Trufficulture: A 30 Year Symbiotic Celebration
Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: Photography by Anne
Hunting for truffles is a rather dirty business. It requires the unrelenting enthusiasm of a snorting, sniffing, scavenging particular breed of pig or the well-trained nose of a willing hound to forage through the woodlands, beneath fallen and rotting leaves, where, nestled between the roots of only a few specific breeds of trees is the culinary equivalent of gold. Truffle-seeking dogs, who simply point and then move on, make the job of gathering these gems a bit easier than their historically more successful counterparts, the pigs, who, quite literally make pigs of themselves if the truffles are not swooped from beneath their talented, sloppy, snouts before they gobble them up.
Thank heavens, if you are hunting for Truffles in the Lowcountry, there is only one particular breed to be found—the family of Truffles restaurants: Truffles at Sea Pines Center, Truffles Pope Avenue, both on Hilton Head Island, and Truffles at Belfair in Bluffton. Celebrating Truffle’s 30th anniversary, owners Price and Karen Beall have created their own Lowcountry trufficulture—yes, actually a real term given to the efforts made in early 19th century France to plant trees that were welcome hosts to truffle growth.
Growing up, both Price and Karen vacationed with their families on Hilton Head. In 1979, Price moved to Hilton Head from Knoxville to open and manage Ruby Tuesday with his brother Sandy. In the early 1980s, the idea for Truffles began to take shape, “Charles and Joe Fraser were doing Sea Pines Center and wanted us to do a restaurant. That’s how we came up with Truffles, and that’s when we went to New York, to get some fresh ideas,” Price said.
Celebrating Truffle’s30th anniversary, owners Price and Karen Beall
Several years before Karen came into the picture, Sandy Beall and his wife Kreis were instrumental collaborators with Price as they developed the first incarnation of Truffles. “We wanted to do something a little different for the island,” Price said. In an effort to inspire their vision he says, “We went to New York and went to Zabar’s and Dino De Laurentis’s DDL Food Show, which was a huge, very nice Zabar’s kind of place. We just looked around. We had been talking to the Vie de France people, so we decided to do a gourmet market and café and bakery. We were originally Vie de France Franchise bakers.”
Describing how Truffles first looked he said, “We had prepared meats and salads, roasted meats, cheeses; we had jelly beans all over the back wall, with coffees all in clear dispensers. We had all the Silver Palate products and a gourmet grocery. We had wines all along the windows, and we had a wine chiller, so you could actually select your bottle of wine to have with your dinner.” Trufficulture was born.
Karen came to the island from Atlanta for the summer of 1984, landed a job as a server at Truffles and never left. These many years later, Karen is at the heart of much of what Truffles is today. Price says she’s the R & D (research and development) for many of the recipes developed for the restaurants; she coordinates all of the marketing, and she does all the buying for the Truffles gift shop, which opened in the Sea Pines Center location in 1994. “The buying to me is the most fun. It’s great when it sells, but I love finding new things,” Karen said.
The gift shop is brimming with goodies you aren’t likely to find elsewhere. One of my favorite purchases over the years (and there have been many), was a mercury glass fish ornament with a wire hanger formed in the shape of a Christmas tree—stunning, and completely unique. And speaking of Christmas, Karen’s decorating acumen extends from the beautiful décor at each location, to the romantic Christmas trees that greet guests during the holidays. Having a cozy dinner in their glow is not to be missed.
Price, along with managing partner Fernando Lossada, a team of managers, and a well-trained staff execute the day-to-day operations at the three locations. “Our people are really our key,” Price said. “We try to work only with positive people.” Each team member carries a Truffles Credo Card, reminding them of the core values of the Beall’s trufficulture. At the core of the credo, and it seems of the Bealls, is having a whole lot of heart for what they do.
With the July anniversary taking a back seat to the busy summer season, Price and Karen plan to celebrate their milestone in the fall. “The locals need to be the focus since they’ve supported us. We wouldn’t have made it 30 years without a loyal guest following,” Price said. In the meantime there are plenty of good reasons to visit Truffles, including a new bar menu with a several inventive small plate items. The caramelized onion dip with homemade chips is nothing like your grandmother’s French onion dip and chip (think deeply caramelized onions, fresh chives, and house made chips). Oh my! And do not miss the new drink concoctions. When pressed to choose a favorite, Price admits to an affinity for the Pisco Pasco cocktail (fresh ginger, fresh lime, agave nectar, Pisco Porton and ginger ale)—not only fun to say, but delish.
I wonder if the Bealls know that truffles and tree roots form a symbiotic relationship, creating the treasured gems that are so diligently sought. The trufficulture created here in the Lowcountry is the result of the Bealls putting down some very special roots and carefully tending to their growth. Many families have grown up coming to Truffles, Price said. “It’s especially fun watching all the regular guest’s families grow. Now their children come in with their children, who are now regular guests.” The three restaurant locations are so much more than a great dining experience; Truffles is a place to come home to, where there is always something wonderful to eat and always a whole lot of heart.
Truffles is located at Sea Pines Center, Hilton Head Island, (843) 671-6136; on Pope Avenue, Hilton Head Island, (843) 785-3663; and at Belfair, Bluffton, (843) 815-5551. For more information, visit trufflescafe.com.