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.
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.
Carolina Dirt Fair Dinner
It's a well-documented fact that food tastes better when eaten outside, and when it's being prepared by Top Chef alum Hugh Acheson and a few of his chef pals, you can bet it's going to be darn tasty. Acheson was the star attraction at the Carolina Dirt Fair's farm-to-table dinner Sunday night at Mullet Hall Equestrian Center. After a day of music, gardening workshops, and cooking demos, guests gathered under a tent near the horse barns for a family-style dinner featuring plenty of locally sourced food and cocktails. The tables were decorated with fresh flowers displayed in reclaimed wood boxes, and Chompin' at the Bit String Band played bluegrass tunes throughout the night.
The Gin Joint's bowtied barkeeps mixed up a selection of cocktail pairings for the meal, including a see-through bloody mary (their first cocktail ever made with vodka), a gingery Moscow Mule, and a super frothy Strawberry Fizz. The chefs — also including Kiawah Resort's Nick Hunter and Jonathan Banta — stayed busy prepping food in a nearby barn, and a posse of Dirt Fair volunteers kept the dishes coming. The first course was a vibrant spring salad made with local baby greens, purple and gold pickled beets, breakfast radish, and goat feta, and then the servers trotted out massive platters for the family-style main course — shrimp and grits, lemon and mint-rubbed chicken, hoppin' john, and mixed spring vegetables. Acheson came out mid-meal to greet guests, and he happily grabbed a beer for someone who apparently mistook him for a server. Dessert was a soft, subtly sweet honey bread topped with strawberries and whipped cream and micro basil — it paired perfectly with the indulgent Strawberry Fizz cocktails.
Following the dinner, guests grabbed a coffee and strolled the grounds, quickly congregating around the mechanical bull, where the bravest attendees risked losing their supper for a chance at bull-riding glory. Acheson chatted up guests and signed books at the Heirloom Books table as the band attempted to get the few remaining folks on the dance floor for some moonlit contra dancing.
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.
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.