have to be quick because you could lose product. I never say what other farms should do, I just know what I need to do for my farm.”

Just the facts

J. Ludovico Farm has the only chicken slaughterhouse on the island. They encourage more farms on Oahu to raise chickens and partner with them. You grow the chickens and Julius will slaughter and processes them for you.

Some of the top restaurants in Honolulu have J. Ludovico Farm chicken on their menus. Pig and the lady, Piggy Smalls, Fete, Herringbone, Basalt, MW, and Chef Mavro are just a few of them.

You can find Julius every Wednesday at the Honolulu Farmer’s Market at the Neil S. Blaisdell Center from 4-7pm. 777 Ward Avenue Honolulu, HI 96814

Customers who are interested in purchasing one of Julius’s chickens are encouraged to pre-order them. Julius does not store any frozen product. He slaughters on demand, so what you order on Friday, gets slaughtered Tuesday to pick up at the market on Wednesday.

You can email your request to jludivicofarm@gmail.com the weekend before a Wednesday market. Whole chickens are $6/lb

For more information on what J. Ludovico Farm has to offer visit their website at https://jludovicofarm.com/shop/

You can also follow them on Instagram @jludavicofarm

When asked about farm tours Julius got very serious and said, “Sure, we are happy to give you a tour but you better be prepared to show up at 5am and work the farm with us all day.” The same goes for the slaughterhouse. They would more than appreciate volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays to come lend a hand. But a word of advice, if Julius tells you to move, you better get out of his way.

Are you excited about local farming on Oahu? Which farms are you proud to support? Tell us all about it in the comments section. And if you liked this article I invite you to subscribe to The Healthy Locavore for more on how to eat local, live well, cook healthier and support each other. I am so grateful for this community, thank you so much for being a part of it!

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Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.

Maui For Foodies

Punakea Palms

Punakea Palms

The road to Hana is paved with…….not enough restaurants!

Sure, there is world class snorkeling, humpback whale watching and the infamous road to Hana. But, if you are a chef or a foodie like me you plan your trips around food and squeeze those things in if there is extra time!

If you find that ludicrous than this particular travel guide is not for you. There will be no beach recommendations or ocean excursions mentioned here. There will, however be a boatload of restaurants, farms and places to buy good booze in this post. Hey, even healthy locavores need to have fun too.

This is Maui for foodies.

Plane from Honolulu to Lahaina
Plane from Honolulu to Lahaina

If you are coming over from Honolulu chances are you’ll be wedged in a puka shell sized puddle-jumper such as the one pictured above. I recommend flying into Lahaina to avoid the hoards of tourists at the bigger and busier Kahului Airport on the other side of the island.

But be prepared, other than a tarmac and glorified hot dog stand you won’t find any amenities at this airport. Have a ride lined up or you’ll be walking to your hotel. Rental cars are a must have on this island.

Lahaina (West Maui)

The towns up and down the west side of Maui, including Lahaina are no doubt some of the most picturesque on the island. Large banyan trees, beautiful beach parks and views of Lana’i and Moloka’i line the coast.

We opted for an oceanfront Airbnb at the Kaleialoha Vacation Rentals for our accommodations. It was a cute little one bedroom with beach access, spacious lanai and fully stocked kitchen. There was a sea turtle that swam around below us every morning.

Airbnb in Lahaina
The lanai at our Kaleialoha vacation rental
Airbnb in Lahaina
View from our Kaleialoha vacation rental

Places to eat near Lahaina

Choice Health Bar

This is a great place to stop for a healthy vegan breakfast, lunch or (non-alchololic and sugar free) power drink. All of the produce used on the menu here is organic and handpicked locally. Menu selections include things like overnight oats, chia pudding, pad thai, kale and quinoa buddha bowls, acai bowls, smoothies and shots of noni juice.

Choice Health Bar
Overnight oats at Choice Health Bar

Merriman’s Kapalua

When you are ready for pau hana (happy hour) and an epic sunset, cruise over to  Merriman’s and grab a spot at the bar overlooking Kapalua Bay. Peter Merriman is one of the founding fathers of Hawaiian cuisine and helped pioneer the farm to table concept here. 90% of the food at this restaurant is locally sourced.

And they make a damn good man tai too.

Merriman's Lahaina
Merriman’s Lahaina

Lahaina Grill

If you are craving classic, old world inspired cuisine and are having a foie gras void in your life (like I was) than this is where you come. It’s not cutting edge but it is decadent. Think escargot, Wagyu beef ravioli with black truffle, filet mignon and lobster. Pro tip – Order a few things to share for the table and a nice glass of wine and leave it at that. This place can get pricy.

Seared Ahi and Hudson Valley Foie Gras at Lahaina Grill
Seared Ahi and Hudson Valley Foie Gras at Lahaina Grill
Marcho Farms Veal "Osso Buco" at Lahaina Grill
Marcho Farms Veal “Osso Buco” at Lahaina Grill

The Mill House

Hands down my favorite restaurant on the island.

Tucked inside the Maui Tropical Plantation through a path of botanical gardens and fountains made of old sugarcane cogs you will find one of the most beautiful restaurants on Maui. And the best part? They farm the majority of the produce they use on site. The rest all comes from other parts of the island. Everything including the unbelievable table bread (buttery Hawaiian dinner rolls and rustic sourdough rye? Come on!) and delicate pastas are made in house. Hats off to chef Jeff Scheer. You nailed it.

The Mill House
The botanical gardens at Maui Tropical Plantation
The Mill House
The Mill House
The Mill House
The Mill House
Local Fish Crudo & Mortadella Musubi at The Mill House
Local Fish Crudo & Mortadella Musubi at The Mill House
Chicken Bao Buns & Pork Shank Rillette at The Mill House
Chicken Bao Buns & Pork Shank Rillette at The Mill House
Greens from the farm at The Mill House
Greens and root vegetables from the farm with carrot puree and lemon vinaigrette  at The Mill House
Local fish at The Mill House
Local fish, coconut-cucumber curry and spicy papaya salad at The Mill House
Bone Marrow with Braised Taro Leaf Risotto at The Mill House
Bone Marrow with Braised Taro Leaf Risotto at The Mill House
Chocolate dessert at The Mill House
Chocolate mousse and banana ice-cream with candied cashew at The Mill House

Punakea Palms

Just a man and his coconuts….

On the surface it would appear that Punakea Palms sells farm tours. But, after taking a tour here I know now that what they are actually providing is an educational experience in natural farming,  sustainability and the health benefits of coconuts.

This is a family owned and run operation. In fact, the owners live on the property so what you are basically taking a tour of is their back yard.

Punakea Palms
The view from Punakea Palms

The owner’s son, Kai is the mastermind behind the coconut groves here. He is both the farmer and the tour guide. Kai starts the tour by giving you some background on the land in which you are standing from. Old sugarcane fields. Or more importantly, soil that has been heavily depleted from hundreds of years of burning the land to harvest sugarcane.

It is from here that you realize that Kai and his family aren’t growing coconuts so much to sell (there is surprisingly not a big enough market and coconut products are too labor intensive to be profitable) as they are to save the land.

They now grow halloa ( a legume) on the land which nourishes the soil with nitrogen providing the dry, scorched land with moisture. They water the palms with water from the valley that carries nutrients with it as disperses through the farm. They have planted pine trees on the property to encourage more rain, helping to restore the ecosystem of the land back to the rainforest it once was before being turned into sugarcane fields.

Kai goes on to explain that coconut palms are indigenous to Hawaii and were the first trees to sprout up when the islands were first being formed by volcanos. They require warm tropical climates with a lot of rainfall, about 20 gallons of water everyday to be exact. He said that the coconuts themselves act as seeds. They fall from the tree and with sun and moisture they set roots and sprout up.

Punakea Palms
Punakea Palms

From here Kai goes into harvest times and how to check what stage the coconut is in when picked.

At 5 months (or less) the coconuts are not ready. The water is a bit sour and the meat is underdeveloped, like jelly.

At 6 months the coconuts are young and the meat is starting to firm up.

Prime harvest time for coconut water is  7 months. The coconuts will be heavy and when shaken you will hear water sloshing around inside of it. The meat at this point is the perfect texture to scrape out and eat with a spoon.

If making coconut milk is what you desire than you wait until the coconuts are firm, dry and light in weight.

As we sat on the grass under a shady tree (which you will need to take advantage of since it gets very hot on this farm) Kai cracked coconuts and continued to educate us while we sipped fresh coconut water from bamboo straws.

Water fresh from a coconut is a flavor you will never find in any bottled version. Even if the brand uses non-heated methods for pasteurization.

Kai also dispelled the myth that pink coconut water occurs in nature. Apparently it is only  a result of pasteurization.

Punakea Palms
Punakea Palms

Kai finishes the tour by teaching the group some of the ways to process coconuts for eating and drinking. He’ll show you how to use a traditional coconut stool shredder to grate the meat out of mature coconuts. You’ll also get to try your hand at using a more modern coconut meat removal tool to carve out the meat  to make coconut milk with.

Making coconut milk is a surprisingly simple, yet labor intensive process, that involves carving out the meat from a mature coconut, pureeing it in a blender with a mix of coconut water and filtered water and then squeezing it through a nut bag.

The milk that comes out is rich and delicious and will last up to 4-5 days in the fridge. The coconut meat that you capture in the nut bag by straining off the milk can be dried and made into coconut flour.

Punakea Palms
Making fresh coconut milk at Punakea Palms

Kahului

What can I say, it’s the city the major airport for the island is located in.

Tin Roof

If you are a foodie, no trip to Maui is complete without a stop to the infamous Chef Sheldon Simeon’s, Tin Roof.

You may remember him from Top Chef season 10 and 14. He is on tap to host the new season of, YouTube show, Cooking in America and his new restaurant HALA this fall. I even hear he is planning to open a Tin Roof on Oahu. Fingers crossed!

His menu is a playful take on your typical Hawaiian plate lunch restaurant. He of course uses local meats, fish, produce and artisan made products and prides himself on making “honest” food for his community.

His Mochica chicken is addictive. Crunchy and tender,  glazed with a sweet sauce, furikake and asian rice crackers. The Pork belly is succulent and flavorful. Sides include things like spicy kale salad, ‘ulu mac salad, saimin noodles that you can get dry or with broth and what is called a dime bag (I’ve heard rumors on what people think this is – some say it is a mixture of crumbled up rice crackers, doritios, furikake and spices).

Save room for dessert because they carry Pono Pies! Ridiculously good vegan and gluten free pies made with breadfruit. I tried the banana-coconut cream version and it was amazing.

Heads up these guys are only open 10am-2pm, they’re closed on Sundays and there is probably going to be a long line.

Actually, do yourself a favor, if you are flying out of the Kahului airport stop by here first to get some ono flight “grinds”!

…and don’t forget to throw down a few bucks for the Pau Hana Fund. (That’s the cash pot for after work beers for all you civilians.)

Tin Roof
Tin Roof
Mochica chicken, Saimin, Pork Belly, Mac-Ulu Salad and Banana-Coconut cream Pono Pie from Tin Roof
Mochica chicken, Saimin, Pork Belly, Mac-Ulu Salad and Banana-Coconut cream Pono Pie from Tin Roof
Pono pie
Banana-coconut Pono pie

Upcountry

No foodie trip to Maui is complete without a tour of upcountry. As you drive out to the countryside away from the coast, climb higher in elevation to the center of the island and up the Haleakala crater you will find farms rich in volcanic soil, stunning views and paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys).

Pa’ia –

Pa’ia is where upcountry starts farthest north by the coast. It is a quaint little hippie, surfing town full of great dining options, an organic health food store and lots of boutique shopping right on the edge of one of the best windsurfing beach in the world.

Milagros

If you’re only in town one night grab dinner at Milagros. A Mom and Pop establishment serving some of the best Mexican food in Hawaii (believe me, in Hawaii it’s hard to come by). Grab a margarita and some enchiladas or fish tacos out on the patio and let the people watching commence.

Makawao –

This is known as cowboy country. In the days of King Kamehameha the third he sent vaqueros (Spanish cowboys) from California to come and teach the Hawaiians how to wrangle their cattle. Up until WWII this town provided supplies to neighboring farms and went all but dormant until a resurgence in the 80’s brought in upscale retail, yoga studios and hip eateries….and of course, there is a cowboy museum too.

T. Komoda Bakery

Legendary bakery specializing in donuts, dinner rolls and their famous cream puffs. Locals say get there early. Past 10 or 11am they just about sell out of everything.

Hali’imaile

This tiny town is only a few miles long and is mostly made up of a few must see businesses…

Hali’imaile Distilling Company

Home of Pau Vodka made from pineapples grown right across the street and other spirits made from locally grown ingredients. Tours running every hour.

Hali'imaile Distilling Company
Hali’imaile Distilling Company

Hali’imaile General Store

We have had the cookbook for this restaurant sitting on our bookshelf for years. The food is highly regarded here but what is equally impressive is their cocktail menu. Ask for Wendy, who has been bartending there for 17 years. The first bartender I have ever met whose favorite tool behind the bar is the blender. She has constructed an entire menu from it. She uses local spirits (some distilled just across the street), fresh herbs, fruit and a lot of love in every drink she makes. She’ll even make up a new one right there on the spot for you if you’d like. Be on top of your game, she’s got some good zingers you’ll miss if you aren’t paying attention.

The Lemongrass-Ginger Frost at Hali'imaile General Store
The Lemongrass-Ginger Frost at Hali’imaile General Store

Makai Glass

A fine glass art and glassblowing studio that you can take a free tour of. Sculptures are inspired by Hawaii sea life and volcanic formations and they are incredibly beautiful.

Makai Glass
Makai Glass

Maui Pineapple Tour

Learn everything from how pineapples are grown, harvested and processed. There will be pineapple to sample and even bring home. This is a pretty famous attraction on the island so book your tour in advance.

Kula –

Positioned on the slopes of the Haleakala crater, a dormant volcano and the second largest mountain in the world is Kula. Miles of pristine farmland boasting some of the most beautiful panoramic views of the ocean that you will find on the island.

Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm

A wonderland of over 7 varieties of lavender broken up by walking trails, gazebos and zen gardens. Farm tours are available daily.

Maui Wine

Pineapple wine? Yep, and many other interesting varietals as well. Sip on exotic wines as you enjoy the beautiful vineyard and breathtaking views.

Surfing Goat Dairy

I love the story of this place. Thomas and Eva, husband and wife team from Germany, were a couple of surfers who came to Maui to “retire”. Over 9 years later they own the only certified humane farm in Hawaii, one of two goat farms in the entire state and make award winning goats cheeses that have found their way on to menus all over the country including, at the White House (the variety, Utterly Delicious was served at President Obama’s inauguration).

Surfing Goat Dairy
Surfing Goat Dairy

They raise about 200 goats by hand. They are completely self sufficient in terms of energy (Hawaiia Sea Spirits is the only other farm on Maui that can say that). Their whole farm is decorated with broken surfboards that they rescued from becoming landfill at the dump (they traded the county goat cheese for them).

Surfing Goat Dairy
Surfing Goat Dairy
Surfing Goat Dairy
Surfing Goat Dairy

Their cheeses are light and mild. Pasteurization done immediately after the milking process removes any gamey flavor the goat’s milk could impart. They offer 30 different variations of goat cheese including a cheve that sits in rennet 24 hours, and aged cheese called ping pong and over the top varieties like “Midas Touch” (dusted with 23k gold flakes) and “Perigord” (covered in black truffles and truffle oil.).

My personal favorites were their feta and the Ole, which is flavored with jalapeños, artichokes, lime and cilantro.

Not to mention the goats are damn cute. I loved that they had a special pen for the female goats that were too old to milk anymore called “The Golden Girls Caralle”.

Cheese tasting at Surfing Goat Dairy
Cheese tasting at Surfing Goat Dairy

Hawaii Sea Spirits 

You gotta love a farm that offers you free food right off the bat as you walk in. Of course I helped myself to some bananas and of course they were delicious.

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

This is Earl, an ex-bartender and the distillery’s entertaining (and extremely knowledgable) tour guide. He walks you through the USDA certified organic farm filled with varieties of sugarcane from all over the world, the distillation process and concludes the tour with a tasting. An education in finely crafted booze you will never forget.

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Our tour guide, Earl at Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

The distillery is known for two premium spirits. Master distiller, Bill Scott has created  Ocean Vodka and Deep Island Hawaiian Rum., both crafted in a state of the art and eco-friendly facility using sugarcane grown organically on the property.

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

As you tour the grounds you will be invited by lush, colorful landscaping.

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

They make a 150 proof white rum that has nuances of banana, coconut, vanilla and marshmallow.

While Rum is defined by its ingredients, vodka is defines by its distillation process.

Earl explains that they first mix the sugarcane with distillers yeast for three days until it ferments. They then take that 10% alcohol “sugarcane beer”, heat it and distill it until it reaches 40% alcohol. This is now called a “sugarcane spirit”. For the vodka, they distill it 40 times until it is super clean. From here they blend the spirit with their very clean and fresh ocean mineral water. This water is part of their claim to fame. It started as a glacier in Greenland.  Over the span of 2000 years the world’s current carried it to Kona, Hawaii where it is than tapped into 3000 feet below sea level and brought to Maui to their farm.

Since the only things that matter for the quality of vodka are water, fermentation and distillation Hawaii Sea Spirits has vowed to nail all three.

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
The “bar” at Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

Back at the bar Earl pours shots for everyone. The vodka is slightly sweet, doesn’t burn going down and actually enhances other ingredients when mixed into a cocktail.

He explains that their rum unlike most other rums is made from fresh sugarcane juice and not molasses. It has not been aged or spiced and because of that is completely clear in color. It smells like coconut and tastes like banana bread.

O’o Farm

Organic farm that produces all of the produce Pacific’o restaurant in Lahaina serves on its menu. Their farm tour includes a gourmet lunch with freshly harvested ingredients while enjoying a cooler climate with breathtaking views.

All foodie obsessions aside no trip to Hawaii is complete without a trip to the beach. So do like the locals do, enjoy some good food, quality time with friends and family and a nice afternoon nap by the ocean…. island style.

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Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.

The Big Island of Hawaii

Big island of Hawaii

Big island in Hawaii

Hawaii is the magical place created by volcanic eruptions and shaped by gods and goddesses.

Legend has it that the Polynesian earth goddess Pele is responsible for creating the islands formed by these volcanic eruptions. She is now said to be living in the crater of Kilauea on the Hawaii island after traveling from island to island in the same order as the progression of volcanic eruptions.

Although the youngest, the island of Hawaii is the largest of all the Hawaiian islands giving it the nickname, the big island.

THE LAND

The mana (spiritual essence) is strong here. You can feel and see the island’s aliveness at every turn. The Hawaiians don’t just see land as something that can be bought or sold, they see it as life.

The Big Island of Hawaii
May be one of the many rock formations on the islands representing the ex-lovers of Pele frozen in stone.

Active volcanos, snow capped mountains, crystal clear water, tropical rainforests, sacred historical temples made of lava rock and some of the most epic waterfalls on earth make up the island. Climates range from hot to cool, to snowing in some areas. It is the only island in the world where you can find white, black and green sand beaches.

The Big Island of Hawaii
The Big Island of Hawaii

When driving across the island on hwy 2000 there are so many changes in landscape that you feel like you are driving cross country.

The Big Island of Hawaii
The Big Island of Hawaii

One minute you are amongst lush rainforests and the next minute all you see are scattered, tiny, neon green leaves sprouting up through black volcanic lava rock. Amongst the craters and dry desolate empty land you can sometimes feel like you are on another planet. Oh, and there are goats everywhere.

The Big Island of Hawaii
The Big Island of Hawaii

THE FOOD

The motto – aloha ‘aina, meaning to love and care for the land, is engrained in the culture here. Natural farming, humanly raising animals and sustainable fishing practices are revered and promoted throughout restaurants all over the island.

Hilo –

Hilo, Hawaii
Hilo, Hawaii

The Locavore Store – This store kicks ass. Read my review of it here.

Conscious Café offers fare for both vegans and meat eaters alike. Bowls, tacos, burgers and salads all made of organic produce, grass-fed beef and local line-caught fish. They also have an extensive booch bar offering a wide selection of Big Island Booch kombuchas and a tiny gift shop area.

Conscious Cafe
Conscious Cafe

Hilo Shark’s Coffee is a great place to stop for coffee, an acai bowl or a sandwich. They have a large covered outdoor patio if you are eating “in” and is a good place to grab some souvenirs.

The Moon and the Turtle, although closed during my trip, is said to be one of the best restaurants on the island from locals and visitors alike. An always changing menu of locally sourced food and cocktails with a bumping happy hour and great service. Reservations recommended.

The Hawaiian Style café was also recommended to us. Locals love their enormous portions of classic Hawaiian comfort food. There are locations in Hilo and Waimea.

Waimea –

Village Burger is a quick service restaurant in a strip mall offering parker ranch pasture raised grassfed beef burgers using fresh local goat cheese, fresh baked bread and produce from neighboring vendors.

Big island brewhaus – Besides craft beer you can find a menu loaded full of local fresh line-caught fish, grass-fed beef and organic produce. Their spent grain from brewing beer and food waste is used to feed local cows and pigs. They are a platinum level ocean friendly restaurant and the second restaurant on the big island to be blue zone approved. Simply put, their aloha ‘aina game is on point.

Merriman’s – Farm to table, high end dining in a cozy non-pretentious atmosphere. The Mai Tais are amazing.

Mai Tais at Merriman's Waimea
Mai Tais at Merriman’s Waimea

Waimea Butcher Shop – Mom and pop butcher shop specializing in sustainably raised and locally sourced meat and charcuterie. They are a nose-to-tail operation that cuts meat to order and has an extremely high standard in quality.

Waikoloa –

Daylight Mind Coffee – Na’auao is the Hawaiian word for enlightenment and literally translates to Daylight mind. This company chose their name because they say it “weaves together a love of scientific exploration with a deep respect for the wisdom and strength of its Hawaiian roots”. Although they use western techniques they draw from their culture to keep themselves grounded and stay true to the land. They pour local Kona coffee sourced from several different farms and offer breakfast, lunch and dinner menus with a farm to table sensibility.

Breakfast at Daylight Mind Coffee
Breakfast at Daylight Mind Coffee

Farmers markets line the perimeter of the island on a daily basis. They are a great way to learn about Hawaiian culture and sample foods grown locally. Click here to find one near where you are staying. I visited the Hilo farmers and although it runs daily the Saturday market is the largest all week.

White Pineapple
White Pineapple. So far I’ve only seen this on the big island.

SNORKELING

 The Kona side of the island is known for snorkeling. Crystal clear waters and beautiful beaches make access easy and inviting.

Beach 69, named after the mile marker it is located at is a local favorite for snorkeling in the Waialea Bay. The white sandy beach is covered with large shady trees and the reefs are full of beautiful fish.

Beach 69
Beach 69, called 69’s by locals
Beach 69
Beach 69

If you are looking for a snorkeling excursion by boat I recommend Hilo Ocean Adventures. You can arrange a private tour where you will have your own captain and snorkel guide to take you to all the best spots, prepare you snacks and take a video of your entire experience. You may even swim with sea turtles and have a school of dolphins riding along side the boat with you on your way out.

VOLCANOS

For a boat tour to see the lava flowing into the ocean go to seelava.com

Otherwise do what we did and take a self-guided tour by car through the Hawaii Volcano’s National Park.

The Big Island of Hawaii
Hawaii Volcano’s National Park

Here you will see Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano and mountain on earth accounting for more that half of the island’s land mass (most lying underneath the ocean). The mountain is constantly growing with its continuous stream of lava flow adding to its mass.

Mana Loa
Mana Loa

You will also see the shield volcano, Kilauea. Remember Pele? This is the volcano which has lava streaming steadily into the ocean. It is one of the most active volcanos in the world.

Driving around this park you will see volcanic craters, rainforests and hike over miles and miles of lava rock.

WATERFALLS

If you are in Hilo here are some falls you won’t want to miss…

The Wailuku river spanning 18 miles long is the second longest river in Hawaii and is so powerful can at times create flash flooding. It is also home to beautiful waterfalls.

Rainbow falls is an 80 foot waterfall that creates a rainbow on sunny days and a constant mist on rainy days. It is over 100 years old and pours from the Wailuku river in front of natural lava caves.

Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls

Boiling pots is 1.5 miles above rainbow falls. They are pot shaped holes made of lava rock that fill the Wailuku river. During storms the river rises and water appears to be “boiling” in these lava pots.

Pe’epe’e falls is to the left and upstream boiling pots.

The Kolekole stream produces some very impressive waterfalls as well. The most impressive is Akaka falls. At 442 feet tall it is twice as high as Niagra Falls. Kahuna and Uluhi falls are just downstream of Akaka.

Trail to Akaka Falls
Trail to Akaka Falls
Akaka Falls
Akaka Falls

ACOMMODATIONS

Since I have only been to this island once so far I only have one place to recommend. It is a wonderful VRBO in Hilo called The Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat with an east meets west sensibility.

Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat
One of the many temples at Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat

The property is full of meticulously manicured zen gardens, orchards and lily ponds.

Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat
Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat
Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat
Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat
Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat
Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat

It also has a sweet little outdoor kitchen perfect for cooking all meals on site.

Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat
Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat

The money shot however is the infinity pool and hot tub which overlooks the ocean lined with lava rock walls.

Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat
Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat
Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat
Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat

Inside you will find local art, wood furniture and high end fixtures. The owner of the property Dan, has not forgotten any details large or small. He made my day when he brought me over a coconut and a drill one afternoon. Although far from town this is a wonderful place to stay. If you are looking for a little seclusion this is the spot.

Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat
Coconut palms at Hawaiian Paradise Ocean Retreat

If you are looking for a baller vacation rental check out the properties managed by Elite Pacific Properties

Like this one called Fairway #1 North located on the north of Kona.

Elite Pacific Vacation Rental
Elite Pacific Vacation Rental
Elite Pacific Vacation Rental
Elite Pacific Vacation Rental
Elite Pacific Vacation Rental
Elite Pacific Vacation Rental

I look forward to heading back to the big island of Hawaii sooner rather than later. More recommendations to come.

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Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.

The Locavore Store

The Locavore Store

The Locavore Store

Have you ever walked into a store and thought, why didn’t I open this first? I am both super excited to have found The Locavore Store and kicking myself at the same time.

At the edge of downtown in the charming (and very health conscious) waterfront town of Hilo you will find a tiny market full of local treasures.

Husband and wife team Catarina and Arthur have expertly curated a selection of produce, pastured meats, eggs, grocery and skincare items all grown or made in Hawaii. Their mission is to “connect local people with locally-grown food”. Their website advertises that they carry products from over 100 local farms and artisans. Simply put, they know what it truly means to eat local and support their community.

Lilikoi, a.k.a. passionfruit
Lilikoi, a.k.a. passionfruit

What started out originally as selling neighbors’ excess crops at the local farmers market grew to eventually opening a brick and mortar location in the tiny town of Pahoa on Hawai’i Island, a.ka. The Big Island. In 2014 lava flowing from the Kilauea Crater chased Catarina and Arthur out of town to Hilo where you will now find their beautiful little boutique shop.

On my recent visit I discovered fruits I had never tried before like the lemondrop mangosteen, which can be eaten in a similar way to a lychee. I bought some blood red, Big Island rack of lamb and a turmeric spice blend made from Orchid Isle Herbs to take home and grill. It was heavenly by the way. I also scored some fresh pastured eggs, mango and apple bananas for breakfast the next day.

