Can Charleston claim the nation's most vibrant ethnic food, most pompous foodies, best food trucks, best sushi, healthiest eaters and most adventurous diners? Probably not, but Food & Wine is leaving it up to the public to decide, so cast your online vote now.
Forty cities made the cut for the magazine's Favorite Food Cities survey, the results of which will be published in the September issue.
If you opt to take the poll, leave yourself a few minutes: There are 25 different categories, many of which are better suited to Charleston than the categories cited above. Voters are asked to select cities boasting the best-dressed diners, best-looking chefs, best-looking bartenders and most romantic restaurants.
The survey closes on April 30. Get started at foodandwine.com.
High honor for Craig Deihl
When Cypress' Craig Deihl last month claimed a Good Food Award for his cured meat, he was one of 130 honorees. But Deihl belongs to a far more select group of celebrated artisans: He's one of only six food producers to win a Good Food Award in all four years of the program's existence, and the lone Southern producer to achieve the distinction.
Created by San Francisco's Seedling Projects to recognize food deemed "tasty, responsible and authentic," the annual Good Food Awards are considered the top prizes in the handcrafted food-and-drink world. For this year's contest, cheesemakers, picklers, chocolatiers, distillers and fermenters, among other artisans, submitted 1,450 different products for judging.
While repeat winners Wisconsin's Uplands Cheese, Missouri's Patric Chocolate, Massachusetts' Rogue Chocolatier and Washington's Firefly Kitchens have each produced more than one winning product, their win lists include multiple prizes for the same product: Rogue Chocolatier, for example, went on a three-year run with its Sambirano, a single-origin bar from Madagascar. (Producers are permitted to enter up to three items in a category, which is how Rogue picked up a record eight Good Food Awards in four years.)
Charcuterie, by contrast, is a less stable category: Oregon's Olympic Provisions has won a Good Food Award for six different preparations (For a taste of how they're impressing the judges, check out the cold case at Two Boroughs Larder.) And Deihl has been honored for his Soppressata, Picante Salami and Culatello, which a press release describes as the "rear large muscle mass in a leg of pork, cured with salt in a pig's bladder for 16 months," which means the chef stands a good chance of winning another Good Food Award before the next batch of Culatello is ready to serve.
Bouncers for wine bar
A new city ordinance requiring certain bars to station bouncers at their doors probably wasn't meant to protect Charleston's citizenry from Cotes du Rhone drinkers who huddle around candlelit tables, debating the finer points of French cheese. But because the law applies equally to bars serving liquor and bars serving only beer and wine, Bin 152 is now being forced to pay a door person three nights a week.
The owner of the wine bar described as "super-relaxed" by Departures Magazine questions the rule's indiscriminate application.
"We have 10 to 15 people sitting at the bar, and most of them are there to get away from the drunkenness of upper King," Patrick Panella says of his late-night crowd, adding that he's never been approached by a patron demanding a last-call shot of Silver Oak. "At the end of the night, everyone's very polite and cordial."
According to the ordinance, bars open until 2 a.m. must have at least one security person and one door person on duty after midnight on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights; exact numbers are contingent upon maximum occupancy limits. The ordinance also stipulates that bar owners monitor parking lots used by patrons, keep their sidewalks clear, and close their windows and doors by 11 p.m. if music's playing.
Panella isn't aware of any other late-night Charleston bars that don't serve liquor. He chose not to apply for a spirits license because he didn't want to deal with rowdy drinkers or the staffing needed to keep them in line.
"In four years, we've never had a single noise complaint," he says. "This is the baby getting thrown out with the bathwater."
Although the ordinance was adopted last May, Charleston Police Department Sgt. Heath King says his officers prioritized education over enforcement after realizing "everybody was really confused" about how to comply with the measure. The department shifted to enforcement Nov. 1, although King says officers are still more likely to issue warnings than citations.
"We're ending that probably real soon," he adds, declining to give a specific date.
Officers three or four months ago approached Panella to review the ordinance. "I didn't even know about it until after it passed," says Panella, who's spoken to a few city council members about revising the code to exempt bars like Bin 152.
