It’s been a few years since Sideways sparked the Pinot noir craze and according to yesterday’s event, people still love the varietal. Charleston GI and The Local Palate hosted the popular Pinot Envy Uncorked! event at the Pavilion at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina.
It was a chilly day on Saturday and it seemed the best way to warm up was to try as many pours of wine as possible. We were fond of the offering from Crossbarn and went back to the Perception table a few times. If the Pinot didn’t warm you up, then the roaring fireplace in the venue stayed ablaze to make everyone feel cozy.
In addition to the flowing wine, this year’s party also emphasized pairings of the “Lambs and Clams” variety. Craig Rogers of Border Springs Farm Lamb and Travis Croxton of Rappahannock River Oysters supplied the ingredients for chefs. We were excited to see how each restaurant compared to one another using the same proteins. Eurasia Cafe and Wine Bar offered a delicious lamb cassoulet as well as a braised lamb over a grit cake paired with a beer braised clam. Anson Restaurant served Littleneck clams with a lamb bacon and a lamb lardo crostini. We enjoyed the fava beans in the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina dish of cured lamb belly and smoked tomato poached clams. Guests shivering in the cold weren’t too discriminating about the food — as long as the vendors were offering a warm bite, they were happy to try it.
If you were looking for a place to work off those extra Charleston Wine + Food Festival calories, then we should have spotted you on the dance floor at the Jailhouse Shake-Up last night. The music filled the air for blocks as we walked up to the intimidatingly spooky facade of the Old Jail. No need to worry about ghosts though, the revelers were whooping it up at the raucous party and surely scaring any haints away.
Presented by the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, the food and drinks offered at the event loosely reflected a Caribbean theme. Anson Restaurant served up a crudo of local fish, jalapeno sorbet, shrimp cracklings, and cucumber relish which was refreshing but a strange sensation to be eating a frozen item while bundled up for winter. We quickly warmed our palate with the drink offering from the Gin Joint. With a bit of spice and sweetness, their Milagro Anejo tequila cocktail named “Vagos Motorcycle Club” was our favorite of the evening. We got a taste of what is to come from Republic Reign as they mixed up a “Norm’s Neck” cocktail with Sailor Jerry rum and beet juice.
The longest line was at the Mediterra Catering tent. The lure of mojo braised pork and Ambrose Farms sweet potato cakes with blackened local shrimp had everyone queued up. Cru Cafe and Catering served a baby artichoke and sunchoke salad featuring an overwhelming blue cheese, but we went for seconds of their delicious yellowfin tuna with mascarpone and English pea risotto. Guests missed out if they didn’t get a chance to grab a lump crab and local shrimp salad crostini from Twenty Six Divine. The catering company also offered a dessert for partygoers in the form of a dark chocolate and cherry liqueur truffle.
The biggest hit of the fête however was the man parading around in a pirate costume. Everyone wanted to take their picture with him and towards the end of the evening he indulged the crowd by getting down with the ladies on the dance floor. DJ Mateo was serving up some interesting tunes — John Cougar Mellencamp mashed up with M83? Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and we heard several guests singing along as the tequila and rum took hold.
The main dining room on the second floor of 82 Queen was as packed as it’s ever been on Friday night, so says Stephen Kish, owner of the historical restaurant downtown. The restaurant hosted a sold-out craft beer dinner with superb food prepared by Chef Steven Lusby and beer parings courtesy of Widmer Brothers Brewing.
The décor in the room was definitely focused on beer. Even the nametag holders were creatively constructed with bottle caps.
The dinner started with an opening beer as people filed into their seats (I chose the easy-drinking hefeweizen). Five courses came out promptly with an elegant presentation.
All of the pairings seemed to work well except for the seared scallop and the Drifter Pale Ale. The dish alone was one of the top two of the night, but the hoppiness of the beer overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the dish. Either way, the dish was still a winner.
The standout of the night was the apple-smoked venison short ribs with a sweet, BBQ-like blackberry-ancho sauce that came with a acorn squash gratin and Brussels sprouts. This was originally paired with the Pitch Black IPA, as per the menu, but a wise decision was made to serve this with the Barrel Aged Brrrbon, which was such a wonderful combination.
Bon Dodler, the brewer, was on hand to talk about the various beers and answer questions, and a special guest was present. Daniel Bradford, publisher of All About Beer Magazine, played a key role in helping organize the Great American Beer Festival in the ’80s. This guy knows beer.
I left the event satisfied and with a final thought — Chef Steven Lusby can really cook. He’s been flying under the radar the past couple years, but his food speaks for itself and he definitely deserves some attention. Job well done.
“I hope nobody ate breakfast,” were the initial words of food writer and City Paper contributor Jeff Allen on Friday morning as he addressed a group waiting to be schooled on Charleston’s Gullah and Soul food cuisine. The tour started at Marion Square where Jeff gave a brief overview of the area and the five restaurants on the agenda.
After a nice historical stroll through the neighborhood between King Street and St. Philip Street, the first stop was Dave’s Carryout. We could smell the fried food from about a block away. Everyone crammed into the small joint run by Sandra McCray and two family members. Small brown bags filled with fried shrimp, hush puppies, and tartar sauce were handed out to each guest. The shrimp was flavorful enough that it didn’t require any sauce.
Jeff then led the group over to one of Charleston’s best kept soul food secrets, Ernie’s. A nice spread was setup that consisted of cornbread, a gelatinous okra soup, and butterbeans so good you could hear everyone in the room hum “mmmm” in unison. Ernie’s doesn’t advertise, the bowl of butterbeans speaks for itself.
A shuttle then took everyone up to “The neck” of Charleston, which is basically the border of Charleston and North Charleston, where the sisters of Bertha’s Kitchen cooked up a crispy fried pork chop, cabbage, and rice.
At that point everyone was getting full and in need of a nap but two of the most important stops were still ahead, including the kitchen of a Charleston legend, Martha Lou.
Tables were setup outside and Martha Lou herself started carrying out trays of food that became part of a full-on buffet of rice, baked chicken, butterbeans, and mac n cheese. Word got out that Martha’s fried chicken is the best in town so she ended up bringing out a tray of that as well. It was agreed by everyone that Martha Lou was not messing around — this woman can cook.
Finally, the group was shuttled through some of the rough parts of Charleston on the way to Alluette’s holistic café for dessert. The good news was that Alluette uses almost all organic ingredients. We started off with a cup of decadent dark chocolate mousse followed by a plate of pound cake, bread pudding, and apple pie, which Jeff calls “the best apple pie I’ve ever had in my life.” I tend to agree.
After Alluette and Jeff made some closing comments the group applauded to the close of such a wonderful event. The stories about the rich soul food history that Jeff was able to share with everyone were truly amazing, and all of the food was cooked with pure love. The only thing that could make the event even better is a final stop at the battery where a spread of hammocks are lined up for an afternoon slumber.
We teamed up with the folks at the Charleston Wine and Food Festival to create a mobile guide to the Culinary Village in Marion Square. You can keep track of all the tastings and events, as well as find your way around tents. It'll show you what's coming up next and also has a link to our Dish Dining Guide mobile web app. When the day is done, you take your pick of Charleston's best restaurants near you.
It's free and works on most modern smart phones like iPhones, Android, and even Blackberry. There's nothing to download, just visit charlestoncitypaper.com/chswff in your phone's web browser or scan the QR code below.