Old Town Bluffton is known for its unusual festivals, street fairs, and an eccentric but welcoming atmosphere. Soon it will, no doubt in my mind, be gathering accolades for the growing number of locally-owned eateries with solid yet creative menus springing forth within Old Town and environs. When Bluffton becomes a foodie mecca, remember you read it here first!
One of the spots that I am pumped about is the Old Town Dispensary. Starting its life as a tavern tucked around the corner from the bustle of Calhoun Street (Yes, this is an inside joke – there’s no bustle in Old Town unless it’s attached to an 18th century petticoat hanging at The Heyward House Museum!), the Dispensary is the creation of local developer Thomas Viljac.
Thomas had the bright idea to develop, or rather ‘redevelop’ this parcel of property into a pedestrian friendly courtyard a few years back, keeping the Blufftonesque architectural integrity of the buildings and tying in a historical theme. As a whole it is known as the Carson Cottages, with the Dispensary anchoring the interior and professional offices, a women’s clothing store and the Cottage Bakery & Tea Room filling in the additional cottage buildings. On Thursday afternoons from spring through fall, tents line the courtyard and dot adjacent Calhoun Street for the Farmers Market of Bluffton, creating a very social and festive atmosphere.
If you’re wondering about the term, “Dispensary”, it was actually a state-operated liquor store that opened in 1893 in Bluffton. Thomas added as much physical history to his Dispensary cottage as he could, with the walls originating from a train station in nearby Estill, SC and the bathroom doors hailing from the Ogeechee Railroad train station in Georgia.
In January of this year, Thomas realized it was time to move the Dispensary into the second phase of its life, by adding a casual yet tantalizingly creative menu to the tavern’s offerings. He realized there was just one local chef who’s cooking skills and imaginative artistry in the kitchen would match his own.
“Matt Jording and his wife Carol have a wonderful work ethic and his superb cooking at Sage Room (Jording’s fine dining restaurant on Hilton Head Island) is well known throughout the Lowcountry,” Thomas said. Jording also happens to live in Bluffton so he is very attuned to that “Bluffton state of mind” and the menus here at the Dispensary reflect that perfectly. “Partnering with Matt is a real blessing,” Thomas added.
Relaxing on the shady wooden deck sipping some refreshing iced tea and nibbling on a platter of crab, spinach and artichoke bruschetta and a heaping mound of parmesan and truffle fries served with garlic aioli, curry ketchup, and Dijon béarnaise, my only regret is not ordering a tall brew from one of the half-dozen choices on draft. The burgers here are already have a strong following – the “house” burger, caprese, ‘Juicy Lucy’ and formidable yet tempting Burger Benedict (with Canadian bacon & fried egg) are quickly becoming legends in their own burger time.
Mind you, Chef Matt keeps things fresh and seasonal too with specials offered everyday, many featuring local seafood from surrounding salt waters – the “OTD Grouper”, a pan roasted fillet served over boursin grits, with sauteed spinach and topped with an Andouille, shrimp, and corn au gratin, is a favorite.
Yes, the Dispensary is a wonderful spot to grab a drink, take in a deep breath of salty clean Lowcountry air and the beauty of Old Town. And between the vision of Thomas Viljac, and the inspired cuisine of Chef Matt Jording, it is really so much more. For the Foodie or the just plain hungry, something quite special this way comes to Bluffton, by way of the Old Town Dispensary!
Local Stuffed Squash Blossoms
Chef Matt Jording, The Old Town Dispensary & The Sage Room
- 12 squash blossoms: these need to be picked locally; take the initial orange blossom; check for bees
- ¼ lb. fresh local shrimp – peeled and de-veined
- 1 plump local tomato – medium size
- 8 oz. goat cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Minced fresh basil – 2 or 3 leaves
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup cornstarch
- Olive oil
- 1 egg
- Piping bag with large tip
For best results, gently harvest the squash blossoms from your own squash crop. Any variety of squash will suffice. Set aside until stuffing is ready. Take goat cheese out of the refrigerator to bring to room temperature.
Wash, peel and de-vein the local shrimp. Then carefully dice into ¼-inch pieces. Sautee shrimp in a heavy bottom skillet in olive oil over medium heat with a little salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
Dice tomatoes to the same size as the shrimp. Set aside. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with minced basil (2-3 fresh leaves.)
Once shrimp is cool, stir shrimp and tomato mixture into softened goat cheese in a mixing bowl. Season to taste. Pipe approximately ½ oz. of the stuffing mixture into each squash blossom.
Place 2 cups of milk into small bowl and beat in one egg. Spread approximately 1 cup of cornstarch on a small plate or tray. Gently dip each squash blossom on milk/egg mixture, and then gently roll in cornstarch to coat.
Heat a few tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in heavy bottom skillet. Sautee squash blossoms until golden. Serve immediately. Yield 12 squash blossoms with 2 per person serves 6.