Lemondrop mangosteens
Lemondrop mangosteens

I found the store perfect for picking up odds and ends I needed for my trip. I could imagine myself stopping by regularly if I lived nearby to shop for meat and eggs, discover new produce or to buy a local gift to ship to the mainland.

Alaea-turmeric spice blend
Orchid Isle Herbs Alaea-turmeric spice blend

The cashiers were lovely on both occasions I visited the store and the customers all seemed to be regular shoppers, who like me, care deeply about which foods they put in their body.

Supporting farmers markets and shops like The Locavore Store are so important. They help change the political climate of the food industry and little by little make buying local more mainstream.

Buying your food from small local farmers as opposed to large factory farms not only supports your local economy but is far superior for your health. In a time were diseases like diabetes, cancer and obesity are so prevalent it is always a mystery to me why there are still people who find buying local a novelty fad or irrelevant.

Local chai spice
Local chai spice

The Locavore Store’s beef, chicken and lamb (as well as a variety of other meats) all come from family-owned farms and ranches on the Big Island. They are pasture raised without the use of antibiotics and growth hormones making them lower in fat, higher in Omega-3s and much healthier for you than factory farmed commodity meat you will find in an average supermarket. The produce selection consists of organic and seasonal fruits and vegetables (the way nature intended) all grown on the Big Island.

f you are curious about what they carry or want to support small farmers and artisans on the Big Island The Locavore Store is launching their online store soon. Other than that make sure to stop by next time you are in Hilo so you too can support the local food movement.

Way to go Catarina and Arthur. You are truly local heroes.

The Locavore Store

60 Kamehameha Ave.

Hilo, HI 96720

(808) 965-2372

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Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.

How Eating Local Food Supports Your Health And Community

support local

support local

Eating local food is very important to me. When it comes to what I eat I try my best to select foods that are whole or minimally processed, organic and local. This practice results in eating seasonally as well.

Sometimes finding foods like these can be a challenge depending on where you live. Not everyone places this much importance on the foods they eat. If there isn’t a demand in a particular area there is often low availability. Cost and climate can also be factors. This is why if you have a farmers market pop up in your area or see local food in your neighborhood grocery store it is important to support it.

I believe eating local food is important for two reasons. It promotes good health and it strengthens your community. These are both very strong values of mine and something I encourage everyone to at least consider when buying food.

Eating local food for your health

This idea does not involve micro and macronutrients. However, food grown near to you, eaten soon after it has been harvested is more nutritious than commercially grown foods shipped from long distances. So, even though organic apples grown in California are just as nutritious as ones grown in New York, if you live in California and eat the locally grown apples they will be more nutritious because of the length of time between harvest and consumption.

Aligning yourself with nature

As I mentioned above, this idea is more than just getting the most nutrients out of your food. It is also a matter of aligning yourself with your environment or, living in harmony with nature. Eating local food ties you to the land you live on.

When I decided to leave San Francisco to move to Hawaii I had to prepare myself for the fact that my diet was going to change. Sure, I would no longer get to enjoy the bay area stone fruit season and Hass avocados but instead I would get to taste fresh lychees strait from the tree and make interesting dishes with breadfruit. I didn’t see it as a challenge or something I would miss but rather an exciting opportunity.

Eating for your climate

San Francisco in general has a very cool, dry climate. I would start every morning with warm lemon water, drink hot tea everyday and eat hot cereal, soups and stews to keep me warm.

 

One of the things that drew me to Hawaii was the climate. As a person who tends to run cold and dry, San Francisco’s climate was not a good balance for me. The warm humid climate in Hawaii already has my skin looking healthier and my immune system feeling stronger.

My diet has shifted here. I am constantly mindful of staying hydrated and regulating my body temperature using water and food. I now drink room temperature water in the morning instead of warming it first. I crave iced teas instead of hot teas. I eat more salads, fish and rice. I eat completely different types of fruit. I seek cold or room temperature foods as opposed to hot foods. I crave ice-cream way more.

Even though the weather doesn’t change as dramatically throughout the year, like the Midwest or east coast, San Francisco still has seasons that determine which fruits and vegetables are available. Hearty squashes and Brussels sprouts in the winter, asparagus and artichokes in the spring, heirloom tomatoes and melon in the summer are all examples.

Seasonality is significant because nature produces what will make your body thrive during that time of the year. Heartier vegetables keep you warm in the winter and lighter produce like lettuces, cucumber and stone fruit cool you down in the summer.

Giving your body what it needs in order to thrive in the environment you live in is very important for your health.

Balancing our bodies with food

Our bodies are constantly looking for balance. It is one of the reasons why we have cravings. All of the foods we eat have the potential to create warming, cooling, drying or moisturizing effects in the body. It is up to you to understand what you need in any given moment in order to thrive. This is the principal of yin and yang, opposite energies that compliment each other and create balance.

By being in tune with your body and environment you can choose foods that bring you back into balance. Alternatively, ignoring those two things can bring you out of balance with nature and have the potential to make you sick.

Eat with the seasons and let your climate determine diet. If you live in a warm climate and continue to eat foods grown in cold climates it could cause an imbalance. For example, a diet rich in red meat, high in fat and alcohol could overheat someone living in warm climate. However, if you live in a cold climate you need foods that pack more eat. Living off fish and raw vegetables may not keep you warm enough.

Here are some examples of foods that are cooling (ideal for warm climate) and foods that are warming (ideal for cold climate).

Cooling foods –

– Sweet spices (chai, fennel, elderflower)

– Mint

– Cucumber

– Lime

– Light proteins like chicken and fish

– Dark leafy greens

– Raw fruits and vegetables

– Chocolate

– Cabbage

– Watercress

Warming foods –

– Red meat, pork, duck

– Hot soups and stews

– Ginger

– Garlic

– Onions

– Oatmeal

– Winter squashes

– Peppers

Eating local food for the health of your community

Buying food from the local farmers market brings us closer to our community and environment, which results in a deeper connection to our food.

By buying your food from local farms and artisans you are supporting your neighbors and strengthening your local economy. This act unifies people, it keeps people employed and it allows you to really know where your food comes from.

Eating foods that are shipped in from somewhere else (at least on a regular basis) alienates us from our environment. You may not be physically equipped to consistently eat these foods and over time doing this may confuse your body and weaken your immune system. By doing this you are also supporting the excessive use of fossil fuels which is unfriendly to the environment.

Support local. Support community. Support your own health. It just makes sense.

For more information on how to eat local food in Hawaii check out my Hawaii Local Food Guide.

Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.

Exploring Provo In The Turks And Caicos

Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos
Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos
Grace Bay, Providenciales

Provo is what the locals have endearingly nicknamed Providenciales, their beloved island in the Turks and Caicos and home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Provo is what dreams are made of. White, soft sand, turquoise water, vibrant reefs full of colorful coral, fish and sea turtles and “feet-in-the-sand” dining. Everything you’ve read is true and yes, the water does really looks like that, no photoshop required.

Beaches

There really isn’t a bad beach on the island but two in particular stuck out for me.

Grace Bay is the most famous and offers many exciting ocean excursions and water sports. A great spot to watch kite-boarders, play volleyball or just relax with a rum punch. Check out the fish fry every Thursday night at Bight (Children’s) Park. Tourists and locals come from all over the island to eat food prepared by local restaurants, listen to live music and shop. Grab an icy cold mojito from Travis at Mr. Mojitos and a curry goat taco from Kalooki’s before hitting the dance floor.

Grace Bay
Grace Bay

Sapodilla bay offers all the beach rentals you will need including beach chairs and umbrellas. Snorkeling, jet skiing, paddle boarding and kayaking are among the most popular water activities there. Ask for Jamesly, owner of Tropical Waves, he’ll get you what you need in order to have a perfect day at the beach.

Eat & Drink

There is a ton of great spots to eat and drink here. Many of which you never have to leave the beach to go to. Fresh local snapper, grouper, octopus and of course conch are the main attractions and peas and rice are almost always served along side. When it’s lobster season you can expect to see it on every menu you come across. Jerk chicken, curries and tacos are also common dishes here.

Fresh coconuts at Bugaloos
Fresh coconuts at Bugaloos

Da Conch Shack“Feet-in-the-sand” dining, delicious jerk chicken and conch are what you can find here. When you aren’t gazing out at the crystal clear waters you’ll be watching as people go up to the bar to play the ring game – literally a ring that hangs from the roof on a string that you have to try to make on to a hook fixed to the wall across from you. Surprisingly entertaining for hours. This is also were the infamous (to the island at least) Peppa Joy hot sauce is made. Peppa Joy is all-natural, made with locally grown Delano’s peppers and is good on just about everything.

Da Conch Shack
Da Conch Shack
Jerk Chicken with slaw, peas and rice at Da Conch Shack
Jerk Chicken with slaw, peas and rice at Da Conch Shack

Bugaloo’s – “Feet-in-the-sand” dining with live music. Have them crack you a fresh coconut while you snack on local conch fritters and grilled snapper. Chances are you will be serenaded by a local with a mic and guitar while you watch children play in the ocean in front of you. Great little lunch spot.

Conch fritters at Bugaloos
Conch fritters at Bugaloos
Conch salad at Bugaloos
Conch salad at Bugaloos
Lunch at Bugaloos
Lunch at Bugaloos

The Shore Club – Just one of the many luxury resort options in Provo. Have cocktails at the sleek and sexy Rope Bar, overlooking their world class pool and cabanas. The restaurants at The Shore Club offer some of the best fine dining options the island and the property sits right on Grace Bay.

The pool at The Shore Club
The pool at The Shore Club

Stix Beach BarThis “Feet-in-the-sand” bar at The West Bay Club is a lively spot to hang out at for afternoon cocktails. The bartenders are fun and the customers usually get pretty smashed making it an entertaining spot for people watching.

Turks Kebab – Cool little casual lunch or dinner spot serving lamb gyros, kofte, hummus and other Turkish and Greek delights. Lamb is carved fresh off the spit to order.

Turks Kebaba
Turks Kebaba
Kofte and lamb gyro at Turks Kebab
Kofte and lamb gyro at Turks Kebab

Coco Bistro – Fine dining set inside a coconut palm grove on Grace Bay. Service was exceptional and the lamb chops were cooked perfectly. I recommend making a reservation well in advance so you don’t miss out on this one.

Somewhere CafeThis open air restaurant is the perfect place to dine before or after an ocean excursion leaving from Grace Bay. Live music daily. Huge menu with something for everyone.

Las Brisas – Sip on cocktails poolside while you look out on to beautiful Chalk Sound.

Melt – I don’t want to stereo type but this one is for the ladies. This “dessert bar” offers cocktails, a stellar wine selection, house-made ice-cream sundae’s and shopping all under one roof. The mojito here will blow your mind and the sundae’s are big enough for four.

The Banana-Caramel Sundae at Melt
The Banana-Caramel Sundae at Melt
Mojito at Melt
Mojito at Melt

Kalookis – Open air restaurant on the beach. The DJ will dance with your kids while the bartender pours you shots. A fun, party atmosphere with a killer oxtail stew.

Where to stay

From what I saw when I was there you have two options for accommodations on this island – stay at a resort or rent a vacation home. I stayed in a killer vacation rental on our trip called Villa Capri.

Villa Capri

If you are looking for the ultimate high-end vacation experience in the Turks and Caicos I highly recommend Villa Capri, a vacation beach house rental on Chalk Sound.

Villa Capri
Villa Capri

Staying at Villa Capri is pure luxury. The house and view look like an advertisement for the Turks and Caicos, like you would find in a fancy travel magazine. It’s modern and sleek but comfortable at the same time. Inside you will find beautiful white tile floors and countertops, a massive fully stocked kitchen with Wolf stove, modern furniture and Samsung Sound audio equipment for blasting your favorite jams throughout the house.

Villa Capri
Villa Capri

The selling point on this house however, is the expansive back deck overlooking Chalk Sound. Out here you will find towering palm trees, a state of the art outdoor kitchen with grill and flat screen TV and a swank infinity pool. Walk down the back steps to a sweet little dock where you will find a kayak and paddleboards waiting for you to explore the sound with.

Villa Capri
Villa Capri

John and Janine go out of their way to make your stay special. Their attention to detail and hospitality goes way beyond most other vacation rental home experiences. Special touches like stocking the kitchen with fresh fruit, local beer and cold bottled water make it feel like they really care. The complimentary soaps and lotions that are provided in the bathrooms show their sophisticated taste. They spare no expense when it comes to your comfort. My favorite amenity is a book they have put together for you that lists all of their favorite bars, restaurants and excursions on the islands, all with their personal review of each one attached. They even give you the names of the bartenders so you can roll in like a boss and fit right in with the locals.

Local lager by Turks Head Brewery compliments of John and Janine
Local lager by Turks Head Brewery compliments of John and Janine

Resorts

Here are some resorts I recommend if you go that route….

The Shore Club

Seven Stars

The West Bay Club

Come for the beaches, remember the locals

All epic beach experiences aside what I will always remember about this island is the warm hospitality I received from every local I met. Their always positive outlook, sense of humor and zest for life are something most people can only strive for. They are amazingly generous, thoughtful and delightful to be around. They truly made my trip. If you are thinking about a trip to the caribbean, Provo in the Turks and Caicos is the place to be.

provo

Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.

Big Miami Little Havana

miami little havana
miami little havana
Little Havana, Miami

When I started planning my trip to Miami there was only one thing on my mind – Cuban food. Locals say that the Cuban food in Little Havana actually rivals the food in Cuba. I’ve never been to Cuba but after eating my way through the neighborhood I can definitely take their word for it.

I tell you what, outside of hanging at the beach for a couple hours and hitting a couple of must do establishments like Joe’s Stone Crab (best spot for fresh Florida snow crab) and legendary dive bar Mac’s Club Deuce (ask for Allie, she kicks ass) I really didn’t spend much time on Miami or South Beach and I’m totally cool with that.

Macs club deuce
Macs club deuce
Joes Stone Crab
Joes Stone Crab

If you ever find yourself in Miami and are tired of paying $8 for a beer in South Beach and want to check out the local scene here’s what to do…

  1. Start at Versailles for breakfast. 3555 Southwest 8th St. Miami, FL 33145

Don’t go inside the restaurant, instead hang out at La Ventana (the walk up counter café) and chat it up with the locals. It will be crowded but there is really no line so just walk right up, get someone’s attention and order. Seriously, it’s like a free for all.

Versailles
Morning pastry counter at Versailles

I recommend you definitely try a cortadido. It’s a very strong Cuban espresso made with evaporated milk. It’s small but don’t be fooled it’s all you need to get your day going. Along with that grab some freshly made pastries – guava pastelitos, croquetas, espinaca emapandas and ham and cheese empandadas are delicious here.

Cortadido and pastries at Versailles
Cortadido and pastries at Versailles

2. Next walk over to El Palacio de Jugos for their epic lunch buffet and a fresh fruit juice. 1545 SW 27th Ave. Miami, FL 33145

Palacio de los Jugos
El Palacio de los Jugos

Every Cuban dish you have ever read about will be here and every fruit you can think of is made into a juice.

Palacio de los Jugos
El Palacio de los Jugos

This is where I learned about mamey a delicious fruit that looks sort of like a papaya when you open it up. It’s grown in Central America and South Florida and tastes like a cross between a sweet potato and a melon. I like it because it has a creamy texture and is not too sweet. It is also jam packed full of nutrients.

Fresh mamey at Palacio de los Jugos
Fresh mamey at El Palacio de los Jugos

3. After that take a walk down to Calle Ocho. SW 8th Street between SW 12th & SW 17th Ave.

Calle Ocho
Calle Ocho

This is the epicenter of Little Havana. Here you will find high end Cuban Cigar shops, restaurants and statues of chickens painted in beautiful colors on almost every corner.

Calle Ocho
Calle Ocho

4. Check out the old timers playing dominos at Maximo Gomez Park A.K.A. Domino Park. On the corner of Calle Ocho and 15th Ave.

Domino Park
Domino Park
Domino Park
Domino Park

5. Order a mojito and hear some live Cuban music at Ball and Chain. 1513 SW 8th St. Miami, FL 33135

Ball and Chain
Ball and Chain

6. And then grab a frita con queso at El Rey de las Fritas. 1821 SW 8th st. Miami, FL 33135

A Frita
A Frita at El Rey de las Fritas

It’s the Cuban version of a hamburger. A well seasoned patty on a sweet bun stuffed with crunchy shoestring fried potatoes.

Little Havana
Little Havana

 

7. On another day (or the same day if you like to get after it like I do) I recommend checking out the neighborhood of Wynwood. Here you will find Wynwood Walls, a collection of warehouses in the center of town filled with street art murals painted by artists from around the world. There’s also good shopping and food in this ‘hood as well. 2520 NW 2nd Ave. Miami, FL 33127

Wynwood Walls
Wynwood Walls
Wynwood Walls
Wynwood Walls
Wynwood Walls
Wynwood Walls
Wyndwood Walls
Wyndwood Walls
Peter Tunney
The Peter Tunney exhibit at Wynwood Walls

8. A little off the beaten path but not far from the Walls is Enriqueta’s. 186 NE 29th St. Miami, FL 33137

This is where you come for your Cuban sandwich or Media Noche (a Cuban sandwich served on a sweet roll) or anything else Cuban you would like. The menu is solid and the service is sweet. We ate at the counter where you can talk it up with the locals and friendly staff.

Enriquetas
The Medio Noche Cuban Sandwich at Enriqueta’s

9. Save some room for dessert and grab a slice of pie afterward at Fireman Derek’s World Famous Pies. His key lime is insane. 2818 N. Miami Ave. Miami, FL 33137

Fireman Derek's World Famous PIes
Fireman Derek’s World Famous PIes

Miami is unique place. Never been anywhere like it. The awesome art deco buildings make you feel like you have been frozen in time. The beaches are big and beautiful, the ocean is warm and you can order a beer right on the beach. Most of the bars are open until at least 4 or 5am and people are out partying every night. There is a ton of beautiful art everywhere you go and the Cuban food in Little Havana of course, is epic.

Little Havana
Little Havana

One last tip, the “slow” time to go is right after spring break until November because it gets hot. Flip side though is a little less traffic, a little more room on the beach and a few less people in the bars. We went in April and it was perfect.

South Beach, Miami
South Beach, Miami

Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.

Getting Low In South Carolina

Charleston Pineapple Fountain
Charleston Pineapple Fountain
Charleston Pineapple Fountain

The region along the coast of South Carolina, suitably called lowcountry, is a fascinating place. Rich in history, geographically intriguing and culinary wise, offers some of the most soul satisfying food you will ever try.

Cruising around lowcountry is an attraction in and of itself. At low tide a sea of tall grasses shoot out of the muddy marshland for as far as the eye can see. At high tide the grasses disappear and the water fills in just about to street level like a sheet of glass.

Lowcountry marshland
Lowcountry marshland

A mix of lumber farms and palmettos line the highways and mossy oak trees and magnolias can be found in neighborhoods and along side streets.

The intercostal waterway provides channels, inlets and rivers that snake through dozens of sea islands. Oyster roasts and lowcountry boils (also known as Frogmore Stew) are common gatherings here. Crab nets hang off residential docks and cluster oysters can be harvested all along the muddy banks of the marshland.

South Carolina Intercostal waterway
Part of the South Carolina Intercostal waterway – Dataw Island (St. Helena Island)

My trip through this area started real low, working my way up the coast with a grand finale in Charleston eating some of the best soul food I’ve ever tried in my life. The trip looked like this….

St. Helena Island –

This is where my trip started. It’s known for its plantation homes, Gullah influence and the community of Frogmore (yes, like the stew). I was particularly weary walking around the ponds on this island, which were inhibited by very large alligators. The “no see ems” are relentless here so a daily dousing of bug spray is a must. But don’t let the gators and the bugs deter you, St. Helena Island is a lovely place to visit.

Dataw Island (St. Helena Island)
Dataw Island (St. Helena Island)
Carolina Cider Company
Carolina Cider Company – coffee bar and great selection of locally made foods and pastries
Sunset on Dataw Island (St. Helena Island)
Sunset on Dataw Island (St. Helena Island)

Port Royal Island –

Right next-door is Port Royal Island where I visited local events like the Saturday farmers market and the Soft Shell Crab Festival.

At the farmers market you can find local vegetables like collard greens, and locquats, vendors selling everything from iced tea to periogis and chinese food and live music. My favorite food stand was Hank’s lowcountry. They sell local favorites like she crab soup, Charleston crab dip with saltine crackers and crab cakes the size of softballs.

local collard greens
local collard greens
Local loquats
Local loquats
Crab dip
Crab dip at Hank’s Lowcountry
Port Royal Farmers Market
Port Royal Farmers Market

The annual Soft Shell Crab Festival is where you’ll find deep fried soft shell crab, more local live music and an antique car show.

The car show at The Soft Shell Crab Festival
The car show at The Soft Shell Crab Festival

Beaufort –

Located on Port Royal Island with its cannon lined shore is the town of Beaufort. Antebellum style mansions, horse drawn carriages and a few nice restaurants. But the town’s biggest commodity now days is local artwork.

Beaufort
Beaufort

Many films have been shot throughout the years in this region of South Carolina. The Great Santini, The Big Chill and The Prince of Tides were just a few that were filmed in Beaufort. Scenes from the movie Forrest Gump where shot all over Port Royal and St. Helena islands.

Folly Beach –

Probably one of the biggest and nicest piers I’ve ever been on. Come to fish, take a stroll or shop. There’s even a full bar. Down below is an enormous sandy beach and a lively main strip with fun little dive bars like Planet Follywood and the Sand Dollar Social Club that the local’s charmingly call “the dirty dollar”.

Folly Beach
Folly Beach
Folly Beach Pier
Folly Beach Pier

Charleston –

Come ready to walk and eat because you will want to do a lot of both here.

A particular highlight for me was The battery, a long stretch of historic mansions and parks all along the water. Start down at King St. and Murray blvd., walk all the way up Murray as it turns into East Battery and eventually into East Bay St. Weave in and out of museums if you like, eventually making a right on Exchange street and a left at Concord St. ending up at the infamous pineapple fountain.

Historic mansions along East Battery
Historic mansions along East Battery
The Battery, Charleston
The Battery, Charleston
One of the many beautiful gardens in Charleston
One of the many beautiful gardens in Charleston

If it’s a nice day another awesome thing to do is take the water taxi across the river. There are 4 stops the boat makes and there are things to see and do at each one. Although, I think the boat ride is enough in and of itself. The captain is a great guy and you will more than likely have a few dolphins swimming right along side you almost the entire time.

Charleston river taxi
Spencer and I on the Charleston river taxi
Charleston River
Charleston River

Catch the sunset at the Vendue rooftop bar. It’s a lovely way to wind down your day and get ready for the evening. There are 360 degree views of the city and the river from up there.

Sunset at Vendue rooftop bar
Sunset at Vendue rooftop bar

People are super friendly in Charleston. Small talk is encouraged and a “hi, how are you” to strangers is common when walking down the street. I had to laugh when a local complimented me on my “Gamecock tattoo”, the University of South Carolina’s basketball team mascot. I smiled and said thank you. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was a Kauai rooster.

The food in Charleston is great, although at times a bit heavy. For a list of places to eat make sure to check out my top 10 best restaurants in Charleston SC list. I cover everything from lowcountry soul food to innovative Asian cuisine.

A final thought on Charleston. If you’re in the restaurant industry the industry shot here (surprisingly) is Grand Marnier. So, when someone offers you a “Grandma Shot” that’s what you’re in for. An awesome industry bar if you’re looking for one is The Recovery Room. This bar’s claim to fame is that they are the #1 seller of PBR in the country. I met one of the most talented bartenders I’ve ever seen in all my years of dive bar hopping there. He ran circles around the other bartender maintaining complete control while remembering multiple orders at a time, cracking jokes and swapping stories with customers from all sides of the large square bar. All while slamming back shots one after another. He was hysterical and had us entertained all night.

So whether you are a history buff or enjoy hanging out on a picnic table cracking crab, lowcountry has something for you. Just be careful if you are planning your trip during the summer. It’s hot as hell and you can cut the humidity with a knife. Spring or fall is the way to go!

Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.

My Top 10 Best Restaurants in Charleston SC

Husk
Husk Restaurant
Broadbent country ham with buttermilk biscuits and Carolina Heritage pork with local vegetables and sunflower romesco at Husk

Whether you are looking for soul food or fine dining Charleston has you covered. Most menus are pork and shellfish heavy and you’ll be hard pressed to find a restaurant that doesn’t serve at least a couple of deep fried items on the menu. Many chefs have impressive charcuterie programs and you’ll never eat collard greens as tasty as you will eat here. This is country southern cooking at its finest.

Here are my Top 10 Best Restaurants in Charleston SC:

  1. HuskAsk any tourist walking down the street where they are going to dinner while they are in town and they will say Husk. It’s everyone’s favorite here, including the locals and rightfully so. Chef Sean Brock is the man in this town. You can’t get food much more locally sourced than here not to mention the dramatic plate presentations and southern hospitality are also exceptional. The menu is very pork heavy offering southern staples like Broadbent country ham with buttermilk biscuits to innovative craveable bites like Kentuckyaki glazed pig’s ear lettuce wraps with sweet vinegar marinated cucumber. My favorite guilty pleasure on our visit was the southern fried chicken skins with pimento cheese “ranch” and Espelette pepper. I had to finally step away from these crunchy, salty bites smothered in that addictive sauce so that I could eat the rest of my meal. Come hungry, order as many dishes as you can and save room for dessert. There isn’t a bad choice on the menu and selections change daily. There is some serious talent in the kitchen here. **Important tip – Make a reservation well in advance or show up at 5pm and stand in line to put your name on the list. They’ll shoot you a text when your table is ready (which could be 2-3 hours from then). 76 Queen St. Charleston, SC 29401 (843) 577-2500 
    Husk
    Husk
    Husk
    The Southern fried chicken skins with pimento cheese “ranch” and Kurios Farms bibb lettuce salad at Husk

    Husk
    Dessert at Husk
  2. Xiao Bao BiscuitI was beginning to feel the wrath of southern cooking when I stumbled upon this place. I felt like I was back in San Francisco. Once an old gas station now a beautiful eclectic space filled with succulants and Asian imports offers up an exciting menu of what they call Asian soul food. Classics from Korea, China, Japan and Thailand are reimagined and refined using local ingredients, modern techniques and elegant yet rustic plating style. We ordered every dish on the menu I kid you not. Words cannot describe the complexity of flavors you will experience. I think the photos speak for themselves. Enjoy this one. 224 Rutledge Ave. Charleston, SC No reservations – first come, first serve    
    Xiao Bao Biscuit
    Local spring vegetable salad with creamy yuzu, tempura and cured egg yolk at Xiao Bao Biscuit
    Xiao Bao Biscuit
    Thai style minced beef at Xiao Bao Biscuit
    Xiao Bao Biscuit
    Okonomiyaki – Japanese cabbage pancake with farm egg at Xiao Bao Biscuit

    Xiao Bao Biscuit
    Mapo dou fu – Spicy Sichuan pork and tofu at Xiao Bao Biscuit
  3. Bertha’s Kitchen – Bertha’s and Martha Lou’s are a dead tie in my book. Both restaurants offer the best no frills soul food I’ve ever had in my life. Even though they are equally good they do have their differences and that is why you must try them both. Bertha’s is a little bit further out of town but worth the cab fare. Customers line up everyday before the doors open and once they do the line remains there all day long so just be prepared to wait. Don’t worry it goes fast. Once you get up to the front of the line there is no menu. You point and they scoop. Every plate comes with cornbread and 2 sides and their offerings are subject to change on a daily basis. Their fried chicken is a must – it’s the best I’ve ever had. I also recommend their okra soup, lima beans, hopping johns, collard greens, red rice and braised cabbage. You can not go wrong with anything you order here so go crazy. 2332 Meeting Street Rd. Charleston, SC 29405 (843) 554-6519 
    Soul food at Bertha's Kitchen
    Soul food at Bertha’s Kitchen

    The line at Bertha's Kitchen
    The line at Bertha’s Kitchen
  4. Martha Lou’s Kitchen – Martha Lou is a culinary legend in these parts. At 86 years old she still takes orders and runs food. The restaurant is tiny, I think I remember it only having about 7 or 8 tables. The fried chicken (which you are going to get) is fried to order so it takes a while for the food to come out but it’s worth the wait. If you want a cold beer you’ll have to ask because they aren’t listed on the menu. She usually has a stash of Budweiser in the back though. If they aren’t already sold out order the chitterlings, she is known for those. I also recommend the lima beans, collard greens with rice, braised cabbage and mac and cheese – all ridiculously good. 1068 Morrison Dr. Charleston, SC 29403 (843) 577-9583 
    Fried chicken, mac and cheese, lima beans and braised cabbage at Martha Lou's Kitchen
    Fried chicken, mac and cheese, lima beans and braised cabbage at Martha Lou’s Kitchen

    Martha Lou
    Martha Lou
  5. The Ordinary – This is where you come if you are in the mood for seafood and especially shellfish. Their claim to fame are their shellfish towers. Huge trays piled with ice, oysters, clams, crab and whatever else they are throwing on there that day. They have an innovative selection of cold and hot small plates offering everything from vegetable crudos to oyster sliders. They even do caviar. I loved this place for wine and apps. 544 King St. Charleston, SC 29403 (843) 414-7060 Closed Mondays.

    Vegetable crudo at The ordinary
    Vegetable crudo at The ordinary
  6. The Butcher and Bee – When you are ready for something a little bit healthier cruise over to this place. They are open breakfast, lunch and dinner and offer a wide variety of choices. To drink you can get a cold-pressed juice, a finely crafted coffee, specialty cocktails, local beer and wine. Their bakery produces fresh daily pastries like donuts, croissants and cinnamon rolls. Try an avocado toast for breakfast, a brown rice and vegetable bowl for lunch and come back for Moroccan fish and grits or braised half chicken for dinner. The menu is loaded with vegetables, salads and whole grains. I wish I could have eaten here 3 times a day, every day of my trip to try everything. 1085 Morrison Dr. Charleston, SC 29403 (843) 619-0202 

    Avocado toast, cheesy grits and cold-pressed green juice at The Butcher and Bee
    Avocado toast, cheesy grits and cold-pressed green juice at The Butcher and Bee
  7. The Macintosh – With a name like Jeremiah Bacon you know this chef is going to have some pork on the menu. The “Bacon Happy Hour” Monday-Friday 5-7pm offers fun snacks like pork belly banh mi and totchos (tator tots served in the style of nachos). The menu is constantly changing to make room for new local vegetables and fish in season. Besides pork you will find interesting dishes like Asparagus with fish sauce, fried breadcrumbs and poached egg. I recommend grabbin’ a spot at the bar for dinner with it’s fun lively atmosphere. 479B King St. Charleston, SC 29403 (843) 789-4299 

    House-made Bratwurst at The Macintosh
    House-made Bratwurst at The Macintosh
  8. Cypress – I ate the biggest hot dog I’ve ever had in my life here. If you have sat upstairs in the bar and/or are in the industry you know what I am talking about. The chef here has a damn fine charcuterie program and makes things like mortadella, bresaola and headcheese. But he also makes amazing hot dogs! He serves them on a house made pretzel bun with bread and butter pickles and ballpark mustard. But beware this thing is massive. Oh yeah, and they have amazing other food too like Lobster Bisque and Steak Diane which you can enjoy in a very fancy high end dining room. I like to sit upstairs in the bar and look down into the kitchen to see what they are up to where it’s a little bit more casual. 167 East Bay St. Charleston, SC 29401 (843) 727-0111 

    House-made charcuterie at Cypress
    House-made charcuterie at Cypress
  9. Slightly North of Broad – Charmingly nicknamed, SNOB this restaurant has almost a cult like following in this city. Like almost all restaurants down here the place is packed daily so reservations are encouraged. Think upscale lowcountry cuisine with a party atmosphere. You’ll find classics like she crab soup, shrimp and grits and soft shell crab here. 192 East Bay St. Charleston, SC 29401 (843) 723-3424 

    Beef Carpaccio at S.N.O.B.
    Beef Carpaccio at S.N.O.B.
  10. McCrady’s – Located in a building established in 1778 this beautiful upscale bar and restaurant is an elegant place to come and enjoy a romantic dinner. The tasting menu created by Sean Brock (also of Husk restaurant) includes beautifully prepared, locally sourced ingredients like Virginia oysters, Ossabaw pork and Charleston ice-cream. 155 East Bay St. Charleston, SC 29401 (843) 577-0025 Closed Monday and Tuesday

Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.

Savannah Showtime

Oglethorpe Avenue, Savannah Georgia
Oglethorpe Avenue, Savannah Georgia
Oglethorpe Avenue, Savannah Georgia

In 1974 my Dad moved from New York to a small town called Wilmington, just outside of Savannah, Georgia. With him was his wife and what would later become my half sister, who was then 2 years old. They moved into his Mother and Father in law’s home on a large oak tree lined property along the Wilmington River until they could get on their feet.

My Dad, an up and coming piano player and his wife would perform folk music in a restaurant on River St. in downtown Savannah. To make ends meet he held side jobs like working in the shrimp market and managing a radio shack. My sister remembers setting daily crab traps off the dock behind their house and Dad playing piano for the neighbors.

A couple years later my Dad left Savannah to move to California. He would eventually meet my Mom and have me.

Still frustrated by not “making it” as a musician in NYC he and my Mom started performing rhythm and blues together in San Diego. They recorded his first album around 1980. It was called, Savannah Showtime. The first song on the album entitled “Sweet Mary Blues” was based on a old woman he cleaned shrimp next to in that Georgia shrimp market.

It was that story that led me to Savannah.

A tour guide through Savannah

Savannah was America’s first planned city. Founded in 1733 it’s laid out in a series of squares and parks lined with rows of live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss (which I’m told is neither Spanish nor moss). Out of the 24 original squares, 22 still exist today.

In addition to the Oak trees you can find Palmetto and Magnolia trees and an interesting phenomenon called the resurrection fern – a fern that remains grey and shriveled until the rain comes, turning it bright green and causing it to unravel and wrap all around the branches and trunks of the Oak trees.

Resurrection fern. Beaufort, South Carolina (just outside Savannah)
Resurrection ferns. Beaufort, South Carolina (just outside Savannah)

My visit took place in April. Usually, a nice time of the year to go, to avoid  heat and humidity. This particular weekend was unseasonably cold however and I laughed at the fact that I had to wear the only pair of pants and long sleeves I brought everyday of my trip.

Never the less I enjoyed my stay. The city is extremely walkable and there is a trolley you can hop on and off anytime as well in order to get around.

Here are my recommendations for Savannah….

Accommodations

If you are going to go, do yourself a favor and stay somewhere in walking distance of downtown. You are going to be walking around down there a lot. There are many lovely bed and breakfasts to choose from and nice hotels. I opted for a retro motel with a little more personality and a cheaper price tag.

The Thunderbird InnThis 60’s roadside style motel offers modest rooms blocks from downtown. It’s kitschy service offers RC cola and moonpies upon arrival and a variety of  retro candies in the lobby. Crispy cream donuts are set out every morning for breakfast and do wop music pumps through the hallways. Me being the healthy locavore that I am skipped the junk food amenity but it was charming never the less and fit the brand.

The Thunderbird Inn
The Thunderbird Inn

Food & Booze

Although you will find primarily low country cuisine in Savannah there are some elevated versions of it as well as some out of the box thinkers that step outside grits and fried food. This city is always a flurry of tourists so make sure you make dinner reservations well in advance.

Cotton & RyeThis was one of my favorite dinners in town. The house-made rye bread, cornmeal fried chicken livers and the local fish of the day were all very tasty and the service was on point.

Crispy chicken livers at Cotton and Rye
Crispy chicken livers at Cotton and Rye
Fish of the day at Cotton and Rye
Fish of the day at Cotton and Rye

The VaultThis old bank turned hip, pan-asian restaurant is an excellent choice when you want a release from rich low country cooking. I recommend their chicken lettuce wraps, tuna tartare and spicy Korean BBQ tacos. They offer a complete sushi menu as well.

Chicken lettuce wraps at The Vault
Chicken lettuce wraps at The Vault

The GreyOriginally a 1980’s art deco bus terminal. If you can’t score a resi stop by and have some snacks during happy hour at the bar. They have specials on oysters and wine and offer snacks like fried croquettes and pickled eggs.

Happy hour at The Grey
Happy hour at The Grey

The Olde Pink HouseTouristy but fun. When first built in the 1700s this house was originally considered a mansion because it had a laundry room included in the basement (a luxury most homes did not have at that time). It later went on to become a bank and then a tea room before reincarnating into The Olde Pink House Restaurant in 1992. Here you can find refined low country classics such as she crab soup and fried quail over black eyed pea and corn succotash.

