The place brings a smile to your face. There’s a big Red Bone Coon dog with wagging tail in red neon outside. The name itself is unusual. “Dale Barth, the owner, named it after his favorite Red Bone Coon dog,” Holly Beaumier said. Holly moved to Florence, South Carolina from Erie, Pennsylvania by way of Taiwan and loves the city. Red Bone Alley is one of her favorite local restaurants.
We got off I 95 at exit 160 A for Florence. It was mid-way in our journey from New York to Florida. It had snowed in New York and the trip was through pretty dismal and cold weather until we reached South Carolina. Balmy breezes made it comfortable to be outside with only a sweater. The Hilton Garden Inn, near Florence’s convention center, offered a salt water swimming pool and hot tub along with spectacular home cooked breakfasts. That inducement plus local attractions made Florence a perfect respite about mid-way along the trip.
Florence is a modern booming city that has retained southern charm and hospitality South Carolina is known for. It is a beautiful area with miles of hiking, biking and dog walking trails as well as river paddling adventures. For the history enthusiast it is where American Revolutionary War General Francis Marion, with his small band of thirty guerrillas, held the British at bay. General Marion was so adept at riding out of the cypress swamps on Marsh Tacky horses, descended from the original steeds Spaniards brought to the Americas during early colonial times, that his raids diverted British troops from the north enabling General Washington to succeed.
Civil War history includes the Florence Stockade, where Confederate forces moved Union prisoners of war when General Sherman captured Atlanta. The Florence Stockade marked a tragic event in the sad War Between the States. There was little food available to feed prisoners and many died of starvation in the stockade.
No one dies of starvation at Red Bone Alley Restaurant. Holly Beaumier, a fluent Chinese language speaker, after being recruited by a Taiwanese company to work for them in Florence, so enjoyed the area that she is now Director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Like us, she didn’t know that there was such a breed as a Red Bone Coon dog; then this is South Carolina where sports enthusiasts surely love their dogs and hunting with them is a fine art.
Inside Red Bone Alley the biggest surprise is the decor. Dale Barth took over an old J.C. Penny department store building and converted it inside to resemble colonial Charleston streets. The entrance and main alley in the restaurant has paved bricks reminiscent of Charleston, lit with antique iron post street lamps. Building facades face the street. There is dining in a garden-like atmosphere on the main level and tables around a balcony above.
We were shown to a table in a gazebo. An outdoor canvas umbrella was hung above making the alcove unique. They had a Puppy Menu for $5 where young’uns get an entrée, side dish and ice cream tray. Puppy fare included grilled cheeseburgers, grilled chicken ranch wrap and mac and cheese. Sides included fresh fruit, corn on a stick and french fries. Pretty enticing for younger diners at a price parents will be content with for wholesome food.
David Poland, the General Manager, came to our table to be sure all was well. He told us that Dale was working in the kitchen. “He had to push up the ceiling of the building to accommodate the facades and give the restaurant that old colonial look of a Charleston street.”
Our table had a linoleum covering. Utensils were wrapped in cloth napkins. Salt and pepper was kept in capped beer bottles with holes drilled through their caps. The menu has a Red Bone Coon dog, floppy ears and a kind of wink on the cover. It bore the legend “A southern tradition.” Prelude to the appetizers, signature grits and rice dishes offered. For a busy place there was excellent service. Appetizers included boneless pickles, battered and deep fried dill pickle slices with Tabasco for $7. Old school chicken and rice soup is $4 and comes to table loaded with pulled chicken, Carolina Plantation rice and fresh vegetables. Hot yaki wings are glazed and spiced at $9.
Where possible everything served at Red Bone Alley is locally sourced. Purveyors of seafood, rice, beef, honey and vegetables are listed in the menu. Main courses include low country shrimp and grits, $16. Creamy cheese grits loaded with spicy fried shrimp, seared ham and sautéed mushrooms is featured. Bronzed chicken is a seasoned breast, pan seared, spiced and served with mixed vegetables. Fish of the day is a specialty Captain Drew Hagler selects from catches out of Port Royal, Morehead City and even Florida.
Beef lovers will enjoy Red Bone Alley’s Palmetto marinated rib eye. The steak is marinated for 48 hours in fruit juices, soy and spices then flash grilled and topped with caramelized onions, $19.50. Angus strip is $22 and a black and bleu rib eye with Cajun spices and bleu cheese is $19.50. One side and a copious salad comes with entrees.
Pasta dishes include Daufuskie Island shrimp with farm fresh vegetables, Carolina Plantation rice, spices and West Indian cream sauce, $16. Pasta Crudo is simple pasta in fine herbs with tomatoes, roasted garlic and slivered almonds, $10. Amazing salads can be had as a meal and run about $10.
Save room for dessert at Red Bone Alley. Their ice cream is home made, rich and delicious as are their cakes. A chocolate pie topped with vanilla ice cream was scrumptious as was a wafer roofed banana treat.
Traveling is discovery. A long road trip can be tedious or pleasant depending on some planning and willingness to see local sights and enjoy adventures along the way. Florence certainly offers grand opportunities to paddle scenic rivers, ride Marsh Tacky horses amidst cypress swamps, hike trails and visit historical sites.
Locals pride themselves on friendly hospitality. One little example was when I left the rear car wiper blade on. I couldn’t see it since the whole rear window was blocked with our baggage. I pulled in to get gas. A man drove in behind me. “I don’t need gas but I saw your rear wiper blade was going and knew you couldn’t see it with the baggage in the back. I wore out my wiper blade doing just the same thing.”
Imagine the special kindness of a stranger going out of his way like that. That is Florence, South Carolina a wonderful place to visit and its Red Bone Alley a cool place to eat. For more information go to www.visitflo.com or call their Chamber of Commerce toll-free at 1-800-325-9005. For reservations at Red Bone Alley call 843-673-0035 or visit www.redbonealley.com.