By Mark A. Leon
Charleston is known for many rich traditions; its history, dedication to family, high school and college football, tradition and fresh honest to goodness Southern cooking. As locals, we are fortunate to know where the hidden treasures of the South lie. Just a few miles outside of the hustle of the peninsula lies a place filled with fresh organic delight, family service with a smile and a sense of home and that is the Stono Market & Tomato Shed Café.
From the moment you step inside, you are swept away by the elegance of the marketplace with ornaments, trees and holiday décor all around. In the far corner, they are proud of their achievements including the 2012 Critics Choice Award for the Mac Off right in the center of all the press praise. To your right, the market; left the dining area and outside a rustic porch that reminds you of the old country.
It isn’t often you can knock off three birds with one stone, but this is a rare place indeed. There are some lovely holiday decorations ordained throughout Charleston; yet we have not found any as magical as this place. The ornaments and home décor are shining off the shelves waiting for good homes.
The market is a wellness dream from fresh arugula to jams; relishes to red potatoes, shrimp to beets. The entire selection of greens, veggies, seasonings, seafood, jams, relishes and wines will meet all your home cooking needs.
The food in the café is so fresh, it almost melts before it hits your mouth. Here at the Tomato Shed Café, we keep it simple. No fancy plates or glasses. No gimmicks. Just great food that speaks directly to your palate.
The tomato pie, squash casserole, speckled butterbeans and creamy cucumbers and dill were of particular delight among a laundry list of fresh sides to choose from. If you are having challenges choosing a side, order the vegetable plate and select four as your entrée.
Whatever you are in the mood for, there is a selection to meet your appetite. Perhaps a Crab Cake Plate or Wadmalaw Island BBQ Plate or Tomato Shed Shrimp (grilled local shrimp with red and green peppers, onions and tomatoes, a slightly spicy seasoning and 2 sides)
I heard from an insider that the Chocolate Zucchini Bread is heavenly, but come in early if you expect to get your hands on some to go (Baked Fresh for Purchase).
On this day, I had the chicken salad with a side of the tomato pie. The subtle intensity of flavor was incredible. Each bite of that tomato pie and lightly toasted bread and chicken salad was truly delightful. This is also a place to share, so I got to try a few of other sides as well including an incredible squash casserole.
Tomato Shed Café isn’t a place to just come to eat. It is a place to meet, read up on local news, catch up with your neighbors and remember why we love family and good Southern cooking. This may be a little out of the way for some, but we promise you will make an effort to keep coming back.
We came for the lunch and stayed for the market and remembered the smiles and the lingering taste that stayed with us long after we left John’s Island.