Hilton Head Island and the Beaufort area in general have always triggered mixed emotions for me.
Growing up in the suburbs north of Atlanta, my family and I vacationed in the Lowcountry, much like a number of other Southerners.
When my mother took my brother and me to camp on Hunting Island, we slept on a deflated air mattress inside a tent that did nothing to stop swarms of gnats from dive-bombing our scalps. My brother went missing during our stay with another boy and was found hours later watching a DVD in our car.
That same vacation, I lost my flip-flop off a dock on Hilton Head Island and cried. I was forced to walk around with one shoe for the rest of the evening.
I left the island with a new pet turtle, which died a few weeks later after my mother stuck its stinky cage outside during an unusually freezing fall morning.
The image of the poor creature, frozen mid-swim, is seared into my brain.
Because of this, I stayed away from South Carolina until I was 15 years old. I tried to rectify the turtle situation by purchasing another one at a shop near Coligny Beach. I named him Terry.
It would be different this time with Terry. I was responsible now. I didn’t have to leave the cage-cleaning duties to my mother. I had a learner’s permit.
My black Labrador broke the turtle cage and ate my new pet exactly one day after bringing him home.
I’ve given up on owning turtles.
But I haven’t given up on the Lowcountry.
A few months ago, amidst finals, projects and my college graduation, I was also desperately searching for a job like many of my peers.
During my search, I found an opening at The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette and I laughed out loud at the irony. How funny would it be, if I ended up there, of all the places in the world?
I decided the past is the past, that I should put those short spurts of turtle ownership behind me, and give this place another chance. Fresh out of college and a month shy of 21, I moved to my new apartment in Beaufort and became the official Retail and Arts reporter.
So far, I love my job. I mean, I got to go the groundbreaking of the Bojangles’ in Bluffton. Yes, I bragged about it on Snapchat and yes, all of my friends were jealous.
Though I’ve covered the retail world for less than three months, I’ve learned that this area constantly changes. Plenty has happened in Beaufort County this summer alone, particularly with the restaurant scene.
In July, I wrote about Jane Bistro and Bar opening in Shelter Cove Towne Center on the island. I stopped in for lunch during its first opening week and tried out one of their salads, along with some of the chicken salad and coconut cake after some testimony from Nancy Huber, the co-owner, that it’s what the chef, Annie Sergent, is known for.
Huber told me the story behind the name of the restaurant, and why it wasn’t called “Jane’s.”
“The name Jane was my mother’s name — J is for Jane, A is for Annie, N is for (Nancy) and E is for Elizabeth Jane, Annie and Brad’s daughter.”
We talked about her daughter, the chef, and how she’s been cooking since the age of 12. Huber said Sergent used to have full-fledged dinner parties for her friends in college.
“She would roast turkeys and hams and you know, the kids would come back after a night of partying, and she’d just have this wonderful spread for them,” she said. “And I’d look at her like ‘Are you nuts?’ But people, it’s just, kind of who we are.”
To get to know the area better, meet some locals and nail down an errand during my lunch hour, I’ve frequented the Bluffton Farmer’s Market multiple Thursday afternoons. I followed a tip that one of the vendors, Kishan Shah, was opening a British-Indian restaurant, Vindaloo Junction, in the former Spaghetti Club location in Beaufort at Habersham.
After writing the story, I listened to a woman stand in line at the Bhajee on the Beach stand and gush that her 9-year-old son just loved the spinach paneer.
Despite my promises to never eat Indian food, I thought, “If a 9-year-old can do it...” After trying some of the dishes, I was delighted to know that I actually do, in fact, like curry and would have a whole other reason to keep coming back to the farmers market. That same week, I also wound up having an impromptu dinner at the Spaghetti Club’s last night.
I’ve yet to visit Vindaloo Junction’s new location in Beaufort since it officially opened Aug. 12, according to a Facebook post, but I know Shah is still always at the farmers markets in Bluffton and Port Royal.
The other day I noticed the Cook Out sign up at the old KFC on Hilton Head, and almost didn’t recognize it. The wooden sign is completely unlike the neon glare I’m used to seeing in my hometown. I recalled how the corporation agreed to modify the signage to better fit Hilton Head’s ordinances and way of preserving natural beauty.
Though the story would never get me a Pulitzer, I remembered what a frenzy the news of the fast-food joint caused on social media.
It was one of my first “big” stories that got a lot of comments online and it gave me some insight about the different opinions in the area, like what people think it needs and what people think it doesn’t.
If I’m being honest, I’m ready for a Cook Out. Maybe it’s the nostalgia or that I still sometimes eat like a broke college student, but it doesn’t change my cravings for a cheddar style burger with a side of hush puppies.
However, it’s not just about what I want. I want to know your thoughts, too. Most of you have been here or visiting here longer than I have — maybe even longer than I’ve been alive. I’m working with a learning curve and I’m open to comments and advice.
But if there’s one thing I can say about getting a college degree from a four-year institution in three years, it’s this: I’m a quick learner.
Help Madison Hogan do her job
Email Retail and Arts reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 843-706-8137 if you hear of a new business opening, an old one closing or if you’re just curious about what might be going in that building, who bought that land and why, or what that pile of dirt is going to be.