A Day of Dining on $10 in Charleston (Eater)

biscuitNew to town, reporter Vanessa Wolf attempts to eat three meals with only $10.

8:59 a.m. Arrived in Charleston from the west, long after the first fingers of sunrise had awoken the marshes. The buildings seem to shimmer under the clear skies, vibrant shades of amber, aqua, and salmon.

Although already disagreeably warm, overall I found things pleasanter than expected. I shall wander for a spell and see what delights may beckon me.

9:21 a.m. Sumptuous delicacies call from every corner. As much as I wish to heed their siren’s song, reality tempers my lust.

Alas, I have but ten shillings with which to gratify my hunger this day. Hard-won wages, the sum amounts to mere pocket change in this place. As for Charleston herself; such lavishness I had scarcely imagined. Grand homes with wide, expansive porches flank the cobblestone streets. Shops and dining establishments abound.

Earlier I passed a venture offering a vast catalog of exotic beverages. Refreshment designed to cheer, but not inebriate, a single cup threatened to consume more than half my daily allowance. What untold splendor must be the Venti Iced Java Chip Frappucino. I shall write Eleanor at once, for she will surely marvel at news of these big city tantalizations.

9:47 a.m. Summoned by the scent of freshly baked goods, I found myself lingering amongst a crowd of both citizens and travelers alike. As our queue snaked out the door, blocking the sign that read “Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit,” we spoke little of our private suffering.

I let out the occasional piteous moan, but no one inquired as to my state. At last my turn came.

Although local delights like country ham and pimiento cheese sandwiches beckoned, I remained prudent and deferred to my modest budget. Happily, the pair of Cheese and Chive Biscuits ($3) rewarded my vigilance with more than just virtue. Still quite warm upon receipt, I marveled at the flaky lightness of each bite, particularly as I reckon each biscuit contained at minimum a stick of butter. Perhaps two.

10:13 a.m. I visited with a local merchant, admiring her wares while sparing my very life in the cooling refuge of her shop. Sadly, it was not long before she made it clear I had overstayed my welcome. Despite what you may have heard, removal of one’s pants does not seem to be a local custom.

Back on the street, I finished what remained of the first of my warm biscuits in haste. I stored the other in my bag, in hopes of finding more private, natural surroundings in which to enjoy it. Trees are a must as the merciless sun continues to rise.

10:21 a.m. I have found refuge in a glorious green space known as Marion Square. Nature is in bloom all around me, boasting a showy spectacle of vibrant hues. Crimson, cerise and carnelian: I don’t know what these words mean, but I will find out.

11:05 a.m. Awoke in terror. Jangled from a post-biscuit slumber by a beastly clatter emanating from the adjacent construction site. As I tugged on my pants and took my leave in haste, I was suddenly unnerved by what seemed a small pang of hunger.

Already?

11:17 a.m. Oblivious to the soul-crushing heat, I head west, grateful my mother is no longer alive to see me suffer this way.

High Noon Hot damn, it’s blistering.

12:12 p.m. I will admit, I had begun to fear for my very life.

I feared it was but a mirage, but the refuge of Nana’s Seafood and Soul is no mere phantasmagoria.

Weak and overheated, I stumbled across the threshold. Making my way to the counter, I endeavored to order some life-saving sustenance only to realize I’d completely skipped the line.

Flummoxed and ashamed, I plastered on my cheeriest smile and proceeded to fake both deafness and blindness, improvising the American Sign Language for “fish sandwich.”

It seems to be working.

12:13 p.m. Although clearly aware of my ruse, the other diners have proven to be a patient and forgiving lot, especially once they heard my pronounced foreign accent. It goes to show you never know when a spot-on Julia Child impersonation will be of service.

12:33 p.m. My Fried Whiting Sandwich ($4) arrived ensconced in its own travel case. Fabricated from a peculiar, feather-light white substance, it does not appear to be suitable for consumption as a mid-afternoon snack.

As I opened the lid, I had no choice but to acknowledge that the Southern Kingfish had earned the respect of another loyal subject.

The long, thin fish filet was lightly breaded and surprisingly substantial. It was accompanied by two slices of white sandwich bread, a slice of tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise and a small container of Thousand Island dressing, this last item a new ingredient for my untutored palate, though the others seemed amazed at my ignorance.

I do not know where these thousand islands are located, but their namesake is a sweet yet tangy concoction in a pleasing pastel shade. I don’t particularly enjoy it, but drank the majority so as not to offend.

1:13 p.m. Betrayed again by my own gluttony. Already I find myself with just one slice of bread, a small collection of pin bones and $3.

What some may see as an adventure, I begin to find daunting.

2:25 p.m. The weather continues to be favorable, albeit infernal. I wandered toward the sea and enjoyed the sight of young children’s’ noisy play. They tumbled about, all limbs and laughter, while gulls hovered and white waves sparkled over blue depths in the distance.

I am so very, very parched.

2:45 p.m. Seriously though, how hard would it be to install some public drinking fountains in this place?

3:11 p.m. Such great thirst. Is it possible this drought incites vivid hallucinations?

3:21 p.m. Emerged from a bright haze to find myself astride a leaping porpoise while dressed like Glenda the Good Witch. “We are the Champions” trumpeted from above. Laughing hysterically, the dolphin tossed me back onto shore, where I was instantly returned to my previous attire. Remarkable.

3:25 p.m. Pretty sure I’m hallucinating.

3:33 p.m. Spoke briefly with Father. Informed him of my condition, but with limited embellishment so as not to worry him. As we said our farewells, my heart was heavy with the knowing that it was, perhaps, forever. There were many, many things I wished to say to him, but I could not calm myself to do it properly. As he took his leave to address a matter with the cat, I let out a small sob.

May we meet again at the pearly gates.

3:57 p.m. Cried the length of Water Street. Which seems appropriate.

5:00 p.m. Craving flavors of the East, the reprieve of air conditioning, and the lifesaving mercy of ice-cold liquid, I made my way into Spring Roll Asian Cuisine.

Clutching my last three shillings, the Fried Crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls ($2.95) quickly arrived to satiate my gnawing hunger. Although small in stature and filled with just cabbage, onion and mushroom, the accompanying vinegar sauce was piquant and pleasing.

Moreover, the benevolent proprietress was unfailingly kind and courteous, eventually bringing me a pitcher of ice water and a straw with which to bathe. I will say a small prayer for her tonight before I rest.

5:45 p.m. Back on the streets, where I shall cower under a tree or in the Urban Outfitters to prevent against further exposure. May good luck and Godspeed be my guide.