"Unless something gets amended, they fit smack into the category," King says. "It doesn't fit the mystique of the ordinance, but they're required to have (a door person.)"
So for now, Panella is scheduling his regular staffers to spend extra hours patroling the door.
"It's more awkward than anything else," Panella says. "It doesn't really make sense."
Remembering Gertrude Sassard
Gertrude Sassard, who for more than half a century presided over the production of Mrs. Sassard's jellies, pickles, relishes and preserves, died Jan. 20. She was 87.
Sassard in 1962 inherited the Mount Pleasant condiment company, and the closely guarded recipes that were critical to its success, from her mother-in-law, Edna. Although Sassard was faithful to the popular Jerusalem artichoke preparation that in 1917 inspired the commercialization of Edna Sassard's canning hobby, she added a number of products to the line, including iced tomato pickles, iced cucumber pickles and sweet onion relish.
Under Sassard's leadership, Mrs. Sassard's artichoke relish maintained its status as a revered Charleston symbol, eventually showing up in television host Stephen Colbert's standard gift basket for guests. "We have memories of eating it on hot dogs at Pitt Street Pharmacy," food writer Matt Lee told a Sandlapper Magazine writer. Lee and his brother, Ted, sell nine Mrs. Sassard's products through their online food catalog.
According to the same Sandlapper story, Sassard's son took a jar of the relish to school whenever beans were on the menu. "We mix it with coleslaw and potato salad and we just love it in tuna salad," Gertrude Sassard said.
In addition to overseeing Mrs. Sassard's until last year, Sassard was an active member of St. Andrew's Church in Mount Pleasant and various community service groups.
Shopping for the Olympic Games
The Tsarist way to usher in the Olympic Games on Friday night would require a magnum of Champagne and jars of caviar. But for local viewers planning a more authentically Russian celebration, Euro Foods sells most of the needed staples.
Sadly, owner Sasha Pavlichenko didn't have the pickled herring I wanted to make shuba (sometimes called herring under a fur coat) for my Opening Ceremonies party. But had I been willing to undertake the pickling process myself, he had plenty of fresh herring in the cooler. And, he sold me the tinned sardines I needed for sardine butter.
The sardine butter is destined for my attempt at zakuska, a pre-meal snack spread that's possibly an offshoot of the traditional Scandinavian smorgasbord. While zakuska didn't become popular until the 18th century, Russian food writers now hold up the practice as emblematic of Russian hospitality, the rules of which dictate you should never ask a guest whether he'd like something to eat, because, of course, he wants something to eat.
As I've learned from the cookbooks I've consulted - Darra Goldstein's "A Taste of Russia" and Anya von Bremzen's "Please to the Table" - Russians are militant about making their guests feel welcome. In peasant cottages, families typically roused the resident matriarch from her sleeping spot so a guest could sit atop the stove. They also had the habit of hiding treats around the house, so they always had a guest-pleasing delicacy within reach. The zakuska table, sometimes compared to tapas or dim sum, evolved from keeping prepared dishes at the ready for impromptu entertaining.
Euro Foods' shelves are stocked with the green tomato pickles, eggplant spreads, marinated mushrooms and sauced cauliflower considered essential zakuski. Pavlichenko also sells frozen pelmeni, sausages, farmer's cheese, rye bread, poppy seed cakes and Russian chocolates for hosts planning extended parties. I picked up a few bottles of Borjomi, the Georgian mineral water so beloved by Stalin that it was poured at every Kremlin event.
Of course, the most important item on any zakuska table is only sold at liquor stores. As Goldstein writes, when Vladimir was on the hunt for a religion to help him control his 10th-century subjects, he was on the brink of embracing Islam until he learned the faith forbids alcohol. "Drinking is the joy of Rus'!," he proclaimed. In other words, don't forget the vodka.
Euro Foods, 1727 Ashley River Road, is open every day. For more details, call 571-1451, or go to www.facebook.com/EuroFoods.