Feasting with M. Judson Booksellers & Storytellers

A one-of-a-kind literary feast is served during the Sunday Sit-Down Suppers hosted at M. Judson Booksellers & Storytellers in Greenville, S.C. "We wanted to create a community dining experience that is food centric but also focuses on great authors," said Debi Horton, the store's manager and event planner.

A local chef devises a four-course menu based on the featured title, and the author joins diners to discuss the work. Sunday Sit-Down Suppers are ticketed events that typically cost $75 and are held in the evening, after business hours. Display tables are removed from the foyer, transforming the store--which is housed in a historic building that used to be a courthouse--into a temporary restaurant.

The suppers take place one Sunday a month and can accommodate up to 80 people. Diners are seated at either one or two long tables formally set with linens and china from the store co-owners' cupboards. Between each course, the author shares insights into the book and the chef talks about what inspired the upcoming dish.

The first sit-down supper took place in 2015, shortly after the store opened, with the late Pat Conroy, who was an early supporter of M. Judson Booksellers. Since then, Sunday Sit-Down Supper participants have broken bread with a variety of fiction and nonfiction authors, including Matt Lee and Ted Lee, who introduced Princess Pamela's Soul Food Cookbook, the first title in the Lee Brothers Library series. Kathryn Smith came in character as Missy LeHand, the central figure in her book The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership that Defined a Presidency, and the menu reflected food served at the president's frequent cocktail parties, on picnics at his retreat in Warm Springs, Ga., and at the White House.

Kathryn Smith as Missy LeHand

Guests may purchase the featured book at a discounted price and pick it up in advance or at the dinner. Conversation is enhanced by customers who come prepared with "thoughtful questions or testimonials about how a book has affected their lives," said Horton. While ruminating with Lauren Groff on Fates and Furies, which follows a couple's marriage over two decades, people shared their own relationship stories and ways in which the novel offered a new perspective. "What always stands out for me is the camaraderie that develops," added Horton. It's lovely to see that bonding people have with the books and then get to share it with the author."

A core group of repeat guests attends the Sunday Sit-Down Suppers, as do some of the store's book club members. Each author attracts different participants, while the various chefs also bring in diners. "We get foodies who love the opportunity to see a chef that they love cook something they normally don't get to try," said Horton.

Blending the literary and the culinary is a signature of M. Judson Booksellers, whose founders include Samantha Wallace, publisher of the seasonal food magazine Edible Upcountry, and Ashley Warlick, the editor of Edible Upcountry and author of The Arrangement, a novel based on the early career and tumultuous love life of legendary food writer M.F.K. Fisher.

The table set for the Lee Brothers

Other palate-pleasing events hosted by the store are Book and a Beer, which matches an author with a local brewery, and Pop-Up Suppers, a more informal evening meal. Another is Page Pairings, a book-inspired wine tasting done in conjunction with the in-store eatery the Chocolate Moose Bakery & Cafe. Each of six wines is paired with a book that shares the same spirit. The $30 ticket includes a choice of one of the spotlighted titles, although customers often purchase additional books as well.

The most recent Sunday Sit-Down Supper took place this past Sunday, August 27. The guest of honor was Joshilyn Jackson, who chatted with diners about her new, Southern-set novel, The Almost Sisters. And what was on the menu?

Tin Roof Farm tomatoes, smoked tomato mayonnaise, Colonial Milling sourdough cornbread
Lady Pea cake, herb salad, apple cider vinaigrette
Smoked & braised beef brisket, Colonial Milling grits, wild mushrooms, thyme, shallots
Vanilla & lemon zest pound cake, peach & Gewurztraminer jam, vanilla bean powder, clabbered cream

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