If we had to make up one word to define this year in Charleston's food history it would be Brockbequé. We had a veritable buffet of trends from French food (thus the accent aigu) to piggy parts to news of the Stone Bill to the closure of long-time institutions. And did we mention Sean Brock? Yea, he crushed it. In no particular order, our top food stories of 2014.
Barbecue Blowouts & Visiting Pitmasters
We should all be bleeding barbecue sauce what with the amount of pulled pork we ate this year. Nearly every week of 2014 we got a press release announcing yet another barbecue event.
First there was Rodney Scott's In Exile Tour. Following a destructive November 2013 fire, the Hemingway, S.C. pitmaster embarked on a fundraising tour in January serving up his pork from Oxford, Miss. to Charleston. But his wasn't the only big meat affair.
A quick refresher, 2014 saw Charleston host Hogs for the Cause, Charleston Brown Water Society's CHS-TX Invitational, Coast's John Lewis/Home Team BBQ event, High Wire Distillery's one-year anniversary with special guest Rodney Scott, Home Team's Southern Soul BBQ, and a number of smaller gatherings.
But the city's preeminence as a barbecue leader was solidified in October when Austin, Texas's brisket baron John Lewis of La Barbecue selected Charleston as his second home. This spring Lewis Barbecue will open, a mere block away from City Paper's headquarters. Coincidentally, Aaron Siegel is opening a Home Team BBQ on Williman Street, also a ham hock throw away from our office.
Someone warm up the defibrilator, CP's staff is now sitting at the corner of Brisket and Gamechanger in the heart of NoMo's Meathacking District.
Edmund's Oast opens, steals Charlestonians' hearts
When Charleston Beer Exchange owners Rich Carley and Scott Shor announced plans last year to start their own restaurant, the pre-opening excitement reached One Direction concert levels. That is if One Direction fans where bearded 30-ish-year-old men with a yen for craft beer. And by God those Harry Styles fans, er, we mean beer nerds, were not disappointed. Forty taps awaited the eager brewski lovers when Edmund's finally opened in February.
But what surprised the rest of this city's eaters was chef Andy Henderson's food. Charleston magazine critic Jeff Allen called EO "the most important culinary establishment to grace the Holy City in the space of a decade." The Post & Courier's Hanna Raskin gushed that Edmund's is the "most significant addition to the city's upscale dining scene since The Ordinary." And our own Robert F. Moss said, "Edmund's Oast has executed a very successful launch, one that followed through on — and, in fact, over-delivered on — all the pre-opening hype (and there was plenty of that)." National pubs quickly followed suit with mentions in Garden & Gun, The New York Times, Southern Living, and most recently Imbibe magazine which named the Morrison Drive spot Beer Bar of the Year.
Changing of the guard at Charleston Wine + Food Festival
As their promo says, X marks the spot for the 2015 Charleston Wine + Food Festival. That's because it's the 10th anniversary — a big year if ever there was one. But this year's fest comes with added pressure as the team members executing the $10 million event are nearly all new. Long-time executive director Angel Postell resigned in March 2013. Meanwhile, event coordinator Randi Weinstein and food and beverage manager Sara Donahue, along with two other employees, left after last year's fest. This year new executive director Gillian Zettler will have her first chance to take charge, and she has Director of Communications Cathryn Zommer to help her do it. While they have a lot to live up to, plans for the festival seem to be going remarkably well. As of press time, ticket sales are up by 40 percent over last year. And in response to calls for more affordable ticket prices, the fest is offering 40 events under $100. Online shoppers can filter through the cheaper options at charlestonwineandfood.com/tickets.
