If you ever ate there, then you know how blessed you were.
If you ever ate there, then you know that Lowcountry cooking tops all others.
If you ever ate there, then you know that there were no other biscuits in the world that good.
I’m talking about The Palms in Ridgeland, South Carolina.
The restaurant affixed to The Palms Motel on the main drag, Jacob Smart Boulevard.
Thirty minutes from Beaufort, South Carolina.
We went there after church on Sundays.
All manner of Lowcountry folks from Beaufort, Bluffton, Hilton Head, Savannah, Hampton, Ridgeland, Estill, Yemassee, would converge on The Palms on Sundays for the most amazing buffet meals ever.
Situated in the restaurant area of the motel.
Outside there was a goldfish pond complete with lily pads and a small fountain.
To get to the restaurant, patrons walked through the office where Mrs. Patel held court nodding at diners as she chewed her fennel seeds and listened to soft Bollywood music.
The entrance to the dining room was by the end of the buffet.
The dining room glowed with incandescent bulbs dangling from faux bronze chandeliers in the shape of palm fronds.
“How many?” came the question upon walking into the room, followed by a quick, “Well, hey, how y’all been doin’?” from the waitress taking us to our table.
I adored those palm frond chandeliers. I repeatedly told my parents that I would be stealing one if the restaurant ever closed.
We would go for Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, or other big events.
My grandparents met us there a couple of times.
Our Savannah kinfolk met us there, too.
We loved the place, nicotine stained walls and all.
What was not to love about the white table clothed establishment in the middle of the county seat of Jasper County that served amazing Lowcountry cooking?
Was it fancy? No
Were we there for the ambiance? No
Would it have been #ThePalms? No
Would it have been highly Instragrammable? No
Was it perfectly cooked food in a homey, and somewhat so, homely atmosphere. May be.
To this day, when I think of a perfect Sunday dinner, I think of the meals at The Palms after church.
The menu never changed.
The same waitresses for years and years.
“May I get you anything?” they would ask as they refilled tea glasses.
“More biscuits, please,” always came the reply from our table and every other table.
My youngest brother would smuggle in his own bottle of A-1 Sauce to douse his meats and, yes, his green beans.
What was so great about The Palms?
In one corner of dining room was the cooled salad server that provided
Iceberg lettuce with small pieces of radish and cukes, and may be a couple of grated carrots and tomatoes and the rare sliver of purple cabbage;
May be a few pickled beets from time to time;
French dressing, blue cheese, ranch.
Never heard of it
Up at the front of the room, the main buffet consisted of
Shrimp and okra gumbo;
Giblet gravy with sliced eggs;
Stewed yellow squash with onions or squash casserole;
Broccoli casserole or asparagus casserole;
Sweet potato souffle in orange cups with toasted coconut.
In the center of the room on a round table underneath the largest of the palm frond chandeliers were the desserts of
Coconut cream pie with tons of meringue piled high;
Lemon meringue pie with tons of meringue piled high;
Cookies and cream pie from out of the freezer;
Pecan pie with a bop of whipped cream;
Sweet potato pie with a bop of whipped cream.
Each waitress brought her tables basket after basket of the world’s most amazing angel biscuits along with individual gold foil wrapped pats of butter. The warm biscuit softened the butter pats to perfect spreading consistency.
Some of the older patrons were known to put the butter pats in their pockets to take home.
Channeling Strom Thurmond, all diners wrapped up extra biscuits in paper napkins to take home.
The perfect combination of flour, fat, buttermilk, leavening and just a touch of sugar.
Angel biscuits with yeast.
To paraphrase from “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones,” these were More-glorious-than-the-Seraphim and O-higher-than-the-Cherubim biscuits.
Dominions, Princedoms, Powers, Virtues, Archangels, Angels’ choirs, would have all cried out for them.
Ye Patriarchs and Prophets blessed never knew such joy on a bread plate.
They were so amazing that my mother would order pie plates of the uncooked biscuits and deliver them to friends for Christmas.
We would make runs to Ridgeland to fill up a cooler or two close to the big day and deliver to our friends in Beaufort.
“These are NOT biscuits from The Palms?” recipients would facetiously ask.
They knew exactly what they were.
“Oh my Lawd! Y’all should not have,” was another popular retort upon receipt of the pie plate with uncooked biscuit dough.
In addition to the perfection of those flaky morsels, the main meal astounded.
Each Sunday, the fried chicken skin shattered on the first bite.
