By Judy Garrison
Photography by Len Garrison, Seeing Southern
Nothing tastes more Southern than pecans—with the exception of boiled peanuts and barbecue—but that’s another tale. And when one destination offers a myriad of creations that feature the fruit of this native American tree, what’s not to love? With thousands of varieties of pecans and a tree taking 12 years to reach maturity and produce nuts, no wonder people consider them a delicacy and the ultimate dress-up for the drab.
Spend the weekend in Florence, South Carolina, and hop-skip-and-jump from one location to another that will awaken your taste buds to the pecan’s rich, buttery flavor that makes everything more robust.
In anticipation of arrival, get the entire list of participating shops and restaurants on the Southern Carolina Pecan Trail at Discover South Carolina or pick up a paper passport at the Florence Visitors Center. Stamps in the passport equal swag at the end of your adventure.
Begin your weekend with sweet dreams at The Hotel Florence, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, a historic boutique hotel the downtown area. With its beginnings as a hotel at the turn-of-the-20th century, it soon became a general store, a family hotel, and a business hub. When it burned in 1963, time and investors brought its iconic central city location back to life, and today, it offers luxury to travelers with impeccable hospitability, plus a spa to unwind and a restaurant to refuel. Walk outside the hotel’s back door and be transported into an idyllic garden framed with twinkling lights and climbing greenery on brick walls. Southern serenity is at its heart.
Inside the hotel is Victors, a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, offering the first pecan experience. Relax after arrival with a pecan pie martini served at the bar or at an intimate table in the restaurant, sure to begin the journey in style. Take a look at the unique seasonal craft cocktail menu and “Get Figgy with It.”
Fuel up at Venus Restaurant, very reminiscent of a traditional New England diner. Arrive early because seats fill quickly. Begin with a piping-hot mug of coffee followed by Belgium waffles with pecans or the Southern pecan stacked pancakes. Drench with pure maple syrup, and you can’t imagine how the day could taste any sweeter. What began as a small 24-hour diner with a few seats is now an expanded restaurant, voted the Best Breakfast in the Pee Dee.
Walk off breakfast with a visit to the Pee Dee State Farmer’s Market. An impressive drive-through, walk-through 45,000 square-foot marketplace is open year-round. Family-owned farms, nurseries, ornamental horticulture, restaurants, and artisans showcase their products in the open-air arena, and you’re hard-pressed to walk by without a conversation or purchase. Grab a bag of fresh pecans to create the fare this weekend will inspire.
It’s an afternoon of exploration in shops along the South Carolina Pecan Trail. Enjoy lunch at Piggyback’s BBQ & Catfish (Lake City) or Wholly Smokin’ (Florence) where the barbecue isn’t decorated with pecans, but the Sweet Potato Casserole (Piggyback’s) and the Warm Goat Cheese Salad (Wholly Smokin’) are. However, at Piggyback’s, they will ask if you “want peanuts with that,” that being a bottle (not a fountain drink or a can) of Pepsi.
While in Lake City, just a 30-minute drive from Florence, enjoy these stops on the pecan trail. Baker’s Sweets, where decision-making is put to the test, grabs you with the first aroma of baked goods and then confirms with its pecan and sugar toppings. Stop in at a ‘bloom, a quaint shop specializing in florals and unique gifts like the writing pen carved from pecan wood.
On the way back to Florence, load up on all things pecan at Young’s Premium Foods. Specializing in South Carolina products, they suggest pecans by the pie slice, baked in cheese straws, injected in muffins, draped in sugar and chocolate, and even oval door wreaths structured with local nuts.
End Saturday on a sweet note with dinner at Julia Belle’s and their White Russian Pecan Pie. A product of a small booth inside the rustic red barn at the Pee Dee Farmers Market, Julia Belle’s new location feels like eating around the family table. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant serves uniquely Southern dishes.
Before you end the day at Hotel Florence, walk across the street to ChocoBella. An intimate chocolaterie, the shop offers beautiful hand-painted Belgian chocolates, almost too lovely to eat. If it’s more than you can consider on this evening, a beautiful box of dark chocolate pecan bonbons makes the perfect take-home gift.
Savoring the weekend is as simple as lunch or tea at Top Hat Special-Teas in the heart of the historic district before departure. A quaint and stylish tearoom, Top Hat reminds everyone of the joys of coming together over a long lunch or afternoon tea. Indulge in the pecan scones with Devonshire Crème and Lemon Curd which are baked when ordered and arrive at the table hot.
No matter what time of year you drop by Florence, it’s always exciting to be there the first Saturday in November for the South Carolina Pecan Music and Food Festival. From an antique car show, a pecan pub, over 250 vendors, and nine stages of live music, preserving the area’s history and tradition happens in one day. Located on the blocked-off streets of downtown Florence with vendors and stages lining the pavement, the festival is free to the public.
Grab a trail passport and get cracking. See how many stamps you can obtain in one visit. Currently there are 17 specialty shops and restaurants on the trail, with more locations being added as they add pecans to their line-up.
Anytime is a good time—whether for the pecan festival in November, National Pecan Pie Day on July 12, or a random weekend in March—to go nuts in Florence.
To plan your trip on the pecan trail, visit visitflo.com and discoversouthcarolina.com.
From Top Hat Special Teas
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
¾ cup milk
¼ cup chopped pecans
Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; then blend with butter. Mixture should look crumbly.
Add milk and chopped pecans. Combine ingredients until they are no longer sticky and form a dough ball.
Roll out dough and cut into shapes of choice.
Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes.