Get Fresh at Cahill's Market!
Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: Photography by Anne
Tired of flavorless gassed tomatoes, waxed fruit and pesticide-laden produce from who knows where? For a fresh solution, head over to Cahill’s Market in Bluffton and step into a time machine. While we all appreciate the convenience of supermarkets and one-stop-shopping, there comes a time when we long for the simple pleasures in life, like a vine ripe tomato, homegrown squash, sweet corn and a mess of collards.
“It’s a hustle and bustle world,” said market owner, John Cahill, whose son has taken over his other businesses so he can get back to his roots. Living in Bluffton since the day he was born, John is no stranger to farming. He and his brother, Mike, work 60 acres to produce the bounty of fresh vegetables available in the market. And what they can’t produce on their own land, they get from the State Farmers Market in Columbia, SC.
Housed in a pole barn on May River Rd., where a field of sunflowers once stood, although only in its fifth year, Cahill’s Market blends perfectly with the quaintness of Old Town Bluffton. But the real prize is inside where the past meets the present.
In addition to the abundance of just-picked produce, you’ll find farm fresh eggs, North Carolina mountain butter and cheese, an eclectic mix of specialty items such as homemade pickles, private-label jams and preserves, stone ground grits, country ham, salt pork and vegetable soup you would swear your grandma made.
“We’re just coming into season for the boiled peanuts,” said John’s sister, Debra, who operates the market. “A lot of people love them. A lot of people have no clue. It’s fun to introduce them.” Sweet South Carolina peaches will be coming soon, too, she added.
If you really want a sweet treat, reach for a jar of local honey. (Cahill’s Market gets its supply from a Hardeeville beekeeper.) Take a trip down memory lane when you check out the packaged goods, including powdered donuts, honey buns and Cracker Jack. Those who prefer heat to sweet will find a variety of kicked up barbecue sauces and the famous South Carolina-produced Blenheim ginger ale, known for its lingering burn.
Aside from the gastronomic delights, Cahill’s Market is your source for garden treasures. Decorate your life with glorious ferns and flowers and take home some fresh herbs to grow on your own turf. You’ll also find porch swings, rockers, gliders and arbors, all made by the Mennonites in North Carolina, according to Debra.
Word travels fast in the Lowcountry, and in its first four years, Cahill’s Market made a name for itself in the retail realm. The only thing missing was a chance to sample the goods. So in January, 2008, John took to the kitchen.
Most everything he knows about cooking, he learned from his mother, and what he didn’t get from her, he has managed to figure out on his own. “All of us would ask Mama how to cook this and that. She would tell you, but she wouldn’t say exactly how much of anything,” said John.
“If you know what kind of food you like, you can cook anything,” he continued. “I taste it every day. Some days it tastes better, according to the seasoning. I don’t cook by a recipe. A recipe throws me off.”
John cooks what is seasonal and fresh. “You can’t beat fried chicken,” [the signature dish of the Chicken Kitchen] he said. And who doesn’t love those fresh veggies? (Those who don’t can always opt for a hotdog—a big seller in the market.)
Although John is “chief cook and bottle washer,” the business is truly a family affair. “I really enjoy working with Johnny. We are very blessed. We’re a really close family,” said Debra, introducing me to Buster, the five-year-old yellow Lab who serves as official greeter. “We have a fun time in here. It’s a relaxed atmosphere.”
Cahill’s Market and the Chicken Kitchen welcome locals and visitors alike. “The way I look at it, the growth process is slow,” said John. “Let people come and sit down and enjoy the country setting and enjoy good food—take a step back in time. The word’s getting out now. It’s catching on!”
Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, Cahill’s Market is located at 1055 May River Rd. Chicken Kitchen is open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and is closed on Sunday. For directions or more information, call 757-2921.
Cahill’s Chicken Kitchen
If you’re looking for fancy, forget about stopping at Cahill’s Chicken Kitchen. But if it’s down-home, honest-to-goodness, real Southern-style cookin’ you’re cravin’, get ready for a taste of home.
Your experience starts the minute you open your car door and catch a whiff of poultry perfection. John Cahill may not look like the Colonel, but he’s king of the fried chicken in these parts. Add a selection of farm-fresh vegetables, a wedge of cornbread and a glass of sweet iced tea, and you’ve got yourself a meal and a memory. Go ahead and finish off with Debra’s peach cobbler, strawberry shortcake or banana pudding and you’ll think you are knocking on heaven’s door. The only thing that might bring you back down to earth is the no-frills presentation. But that’s half the fun!
Lunch is dished up in a Styrofoam box. Utensils are plastic and beverage service is do-it-yourself—all perfect for takeout if you so desire. But it’s the dine-in experience you don’t want to miss. Choose a table indoors if you must, but the happening place to be is on the porch. You won’t mind the mismatched plastic tablecloths and variety of folding chairs, because Mother Nature is taking care of the ambiance. Surrounded by hanging baskets filled with lush greenery and a rainbow of flowers, nothing could be more colorful but perhaps the cast of characters. Fill your lungs with fresh air and let the twang of country music slow your pulse. Whether you’re looking for a mini-vacation or a trip back in time, you’ve found it on the sleepy side of Bluffton.
John’s crispy chicken is offered every day along with other country favorites such as steak and gravy, fried pork chops, chicken pot pie, fried catfish and barbecue ribs. (Selections vary daily.) Beach buffs and weight watchers appreciate the “light side” selections, such as baked chicken, chicken salad and tossed green salad. What else is cooking depends on what’s fresh from the garden. Staples include mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and rice and gravy. Seasonal goodies include green beans, corn on the cob, sweet potato soufflé, cabbage, collards, okra and tomatoes and much more.
No matter which side of the Mason-Dixon Line you claim as home, for a heapin’ helpin’ of hospitality, stop by the Chicken Kitchen. “Set a spell” and you might get the hang of the language. Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?