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James Beard Awards Semifinalists

The James Beard Awards recognize the best in everything restaurant and food-related across the country.  In a nutshell, they are the Oscars of the culinary world.

James Beard was a famous U.S. chef, cookbook author, founder of a cooking school, host of the first cooking program on TV, and food expert.   The New York Times christened him the “Dean of American cookery.”  He was one of the first to single out American cuisine as being worthwhile, inventive and of top quality.  Basically, he boldly deemed it worthy of recognition and high praise.  Up to that time, European traditions and techniques like those found in French cuisine were seen as the ones to follow if you wanted to have a first class restaurant.  James Beard changed all that.


What are the James Beard Awards?


Part of his legacy is the establishment of the James Beard Foundation which oversees the James Beard Awards. It’s a nonprofit with a cool mission  –  “to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone.”

As part of that mission, they dole out accolades in many different categories.  These include Outstanding Chef (both national, and by each region of the country), Restaurant, New Restaurant, Rising Star Chef, Restauranteur, Pastry Chef, Bar Program, Wine Program, Cookbook, TV Program, News Reporting, Restaurant Reviews, Reference, History & Scholarship, and more.

Another part of his legacy is the James Beard House.  It was his home in Greenwich Village, Manhattan for many years.  Since his death, it’s become a culinary hot spot of its own.  Rising chefs from across the country are invited in to cook dinners for lucky diners who secure tickets.  It’s a great way to both honor and encourage aspiring chef talent.

They announce James Beard Awards semifinalists first, at this time of the year.  Next, they’ll whittle it down to finalists, which they’ll announce March 25th.  Then, on May 4th, they announce the winners, at a big wingding at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.


Charlestonians on the Semifinalist List


Charleston is no stranger to the James Beard Awards.  A couple years ago, barbecue pitmaster extraordinaire Rodney Scott took home the Best Chef: Southeast award, and Mike Lata’s FIG won Outstanding Wine Program.  Mike Lata won Best Chef Southeast in 2009, and his successor Jason Stanhope won it in 2015.

And sure enough, this year six Charleston folks have landed on the semifinalist list for James Beard Awards.

They are:

Best Chef Southeast: Kevin Johnson, The Grocery (5th year in a row)

Best Chef Southeast: Shamil Velazquez, Delaney Oyster House

Outstanding Restauranteur: Steve Palmer of The Macintosh, Indaco, O-Ku, The Indigo Road (3rd year in a row)

Best Restaurant: FIG

Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Producer: High Wire Distilling Company – Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall

Outstanding Hospitality: Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop


Of course, Charleston’s culinary scene is on fire.  Next week is the wildly popular Charleston Wine + Food Festival, going on March 4 – 8th.   Tickets for most events sold out within hours or days, although apparently some Night Bazaar and workshops still have space available.

So check out this world-class culinary talent right here in the Lowcountry.  And for the best places to stay at the beach, call us at EP.  Our Isle of Palms luxury rentals are award-worthy.

All best,
Lowcountry Lisa
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger


Mardi Crawl 2020

Today is Mardi Gras, but the celebration stretches into the weekend with Mardi Crawl 2020 on Shem Creek.  It’s a festive time for a good cause.

In fact, their tagline is, “Party with a Purpose.”

Yes, this Saturday, February 29th  –  aka “Leap Day”  –  is the 16th annual Parrot Head Mardi Crawl.  Basically, it’s a moveable interactive party that takes place in different venues along scenic Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant.

No surprise, it has a definite Jimmy Buffett vibe.  After all, it’s sponsored by the Lowcountry Parrot Head Club.

In a nutshell, you go from one Shem Creek hotspot to the next at your own pace.  You can either walk, take a shuttle or even ride a water taxi from one venue to the next.

Along the way you answer trivia questions, enjoy food & beverage specials, play fun games, have a chance to win prizes, wear festive beads, and listen to plenty of live or themed music.  Participating restaurants/locales include: Red’s Ice House, RB’s, Saltwater Cowboys, Vickery’s, and Water’s Edge Cabana Bar.

It’s a great way to help out several great charities.  They include the South Carolina chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, Pet Helpers and more.


Mardi Crawl specifics


The starting point for the Crawl is at Red’s Ice House, located on Shem Creek at 98 Church Street.  Registration begins there at noon on Saturday.  The event starts at 1:00 p.m. and lasts till 6:00 p.m.

