The stretch of Coleman Boulevard that’s now home to gourmet retailer Southern Season is one of the area’s bike-friendlier blocks, with a clearly delineated bike lane and multiple bike racks on the south side of the street.
Until recently, though, Southern Season presented a cyclist’s quandary: The store tucked its bike rack behind the attached restaurant, in an area so isolated that a valet attendant last month told me there wasn’t any bike parking available.
“Starbucks doesn’t even have a bike rack,” he said in reference to the neighboring cafe, shaking his head sadly and offering to watch my bike if I propped it up against a picnic table in front of the store.
According to publicist Becky Tanenbaum, I may have shown up a mite too soon. In an e-mail sent a couple Wednesdays ago, she wrote, “They moved the bike rack to a more visible place two days ago.”
So take note biking gourmands: The rack’s now “in front of the cooking school on the front side.” Sounds like you can’t miss it.
First oyster roast
West Ashley’s Pearlz Oyster Bar, which annually strives to get a jump on the local pack of oyster roast hosts, has made good on its reputation by scheduling the season’s first public bivalve bonanza.
This Sunday, Pearlz will serve all-you-can-eat oysters on its patio from 2-5 p.m. Admission to the roast is $12; mimosas and vodka drinks are priced at $3.
Pearlz, at 9 Magnolia Road, offers oyster roasts throughout the season. For more information, call 573-2277.
The food options for the inaugural fall edition of the Charleston Greek Festival are slightly abbreviated, but event chair Tony Forsberg promises more beer and wine at this weekend’s cultural celebration.
“It’s the first time we’re doing a beer garden,” Forsberg says. “And because it’s fall, we’ll have two 60-inch TVs playing football.”
At the spring event, which will celebrate its 44th anniversary in May, the food offerings include chicken and lamb dinners, served with rice, string beans, salad and bread. But since Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox is trying to keep its fall debut manageable, organizers decided to limit the menu to “all the delicious stuff you always get out of the gyro tent,” Forsberg says, plus a few more grilled items.
“We’re going to be serving shrimp gyros, shrimp kebabs and Greek-style chicken wings,” Forsberg says, adding that attendees should otherwise anticipate “the same thing they’re used to, but at a different time of year.” That includes baklava, loukoumades and other pastries.
Homemade items and commercially produced pastas, olive oils and other Greek pantry staples will be sold at a Greek market, another new addition to the festival line-up.
The Fall Greek Festival at 30 Race Street (parking and a shuttle are at 150 Lockwood Drive) will open its concession stands from 4-10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, go to charlestongreekfestival.com.
Home for infused oils
Two years after starting to sell their infused oils and vinegars at area farmer and artisan markets, Laurie and Jason Benjamin are opening a Lowcountry Olive Oil retail store downtown.
Laurie Benjamin stresses that Lowcountry shouldn’t be confused with the 99 percent of gourmet olive oil shops nationwide that are supplied by the same California outfit. Lowcountry buys bulk quantities of picholine oil from growers in Turkey and Morocco, and then adds various herbs and fruits for flavoring.
“It’s a wonderful oil for infusing because of its light, mild flavor,” Benjamin says, adding that the store will also stock “bolder varietal oils from around the world and the U.S.,” locally made pastas, spices and cheeses.
Although infusions such as a Lowcountry herb and rosemary-garlic olive oil and a plum balsamic vinegar are perennially popular, Benjamin says she’s readying a few new seasonals for this month’s as-yet-unscheduled grand opening. In addition to the apple cinnamon balsamic and pumpkin pie balsamic now being sold at the Daniel Island, Folly Beach and Summerville farmers markets, Benjamin’s developing a mushroom onion garlic olive oil and sun-dried tomato olive oil.
“I’m always open to suggestions from customers,” she says.
Lowcountry Olive Oil will be at 272 Meeting St., alongside Delish Bakery.
Jazz Age cocktailing
Prohibition recently stationed an exuberant black-vested jazz combo in its doorway in a bid to lure customers to the new 1920s-themed cocktail den, which recently took over the Upper King Street space previously occupied by Mercury Bar. But at least in the early evening, the room beyond the tooting musicians looked relatively staid, raising the question of whether the speakeasy trend is played out.
Probably not, says cocktail writer Jeff Berry. As the world’s foremost expert on tiki history, Berry is a scholar of themed-bar culture. According to Berry, the current celebration of illicit watering holes isn’t the drinking nation’s first dalliance with the decade.
“The first roaring ’20s revival was in the 1960s, when bars and restaurants themed themselves like speakeasies, played Dixieland jazz, and dressed waiters in shirt garters and straw hats,” Berry says. “They had names like Sneeky Pete’s or Rod’s 1920s Roadhouse. The trend lasted about eight years, with a final shot in the arm when the Robert Redford version of ‘The Great Gatsby’ hit movie screens.”
