Mrs. Whaley Entertains, Indeed

One of the most famous and colorful Charlestonians of all time has to be Emily Whaley. Her marvelous book “Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden” has been charming readers for decades. I am a particular fan of her second book “Mrs. Whaley Entertains.” I’ve attempted several of her heartfelt Southern recipes and they are so simple, so delicious, and so quintessentially Southern, that I’m certain everyone would enjoy cooking with Emily in their own kitchens.

Rather than share all of the marvelous recipes within her book, I thought I’d publish one of her sparkling chapters on Restaurants for your enjoyment. She has such an unusually relatable and warm way of writing that by the end of reading a few pages, you actually feel like she’s sitting across from you in a lovely garden, sipping sweet tea, just talkin’ and talkin’ about her colorful past.
I love fried flounder. Creighton Frampton, who is ninety-two years old, takes me out to lunch if I jog his memory. And we always go to California Dreaming and I always, without hesitation, order fried flounder. California Dreaming serves the most delicious fried flounder you ever put in your mouth. Perfect each time. Fresh and delicious. I know it’s a chain restaurant and that we have all these other wonderful restaurants in Charleston and that Charlestonians usually don’t take to chains. Plus this one is located all the way across the Ashley River. But California Dreaming is worth the trip.
The place is always full of young people, a tremendous variety of people. And very noisy. I pull my chair up to Creighton. I get my right ear up to him, my good ear. I order a glass of wine. We always have a grand time. We always order fried flounder. And fried potatoes. When we go in there we’re not going to eat a damn thing but fried food and a couple glasses of wine.
You know, it’s not fair not to give places a chance. That old Greek restaurant on King Street is closed now, but as I’ve said, Ben and I used to drive by just to see the chickens turning on the grill in the window. Just turning and turning. And we never went in.
Oh, we have wonderful food in Charleston. But I suspect I’d be in trouble for mentioning one or two places and leaving the others out. Let’s just say it’s hard to go wrong. Our restaurants can be crowded, though. Charleston is filling up with people and we have a city full of students, but that’s also the reason we now have the great restaurants. When the tea olives break into bloom and the smell is so delicious everywhere and the loquat is blooming at the same time and the crab cakes are sauteing, isn’t this city an absolutely wonderful place to be?
Pages 78-79
Published in 1998
So, there’s a short glimpse into the voice that makes her books so unique. The unintentional comedic way she puts things is just too cute to be true. I would have loved to have met this woman. But sadly she passed away the same year this book was published, 1998, at the age of 87 years old.
I like to think I have a lot in common with Emily Whaley. I love fried flounder. (In fact I love fried anything.) I love gardens. I, too, get drunk on the intoxicating scent of tea olives. I love more than one glass of wine. I love having a grand time. I love hosting parties. And I love good food that’s simple and crowd-pleasing.
One of my favorite restaurants for crab-encrusted flounder (pictured below) is the Long Island Cafe in Isle of Palms. I know damn well Emily and Creighton would’ve loved this dish. The next time I dine there, I’ll raise a glass in her memory. Or two.
Also pictured below is the exterior of California Dreaming. I happened to be there having a beverage after my Junior League of Charleston meeting and as you can see by the dark and looming clouds, I drank fast then drove home in one of the worst downpours in the history of the world. Welcome to South Carolina. Honey, it ain’t official ’til you survive one of THESE storms. (And how ironic that I’m originally from California!)
Guests of my Charleston walking tours will get a glimpse of Mrs. Whaley’s former home and garden located at 58 Church Street in Historic Downtown. We’ll peek through the gates and admire its eternal splendor.

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