Decision making in the dining sphere has lately been almost exclusively wretched.
It’s worst for those working in the food-and-beverage industry, of course, but even restaurant patrons are dealing with previously unimaginable choices. Customers who once only had to decide between still and sparkling water now have to size up dining rooms and ask themselves: “If I sit down for a plate of spaghetti, will I contract a potentially lethal virus?”
That’s an unanswerable question, and an exhausting one. Fortunately, the new “Autumn Nights in the Field of Light” program at Brookgreen Gardens poses an entirely different dilemma: Do you take more comfort from wandering amongst twilit sculptures or from tucking into a warming bowl of she-crab soup?
At the very moment they’re needed most, Brookgreen offers both.
A Brookgreen Gardens representative did not return a message seeking comment, but the Murrells Inlet outdoor art complex indicates on its website that the extension of Bruce Munro’s “Field of Light” is intended to help Brookgreen surmount revenue shortfalls related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the month of October, the immersive LED light installation is open from 7-9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The $50 admission ticket includes access to an all-you-can-eat lineup of she-crab soup, chicken bog, Lowcountry boil, roasted oysters, banana pudding and tea.
Brookgreen has arranged spaced-out picnic tables for guests, although couples anteing up $200 for a VIP package sit at smaller linen-draped tables on a covered pavilion (they also receive a commemorative book, two glasses of wine and upgraded parking. Other guests can buy beer and wine from a cash bar.)
By the end of the month, sunset will arrive by 6:24 p.m. But this past Saturday, dusk coincided roughly with the time that the gates opened, so attendees could amble slowly to the picnic area, admiring the live oaks and mythical figures rendered in marble. It was stunning.
Yet those who signed up just to experience Munro’s sprawling collection of light sticks, subtly colored and strewn across the property like daffodils, will instead want to sprint straight for supper.
The reason is twofold: Stragglers are dealt soup that has ceased to steam and oysters at ambient temperature. More critically, though, there are dozens upon dozens of art appreciators in the food line within 15 minutes of the event’s start, and not all of them are masked. Plus, the line isn’t marked in any perceptible fashion, so it clumps together, leaving parties about one step length apart.
In other words, the safest option is to either eat first or last.
Still, that’s the only departure from proper protocol. Brookgreen deserves credit for putting together an experience that minimizes risk and maximizes joy. Since restaurants haven’t been the fount of creativity that diners were primed to anticipate when closure orders came down, it’s interesting to see non-restaurant destinations with space to spare pick up the slack on that score.
To be clear, the meal isn’t comparable to what a sit-down restaurant kitchen can produce. It’s catering company food, served cafeteria-style. And if you don’t eat meat or seafood, you’re stuck with a sad heap of penne pasta. But the bog is just a glug of hot sauce away from good, the shrimp are cooked for the right amount of time and the oysters are plump. I went back for seconds.
Then, when it was fully dark, I wandered through the “Field of Light.”
I’m not particularly talented at guessing the number of gumballs in a jar, but it appeared as though there was a massive number of individual lights; certainly far more lights than my mind could grasp. With uncountable lights in every direction, I wondered if, by happenstance, there were enough lights to signify all 200,000 American lives lost to the coronavirus.
There are 11,000 lights in the display.
For more information about “Autumn Nights in the Field of Light,” go to brookgreen.org/events/autumn-nights-field-light. Ticket sales for the coming weekend end at noon Thursday.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.