In their splendid 1975 philippic The Taste of America, John and Karen Hess condemned the longstanding American practice of taking cocktails before dinner. They singled out Scotch whisky for particular scorn, maintaining that it “smells like crushed bedbugs” and would “coat the palate with a lingering taste that quarrels with the food to come.”
One wonders what the Hesses would have thought of the Compass Box Whisky Dinner held Wednesday night at the Old Village Post House in Mt. Pleasant, which not only served Scotch before dinner but paired each course of the meal with a different Compass Box whisky.
Of course, the Scotch that the Hesses so loathed in the 1970s is nothing like the carefully crafted blends created by Compass Box’s master whiskymaker, John Glaser. These latter spirits, the London-based firm maintains, will surprise not only whisky lovers but food lovers as well.
To prove it, they teamed up with Forrest Parker, the Post House’s Chef de Cuisine, and Patrick Emerson, the Wine and Beverage Director for Maverick Southern Kitchens, to craft a five-course, scotch-paired menu.
The evening started with a classic highball: Great King Street whisky on the rocks with a generous amount of soda. It was a refreshing sip after coming in from a warm Mt. Pleasant evening, and it was also the opening argument in Compass Box’s case in defense of whisky as a versatile spirit that should be served and enjoyed in many different ways.
The first course brought a pair of tasty bites: a light, crispy fried oyster atop a spoonful of aioli and a piece of smoked trout resting on a small buttermilk Johnnycake, topped with a dollop of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of blood orange-infused trout caviar. You would think such light preparations would be totally overwhelmed by a sip of Scotch whisky, but the Asyla pairing — a golden blend of grain and malt whiskies — was soft, sweet and perfectly accommodating, especially against the subtle smokiness of the trout.
That set the stage for a tour through the full range of flavors possible from different blends of whiskies. Chef Parker, who’s been on board at the Post House for about nine months, really stepped up with all four courses, creating dishes that mingled and bonded with each of the different whiskies, so that food and spirit built upon and enhanced each other’s flavors.
The second course’s boiled peanut soup tucked whole red peanuts into a rich, smoky ham hock broth with a big shard of crisp candied ham floating on top. It brought out a beautiful progression in the paired Oak Cross “vatted malt” blend, with the sweetness of the whisky emerging first then a rush of spice following in behind.
For the third course, Parker drew inspiration from two legendary Tennessee fried chicken joints — Prince’s in Nashville and Gus’s in Memphis — to create a chicken duo, one piece hot and spicy, the other extra crispy. They were served over a spoonful of sweet, tangy sorghum baked beans laced with bits of burnt ends and a sprinkling of “oysters” made from battered and fried sweet corn kernels. The paired spirit was the warm, complex Hedonism, a blend of grain whiskies made from corn, wheat, and barley and aged between 13 and 28 years each.
The last and heaviest course was paired with Peat Monster, a bold blend of three single malt Scotches that has every bit of the powerful peat-smoke aroma of a Lagavulin or similar single malts, but with more layers and complexity. It came alongside a pork course that layered a dry-rubbed baby back rib and a slice of pork belly over a bed of creamy pencil cob grits and okra ratatouille with a red eye reduction spooned over the top. The big smoky flavors of the pork and redeye were a fine match for the whisky’s earthy peat notes and a nice finale to dishes that ran the gamut from light and crisp to dark and smoky.
Each of the courses was introduced by host Mark Pruckner, Compass Box’s American rep, who explained the story behind each pairing and, in the process, took diners through a crash course on Scotch whisky. He covered the basics — such as the difference among blended, single malt, and vatted grain whiskies — as well as more advanced subjects, like why Compass Boxes’ offering is paler than most Scotches (no caramel coloring) and might look cloudy when served on ice (because it’s not chill filtered).
For dessert, a tulip glass of Orangerie — blended Scotch infused with orange zest and spices — proved that whisky could take the place of an after-dinner liqueur, especially when served with a superbly creamy icebox pie with a steel-cut oak crust as thick and rich as an oatmeal cookie.
All told, it was an eye-opening and palate-pleasing event. I was a little skeptical going in that Scotch — even good, hand-blended artisanal Scotch — would have the depth and complexity to enhance instead of just accompany a five-course meal. But the Compass Box whiskies displayed a remarkably broad range of flavors, and Parker and Emerson showed a deft hand in matching them with complementary Southern ingredients. And it may have convinced a few diners to consider forgoing the wine and breaking out the bottles of good whisky for their next dinner party.
After a six-month struggle to reinvent itself — first as a dessert bar and then again as a tapas restaurant — Chai's finally closed its doors at the end of February.
About six weeks ago, Fish bartender and one of Charleston's most creative mixologists Evan Powell left (amicably) his post at Patrick Properties.
What do the two have to do with each other? Well, Powell is now the general manager of a new venue that's going into the old Chai's: Republic Garden & Lounge.
Republic is working with Charleston architect Julia Martin and interior designer Charles Doell of Mr. Important Design in Oakland, Calif., to transform the space at 462 King St. into an upscale bar and lounge that Powell promises will have exceptional service and a comfortable setting.
"We’re going to have a little something for everyone," says Powell. "Beer, great wine. If you like handcrafted cocktails, we'll have that available. We'll have a friendly, knowledgeable staff and a high level of customer service. This is a hospitable town, and we want to raise the bar.
