I’ve written about food now for over a decade. I’ve broken bread at just over three dozen restaurants awarded one, two or three Michelin Stars. I’ve interviewed endless chefs, I’ve eaten ridiculous burgers that cost over £100, I’ve sat for dinners that had more courses than there are hours in the day and the list goes on and on. In between those stints of writing about global fine cuisine, I’ve come home to Beaufort. I’ve put on my cut off shorts and a t-shirt and I’ve indulged in foods and recipes that I believe to be the finest in the world. This is food that is medicine for the soul. This is the food of my home. It doesn’t need a Michelin star. It’s the world’s finest because of the people that make it and the memories attached. The BBQ doesn’t get much better (I take mine with mustard sauce, Carolina style thank you very much), the sweet tea is deserving of some sort of thirst quenching medal of honour and the breakfasts, from grits to sweet potato pancakes, are a thing of legend. Southern food is my heart’s food, ironic of course because I’m pretty sure it’s what will one day cause my heart to stop as I eat so much of it.
Now, if you’re a foodie you’ll probably already know that “The South” doesn’t have any Michelin starred restaurants, as this is not an area of the United States that is covered by the Michelin guides. Why? Well, they can’t possibly be everywhere and see everything. My thinking? It’s just too much for them down here. They’d be here for a hundred years just trying to figure out who on earth gets what and how many.
Why mention all of this? Well last year I sat for dinner in a new restaurant in Beaufort, South Carolina, and declared, out loud, “some one call the Michelin men… they’re gonna want to know what’s going on down here.”
I mentioned that southern food is my heart’s food because I have a passion for this part of the world – the history of the food, the culture around the creation of each dish and the way in which everything is presented as if you are a part of the family. Food is a way of life here and I think so many of us take for granted just how lucky we are to have access to these delicious plates on a daily basis. I know I have.
While I’ve consistently piled on the pounds on every trip home, letting the food act as a sort of comfort blanket for too much time spent away, I’ve recently been stopped mid bite because of the creations of a master chef. I’ve been blindsided by the culinary genius of Matt Wallace at Black Sheep on Boundary in Beaufort, South Carolina.
It must be said that Matt Wallace seems to be fearless, not only in serving a menu that changes every ten days, but in the way he opened the doors to this new adventure, in the middle of a global pandemic in May 2020. A restaurant that was always meant to be tiny, so that Matt was cooking every single dish himself, was made even tinier with Covid restrictions in place. 28 covers became 14, and those 14 chairs became the hottest in town instantly because of the unique nature of this dining experience.
The menu reads like a laundry list. No dish has a name, it’s just a list of fresh ingredients with the main ingredient of the dish highlighted with bold lettering. Ten dishes are listed, three are to be chosen by each guest, with an optional dessert at the end (people, please don’t make that optional). At the bottom of the menu you’ll find a blank space where Matt, and GM Krista, fill in the musical artist they are featuring that evening in the restaurant. It plays faintly in the background, not too loud and not too soft. Just filling the void where the guests have lost the power of speech as they tuck into each new dish that arrives at the table. And yes, each dish that arrives is presented and introduced to you by either Matt or Krista. Matt takes you away to another time and place as he discusses his inspirations and memories for each formulation.
Occasionally he’ll even lean over from the kitchen, which is open for every diner to see the creative process, and share a story out of the blue about something on the table or in response to a question about a dish or menu item. We took a few sips of champagne and my guest complimented the choice of glassware for the champagne coupes. Matt and Krista were quick to point out that the coupes were actually a gift from a neighbour in Beaufort who had come into the restaurant and kindly gifted this set of glasses (originally from the 1920s) that she no longer used in her house. They said “she wanted to see them have a new life.” We were enchanted. There’s no other word for it. Just when you think you can’t love a place more, you hear a story like that and melt like butter into the chair before the first dish has even arrived.
Now, let’s talk about these dishes. Since the restaurant has opened, Matt has served up southern food in a way that is truly unprecedented. He’s taken local ingredients and turned them into dishes that are deserving of front covers of magazines. His imagination and palate are one of a kind and they have no geographical boundaries. He creates with what’s available and he takes inspiration from all corners of the globe.
Here’s a quick teaser of just a few of his creations (follow Black Sheep on Instagram to keep up to date with each new item as it’s created… trust me this is a must follow for every foodie). Remember, each dish is listed as ingredients, so everything you are reading in one line presents as one dish…
Deviled Eggs. Okra Pickles. Bacon Jam. Bread and Butter Cucumber Pickle.
Mushrooms. Parmesan Fondue. Sourdough Toast. Thyme.
Roasted Peaches. Ricotta. Country Ham. Cane Syrup Vinaigrette. Basil.
Bacconaise. Tomatoes. White Bread. Lettuces. Bacon. Chives.
Bologna. Brioche. Dijon. Pickles. Cheddar.
Captain Crunch Panna Cotta. Strawberry. Raspberry. Blueberry.
I could list and list… but really it’s just words at the end of the day. The experience is in the tasting and nothing is given away by simple looking at the ingredients. It’s merely a teaser for the tastebuds.
This is both the food I grew up with yet nothing like the food I ate as a child in this country. Every forkful feels like a memory, yet I’m certain I’ve never tasted anything like it before. To me, that’s an experience that is worthy of every culinary award going. It’s why we go out to eat. And Black Sheep in Beaufort is worthy of your attention. It’s worthy of a road trip, dare I say a plane ticket?
While I am hesitant to share pictures of my experience, as there was much more emphasise placed on enjoying myself rather than capturing excellent photos, I can’t help but share what I did capture. I quickly snapped a picture of everything, just to showcase my own experience and for my own memory bank. This was never intended to be a review. But how could I call myself a food writer if I didn’t come away and tell the world about one of the best meals I have ever eaten. The fact that I get to write that took place in my hometown is just mind blowing. Make the reservation. Do not let this experience pass you by!
Now… my last meal at Blacksheep, with dish descriptions under each dish:
Oregano Vinaigrette. Ciabatta Finocchiona. Coppa. Braised Peppers. Dukes.
Whipped Chevre. Walnut. Roasted Grapes. Thyme. Balsamico. Muscadine.
Coconut Milk. Sweet Corn. Shrimp. Mussels. Ginger. Basil. Lime. Chive.
Za’atar. Coucous. Herbs. Tomato. Cucumber. Labneh. Eggplant.
Green Beans. Blacksheep Ricotta. Zucchini. Mint. Lemon. Olive Oil. Almond.
Gnocchi. Blacksheep Italian. Calabrian Chili. Backyard Oregano. Pecorino.
Banana Bread. Fluffernutter. Hazelnut.
Chocolate Budino. Olive Oil. Espresso. Salt.