When I go to the theater, I eat. Even if I have dinner shortly before a film, I still order popcorn. When I heard the Food Film Festival was making its way to Charleston, I knew I had to check it out. Maybe there'd be no hot-buttered popcorn, but I would get to sample the food that I'd see onscreen Sounded good to me.
The Food Film Festival features several short food films with food pairings. The festival director, George Motz, founded the festival in New York seven years ago, and added another event in Chicago in 2010. This was the festival's first year in Charleston, which will become an annual event. More details about the festival can be found in an earlier post, but here's the lowdown on my recent experience.
The Hot Southern Shorts! on Saturday night kicked off with some tasty bites and cocktails courtesy of The Grocery. Kevin Johnson was serving a crostini with smoked mackerel, spicy dill and sumac yogurt, and cucumber, as well as Kurios bibb lettuce filled with strawberry bar-b-jus glazed pork belly and green strawberry relish.
Hallie Arnold crafted two cocktails to go along with Johnson's dishes. The Loretta lemonade consisted of strawberry infused Maker's Mark, fresh ginger, and lemon and my favorite of the two, the Gin and Consequence, was concocted of Dorothy Parker Gin, cucumber, mint, dill, and lime.
Guests had time to mingle while enjoying wine, cheese, and a few options from Palmetto Brewing Company before the lights were dimmed and the films began.
Seven short films were played, with Motz giving commentary in between. The list included the world-premiere of Motz's documentary, Head On, which gives fantastic insight to the world of Lowcountry shrimping. Shortly after the film we enjoyed a sample of spicy shrimp Fra'Diavolo, from Almifi's. The seductive short, Food Porn, involved two individuals feeding each other grapes, strawberries, and bananas to seductive music. The film was appropriately complemented with strawberries and cream.
Hot Wet Goobers gave an inside look at a Georgia boiled peanut business while we munched on the soft green peanuts from Hardy Farms, and Mama Sugar's Sweet Potato Cobbler, which was about as seductive as Food Porn, was followed up with incredible sweet potato pie made by Lauren Mitterer from Wild Flour Pastry.
The first two films were both inspiring and comical. Mr. Okra follows New Orleanian Arthur Robinson as he coasts the streets of NOLA in a truck filled with fresh produce, using his P.A. system to let residents know what he's currently got in stock. "Aint no sense in cookin' if you aint cookin' with fresh food and fresh vegetables," he says. He continues with,"As long as I have that wagon out there, I have no trouble getting women." In honor of Mr. Okra, Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill served a marinated kale salad with peas, corn, rice, and pickled radish and okra.
Mickle's Pickles is a tragic film about pickler Mickey Fluitt and the picklenapping of his most prized possession: a giant pickle. Ok, not so tragic, but pure comedy. The stolen pickle became so famous that when it was returned, everyone wanted pictures with it. After the short film, guests got to enjoy the Not Hot Jalapeño pickles as Mickey talked about the pickle business.
Sticking with the Southern theme, the night ended with an all-you-can-eat Lowcountry shrimp boil. What a fun, creative, and outstanding night. This is a great new festival to add to Charleston's ever-growing festival lineup.
“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.
For the past 30 years brewers and beer advocates from all over the country have been gathering in Denver, Colo., to attend the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). There were three times more beers available at this year’s 30th GABF than there were people in attendance at the first GABF. To put things into perspective, here are some stats from this year’s festival:
• 466 breweries in the festival hall
• 2,375 beers served at the festival
• 49,000 attendees
Notable breweries in attendance from the Southeast included Cigar City Brewing, Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, Incl., Foothills Brewing, Highland Brewing Company, RJ Rockers Brewing Company, SweetWater Brewing Company, Terrapin Beer Company, and Thomas Creek Brewery.
The festival spans three days with four sessions, including an American Home Brewer’s Association Members-only session. Tickets went on sale June this year and all four sessions sold out in less than two weeks (the member-only session sold out in a day).
A list of breweries and a map of the festival was released in early September, followed by a complete list of all 2,375 beers just 1 day before the first session. I spent quite a bit of time reviewing the beer list and map to come up with a plan of attack for both sessions that I was attending. The planning paid off.