The beef melted around its cooked carrots and onions.
The gumbo teemed with fresh local shrimp and the perfect amount of okra, spicy but not too hot.
Cornbread dressing that I try to replicate every Thanksgiving served as another gravy delivery system.
Dadgum that gravy!
Perfect gravy with giblets and eggs and just enough salt.
Biscuits providing just that little sumpin to sop up the remnants on the edge of the plate.
Steamed rice with each grain separated awaiting to be covered in either gravy or gumbo.
The dark corners of the macaroni pie with a couple of noodles just a wee bit singed on top to become the tiniest bit crunchy.
Vegetables with pot likker and the piece of side meat to push out of the way with the slotted serving spoon.
The squash, broccoli, asparagus en casserole. Straight out of the 1950s. But, so damned good.
The sweet potato souffle in orange cups with the fresh orange juice, a first dessert during the main part of meal, remains my favorite thing about that menu.
No marshmallows here just old school toasted coconut.
All of the hot food heated with the soft glow and addictive smell of Sterno cups.
And to drink:
Iced tea, either sweet or unsweet
The cooks had been there under several owners.
No surprise who the cooks were.
I wish I knew their names.
I wish I had gone back into the kitchen to watch their alchemy.
Who were these culinary Circe’s?
African American ladies who had cooked in the kitchen forever, under the supervision of a succession of owners.
Eventually, a small lady from Thailand ended up making all of the biscuits after taking over from the original biscuit baker. The original baker’s lungs could no longer endure flour dust. Baker’s lung is a thing.
Any time we went, immediately upon arrival, I ran for a slice of coconut cream pie on the dessert table as they were always the first to go.
Can you tell I love coconut?
Regulars had their usual tables for years.
Miss Essie and General Edwin Pollock sat on the left by the window overlooking the goldfish pond. Miss Essie enveloped us in hugs with her turkey waddle arms flapping generously around our small frames.
“Boys, go speak to Miss Essie and The General,” our mother would say.
“Oh, Jawge, the boys are gettin’ so big!” Miss Essie would exclaim. “Yancey, I know you’re so proud of these young men.”
The Harpers from Estill, and whatever part of their family could join them, were always in the front room.
The Sauls from Ridgeland had that table across from the Harpers.
Always a smattering of Tutens, Clelands, Malphruses, and Lowthers. Jasper County woods are full of them.
We almost always sat near the Harpers’ table.
“Well, hey, how are y’all?” Mr. Harper would nod over to us.
A local lady named Esther Cooler took over the restaurant after a number of years. She seemed to be always smoking herself a 100 length cigarette.
I would not have wanted to cross Miz Cooler. No, Sir. Never.
One time I made the mistake of asking her for two meets on a weekday. During the week, The Palms proprietors allowed only one choice of meat, which they put on the waiting china.
Miz Cooler just glared at me and said, “Well, Son, I’d have to charge you double for that.”
My mother once asked Miz Cooler about her favorite thing on her buffet.
“Oh, I get sick to death of this food,” she said, “I just like to get me a cheeseburger from Wendy’s.”
For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the man who ran the place before Miz Cooler.
One time my father was at The Palms during the week, and he heard that gentleman toss his head back into the kitchen and inquire loudly, “Ruby! Ruby!……..hey, yea, Ruby!…….is them po’k chops ready yet?”
You know those po’k chops were fried, of course, and only available during the week.
Is them ready yet?
We weren’t there for the grammar, either.
It was mostly on Sundays that we adored The Palms.
Some Sundays we would eat so much that we would have to stop for sodium bicarb at a gas station on the way home.
One time, our friend Hayes Williams laid himself out in the back of his parents’ car moaning in sybaritic satiation.
“Son, you o.k.?” asked his father
“No, Sir. I’m gonna die,” replied our pal.
“No, Son,” said his father. “You just ate too much. Guess we need some baking soda.”
Sometimes The Palms laid us all out flat.
I hate to report that The Palms restaurant closed almost two decades ago. My children never had the opportunity to eat there.
Like all good things, it came to an end after Miz Cooler retired and the cooks ended up dying out without anyone to take over that old time cooking.
Those of us of a certain age remember well those Sunday dinners.
My pal Robyn Josselson Shirley bemoans the loss of those biscuits.
It has been ages since my family delivered them for Christmas presents; former recipients still complain.
Wish there were a few more to smuggle out in my napkin.
Mark my words: I’m still going to steal one of those chandeliers.