You can register in person, or pre-register online ahead of time to save a bit on tickets.  Tickets are $25 advance at $30 at the event.

Actually, the fun kicks off the night before, on Friday night (February 28th).  It’s the Mardi Crawl pre-party, at RB’s Seafood Restaurant on Shem Creek.  The party starts at 6:00 and will feature a silent auction, more fun and games and music by DJ Gerry Scott.  No ticket is required.

There’s also an afterparty at Red’s Saturday night after the crawl, with plenty of live music.

So basically it’s a weekend of Buffett.  It’s always a festive good time, with plenty of beachy Buffett tunes and libations.  You can find the Lowcountry Parrot Heads on Facebook.

If you’re a Buffett fan, the man himself will be coming to perform at the North Charleston Coliseum in a couple months.  Check out Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band, on their “Slack Tide Tour 2020”, live in concert one night only, April 16th.

So keep the party going this weekend, even though Mardi Gras will be in the rear view mirror.  And remember to call EP when you are looking for the best in beach house rentals Charleston SC.

All best,
Lowcountry Lisa
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger

Image credit: Lowcountry Parrot Head Club


Mardi Gras in Charleston

Mardi Gras is this coming Tuesday, February 25th.  Although this is not New Orleans, that doesn’t mean the Lowcountry doesn’t know how to celebrate it.

An interesting side note: visitors to the area often describe Charleston as “a clean New Orleans.”

The biggest area celebration used to be Folly Gras, a street festival on Folly Beach.  Last year it got a little too rowdy, so they decided to retire the event.  However, there are plenty of other options to celebrate Shrove Tuesday that have sprung up in its wake.


Mardi Gras at LoLA


Perhaps the best place around Charleston to get authentic Louisiana cuisine is LoLA (“Lowcountry Louisiana”) at Park Circle.  So it comes as no surprise that they’d be throwing a good Mardi Gras party.  Actually, they’ll be celebrating all weekend long, plus on the day itself.

Tonight they’re hosting Mardi Gras Friday, a special happy hour from 4:30 – 7:30.  There will be live music from Ric McCants & The Cats, plus plenty to eat and drink.

Saturday is the Mardi Gras Block Party from noon till 6:00 p.m.  Get set for a crawfish boil, street bar, food truck, and plenty of live music from the likes of Sidewalk Zydeco, Johnny Ace and Davis Coen.

Then on Sunday, join them for a Mardi Gras Brunch, complete with Creole Bloody Marys, mimosas and music by Hot Club of Charleston.  It’s going on from 11:00 a.m. till 3:00 p.m.

On Mardi Gras itself, they’ll celebrate Fat Tuesday with Hurricanes, another crawfish boil and the ever-popular King Cake.  LoLA is located at 4830 O’Hear Avenue in North Charleston.


Or try a Mardi Gras Bar Crawl


If you’re in the mood to take your celebrating to the streets, you are in luck.  Saturday from 1:00 p.m. till 9:00 p.m. is a roving party on upper King Street in downtown Charleston.  You are encouraged to wear your best Mardi Gras attire.  Yes, there will be beads and feathers.

Organized by Blue Steel Promotions, the Mardi Gras Bar Crawl on King starts with check-in at The Brick on Ann Street, where you can pick up scorecards and some swag.  Then make your way among the other venues: Charleston Beer Works, Silver Dollar, Republic, John King, and Deco.

Tickets range from $20 – $35, and part of the proceeds goes to the Charleston Animal Society. According to their website, drinking is 100% optional.  Good to know.


Also  – Special Update about the High Water Festival


Now that SEWE has officially kicked off festival season in Charleston, one of the most exciting ones coming up  –  the High Water Festival  –  announced some good news.  For the first time ever, they are offering daily tickets.

The festival will be Saturday and Sunday, April 18th and 19th.  The lineup is stellar  –  Nathaniel Rateliff, Shovels & Rope (who curate the festival), Andrew Bird and more on Saturday, Wilco, the legendary Mavis Staples, Brittany Howard and a slew of others on Sunday.

You’d better hurry as tickets are going fast.  VIP weekend passes are already sold out.  Daily passes are available as either general admission or the “Platinum Pearl Experience.”  Get tickets here.