The food will be small plates of internationally inspired food. "Elegant bar food," as Powell puts it. "But we’re focusing on the lounge, the social aspect, the creativity in the events realm. It's the total package, not just a cocktail bar or a tapas restaurant or a wine bar."
When it comes to special events, Powell says they have some space in the building that they are hoping to utilize, but right now they are focusing on getting the bar and lounge open first.
They expect to be open by mid-July, but Powell says they aren't rushing anything. "We’re taking our time to be thorough and making sure that out of the gate, we do it the right way. We want our staff to be knowledgeable about everything. ... It's not going to be pretentious about anything. It's going to be hospitable, welcoming, and catering to different tastes."
Lots of places around town are increasing their hours to help keep the Spoletians fed and watered. Here's a rundown:
Butcher & Bee will be serving breakfast during the entire festival. They'll open at 9 a.m. during the 17 days of the Spoleto with a menu of breakfast sandwiches and Batdorf & Bronson coffee. And they'll stay open through until late night (3 a.m. on the weekends). Stop by on your way to the opening ceremonies on Friday and check it out.
Barsa will be open for lunch beginning May 29, serving a $10 fixed panini menu, which includes a beverage.
Ted's Butcherblock will pack you a picnic and let you take it with you. The "Picnic in a Bag" costs $30 and is packed with cups, napkins, plates, and utensils in addition to Manchego cheese, sliced Genoa salami, crostini, marcona almonds, fresh fruit, a bottle of wine, and a bottle of water.
Every night from 5-7 p.m. at the bar, The Grocery is doing a Five to Seven menu. They'll have five to seven menu items priced from $5-$7. Glasses of wine for $5. Specialty cocktails for $5-$7. And two draft beer pours for $7. The Grocery is open Tues.-Sat.
Wasabi, which is located close to the action at the Dock Street and Footlight theaters, is offering a happy hour deal during the festival: get an appetizer plate and two glasses of wine for $12 from 4-7 p.m. Or you could do a $25, four-course dinner that includes appetizer, hibachi, sushi, and dessert. They're also throwing a SPoleto kickoff party on Friday, May 25 from 5 p .m.-close with artists and DJs on hand.
Peninsula Grill will be extending their hours during the festival. They'll be open 5-10 p.m. on Thursday and 5-11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Get in early and get out in time for your show.
Circa 1886 will be extending their hours from 5-10 p.m. beginning Fri. May 25 through Sun. June 10.
After Piccolo Fringe at Theatre 99 on Meeting Street, the go-to spot for a late-night drink is Burns Alley, right behind La Hacienda on King St. The beer is cold and the vibe is casual.
And for those who could give a rat's ass about Spoleto (or are too broke to care), there's always the Griffon, which is running an ad that touts them being "Fun as Hell. Cheap as Shit." We'd agree with that.
If you or someone you love is a big fan of pig, well you've got some interesting ways to get your fill.
First, there's Craig Deihl, our own master charcuterian, who has closets full of hanging sausages and curing meats over at his restaurant Cypress.
He's been doing an Artisan Meat Share for a while now where you can purchase a bag of charcuterie and other housemade meats, but this year, instead of doing quarterly installments, he's fulfilling orders for special holidays, like Memorial Day (this weekend) and Father's Day.
The Memorial Day package comes with enough smoked pork shoulder, bratwursts, hot dogs, burgers, barbecue sauce, and sauerkraut to feed 10-12 people. The Father's Day package is stocked with charcuterie and cured meats and an in-house, dry-aged steak for two. Each package is $50 and can be ordered by calling (843) 937-4012, ext. 229.
Another meaty option comes courtesy of Jason Houser of Meathouse, the artisan butcher at the weekly farmers market.
He's offering pork shares of entire pigs (190-230 pounds) at $5 per pound. You can buy a 1/4 share for $250 and receive chops, boston butt, shoulder roast, belly, shank, and ground pork. Add $80 and you can get that belly made into bacon and the ground pork made into sausage. A half-share is $500.
For more information, visit their Facecbook page or call Houser at (843) 469-6000.
Tim Logan and Claire Masingill have teamed up to make Charleston’s first breakfast food truck. Logan graduated from the College of Charleston with a degree in business and Masingill from the University of Georgia in economics. They met two years ago working at McCrady’s and thought: what can we do to use our business knowledge and our passion for food?
“Breakfast is our favorite thing,” says Logan, “We eat out a lot around town, and we felt it was lacking.” Neither has a culinary degree but both were raised in the kitchen.
“We just love food, so we decided to do something we love,” says Logan.
Outta My Huevos will have an always-changing chalkboard menu. They plan to source local ingredients whenever possible. “It’s going to be what people like for breakfast, simple and straightforward,” says Logan. That means breakfast sandwiches and burritos, and at least one sweet item like a waffle.
Logan and Masingill havev put a lot of thought into their first venture. A food truck eliminates overhead like electricity and rent. “Eventually, the goal is to have a stationary restaurant,” says Logan.
But first, they’ve got to hit the road. They’ve had a few setbacks involving truck parts, and even having to change their name. The original name was Whisk, but when Whisk Bakery opened on Meeting Street it was back to square one. A McCrady’s kitchen employee opened the door into his co-worker who replied, “Hey! Get outta my huevos!” and it had been decided.