When I showed up to the Friday afternoon session an hour before doors opened there was a line wrapped around the Denver Convention Center. More than half the people in line were wearing necklaces garnished with pretzels, jerky, and funions. Groups dressed up as Waldos, athletic teams, Vikings, and German Oktoberfest attendees. There were even belts and necklaces designed to hold the single beer cup that you receive — which, by the way, must be guarded like it’s your child.
Although the line was over a mile a long, it moved quickly and I was in the door being handed a small plastic cup within 20 minutes. The GABF representatives make it very clear that if you break or lose your cup, you will not get another one. The plastic cups do not break easily, but hundreds of people in the surrounding area will cheer and applaud if your cup hits the ground. In order to avoid the embarrassment, I went straight to the Oskar Blues tent and grabbed a free can necklace, which conveniently holds the little plastic cup.
For the members-only session you are given an actual glass.The glass would not fit into my can of Oskar Blues Ten Fidy, which was hanging around my neck. Paranoid about shattering my glass, I found the Beer Caddy stand and purchased a brilliant necklace with a metal ring that would hold my beer in place. It may sound cheesy but it was a lifesaver.
At the festival there was an interesting spread of vendors and entertainment. Wahl had a free “grooming consulting” kiosk setup. Here you could get a free shave or haircut. Another booth offered free massages. There were many food vendors, bookstores, and even karaoke stages. Oskar Blues setup a silent disco, which was entertaining to watch. A DJ spun tunes and about 70 people danced while wearing wireless headphones.
But I was most interested in the beer. After solving my cup problem, I pulled out the map and went straight to my starting point, which happened to be Firestone Walker Brewery out of Paso Robles, Calif. (won three gold medals). This is where I first learned that rare beers will come out at specific times throughout the event. I wanted to try the Parabola, an Imperial Russian Stout, but was told it would be available at 2 p.m. I opted for the Double Jack, which was a nice double IPA with bold citrus flavors alongside sweet malt and hints of pine. I jotted down the time that Parabola would be available, which turned out to be an excellent Imperial Russian Stout, and moved into the next brewery on my list.
This turned out to be a recurring theme. I ended up with a list of rare beers and the times they would be available. I was able to try a handful of them, but missed several. Keeping note, I was able to prepare for the Saturday members-only session. When I entered the convention center on day two, I immediately went to each of the breweries on my rare beer list and noted the times the beers would be available. This list included what was likely the most rare and expensive beer at the festival, Sam Adams Utopias.
The 2011 Utopias is an American strong ale that is blended from liquids from up to 18 different years of wood casks. It has little to no carbonation and boasts a high 27 percent ABV. It drinks more like a glass of bourbon than beer. With only 53 barrels produced, a bottle of Utopias starts at $150, if you can get your hands on one. With the first smell I could tell this one was going to be sweet, yet strong with notes of caramel and cinnamon. Taking the first sip I could taste vanilla, maple, and sherry with a burning alcohol kick at the end. Needless to say, I sipped on this one for a while. The only thing that could’ve made it better is if I had a cigar in hand.
Other notable beers with special release times included The Bruery Black Tuesday, Three Floyds Zombie Dust, New Glarus Raspberry Tart, Ithaca Le Bleu, FiftyFifty Eclipse, and Kern River Citra DIPA.
After I got my fill of every beer on my list I decided to try out some smaller, lesser-known breweries and brewpubs. Here I learned to not underestimate anyone, whether you’ve heard of them or not. The Brew Kettle Taproom from Strongsville, Ohio, blew me away with White Raja IPA. The IPA gave off a tremendous aroma of tropical and citrus fruits. The flavor was of grapefruit and pine, with a dry finish. At only 70 IBUs, it wasn’t as bitter as a lot of the west coast IPAs and was very drinkable.
The most unexpected brewery of the festival was Rocky Mount Brewery out of Colorado Springs. They brought all of their latest fruit beers: Key Lime Cheesecake, Michigan Cherry Pie, Eat a Peach, and Blueberry Cobbler. Typically, when I hear names like these, I imagine a lighter beer with a slight fruit taste, but that was not the case. Each of these beers gave off bold flavors. Like biting into fresh fruit. The Key lime cheesecake not only gave off lime and cream cheese flavors, but you could taste a graham cracker crust. The Michigan cherry pie was sweet and tart and tasted like a freshly baked pie. The news spread and the line to try these beers was continuously long. I got in line four times myself.