So celebrate a little of New Orleans in the Holy City, and get those High Water tickets while you can.  And do give us a call at EP  –  after all, one of our Isle of Palms vacation rentals makes an ideal festival home base.

All best,
Lowcountry Lisa
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger

Spoleto Auction 2020

Spring must be around the corner, because the Spoleto Auction is live online, and camellias are in their last month.

This past weekend’s SEWE was a smashing success.  Official numbers aren’t in yet, but by personal observation there were record crowds.  Or at the very least, folks having record amounts of fun.

SEWE really is a great festival.  Celebrity Jack Hanna mentioned that he does these wildlife appearances all over the world  –  and that SEWE is probably the best organized one he’s ever been a part of.  He also said the new Gaillard Center Auditorium is the finest facility of its kind anywhere.  High praise for Charleston!

SEWE generally marks the beginning of festival season in Charleston.  From now through the fall, one fun festival after another will fill the calendar.

Of course, one of the biggies is Spoleto, along with its little sister Piccolo Spoleto.  Spoleto will take place this year from May 22nd through June 7th.  They’ve announced the full season and tickets are on sale, as I covered here.


Online Spoleto Auction Now Open


This week also marks the start of the annual Spoleto Auction.

Organizers are offering a slew of terrific items, with proceeds going toward the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra.

The Spoleto Auction includes items in these categories: art, clothing, collectibles, food and gourmet items, health and fitness, home, jewelry, spa and beauty, tickets: entertainment or sports, travel, wine and “unique experiences.”

Some highlights:  a VIP New York Experience with Stephen Colbert & The Carlyle, a Golf Outing at the Masters Tournament, a Cocktail Party for 40 at Cannon Green, a Chef’s Tasting Menu Dinner for 8 at Charleston Grill, a Meet & Greet with the Steep Canyon Rangers, and getaways to Asheville.

Bidding is live now, and you can check out the items here.  The Spoleto Auction (online) closes at 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 1st.


Or go in person to the Live Auction


Then, this Friday, February 21st at 6:30 p.m. is the live, “in person” Spoleto Auction.  It will be held at the newly renovated Charleston Visitor Center at 375 Meeting Street.

There will be live bidding for several very special items, including a Private Dinner for 12 by Mike Lata, a Viking River Cruise, Ski Trip to Taos, luxury stay in Turks & Caicos, Opening Day Package at Keeneland in Lexington, a gorgeous painting by John Duckworth, and some Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve.

Tickets are almost gone for the live Spoleto Auction.  You can purchase them here if any still remain.


It’s not too late for a Camellia Walk


As I covered in this blog, Magnolia Plantation is known for its famous camellia gardens.   But they’re not the only ones.

Their neighbors up the road, Middleton Place, also have some gorgeous ones.

Middleton’s gardens date back to 1741, when they were first laid out in the symmetric style of the Palace of Versailles’ master landscaper.  In 1786, famed French botanist Andre Michaux gifted the Middleton family with four camellia shrubs  –  considered quite rare and exotic at the time for the region.  One of those plants still blooms to this day  –  Reines de Fleurs, or Queen of the Flowers, overlooking the Ashely River near the Butterfly Lakes.

From now through mid-March, Middleton is hosting special guided Camellia Walks on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11:00 a.m.  It’s included with regular admission.  They do require that you make a reservation, though.

Middleton Place is located at 4300 Ashley River Road in Charleston.

So check out the great items in the Spoleto Auction (both online and live), and walk through some of the nation’s most glorious camellias.  And when you are looking for the perfect beach house Charleston, be sure to call EP.

All best,
Lowcountry Lisa
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger

Image credit: Spoleto Festival USA, Sol Legare Creek by John Duckworth
IOP Polar Plunge

This weekend is filled with plenty of things other than SEWE and Valentine’s, and it even offers up a polar plunge.

First up, it’s the Great Backyard Bird Count.

If you like watching birds, this weekend you can do it to your heart’s content AND help the scientists who help them.

It’s the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, going on Friday, February 14th through Sunday February 17th.  Anyone and everyone is encouraged to take part.

Basically, you simply track the kind and number of birds that you see in one place, over a period of at least 15 minutes.  It can be at home, work, school  –  wherever you are.  You then enter the information at the official website, https://gbbc.birdcount.org/

Your efforts will provides crucial data that will help scientists study trends in bird populations, habitat changes, range expansions, and any shifts in their patterns of migration.

