A Day on the SC Pecan Trail
by Libby Wiersema
“Let’s make a day of it in Florence,” I said to my hubby, Paul. With my business convention just over, we were free to explore and play. Wanting to see an area he’d never visited before. Paul offered to take a day off work and tag along with me. While I was still busy at my convention, Paul stopped a the Florence CVB, and discovered the South Carolina Pecan Trail, complete with accompanying passports. Each booklet is a treasure map of sorts, a guide brimming with promises of pecan nirvana for adventurers tasting their way across the town.
After Paul presented the option to me, I couldn’t help myself. I said with a stoic expression, “You know I’m nuts about pecans.” Paul laughed and we set about planning.
Judging by the descriptions of goodies offered at each stop, we were definitely in the right place to indulge. Florence is also home to the South Carolina Pecan Festival each November, further proof that we were in the heart of pecan country.
As if we needed more prodding, our quest would be rewarded with goodies: the more stamps we earned, the more pecan swag we’d get.
With the spirit of two kids on a scavenger hunt, we were off!
Our first stop was Young Plantations, a gift shop just off I-95. Signs hanging from the eve between stone columns touted the various treats we’d find. Inside, the shop felt almost like a ski chalet with high ceilings, wood walls and a stone fireplace. Gifts of all sorts graced the shelves and displays-from candies and candles, to kitchen wares and vintage pop culture art, to ceramics and novelty food items.
It smelled sweet and felt warm and cozy. We soon discovered why. The back of the shop is a kitchen where pastries and breads were baking. While the aromas were mighty tempting, it was what we saw next that really set our mouths watering: A long line of containers filled with pecans of every imaginable flavor and our sampling pleasure.
We hit the pecan bar, making assessments like we were tasting wines. In the end, we chose five: honey crisp, dark chocolate, cinnamon, praline and butterscotch, with a tin of savory pecan cheese straws thrown in for good measure. With passports stamped, we moved on to the next stop, less than a mile northwest of us: Julia Belle’s Restaurant, located on the grounds of the Pee Dee State Farmers Market.
We walked the length of the farmers market, which we learned was the largest in the state. The stalls were bustling with customers and produce purveyors selling fruits, veggies and South Carolina products of all kinds. How could we resist? After stowing our fresh collards and tomatoes in the car, we moseyed over to Julia Belle’s in the Red Barn. I consulted my passport to confirm what we’d come for: White Russian Pecan Pie.
We stood and read the menu on the wall. Shrimp and grits, fried chicken, pork chops, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, homemade biscuits-not your typical counter service menu. We were definitely in trouble.
I offered my passport to the smiling woman taking our orders.
“I’ll have a piece of the White Russian Pecan Pie. And the fried chicken. With macaroni and cheese and string beans. And a biscuit.”
“I’ll have what she’s having, except give me collards instead of the beans,” Paul said, a sheepish grin on his face.
When our plates arrived, we dug in and were transported to home-cooking heaven. By the time we waddled out, we’d also discovered a new pecan pie favorite. A nap was in order before we ventured to our final stops, so it was back to the hotel.
Refreshed and dressed for a night out, we hit Downtown Florence. Recent revitalization efforts have invigorated the area, now a hot spot for live music, theater, art shows and, of course, dining.
Libations at Victors, a fine-dining establishment inside the elegant Hotel Florence, kicked off our evening. At the low-lit bar, we sipped a smooth and delicious Pecan Pie Martini made with butterscotch schnapps and vanilla vodka. With freshly stamped passports, we crossed the street to Town Hall where we’d reserved a table. The aromas from the wood-fired grill wafted from the open kitchen, setting the stage for a tantalizing dining experience on par with what might be found in a bigger city. The passport recommendation was one of the best parts of the meal: braised oxtail ravioli, with local sweet potato puree, Espelette pepper-spiced pecans and sage oil. Divine.
Hand in hand, we strolled “Restaurant Row” for dessert options. We chose Wholly Smokin’, a quaint and relaxing spot boosting delicious Southern specialties. Over handcrafted cocktails, we recounted our adventure and shared the Decadent Brownie Sundae featuring candied bacon and spiced pecans. Though this was to be our final stamp of the day, Downtown had other plans.
“Hey, that sounds like bluegrass,” I said as we left Wholly Smokin’. “Let’s check it out.”
Sure enough, there was a live music event at in the Renaissance Courtyard down the street. The artsy venue was hopping with acoustic tunes and lively chatter. We happily accepted our destiny, which included cappuccinos, warm oatmeal pecan cookies and newfound friends, who suggested we cap off our evening with sweeping city views from The Dispensary, a hip rooftop bar above Town Hall. Why not?
Side by side, Paul and I stood at the railing and looked out at the Florence lights. I fanned through my passport. Hmmmmm-only five destinations visited out of 20+. Who knew there was so much to experience in this vibrant, pecan-centric city?
Pick up a South Carolina Pecan Trail passport at participating businesses and collect stamps with each passport-approved purchase. Return the stamped passports to the Florence visitor center in person or by mail to snag pecan swag as follows
4 stamps = Awesome nutcracker.
10 stamps = Stylish drawstring bag and an awesome nutcracker.
all stamps = The royal treatment: cute SC Pecan Trail T-shirt, silicone pie plate, stylish drawstring bag and an awesome nutcracker.