Speaking of long lines, Cigar City Brewing had the longest line throughout the festival. Every day, every hour there was a line of at least 30 people waiting to try one of their many delicious beers. I myself opted for the Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Brown Ale, which smelled and tasted exactly as you would want it to be — like a homemade oatmeal raisin cookie.
I was able to get my sour fill from many fine breweries such as Ithaca, Russian River, New Glarus, and The Bruery. But the winner was Lost Abbey, which brought three mouth puckering, delicious beers: Framboise de Amorosa, Red Poppy, and Veritas 008. I’m hoping that one day these beers make their way to South Carolina.
The festival also holds competitions in every beer category. For a full list of awards you can check out the Great American Beer Festival website, but let’s give some props to the Southeast:
American-Style Wheat Beer: Schweat — SweetWater Brewing Company — Gold
Rye Beer: Crank Tank — SweetWater Brewing Company — Bronze
Extra Special Bitter: Minaret ESB — Cigar City Brewing — Gold
Barrel Aged Strong Stout — 2010 Bourbon Barrel Aged Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout — Foothills Brewing — Silver
And to all you the lager and light beer drinkers, here’s an interesting outcome:
Old Milwauke Light — Pabst Brewing - Gold
Busch Light - Anheuser-Busch - Silver
Pabst Blue Ribbon — Pabst Brewing - Bronze
Pabst Brewing also took home the gold for large brewing company.
It was unfortunate that Charleston didn’t have a presence at the festival, as people would’ve lined up to try COAST’s Barrel Aged Blackbeerd or Westbrook’s Cowboy Meets Farmer, but it made me smile every time someone asked where I was from and when I said “Charleston” they would ask if I’ve been to The Charleston Beer Exchange or what I think of the local breweries. There’s no question that Charleston is regarded as a highly respected beer city, and even destination.
The weekend couldn’t have come to a better end than running into Co-Founder and CEO of Stone Brewing Company in the security line at the airport. He was happy to see I was wearing a Stone hoodie and gave me a copy of his latest book, The Brewer’s Apprentice, which is a great read for home brewers.
In the end I realized it’s impossible to try all 2,375 beers in less than three days. Ninety unique beers, several gallons of water, a lot of scrumptious eats later, and I’m already planning the trip back to Denver for the 2012 Great American Beer Festival. If you’re a beer lover, mark your calendar for October 11th -13th 2012. This is an event you cannot miss. Trust me.
Charleston’s Greek community has set up its annual festival on the grounds of the Orthodox Church on Race Street this weekend, and it’s a highlight of our year in food. We’ll be heading there today for a big lunch and then we’ll stock up on Greek pastries and spanakopita to get us through the weekend. To help Greek food novices navigate the scene, I’ve put together a little guide to what’s what.
Gyro: Let’s say it together, shall we? ‘YEE-roh.’ Not ‘JIE-roh’ or ‘JEER-oh.’ ‘YEE-roh.’ It’s probably the most familiar of Greek dishes — a spiced lamb and beef mixture that’s been rotisserie cooked, shaved into a pile and wrapped in a soft, warm pita and topped with zaziki sauce (see next entry). At the Fest, they’ll have gyro plates for $7. They’ll also have a chicken version, but it’s never as good as the blamb (beef+lamb), so don’t bother.
Zaziki (also tsatsiki, tzatziki): This stuff is so delicious I could chug it. Pureed cukes mixed with strained yogurt, garlic, salt, olive oil, pepper, lemon juice, and dill. It’s the ultimate sauce for dipping a warm chunk of pita bread and it’s also the perfect dressing for that aforementioned gyro. It can also be low-fat if you use a light yogurt.
Greek spices: The spices you’ll typically find in Greek food are familiarly exotic like allspice, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, and saffron, and peculiar ones like mahlab (ground cherry stones) and mastiha (mastic tears). Greek fare has the spices of the Middle East mingled with the flavors of the Mediterranean like basil, dill, parsley, and fennel.
Mezes: Greek appetizers. One popular meze is dolmades, grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat and usually drizzled with avgolemeno (egg and lemon sauce). The Mezethaki Plate at the Greek Fest has meatballs with sauce, dolmades, feta cheese, olives, Greek pepper, and a pita wedge for $8. It’s my favorite deal.