Check out the website for all the details.  And go count those cute birds!


Beach Lovers Book Club


This Saturday, February 15th, join fellow avid readers for a lively discussion of one of the hottest books around.  I’m talking about “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens.  You know, the one Reese Witherspoon is making into a movie.

A good friend loved the book so much, she got sad as it was coming to an end.  So, as soon as she reached the last page, she started right back at the beginning and read it a second time!  Now that’s a beloved book.

This latest installment of the Beach Lovers Book Club meets at the adorable little Poe Branch Library on Sullivan’s Island, the one built into an old bunker.   It lasts from 10:30 a.m. till noon and there will be light refreshments.


Polar Plunge on the IOP!


Last but not least, it’s a polar plunge benefiting a good cause.

The best known polar plunge around here takes place on January 1st on nearby Sullivan’s Island.  Hosted by Dunleavy’s, it draws thousands to kick off the New Year in grand style.  Basically you get fortified at the pub, then rush into the surf, preferably in costume.  Over the decades it’s been going on, they’ve raised a ton of money for the Special Olympics.

Another polar plunge takes place the same day on Folly Beach, this one with an area-resident Bill Murray theme.  You’re encouraged to come dressed as a character from one of his movies.

Well, the Isle of Palms has its own polar plunge as well.  It’s taking place tomorrow  –  Saturday, February 15th.  This one benefits the Special Olympics as well.

It’s based at The Windjammer on Front Beach, at 1008 Ocean Boulevard on the Isle of Palms.  Co-sponsoring along with The Windjammer is the South Carolina Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.

Registration starts at 10:30 a.m., the polar plunge itself happens at noon, then the party continues after.  This is how organizers describe it:

Held at The Windjammer in Isle of Palms, to participate in the Polar Plunge Isle of Palms event, you just need to raise a minimum of $50. This level earns you a free Polar Plunge t-shirt, tickets for food and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as door prize tickets.

By “Freezin’ for a Reason” you’re creating more opportunities for determined athletes to experience the life-changing benefits of participating in the Special Olympics.

Read more about it at the official South Carolina Polar Plunge website or their Facebook event page.

So count some cardinals, discuss a great book, and either run into the surf or support those who do.  And when you are looking for the best in luxury beach house rentals SC, be sure to give EP a call.

All best,
Lowcountry Lisa
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger

Image credit: PolarPlungeSC
SEWE 2020

This weekend is Valentine’s weekend, which around these parts generally means it’s SEWE time once again.

The beloved wildlife festival kicks off this Friday  – Valentine’s Day itself   –  and lasts through Sunday, February 16th.

The Lowcountry is host to a slew of festivals, like the esteemed Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto festivals which happen in late spring.  But SEWE is the biggest of all in terms of number of people it draws and economic impact.  We’re talking, around 45,000 people or so.

It’s also arguably the very best wildlife art (and more) festival anywhere.

SEWE, which stands for Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, has been going for some time now.  This is the 38th annual one, and honestly it just seems to get better with each incarnation.


The Venues


The main venues are Charleston Place, Marion Square, the Gaillard Center, The Marriott on Lockwood, and Brittlebank Park.  Charleston Place is the hub for a lot of the fine wildlife painters, sculptors and the like, and it’s definitely worth strolling through to see them at work.  Marion Square also has an abundance of additional artists along with tents and demos both indoors and out.

Gaillard is the site of show vendors and exhibitors, plus the main performance/presentation stage for animal shows.  The Marriott is all about duck decoys.  And Brittlebank has gone to the dogs.


What to look for at SEWE 2020


There are so many different SEWE happenings all over the peninsula.  The schedule is detailed and filled with a delightful array of wildlife-related events.

Be sure to check out some of these live demos, all included with general admission…

All live demos are included with general admission.  Tickets are $50 for a three-day pass, or $25 per single day admission.  They are no longer for sale online, but you can buy them in person downtown, in Mount Pleasant, North Charleston and Kiawah.  Read about where to snag those tickets here.

SEWE really is a fantastic, family-friendly event.  If you don’t visit this year, consider it for 2021.  Just give us a call at EP, and we’ll find you the perfect Charleston beach house as a SEWE home base.

