Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What you need to know about Southern Season

First, it's not a potpourri store

Posted by Stephanie Barna on Wed, Sep 4, 2013 at 3:52 PM

So this new store is opening tomorrow in Mt. Pleasant. It's called Southern Season, which kind of sounds like a potpourri and candle emporium, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's not that at all. It's more like a food mecca which has something for eaters, cookers, candy fiends, and everyone in between.

I'm not usually big on store openings, but I've got to admit that this one should be of interest to the food crowd. 

Some things to know before the grand opening celebration begins on Thursday:
It's A Monster Mashup. Southern Season is what would happen if you put Williams-Sonoma, Charleston Cooks, World Market, Charleston Beer Exchange, Starbucks, The Wine Shop, Carter's Kitchen, the gift area of Gwynn's, and Robot Candy in a blender and whirled it altogether. Actually, it might be better than that. The place is massive with 40,000 square feet of foods, gifts, baskets, wine, beer, coffee, tea, kitchen equipment, candles, specialty groceries, and candy.

Did I Mention Candy? A wall of chocolate bars is only undone by the case of locally made artisanal chocolates by Johnny Battles of Sweeteeth, Christophe Paum of Christophe Chocalatier-Pattisier, and Mark Gray and David Vagasky of Cacao's Artisan Chocolate. But that's not all. They also have glass jars of chocolate you can purchase by the pound, plus retro stuff like Pop Rocks and Pez. 

  • Stephanie Barna

It's From N.C. But Local Too. This is Southern Season's second store. The first is in Chapel Hill. Manager Britt Johnson, who worked at Williams-Sonoma, is the general manager of the store and says they've hired 207 employees locally with only three transferring down from N.C. They plan to open a third location in Richmond next spring. 

The Wine Room Rocks. The beverage department manager is Nick Long, who you might remember as the guy who introduced growlers at the Piggly Wiggly and helped that local chain embrace the craft beer revolution, even creating Pig Swig. At Southern Season, you can mix and match craft beer six packs but the wine room is where the party's at. Inside the temperature and humidity-controlled room, Long and assistant beverage manager Trent Caldwell have begun amassing a unique collection of wines, from a 2005 Martha's Vineyard Cab from Heitz Cellars ($238) to a 1962 Amarone from Bertani. Prices range from $50 to $1300 for a bottle of 2008 Shafer Hillside Select. This is where wine geeks are encouraged to geek out.

The Cooking School Is Big. Real Big. Southern Season is in a former Food Lion, so there's plenty of space for them to spread out. The classroom kitchen has three long tables with enough room for 48 to sit and watch a demo (which will be projected on TV screens), while the kitchen itself has room for up to 24 people, depending on what kind of hands-on instruction is being given. Knife skills classes are kept to about 12. September classes kick off tomorrow with a wine tasting at 5 p.m. for $15. Indeed, that's a regular weekly event, which will turn you onto wines and other food products in the store. Bring your wallet, cause you'll probably be buying stuff afterwards. (See the September schedule here.) 

  • Stephanie Barna

The Restaurant Is Big. Real Big. Called Southerly, the restaurant seats 350 inside and out. The patio is massive with a lovely oyster shell waterfall and an outdoor bar. Inside, it's casual but elegant. Chad Billings is the chef tasked with overseeing breakfast, lunch, dinner, and special events at the space. He's got big experience, having worked his way up at Disney (and other resorts) before heading off into restaurant consulting and teaching at Trident. He says the food will be "Southern elegant" and will feature things like pimento cheese fritters served with Peggy Rose's Sweet Pepper Jelly (which, conveniently enough, can be purchased inside the store).

Gift Baskets R Us. A big part of the operation at Southern Season involves gifts. Everything in the store, in any combination, can be put in a basket and given as a gift. For weddings and events, they'll create customized candy bags. Or coffee and tea. Or international candies. Or whatever you can dream up. Walk in the store, take an immediate left, and get yourself a concierge, who will help you make a basket. They even deliver. Yesterday, they were putting together Charleston-centric gift baskets with locally made products, from bloody mary mix to benne seed wafers. 

  • Stephanie Barna

They have lots of corn cob holders. And I mean that in a good way. Unlike, say, Williams-Sonoma, where there's just one corn cob scraper or lemon juicer, Southern Season has lots of variety. For instance, you could get a fancy set of rosewood 
corn cob holders or you could get a funny set of holders that look like yellow kernels. It's up to you! OK, corncob holders might not get you too excited, but it's good to know, right? 

And Plenty of Grits. The specialty grocery aisles have literally thousands and thousands of products, from hard-to-find German hard candies to locally made artisanal stuff. Looking for stoneground grits? They have many brands, not just one. They even have an entire aisle devoted to cheese straws (ultimate Southern food gift?). Britt Johnson says six tractor trailers pulled up last Friday and they've been unpacking and processing their inventory ever since with about two more trucks showing up every day.  

Grand Opening Starts Tomorrow. They'll Have Free Samples. Have I whet your appetite for Southern Season? If you're brave enough to test your mettle against the massive selection of foodstuffs, then you might want to make plans to be there for the ribbon-cutting on Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. The store opens to the public at 9 a.m. and they will be sampling and demoing pretty much anything and everything. The restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner and they'll have daily specials going until Sept. 22, at which time they'll have a $10 Lowcountry Boil to benefit Share the Food Foundation.  

Southern Season is located at 730 Coleman Blvd. 

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