Greek salad: the most beautiful salad in all the world. Crisp lettuce tossed with a simple dressing of olive oil and sometimes herbs like oregano and basil and topped with a pile of creamy feta cheese along with tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives, and pepperoncini peppers. Or, if it’s the Greek Country Salad version, you won’t get lettuce and instead of crumbled feta, you’ll get a big rectangular slice of it served alongside wedges of tomato and slices of cucumber. Either version is good enough for me. A small plate at the festival is $4 and a larger one is $6.
Kalamata olives: ripe Greek olives that are usually cured in red wine
Greek chicken or lamb: could be roasted or grilled and will most likely be seasoned with lemon, garlic, and oregano. Get a 1/4 of a chicken for $10 served with rice pilaf, Greek-style string beans, Greek salad, and bread. A plate of grilled domestic lamb is $12.
Greek-style string beans: Green beans with sauteed onions and garlic stewed with tomatoes, peppercorns, and parsley until soft.
Moussaka: The most famous of Greek casserole dishes. It layers eggplant with ground meat spiced with cloves, cinammon, and allspice and tops it with a classic bechamel (a creamy white sauce flavored with nutmeg). The Greek fest version uses beef instead of lamb and is (as is everything at the festival) made by church members. Get a plate for $5.
Pastichio (pastitsio): Kind of a cross between Italian lasagna and Southern mac and cheese. The Greek baked pasta dish uses tubular noodles and a meat and tomato sauce, topped with thick bechamel, a creamy sauce spiced with nutmeg. Plates go for $5.
Spanakopita: Spinach and feta pie! What could be more beautiful than countless layers of buttered filo (phyllo) dough interspersed with tangy feta cheese and fresh spinach and baked until shatteringly crisp. A worthy use of your caloric budget. $4 per triangle.
Filo (phyllo): Greek pastry dough (think strudel) that takes the basic flour and water mixture and adds a touch of vinegar, lemon, and olive oil to the proceedings. The result is the perfect basis for savory and sweet pastries and pies like spanakopita and baklava.
The festival also has authentic Athenian Beer ($4) along with Greek wines by the bottle ($15) or glass ($4). They’ll be offering tastings of Greek wine this afternoon and throughout the weekend. The festival runs Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and on Sunday from noon-5 p.m.
Next post: Greek desserts, a ranking
UPDATE: Went to the Festival for lunch Friday afternoon. Enjoyed a big-ass gyro with Greek potatoes served to me by none other than Akim Anastapoulo. The potatoes were probably the highlight. Perfectly mushy and studded with tomatoes, peppers, and onions and turned over and over on the hot flat top grill. Mm. Mm. Good. Brought home a pastry sampler, but haven't dare to open it. So sticky and sweet! I'm still full from lunch.
Tonight, the Harbour Club downtown is hosting a big wine tasting, featuring 30 wines and light hors d'ouevres for $12.95.
Over in West Ashley, get a jump on your favorite non-holiday at Avondale Wine & Cheese's Uno de Mayo happy hour. Live music and bottomless sangrias ought to make it worth the $15 entry fee.
Tomorrow, in the morning, hit the Farmers Market, and then you can head out to Freshfields Village for the Make-A-Wish Wine Festival from 6-9 p.m. For $35, you can taste over 85 wines from around the world and nosh on Lowcountry cuisine by Charleston Eats while helping grant kids' wishes.
On Sunday, Fast & French throws its all-day anniversary bash at the City Gallery, as much an art event as a foodie one, and the Chef's Potluck takes over Middleton Place. At Fenwick Hall, you can get Inside the Chef's Kitchen at a Charleston Collegiate fund-raiser where Brett McKee, Donald Barickman, and Robert Carter will be pairing signature dishes with wines. On James Island, you can stop by the twice-monthly farmers market and craft fair at the Pour House from 11-3 p.m.
Up in Summerville, Farringdon Bistropub hosts a First Founders Brewery Dinner. For $40, you'll get five tapas-style courses and six specialty beers.
On Tuesday, La Fourchette brings in special guest Jean-Philippe Bourgeois of Bourgeois Family Selections for four-course dinner paired with five wines from the southern regions of France.
Coast will be celebrating Cinco de Mayo on the actual date with live music, South of the border brews, margaritas-a-plenty, and chef’s Latin-inspired feature plates befitting the evening’s theme.
And a heads up for hardcore oenophiles: Master Sommelier Robert Bath will be in town for a "Weekend of Wine" at Woodlands May 15-16. There's only enough room for 30 people, so if you're serious about wine, make your reservations now.