Saturday night, Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q teamed up with the Southern Foodways Alliance to crown legendary barbecue pitmaster Helen Turner as the reigning Queen of Pig and Smoke. Two honorees from previous years, Sam Jones of the Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina, and our own Rodney Scott from up in Hemingway, were on hand to pass on the crown and help Turner cook the barbecue.
Julian Van Winkle provided a stash of 10-year-old, 107 proof Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon for the event, and mixologist Miles Macquarrie came in from Atlanta and put the rare brown water to good use in a pair of splendid cocktails.
Yes, there was a slab of splendid grilled bologna and little jars of pimento cheese, butterbean hummus, and pork rillettes to get things started. Somewhere along the line they tried to slip a plate of beets and peas in front of us. But, things really got rolling when Rodney Scott and Sam Jones burst through the front door bearing an enormous wooden tray over their heads, piled high with pork fresh off the pit.
They’d spent the day out in the alley with Helen Turner, cooking whole pork shoulders over real wood following the technique she perfected at Helen’s Barbecue in Brownsville, Tennessee. The result: some of the most tender and most intensely smoky pulled pork I’ve ever tasted—a platter of barbecue truly fit for a queen.
Josh and Heather Keeler have been getting a lot of notice lately for the lunches and dinners they’re turning out at Two Boroughs Larder, and Saturday morning they lured a slate of festival goers to their restaurant on Coming Street to see what they could do at breakfast-time.
No omelets or hashbrowns here. The meal opened with crisp, flavorful chunks of lamb bacon served over a dark pool of chocolate-tinged mole with radishes, Brussels sprouts, and bright green herbs on top. Josh followed that up with an insanely rich bowl of 17th-century style Brewster oats topped with two disks of rabbit loin, long, tender shred of rabbit confit, and an over-easy fried egg.
Here’s a tip for home cooks: want to make a fresh-baked, syrupy-sweet sticky bun even more flavorful? Sprinkle crumbles of salty, smoky Benton’s bacon over the top when you serve it.
No, this is not your typical breakfast fare, but washed down with a couple of cups of strong black coffee, it got my Saturday off to a brilliant start.
Friday night, Executive Chef Nate Whiting of Tristan welcomed Andrew Zimmerman, the executive chef of Chicago’s Sepia, for a perfectly paired dinner accompanied by the wines of Washington State’s Hedges Family Estate.
Three of the six courses stood out most for me. Nate Whiting’s opener, a cannoli shell stuffed with king crab and served over a smooth sea urchin panna cotta, posed a sort of mischievous twist: starting off the meal with a dessert-like dish, rich and sweet with subtle vanilla notes. Zimmerman’s second course, glazed veal sweetbreads served over a creamy celery root puree surrounded by crisp, dark crumbles of blood sausage, provided a fittingly savory counterpoint.
Pastry Chef Amanee Neirouz wrapped the evening up on an equally high note with another of her splendid desserts, in this case hunks of chocolate brioche jumbled with white chocolate pudding and accompanied by a tall, thin glass that held a fantastic milkshake laced with Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout.
Christophe Hedges and Boo Walker of Hedge Family Estate provided an impressive selection of wines to go with each of the courses, plus a little comic relief between courses.
The event may be called the Charleston Wine and Food Festival, but we can't look past the fact that craft beer pairs well with food too. A few hoppy, sud filled events debuted at the 2012 festival, and they were even more popular this year.
We led a tour of 68 eager beer drinkers to all four of the current local craft breweries with fellow craft beer enthusiast, Timmons Pettigrew. At each location, Caviar and Bananas set up food stations with tasty treats that complimented the hops and malt. Pimento cheese on a bacon biscuit pair well with Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pecan Dream at Holy City Brewing Company and the pretzels with beer cheese were a great compliment to the Palmetto Pale Ale.
Craft beer dinners were all the buzz too. On Friday, we made our way over to the 82 Queen for a beer-filled evening with Ben Dobler, Brewmaster of Widmer Brothers Brewing, and 82 Queen Executive Chef Steven Lusby. We laughed, we drank, and we ate, with the highlight of the night being a plate of venison short ribs, toasted grits, apple, Brussels sprouts, pine nuts, and cherry compote paired with the toasty, spice-filled South by Northwest dark ale.
We moved over to Craftsmen Kitchen and Tap House on Saturday night, where we got a glimpse at what the stunning new craft beer bar has to offer. Executive Chef Todd Garrigan teamed up with Josh Fruchtman from Dogfish Head Brewery for a night of big beers paired with big food. A delicate mountain trout with lemon spiked vegetables and pistachio hummus went well with the 90 minute IPA, but the best was saved for last — a warm sticky bun, Carolina gold rice pudding with caramel paired with the big, oak-aged Burton Baton. (Sorry, this one was gone before we could snap a picture.)
One of the biggest parties of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival is always the After Hours event. This year, the Art Institute of Charleston hosted a Party Around the World fête at the Visitors Center Bus Shed. A variety of countries were represented in decoration, dance, food, and drinks. The entire space was packed with different tastes from almost every big name restaurant in Charleston. We had trouble trying them all.
We started with a pork skin noodle bowl with spicy red pepper shiitake broth from Husk and were impressed that they were poaching eggs on site. Our favorite bite was the braised oxtail empanadilla with chimichurri and local radish from Barsa Tapas Lounge and Bar. It was perfectly fried with a rich and savory filling and had a nice crunch from the radish. Fuel had a lighter offering of local shrimp and veggie escabeche lettuce wraps. The most creative use of ingredients was Hamby Catering’s shrimp and grit sushi with spicy tasso mayo. By the time we got to the Caviar and Bananas tent, we were feeling too full to finish their marinated white beans with garlic poached shrimp. However, we did leave a little room for something sweet, and ended with a Mexican chocolate and dulce de leche crepe from the Charleston Crepe Company.
Taking a break from eating, we watched the Flamenco dancers contort into positions we couldn’t even think of recreating. After the performance, guests filled the dance floor for their chance to show off their best moves. We chose to rest in one of the lounge areas and contemplated if we could possibly consume anymore. Next year, we might bring a to-go container.