The Pink House
The Pink House
The fried quail at The Pink House
The fried quail at The Pink House

Garibaldi – Old school Italian steakhouse. We sat at the bar and had great service. Our bartenders were from Philly and Jersey and had us in stitches the entire time.

39 Rue de JeanFrench brasserie classics like French onion soup, crispy sweetbreads and frisee lyonnaise. Unexpected sushi menu with inventive options like foie gras nigiri. High end service.

The AtlanticGood luck getting in. This place fills up fast. They do have a great patio out front however where we enjoyed a glass of rose sitting around a fire pit watching customers play Jenga.

Treylor Park –  Kitschy “white trash” trailer park theme restaurant with nice little beer garden out back. Craft beer and comfort food.

The beer garden at Treylor Park
The beer garden at Treylor Park
Treylor Park
Treylor Park

Pinkie Master’sAfter scouring downtown for a good dive bar we finally came across Pinkie Master’s. Say hi to Matt (the owner), relax with a tall PBR and hear all about the tumultuous history of this local favorite bar. Don’t let Google and Yelp fool you this place is NOT permanently closed. It’s alive and well at 318 Drayton St.

Pinky Masters
Pinkie Master’s

The Forsyth Farmers MarketEvery Saturday on the southside of the park from 9am to 1pm you can find local farms and vendors such as…

Forsyth Farmers Market
Forsyth Farmers Market
  • Gruber Farms – Strawberries and a variety of vegetables.
Gruber farms
Gruber farms
  • Sprout Mama Breads – Danish rye, brioche, and sourdough.
Sprouted Mama Bakery
Sprouted Mama Breads
  • George’s Gorgeous Greens
George's Gorgeous Greens
George’s Gorgeous Greens
  • Canewater Farm – The only certified organic farm in the low country. They make honey, stone milled grits, cornmeal and corn flour and grow greens and other vegetables.
Canewater Farms
Canewater Farms
Canewater Farms
Canewater Farms
  • Hunter Cattle – beef, pork, sausages, bacon, burgers.
Hunter's Meats
Hunter Cattle
  • Alake’s Georgia pecans.
Fresh Pecans
Alake’s Georgia Pecans
  • Fresh Pastries.
Locally made pastries
Locally made pastries

Other restaurants and bars that I didn’t get the opportunity to try out but that were recommended by the locals are:

The Florence

Alley Cat Lounge

Local 11ten

Abe’s on Lincoln

The Pirate’s HouseI’m not one for tourist traps so I didn’t end up going here. But, if you are then this would be the spot to check out. This is the spot where pirates would capture drunk men, kidnap them through an underground tunnel and take them to their ship where they would sail off forcing them to work as deck hands. I’m told my Dad and his first wife used to eat here a lot.

Leopold’s Ice-creamIf you can stomach waiting in that line (which doesn’t let up all day) then check this place out. They are rumored to be one of the top 10 best ice-creams shops in the world.

Leopold's Ice-cream
Leopold’s Ice-cream (that line though…)

Craft Beer

Savannah, like most major U.S. cities these days, has a pretty respectable craft beer scene. More often than not when you step into a bar you will find local favorites like these just as much if not more than a bud light.

Service Brewing Co. – Veteran owned and operated.

  • Compass Roase IPA – Citrus and pear notes.

Coastal Empire

  • Savannah Brown Ale – Rich and malty with a hint of caramel and roasted nuts.
  • Southern Delight Praline Amber – Reminiscent of Georgia candied pralines.
  • Tybee Island Blond Beer – This is your light, mildly hoppy, Kolsch style ale for swilling.

 Southbound Brewing

  • Scattered Sun Belgian Witbier – Coriander and citrus notes.
  • Hostess City – Tart cherry and orange zest notes.

Attractions

If you want to see all of the squares and learn a bit about each one take the Hop On Hop Off  Trolley Tour. I am usually not one for guided tours but it was actually a very interesting way to explore the city. I have to say I learned a lot about both Savannah’s history and current events that I would have never learned if not for taking the trolley tour. You’ll see  a variety of architecture from historical mansions, to brightly colored Victorians and federal style brick homes.

Down by the river you’ll stroll along streets made of ballest stones, a commodity from England once traded for cotton.

The ballast cobblestone streets near the river
The ballast cobblestone streets near the river

Forsyth Park – With an impressively beautiful white fountain in the center, this bustling park is the finish line for the Savannah woman’s marathon, the Saturday morning farmers market and the centerpiece for many amazing historic mansions.

Forsyth Park
Forsyth Park

Chipowa Square – The claim to fame of this square is Forrest Gump’s infamous “life is like a box of chocolate” speech. The scenes where Tom Hanks sits on the park bench in the park talking to strangers were all filmed here. Ironically, there is no bench here. lol.

The Forrest Gump bench (minus the bench)
The Forrest Gump bench (minus the bench)

Jones Street – Considered one of the best walking streets downtown. Lined with beautiful old mansions and horse drawn carriages. You will want to bring your camera for this walk.

Jones Street
Jones Street

The Mercer House – The famous murder house from the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. A best selling book turned Clint Eastwood film that tells the story of the  famous murder that took place in Savannah in the 80’s while depicting the quirkiness of the city.

The Mercer House from the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"
The Mercer House from the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”

St. Patricks Day – Savannah is home to the 2nd largest St. Patricks Day party in the U.S. New York City is #1.

Tybee Island

If you’re in Savannah I highly recommend you rent a car and drive out to Tybee Island for the day. This cute little beach town has a nice pier, a white, sandy beach and lots of fun restaurants and dive bars.

Tybee Island Pier
Tybee Island Pier

Bubba GumbosOn the way in stop here for fresh fish caught right there where you eat. I was told by one of the regulars that there isn’t a freezer in sight in the kitchen. In fact the fish of the day special is often times caught by the Chef himself right out the back door. Your other option is to catch your own fish, use the filleting station outside and then bring it to Chef and he’ll cook it for you. The day we were there, there were guys fileting whiting and sheepshead out back.

The Marina at Bubba Gumbos
The Marina at Bubba Gumbos

Order a bucket of beer, some hushpuppies and a basket of peel and eat shrimp and convene around one of the outdoor tables. Each one conveniently has a cut out hole in the center with a trash bin underneath for you to throw shrimp and oyster shells into as you eat.

Bubba Gumbos
Bubba Gumbos
Bubba Gumbos
Bubba Gumbos
Tybee Island Marina
Tybee Island Marina

Tybee Social ClubFresh seafood, tacos and a stellar cocktail program. Live bluegrass on Sunday afternoons.

Doc’s BarHad to go here. My Dad worked at a bar called Doc’s Landing in San Diego for years. This cozy little dive bar made me feel right at home.

Doc's Bar
Doc’s Bar

Huca Poo’sStop here on your way off the island back to Savannah for a drink and a slice of pizza (beware each slice is the size of a half a pizza!). The ambiance is on point, like an old attic decked out with albomn covers from the 60’s, old signs and license plates. It’s probably never been dusted. The pizza is really effing good after a day of drinking at the beach.

Huca Poo's
Huca Poo’s

Live Music

Savannah likes to party. They have no problem with you strolling the streets of the historic district in and out of bars with an alcoholic beverage (just make sure it’s in a plastic or styrophome cup without a lid). At night there are many options for live music of all different types of genres. Congress street is usually a good place to start. Start walking, listen for something you like and pop in to check it out.

Music Venues –

The Jinx We saw an amazing band here. Their style of music was somewhere between rockabilly and heavy metal. The front man had an amazing sense of humor and finished his set off by jumping into the crowd and doing the worm all the way out the front door.

Molly MacPherson’s Scottish Pub – a fun neighborhood spot to watch a local cover band. I think I saw the band pound 3 beers and 3 shots each during their set for the short 45 minutes we were there.

The Bayou Café We hung here until 3am where we watched a guy perform Jimi Hendrix classics all night. I felt like we were watching Hendrix himself. This guy did everything the same just short of playing the guitar with his teeth. Live music starts around 9pm everyday of the week here.

The Bayou Cafe
The Bayou Cafe

I’m told Barrelhouse South and Congress Street Social Club are also good music venues to check out.

Savannah Music FestivalLucky for me this festival was taking place the week I was there. Musicians from all over the U.S. were there to participate so I decided to take in a show at one of the concert venues owned by SCAD. (A lot like The Academy of Arts has taken over much of the real estate in San Francisco, the Savannah College of Art and Design (nicknamed SCAD) can be found on almost every corner, encompassing 67 buildings in Savannah.)

The performance I went to was called Gerald Clayton’s Piedmont blues: A search for salvation. It was inspired by the Piedmont blues music that was created in the tobacco factories and warehouses in Durham, North Carolina in the 1920s and 30s. Gerald, a jazz pianist performed with a 9 piece jazz ensemble, had tap dancer Maurice Chestnut and showed reels of Film and photography behind them as they played.

Savannah Stopover FestivalBands travel through Savannah Georgia every year on their way to Austin’s SXSW music festival to play at the Stopover Festival. For 3 days local venues showcase big acts rocking the city of Savannah before hopping on the highway to Texas.

Whether you are looking for a history lesson or just to have a good time, Savannah is a marvelous place to visit. It’s full of characters, it’s stunningly beautiful and it’s oozing with southern hospitality. I can see now why my Dad was so drawn to it.

Wilmington, Georgia
The property where my Dad lived during his time in Wilmington (Savannah).

Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.