The South is well into strawberry season, and we couldn't be happier. Grocery stores like Earth Fare have started to sell juicy red berries by the gallon, and restaurants in Charleston are featuring the luscious, ruby red fruits in all sorts of dishes, from salads to shortcakes.
Chai's, which recently transformed from a tapas bar into a sweet and savory dessert place, features a strawberry rhubarb crisp ($8). A compote of sweet strawberries, tart rhubarb, and citrusy orange zest is topped with a crumbly oatmeal crust. Think of it as a variation on the classic strawberry rhubarb pie.
Over on Spring Street, Black Bean Company takes pride in sourcing local produce. The majority of the vegetables at the vegetarian-friendly energy-food restaurant come from Thackeray Farms on Wadmalaw Island. The strawberries do too. Black Bean's Strawberry Fields salad features mixed greens topped with sliced strawberries, ripe avocado, spiced pecans, and earthy goat cheese. At $4.50 for a half size portion, this salad is a steal. A full portion is $9. Keep an eye out for their Folly Road location on James Island, which will most likely be opening sometime next week.
Out on the far side of Mt. Pleasant, Boone Hall's acres of farmland are exploding with strawberries, which means they can't get them any fresher at the Boone Hall Farms Market Café. The berries on the strawberry shortcake ($2.95/$3.95 ala mode) are picked daily for the classic rendition, served with whipped cream or house-churned ice cream.
But perhaps there's no other treat in town like heading to Caviar & Bananas with a comrade to nosh on a cheese board. Customers can choose from three to five cheese selections, from a mixture of milks, with textures ranging from brittle to creamy. Co-owner Margaret Furniss's favorite is the Cowgirl Creamery MT TAM, a super mild and hard-to-find, elevated brie from a very small creamery in California. Each cheese board is garnished with goodies like local honeycomb, candied walnuts, housemade crostini, and, when in season, fresh strawberries. The sweet fruit perfectly enhances the creamy brie.
And if you're in the mood to pick-your-own berries, head out to the Ambrose Family Farm on Wadmalaw anytime, Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sun., 12-5 p.m. After spending an afternoon in hot field picking buckets of warm, sweet berries, there's nothing better than getting home and making yourself a fresh strawberry mojito. It's pretty easy. Just muddle some sugar, sprigs of mint, and strawberries (you can put some lime in there too, if you're so inclined) until it's all sweet and smooshy, then top with crushed ice, cachaça (Brazilian sugar cane rum), and some soda water. Mix it up and presto: a perfect springtime spritzer.