French food, fried chicken, tacos, and lobster rolls
Sorry François Hollande, you weren't the only Frenchy making headlines this year. In Charleston we had our own French revolution. Sure it didn't involve a love triangle with two stunning Parisians — Mon Dieu, Monsieur le Président! — but it did lead to what we can only imagine was a similar number of rendezvous over coq au vin. In under three months, five French restaurants opened (Bougnat, Chez Nous, Bistro Toulouse, Annie's Bistro, and Brasserie Gigi). And three were in Mt. Pleasant. But Robert F. Moss could find no hint of "Gallic skullduggery" to the phenom, merely an echo of the past. "These new establishments represent a return to a mode of cooking that once was quite the fashion, both in Charleston and in the nation as a whole," he wrote in June, citing how French cooking was the grande dame of Holy City dining for years. But bistros weren't the only trend. Seemingly omnipresent plates of fried chicken, tacos, and lobster rolls kept turning up on menus from Artisan Meat Share to Persimmon.
Veggie Bin closes only to be revived
Like a carrot stake to the heart, we were heartbroken on June 24 to learn that the Vegetable Bin was closing. A failed fire inspection and owner William Leonard's growing age (89) were cited as the reasons for the closure of the Society Street business. But then, like a modern-day Jack and the Beanstalk, Leonard's grandson Michael Bailey announced he'd found the gold (i.e. real estate) and decided to open not one but two new Veggie Bins. The first, at 96 Spring St., opened Oct. 20, and the second location at 241 Calhoun St. is set to open sometime after the first of the year. Lettuce hope they both bring in the green this year.
Sure, Charleston didn't secure Stone Brewing Co., but brewers could argue we got something even better out of the state's efforts to woo the California beer business — the Stone Bill. Officially known as H.3512, the bill Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law on June 3 allows brewers to: 1) operate on-site restaurants, 2) obtain retailers permits to sell other brewers bottles and cans on site, and 3) allows brewpubs to sell and distribute to wholesalers after converting licences.
While the new law wasn't enough to encourage Stone to build in the Palmetto State — Richmond, Va. took that prize — the bill left local brewers overflowing with joy. "It's a huge win for us," COAST Brewing's Jaime Tenny told CP in June.
Jack's Cafe closes after 42 years
When people think of long-serving Charleston restaurants, 82 Queen often comes to mind. But Jack's Cafe, George Street's unassuming greasy spoon, had already been up and running for 10 years before 82 Queen opened. And after 42 years manning his grill, owner Jack Sewell announced his retirement this fall. Sewell closed the doors of the institution on Halloween, and while the holiday never felt so mirthless, we have to admit we were happy for Jack. He was a loyal servant of this city, feeding co-eds and captains of industry eggs and grits Monday through Friday for four decades. We're glad he finally got to clock out.
Sean Brock releases cookbook and opens a restaurant in the same month
Try this for multi-tasking: Sean Brock's fourth Neighborhood Dining Group restaurant Minero opened on Oct. 3. Two weeks later his four-years-in-the-making cookbook Heritage was released. The New York Times bestseller is now in its third printing. Say what you will about the chef (and his communal silverware), but we dare you to tell us that's not badassery in action. Brock may have lost out on a Beard award this year, but he more than proved the 10th month of 2014 was Brocktober. And as the culinary shape-shifter continues to define the Southern food scene, his latest efforts — from mastering the art of tortillas to penning what LA Weekly called "one of the most accurate portraits of a chef's soul in book form" — have only made us more excited to see what he'll bring to the table next.
Stephanie Barna, editor-in-chief and culinary mensch, retires
This year we bid a sad adieu to our own Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Barna. As a founder of Charleston City Paper, Barna not only defined the city's alternative voice for 18 years, but she helped usher in a new era in Charleston's culinary history. An era she documented — from Mike Lata's rise to Mark Marhefka's quest to elevate trash fish, from Recovery's Room's tachos to King Street's froyo boom — with intelligence, foresight, and humor. Many a local farmer, chef, restaurateur, and purveyor have Barna to thank for first reporting their stories.
And it's because of her that many local food writers like Robert F. Moss, Eric Doksa, Jeff Allen, Erin Perkins, Stratton Lawrence, and myself, were given a chance. Which is all to say, when it comes to continuing CP's F&B coverage in the post-Barna era — there is no filling her shoes. We're merely hoping to follow the trail she blazed with them.