Thanks to Baz Luhrmann, we’re in the midst of another big-screen Gatsby year. But that film isn’t likely to close out the Jazz Age-redux era, since the current strain of bathtub gin revivalism represents a rare intersection of fantasy and quality.
“Since we burn through trends much faster now you’d think the current speakeasy revival would be on its last legs, but this revival has one thing the previous one didn’t — great drinks,” Berry says. “As long as today’s speakeasies keep pouring those, there’s no telling how long the trend could last.”
As for Prohibition, it appeared to draw a healthy crowd later in the weekend with its post-Prohibition TVs. Because while cocktail fads may come and go, football fandom is forever.
Prohibition, at 547 King St., is open daily from 5 p.m.-2 a.m., with brunch served on weekends from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. The bar promises live music, dance lessons and “cocktail wizardry” from Jim McCourt. For more information, go to www.facebook.com/ProhibitionCHS or call 793-2964.
Jestine’s Kitchen, which last month shut down in the midst of lunch service, at press time planned to reopen this week.
Jessica Grossman of Jestine’s Sweet Shop shared the news in an e-mail but didn’t elaborate on what diners should expect when the tourist favorite returns. Jestine’s Sweet Shop remained open throughout the restaurant’s hiatus.
It’s still not clear what caused Jestine’s owner, Dana Berlin Strange, to close the restaurant Aug. 22 without warning. According to social media reports, Strange shooed away customers, declaring the restaurant would never reopen.
The restaurant’s windows were papered over days after the closure with butcher paper on which the oddly spelled phrase “closed for remolding” was handwritten.
Strange opened Jestine’s Kitchen in 1996 to honor her family’s longtime housekeeper. Jestine Matthews died the following year at age 112, but her namesake restaurant continued to attract acclaim from the national press and remarkably long lines.
XLB at XBB?
Charleston isn’t always on the way to New York, but if you’re coming from China, it’s close enough. Former Brooklyn chef Vinh Nguyen, who’s just completed a working stint in Shanghai, is planning to guest chef at a Xiao Bao Biscuit dinner on his way home next month.
“He’s been doing a lot of traveling around Asia,” XBB owner Josh Walker says of the influences that might appear on Nguyen’s menu.
Shanghainese cuisine tends to make heavy use of soy, sugar and seafood. But the region’s best-known dish is xiao long bao, the soup dumplings that have inspired obsessions that would make the average ramen lover blush.
No word on whether Nguyen’s bringing XLB to Spring Street, but the menu for his Shanghai restaurant is online: On Nguyen’s watch, the pork-happy Grumpy Pig served steamed pork buns; pork street toast, described as pork and sweet potato on a baguette, battered and fried; Canton beef noodle soup; ramen; pho and snickerdoodle cookies.
Walker knows Nguyen from New York, where he ran a highly focused Vietnamese restaurant with the all-time great name of Silent H. The New York Times took note of his “succulent banh mi” made with smoked sausage from neighboring Polish butcher shops. Nguyen later transformed the shop into Cafe Colette, described by New York Magazine as “an informal bistro meets diner.”
A dinner date hasn’t yet been set, but Walker guarantees it will happen this month.
The State Fair of Texas’ long list of deep-fried concessions this year includes a Lowcountry dish making its Dallas debut.
Allan Weiss of Weiss Enterprises worked with a consulting company to develop deep-fried shrimp and grits, which the fair’s publicity department describes as “homemade grits ... made with a blend of fresh herbs, cheese and Cajun shrimp, coated in a secret batter and deep fried.”
“As far as shrimp and grits go, I like the way it tastes and so forth,” says Weiss, who could only spare a minute of phone time in the week leading up to the fair, the largest annual exposition in North America.
The State Fair also holds the distinction of staying open for more days than any other U.S. state fair, but it’s most renowned in food circles for its massive menu of deep-fried concoctions. In addition to the shrimp and grits, items new to the fair this year include (please preface all of the following with the words “deep-fried”) chocolate-chip burritos; Spam empanadas; “pig toes,” or tater tots wrapped in bacon; and a blackened tilapia fish ball.
Still, none of the above was judged worthy of competing in the Big Tex Choice Awards, which annually reviews eight finalists and anoints a “best tasting” and “most creative” concession; in 2010, the latter prize famously went to fried beer. Fried butter took the crown the previous year.
But veteran fair food chronicler (and my former colleague) Alice Laussade of the Dallas Observer has reported the 2013 contenders couldn’t measure up to the standard set by those deep-fried greats.
“Really? Southern Style Chicken-Fried Meatloaf?,” Laussade wrote in her coverage of the contest, which starred (you know the drill) Thanksgiving dinner on a stick, millionaire pie and King Ranch casserole.
“You just fried sadness. And I’m pretty sure it’s just because, after so many years of this competition, we’re starting to run out of ideas. Frying sadness was the only option left. I think it’s time to change the game.”
Or, perhaps, keep looking toward the Lowcountry. Stay tuned to learn whether fried shrimp and grits emerges the fair’s runaway hit.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560 or email@example.com.
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