Originally created 11/27/98

10 Downing Street cozy but not stuffy

The name sounds like a mystery program on BBC -- but there's no mystery here: No. 10 Downing Street in Aiken offers quality cuisine in an elegant, intimate atmosphere.

The owners, Virginia Huckabee and Jan Waugh, say it's in the second-oldest building in Aiken. The history of this house-turned-restaurant -- once owned by poet, artist and inventor James Mathews Legare -- though intriguing, is being wonderfully reconfigured by the artisans who now draw clientele interested in a unique dining experience.

Though small, 10 Downing offers an extensive variety of services and menu selections. Its proprietors and staff provide off-site catering as well as accomodations for on-site private parties, and evening dining for couples and groups.

Plan for a long, quiet, luxurious evening at 10 Downing. Call for a reservation, get a babysitter, and prepare to be spoiled. This is a place the two of you need to go to "catch up."

TOM: Casual elegance is how I would describe 10 Downing. Don't confuse this with an English-style restaurant or pub. The dining areas are comfortable and the tables are not stacked one atop the next. So often, in smaller places, the owners cram as many tables per square foot as possible. Ten Downing is intimate without being claustrophobic.

And Allison, our server, made us feel right at home. We were her first guests of the evening, and her first guests ever. What a way to begin.

JULIE: Allison was top-notch from the start. All the way around she was courteous, friendly, and very attentive -- interesting, too.

TOM: I think the reason for this is Allison's first love is horses. She led me to the table and made me drink.

JULIE: Argh.

TOM: She suggested, for appetizers, the Combination Board, which is what Julie ordered. I decided to venture out and get the hot, spicy crab with pita.

JULIE: Think medieval feast here, with an assortment of cheeses, fruits, breads, meats -- and a pint of good, stout red wine in your fist. This is the best-spent $12 you'll ever find.

"Mr.Ed" here quaffed the red wine, and grazed along with me. When Allison asked us when we'd like to have our salads, my response was, "Sometime next week."

TOM: Well, actually, the wine was extra. The crab dip was also wonderful. Warm and spicy.

But the breads -- we found out later that Bruce, the son of one of the owners, does all the baking from scratch on premise. His bread is nothing less than marvelous. I put crab dip on it, I put spicy mustard, cheese, fruit, and then ate it by itself. It was fabulous.

Then came the salads. I had the blue cheese and Julie, the house dressing.

JULIE: I took four bites of this fresh mixture of greens and pomegranate, and went right back to our appetizer board. Nothing against the salad, but I just couldn't allow any pate or brie to go to waste. Allison was truly amazed.

TOM: I ordered the rack of lamb. It was cooked with care and done properly, medium rare. This was a large portion cooked with herbs and garlic. On the menu, they call it "heart healthy." Well, my heart thanks you as well as my stomach. I loved it.

JULIE: When you order your entree here, you'll find yourself in a crisis of conscience when you get it. You see, the vegetables and the accompanying rice or potatoes are every bit as delicious as the meat -- but it's the meat you absolutely feel obligated to eat.

I ordered the spiced pork tenderloin with chutney. Tender, slightly pink, every bite an ascent to the divine. I just couldn't finish it, so I had Allison box it up.

This is a dish you must finish sooner or later, because it'll be a long time before you find something comparable.

TOM: I finished all mine, and had a bite of Julie's. It was wonderful as well.

Next Julie ordered dessert. But before she gets a chance to tell you, it was not my fault ...

JULIE: They made for me something I have never had and likely will never find anywhere else -- peanut butter pie smothered in a rich chocolate sauce.

I can't describe it. I took two bites and gave it to Allison to box up. It was so rich, it would've taken me a week to finish it. And I would have. But this exquisite slice of pie and the incredible pork tenderloin were left behind, still in their boxes, by a Clydesdale who now lives in the dog house.

TOM: Now let me explain to you why it was NOT my fault. I paid the check, thanked Bruce the baker, tipped Allison the waitress, and we left.

I ate all of my food. All along, I thought Julie was in charge of hers, not mine. That's my story. If anybody's to blame, it's Julie, or maybe Allison. Possibly Bruce.

JULIE: Now you understand why sitcoms about talking horses are so ridiculous ...

Tom & Julie are the proprietors of Floyd Manor Inn in Blackville, S.C., and can be reached at (803) 284-3736.


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