Thursday, July 21, 2016

After 15 years in business, MiBek Farms announces closure

So God made a farmer

Posted by Kinsey Gidick on Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 4:56 PM

Mibek Farms' Kelsey Worrell prepares customer orders for shipping - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Mibek Farms' Kelsey Worrell prepares customer orders for shipping
Back in 2010, Craig Deihl said MiBek Farms in Barnwell raised the best beef — a bold statement from one of the city's meat mavens. But other chefs agreed. Nathan Thurston, then at The Ocean Room, used them. When Cory Burke opened the Green Door, he sourced MiBek beef too. Numerous menus across the city included the cattle farm in their list of local ingredients due to MiBek's beef quality all thanks to the exacting work of owner Dr. Michael Worrell and his family. For 15 years Worrell worked to raise Black Angus cattle right, grass-fed and harvested at just the right moment for optimum lean to fat ratios. 

Now, after a decade and half, Worrell has announced that his farm is closing. 

"It’s all about personal and financial reasons. We’ve taken a hit, but it’s also been a toll on us personally. We just need to rest. I’ve given everything I’ve had to this farm for 15 years," Worrell says. "Right now we’re not making any plans at all. It’s all a matter of resting. Then the evaluating down the road."

Worrell says razor thin profit margins were a huge contributing factor to his closure. "To be perfectly honest, we’re big enough that we were able to have year-round supply, but not big enough to hire a lot of people to do our work. With the high prices of cattle, we weren’t making money. We do have a fairly high price on our beef. We couldn’t make it, and we had to ask, was it worth all the effort?"

It's a question many American farmers ask themselves each year as the number of family farms in the U.S. continues to decline. 

As for Deihl he says he's sad to see MiBek close, but understands the choice. "Whole beef price per pound was $4.90 not including all the hard work and labor that went into breaking it down and not having enough customers to shell out coin to buy," Diehl says. "They produce a great product, but the cost didn't match the consumer demand." 

But for those loyal shoppers still wanting to buy MiBek product, there's still some left. "We have some in our freezer We’ll be at a few farmers markets until we get pretty low." 

Until then, Worrell is resting and reflecting.

"This has been a wonderful experience with this farm. We’ve really achieved a lot of things. We achieved a great product and following and we know how it should be done. But the model we’re on with farmers market, it was seven days a week. I couldn’t go on any longer. It was tearing my health up and the health of my children," he says. "We need to sit back and recover and reevaluate."

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Meeting at Market opens Thursday

Just in time for football season

Posted by Connelly Hardaway on Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 2:30 PM

Meeting at Market opens today. - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Meeting at Market opens today.
Last week we got a sneak peek at Meeting at Market, Belmond Charleston Place's newest addition, a sports pub featuring 16 TVs. Today the new restaurant opens its doors at 4 p.m. Guests can choose from 20 draft beers and 24 beers in cans and bottles, along with menu items like fish n' chips, a seafood board, and more. Head here for more info.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

New York Times' recent story "36 Hours In Charleston" was largely written in 2013

Hey Times, we are a-changing

Posted by Robert F. Moss on Tue, Jul 19, 2016 at 1:53 PM

  • NYT screenshot
On July 15, the New York Times ran a feature entitled "36 Hours In Charleston, S.C." It's part of the regular "36 Hours In . . ." series, which maps out hour-by-hour recommendations for dining, shopping, and sightseeing from a late Friday afternoon through a Sunday morning in a particular town or city.

To me, the opening sounds spot on for Charleston: "The city is in the midst of a restaurant boom, and King Street has become the embodiment of a new, saccharine-free Southern charm." As I continued to read, though, I started to stumble across one small discordant detail after another.

Like the comment that, thanks to Charleston's "balmy" climate, "visitors can spend plenty of time outdoors year-round." No one who has walked a couple of blocks downtown in July would use the term "balmy" to describe the experience.

And then there's the selection of recommended restaurants, all of which are fine but seem to focus a little heavily on the Upper King district and omit the new places that have been getting so much press everywhere else. The Ordinary, for instance, is now, if anything, a fixture of the Charleston scene, not the city's "most vibrant new restaurant" as the article states.

Kudos to Geoff Yost for figuring out why it all sounded a little off.
Despite stating "July 15, 2016" in the dateline, the feature is actually a slightly retreaded version of the same "36 Hours in Charleston" piece that the Times ran back on Nov. 21, 2013. After seeing Yost's tweet, I went back and compared the two versions side by side, and what they reveal is not so much a piece that is out of date but one that was actually made worse by someone's hamfisted efforts to make it more timely.

The original piece opened with a Christmas-themed note—the fact that the poinsettia was named for Charleston-born Joel Roberts Poinsett and that visitors would see a lot of them around the city at Christmastime. It was a seasonal if somewhat unconventional way to open a story that ran on November 21st, a time when New York Times readers might well have been thinking about making plans for a long weekend trip over the holidays.

That lede wouldn't work when the piece was re-run in July, and unfortunately whoever was tasked with updating it did so in the most conventional way possible. "As home to Rhett Butler, Fort Sumter, the fabled battery, and perhaps the country's highest concentration of magnolias and plantations," the retread begins, "Charleston has always held a special place in the American imagination . . . "

Oh, good. Moonlight and magnolias and Gone With the Wind. That never gets old.

Some changes were clearly made necessary by the shift in season or by just the passing of time itself. In the blurb for Hall's Chophouse there's no longer a parenthetical note that "during the holidays, you'll hear carols steeped with soul." The Blind Tiger is now defunct, so it's been replaced by Closed for Business as the 10 p.m. beer stop.

But the cuts should have gone much deeper. Three years ago, discussing Two Boroughs Larder as the "Son of Husk" was timely and appropriate. Earlier this summer, though, Two Boroughs Larder announced it is closing its doors for good at the end of July.

Until the Times reminded me, I had totally forgotten that Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds got married at Boone Hall back in 2012, and I care even less about that now than I did three years ago. Even more surprising is that the editors kept the same heading for the Boone Hall entry: "Tara! Tara! Tara!"

Great. More Gone With the Wind foolishness, and in this case it links a fictional cotton plantation in Georgia with an all-too-real plantation in the Lowcountry. A passing reference to "the rows of slave quarters" as "a sobering counterpoint" is the only nod in the piece that there was once something rather unpleasant underlying the plantation economy. Then the author races very quickly to fawning over the "three-quarters of a mile of 270-year-old live oaks oozing with Spanish moss."

There's something quite jarring to read in 2016 that Boone Hall Plantation is "still a working plantation." It's not. What it is is a working farm. There is a huge difference between the two words both in literal definition and in connotation. After all that's happened in Charleston in the past three years and all the "conversations" on race and the legacy of slavery and the perils of whitewashing the past, not knowing the difference between those two words and the emotions they elicit seems, well, very out of date.

(Also, for the record, Spanish moss does not ooze from live oaks. It dangles and droops, and it's quite dry).

But the most regrettable change made in the new and not improved version is in the Friday lunch suggestion, for which "Who's Got Soul" was swapped out and replaced by "The Fully Wired Sandwich."

On the surface, the edit was necessary because Alluette's Café, featured in the original version, closed its doors in 2014. It was replaced by an excellent but very different type of restaurant, Butcher and Bee, and the description reads like an old paragraph rescued from the cutting room floor.

"Everyday the staff takes a photo of the offerings on the chalkboard behind the counter," the piece notes, "and posts it to the restaurant's thousands of followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram." A social media-savvy restaurant isn't exactly novel these days, and Butcher and Bee actually stopped posting photos of its chalkboard menu back on April 9, its last day in its old 654 King Street location.

After that, it moved up to 1085 Morrison St., putting it smack dab in the middle of the one neighborhood that anyone writing seriously about what's going on in dining in Charleston right now has to at least mention. Call it the Upper Upper Neck or Rumney or whatever you prefer (anything but NoMo will do) the area north of US 17 between King and Morrison Streets is now home to Edmund's Oast, Home Team Barbecue, Spero, Butcher & Bee, Lewis Barbecue, and more.

But even worse is the fact that removing Alluette's excised the only traces of African-American cooking in Charleston that were in the original piece. Alluette's Cafe closed in August 2014 after its building was sold and razed to make way for one of the one zillion new hotels that are now rising above Meeting and King streets, and it was just one of a parade of African-American owned restaurants — Huger's, Ernie's, Ike's Hot Chicken & Fish, Gullah Cuisine — that have shut down amid ever-rising downtown rents.

Two years later, Alluette Jones still hasn't been able to reopen in a brick-and-mortar location.

"I can't go somewhere and spend $20,000 a month on rent for a soul food place," she told the City Paper last year. "I'm looking for investors."

Martha Lou's Kitchen, which was mentioned in the 2013 piece — is still around, thankfully, but it got excised along with Alluette's.

And that, ultimately, is what makes the piece seem really dated to my eyes, and also rather depressing. With each passing year more and more people — both those living in Charleston and those visiting it — seem to have discarded the old moonlight and magnolias myths and recognized the historical realities of slavery and the way that terrible legacy still defines and constrains today's society. In just the past few years, furthermore, we've also started to recognize and talk about the foundational role of African Americans in defining Lowcountry food — and argue and fight with each other about how best to understand and react to that legacy.

At the same time, all the debates and conversations don't seem to be having a lot of effect. The more we talk about Gullah dishes and traditional Lowcountry ingredients, the less we seem to be actually eating them.

It's a complex and controversial subject and one that, I admit, is hard to address in only 36 hours. But perhaps we could at least stop talking about Rhett Butler and Tara and stop trying to slap yet another coat of whitewash onto Charleston.