All best,
Lowcountry Lisa
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger

Image credit: SEWE
Valentine's Wine and Chocolate Walk

Valentine’s Day may be next Friday, but the celebration kicks off this weekend with a Wine and Chocolate Walk.  What a great way to get a jump on the celebration of love.

It takes place in one of the most romantic of Lowcountry locales  –  Magnolia Plantation, home to one of the most beautiful  –  and historic   –  gardens in America.

They’ve hosted the event in years past as the “Valentine’s Chocolate Walk,” and it’s been a big hit.  This year they’ve come up with a new twist  –  they’ve added wine to the occasion.

It’s going on both Saturday and Sunday.


What is a Valentine’s Wine and Chocolate Walk?


Magnolia Plantation invites you to come stroll with your sweetheart through the oldest gardens in America, which wind along the scenic Ashley River.

First, you’ll pick up your “passport” in the Conservatory.  You’ll make your way to any of nine different tasting stations situated throughout the grounds.  Each one will feature a decadent chocolate dessert from a different country.  Along the way, you’ll be serenaded by musicians.

If you feel like imbibing, there will also be wine or beer at the tasting stations.

The Wine and Chocolate Walk will be going on both Saturday (Feb. 8th) and Sunday (February 9th) from 11:00 a.m. till 3:00 p.m.

The Chocolate Walk is free with regular garden admission.  To also enjoy the adult beverages, a $6 upcharge gets you a souvenir glass and five tastings.

If you’d like to enjoy a romantic walk just with your sweetie, separate interactive activities are available for the kids.  As a bonus, children 6 and under are free.

Click here for more details on the Wine and Chocolate Walk.


The Camellias of Magnolia


Magnolia Plantation has one of the premiere collections of camellias in the world, with well over 20,000 of the winter-blooming beauties.

The famous camellias of Magnolia bloom from the middle of November to April.  November and December see the camellia sasanqua in bloom, while the japonicas hitting their stride now, from mid-January to mid-March.

Magnolia says this about their gardens:  “Unlike most of America’s gardens, which are formal and seek to control nature, Magnolia cooperates with nature to create a tranquil landscape like Eden where humanity and nature are in harmony.”

Gardens are, after all, one of the many charms that draw people to Charleston.

Magnolia is located at 3550 Ashley River Road.  If you’re visiting the Lowcountry, it’s great to check out a plantation or two.  Each one is a little different and has its particular charms.  But for all-around fun and gorgeous gardens, it’s hard to beat Magnolia.  The petting zoo for the kids is a fun bonus, too.

From our Isle of Palms vacation rentals, just head across the peninsula and up Highway 61, aka Ashley River Road.

And remember to give us a call at EP when you’re looking for a perfect home base at the beach, whatever the season.

All best,
Lowcountry Lisa
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger

#BookDirect Day

Happy #BookDirect Day!

Wednesday, February 5th is the third annual #BookDirect Day  –  which means it’s prime time to save on vacation rentals.

#BookDirect Guest Education Day began in 2018, on the first Wednesday in February, as a way to help simplify the process of renting a vacation home.

Basically the idea is to connect people who want to rent a vacation home, directly with the property management company or homeowner.  That way you can avoid third-party services like VRBO, Homeaway, TripAdvisor or AirBnB which charge substantial guest/traveler service fees.

It’s an idea that makes a lot of sense.  Why use a middleman if you don’t have to?

There are several advantages to booking direct.


Why #BookDirect?



In a nutshell  –  booking direct is better for owners, managers and guests.  It’s a win-win-win situation.

Read more about #Book Direct at VRM intel.


Exclusive Properties is here to help


Steve Milo is the founder and CEO of Vtrips.  He had this to say: “Vrbo and Airbnb will soon realize they do not have the power in the vacation rental space they think they do. Given the dynamics of far more demand than supply, the power in this relationship is with owners and property managers with exclusive inventory.”

Speaking of exclusive… Exclusive Properties has an extensive portfolio of the very best in Isle of Palms luxury rentals.

We are here to provide you with all of the above benefits  –  to help place you in the perfect Charleston beach house, work with you on dates, and help you secure the best deal possible.  We’ll also do all we can to ensure your vacation here on the Isle of Palms is a terrific one.

Third-party travels sites fall short on all those accounts.

So give us a call at Exclusive Properties, and #BookDirect today!

All best,
Lowcountry Lisa
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger