January 2017

Cahill’s Market and Chicken Kitchen: From Field to Fork

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

A meal here is like the Sunday suppers we grew up eating,” said Robbie Cahill, a branch of the fourth generation of family members welcoming guests at Cahill’s Market and Chicken Kitchen, just a hop, skip, and-a-jump west of downtown Bluffton on May River Road. Taking a seat for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner feels utterly like going home.

Situated just outside the kitchen door, ingredients from their own working farm guide the menu, where fresh, local, heritage, and heirloom apply. The indoor, farm stand-like market and restaurant with its red metal roof sits in a clearing on the side of the live oak-canopied road, where everyone has a standing invitation. “This is a down-home Southern place to come and enjoy yourself for a little while,” Cahill said.

Robbie’s dad, Johnny Cahill, opened the farm stand portion of the market in 2004, selling bins and basketfuls of produce grown on the Cahill land, along with locally made jams, jellies, sauces, honey, freshly laid eggs, homemade ice cream and treats, and much more. The market’s mood and ambiance recalls the early days of the Cahill farm, when the most common currency was the barter system, where people would come from all around to crack corn on the Cahill’s gristmill to make grits, cornmeal, or moonshine, and when counting the number of cars that passed by on any day rarely required all 10 fingers.

“By 2008, he [Johnny Cahill] was serving a little bit of food, and by 2010, we opened the fulltime restaurant,” Robbie Cahill said. “When the kitchen first opened, you went through the kitchen door and pointed out what you wanted. They’d box it up, and you could stay and eat it here in the open air or you could take it to-go. That first menu included fried chicken, of course, collard greens, of course, mashed potatoes and gravy, mac-n-cheese, sweet potato soufflé, fried pork chops, fried catfish, and some sort of dessert. It got popular. It needed to evolve, so in 2010, we decided to sell the other business [their family-owned appliance business], and we made it a sit-down kind of restaurant—enclosed and climate-controlled.”

Fried chicken with delicious golden, crispy skin is the star of the Chicken Kitchen menu, joined by a selection of proteins including (but certainly not limited to) baked ham, meatloaf, fried gizzards, cube steak, salmon croquettes, and seafood—all served with a delicious selection of classic sides including (but again, not limited to) collards, homegrown field peas, butterbeans, creamed corn, stoneground grits, avocado and bean salad, and okra ’n’ tomatoes. The lunch and dinner menu is extensive…and a bit like a treasure hunt. Finding a fried bologna sandwich alongside crab cakes and shrimp tacos is a revelation for the culinarily inquisitive.

“Creating dinner specials has to do with what I can get out of the garden or what we can obtain locally,” Cahill said. “This past week, we did a salad with farro grown in Edisto, roasted Brussels sprouts, with homemade pickled beets and goat cheese.”

The Dining Room at Cahill’s Chicken Kitchen.
A peacock struts his stuff as he roams freely about the property.

The Cahill’s market and restaurant business seems to evolve rather naturally, adding to its repertoire as Mother Nature, resources, and inspiration allow. Recently, Robbie Cahill commissioned the building of a custom pea sheller by a company in Georgia. Testing various pea crops at their farm, the new sheller has given the family the opportunity to offer a greater variety of Cahill-grown peas and beans. “We have a crop of fava beans that will probably be available in January. In May, we will start getting some peas in; we’re going to try shelling English peas in the spring,” he said. “We grew these great field peas. We served homegrown field peas in the restaurant for 95 days in a row; that is special.”

Adding Sunday brunch to the offerings has been a gateway to seven-day-a-week breakfasts at Cahill’s Chicken Kitchen. The breakfast menu offers a variety of options with a whole lot of personality. Giant breakfast biscuits do great justice to a simple smear of butter or act as a base for eggs, ham, pork, bacon, sausage, or various manner of Benedicts. Imagine a butterflied buttermilk-marinated fried chicken breast atop a biscuit with poached eggs, and hollandaise, nestled next to crispy home fries; waffles with fried chicken; pecan waffles; and waffles with brown sugar-candied Applewood smoked bacon; fruit parfaits; and steel-cut oatmeal.

Johnny, Robbie, Stephanie, Juke and Evelyn Cahill.

The calendar and the seasons also help dictate the offerings and activities at Cahill’s throughout the year. The now-famous New Year’s Day all-you-can-eat buffet has become a welcome tradition. “It’s a smorgasbord,” Cahill said. “I stay up all night on New Year’s Eve, and I smoke 36 Boston butts. We do pulled pork, Hoppin’ John, homegrown collards, macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato soufflé.” Plating up food that shares the holiday’s culinary traditions sends guests into the new year with wishes for health, wealth, and happiness.

While offered year-round, Cahill summers are synonymous with their homemade ice cream. Made in one-gallon batches with fresh milk from Hickory Hill Milk out of Edgefield, South Carolina, the peach ice cream has put them on the map. Of course, the flavors change as produce offerings become available, but don’t be surprised if in addition to blackberry and blueberry ice cream, they just may be scooping candied bacon and maple as well.

The Cahills welcome fall to their farm with pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn, a 1,200-bale straw pyramid, and a haunted trail. And stunning, fresh Christmas trees from their grower in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, fresh wreaths, and poinsettias from County Farm Plant Company out of Baxley, Georgia, bring the beauty and scents of Christmas to the farm.

In 2018, the Cahill family is looking forward to celebrating their centennial. “In 1918 my great grandmother purchased this property,” Cahill said. The family has occupied the land and the home that sits on the property ever since. Today, Johnny Cahill, his sister Debra, who can be found most days manning operations in the market, and brother Mike all live on the farm. “You have to like farming; actually, you have to love it,” Robbie Cahill said. “It has to be a part of your life. You plant a seed and you see it come to fruition. You get great satisfaction from that. We’re not only feeding our family; we’re feeding thousands of people.”

It seems it’s time for supper.

Cahill’s Market and Chicken Kitchen is located at 1055 May River Road, Bluffton. For more information, please call (843) 757-2921 or visit cahillsmarket.com.

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