And if editors of the Times would like spring for an airline ticket and send a travel reporter back down this way, we'll be glad to hook them up with some recommendations for how to really take in the 2016 version of our city.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Hotly anticipated restaurant Le Farfalle opens Friday

Cheeses take the wheel

Posted by Kinsey Gidick on Fri, Jul 15, 2016 at 3:19 PM

Le Farfalle sits at 15 Beaufain Street. - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Le Farfalle sits at 15 Beaufain Street.
It's not often that my wildest dreams come true, but today they have. Fromage fiend that I am, I've long hoped to be ushered into a restaurant and immediately given a large chunk of cheese. Well, Chef Michael Toscano, my new personal fairy godfather, just told me that's exactly what will happen at his new restaurant Le Farfalle, which officially unlocks its doors at 5:30 p.m. tonight. According to Toscano, upon being seated each guest will be served a large piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

A peek inside Le Farfelle
A peek inside Le Farfelle A peek inside Le Farfelle A peek inside Le Farfelle A peek inside Le Farfelle A peek inside Le Farfelle A peek inside Le Farfelle A peek inside Le Farfelle A peek inside Le Farfelle

A peek inside Le Farfelle

By Jonathan Boncek

Click to View 15 slides

We stopped by this afternoon to get a look at what was once Vickery's then Leaf. The space has been stripped down and spiffed up. Clean lines abound. The booths have been painted a Mediterranean Sea blue. Sophisticated modern art lines the walls. And in the center of the dining room rests the grand poobah of it all — a giant wheel of cheese from which staff will deliver each guest's ration of delicious parm. 

All of Toscano's pastas are made in-house, and he let us get a taste of his agnolotti al sugo d'arrosto featuring roast chicken and oyster mushrooms bathed in a super-rich jus. Octopus carpaccio is also on tonight's menu and is a surprisingly light dish served on a crusty sesame seed-topped bread. 

As Toscano told us months back, the menu is designed to allow diners to create a meal as big or as light as they'd like without pinching their pockets too much. One can indulge with couscous served with swordfish and lobster or sit by themselves at the bar and have one lone meatball and a cocktail. Here's a look at the place and the menu.


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How John Lewis gets his Texas Hot Guts sausages to snap

Building a Casing

Posted by Kinsey Gidick on Fri, Jul 15, 2016 at 12:57 PM

It takes four days to make a single hot gut sausage - KINSEY GIDICK
  • Kinsey Gidick
  • It takes four days to make a single hot gut sausage
I don’t want to see you messing around with a fork and knife when served one of Lewis Barbecue’s Texas hot guts sausages. The stuff of tube meat legend, pitmaster John Lewis’ hot guts deserve a more animalistic approach. I’m talking hands on, rip that sucker apart with your teeth consumption. The pay-off? A rubberband snap of casing splitting beneath your teeth as cured meat spills out. Yes, it looks naughty. No, I don’t care. This is the only way to eat these sausages. But, come to find out, the secret to the hot guts' satisfying snap has nothing to do with Lewis' choice in casings.

“It’s all about the way you cook them,” he says. I’d presumed hot guts creation began with a careful selection of hog intestines. Like a wine list, I pictured Lewis poring over a butcher’s book of pig parts. “I’ll take three meters of heirloom Daruc intestine and a meter of Tamworth, please.” But that’s not the case. 

“We use natural hog casings. Not Ossobow or whatever. They come in a giant bucket salted,” he says. “Your choices are a 30-millimeter all the way up to 40. That indicates the diameter. Sometimes the casings are thicker than others. They’re all different, just like people.” For his purposes Which means those little breakfast sausages you enjoy at Denny’s? Those are made with sheep intestine. And bologna? Beef intestine. Isn’t biology fun?

But back to those hot guts. Lewis says the key to his snap is his three-day curing process, a technique he perfected his while living in Denver of all places.

“I was there with a girlfriend who was going to fashion design school,” Lewis says. Longing for the tastes of his Texas home, Lewis began working on learning the barbecue holy trinity — brisket, pork ribs, and sausage. “I wasn’t thinking about starting a barbecue restaurant,” he says. “I was thinking about what I wanted to eat.”

Using Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie cookbook as a guide, Lewis embarked on a series of sausage-making trial and error. But the obsession paid off. Colorado ended up being the place where Lewis got serious about barbecue.

“I started competing,” he says. And when he moved back to Austin he helped get the Franklin BBQ trailer — the restaurant’s original food truck — started before opening his own successful La Barbecue restaurant. Lewis has since sold his stake in La Barbecue and is now officially a full-time Charleston resident. Which means so are his secret recipe hot guts. And their cozy abode? A specially made sausage smoker in Lewis Barbecue.

“Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday we have that smoker at max capacity,” Lewis says. That’s 1,600 hundred hot guts just waiting to be snapped. 

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