Raskin Around: Puree in Mount Pleasant shutters, but hopes to reopen

Icebox's Boris Van Dyck introduces a persimmon cocktail to the scene.


Puree Cafe, the Mount Pleasant vegetarian restaurant that launched a last-ditch effort to attract more customers this fall, shuttered on Nov. 30.

"Puree will be closing indefinitely at the end of this month," owner Jenan McClain wrote on the restaurant's Facebook page. "We are in talks with multiple angel investors and we're hoping to continue or re-open. We started on one family's budget, which has proven to not be enough."

Although Puree was popular with diners who appreciated McClain's commitment to using only organic ingredients, many customers couldn't understand why she wouldn't serve Coke.

"A lot of people in the South don't even know what a GMO is, so it's been a real educational process," she said in October. Explaining her decision to enhance dinner service with a dedicated menu and organic cocktails, she added, "We're not in danger of going out of business, but it's got to get profitable at some point."

According to Puree's Facebook page, a Kickstarter project is in the works. Dozens of Facebook comment writers voiced support for the idea.

"Please do let us know when the Kickstarter is up," local vegan activist Sarah Swingle wrote in response to the closing announcement. "You all are wonderful and your food is amazing. Charleston needs and deserves Puree!"

A 20-year old coffee company with Seattle roots sounds like just the kind of company that would have jumped online back when most computer users had AOL email addresses. But King Bean Coffee Roasters, which supplies coffee to many of Charleston's top restaurants, didn't offer online ordering until Thanksgiving week.

"When talking recently with a prominent West Coast roaster, she couldn't believe that we had never before sold our coffee online," says Katie Weinberger, whose husband, Kurt, founded the company after finishing up a Navy stint in the Pacific Northwest. "We joked that we built our business backwards by today's standards."

King Bean three years ago launched a limited local retail line, available in Whole Foods' South Carolina stores and smaller gourmet shops. The company recently acquired a Petroncini roaster, which Weinberger says provides the flexibility and consistency needed for increased production.

"King Bean wasn't started with a retail application in mind," she adds. "However the public's demand became so much, continuous phone calls and emails asking where to buy our coffee, people dropping by our roastery, hoping to score a bag of beans."

Customers everywhere can now score 12-ounce bags of nine different roasts at kingbean.com/shop. The changing selection is currently priced at $12.99-$15.99 a bag.

Around Charleston, it's easier to find persimmons on a tree than on a cocktail menu, but Icebox's Boris Van Dyck recently came up with a drink that he believes could boost the fruit's popularity with bartenders.

After receiving 300 pounds of overripe persimmons from GrowFood Carolina, Van Dyck cooked the fruit with sugar and spices; the strained syrup became the base of a drinking vinegar he mixed with Striped Pig vodka for a recent meeting of the Charleston Bridal Association.

Event planner Mitchell Crosby described the drink as "epic."

"I think I'm the only person who ever served them persimmons," says Van Dyck, who was planning to put the drink on draft for a GrowFood Carolina event.

Although Van Dyck had experimented with persimmons in the past, he "didn't have much success" until he hit on the vinegar concoction. He says he now has enough of the sunset-colored vinegar to see him through the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival.

"We made like 20 gallons of vinegar, and you only use about an ounce in a cocktail," he says.

After months of fending off anxious queries from eaters hungry for bibimbap, Kenny Tyler last Wednesday opened Sunae's, a fast-service hibachi and Korean grill.

"All I hear is 'When are you going to open?' " Tyler told me two days before opening day. "At the new Bi-Lo, even at the Publix on Savannah Highway, everywhere I go, it's 'When are you going to open? What's the holdup?' "

Tyler says it took three months to convert the 1766 Main St. storefront that previously housed Billy Dee's Premium Chicken; the fried chicken shack closed in 2011.

After "DHEC came in and tore it up," Tyler had to update the space to comply with current building codes.

Sunae's is named for Tyler's wife, a longtime Mama Kim's chef who will run the kitchen. In addition to bibimbap, the restaurant will offer bulgogi, chapchae (glass noodles), spicy squid stir-fry and jajangmyeon, a deviation from the Mama Kim's menu.

Jajangmyeon, a popular comfort food bathed in black bean sauce, is the Korean interpretation of Chinese noodle cookery. While the rudimentary dish hasn't won many stateside fans, it's a beloved childhood dish in Korea.

The spicy seafood stew, jjamppong, another staple of Chinese-Korean take-out menus, also will be available.

The Japanese portion of the menu includes grilled shrimp, beef and chicken with rice; miso soup and a green salad with ginger dressing. Like Mama Kim's, Sunae's sells white sauce by the pint and quart.

According to Tyler, Sunae's is the first John's Island restaurant with a partially Korean menu.

"Peking Garden tries to do it, but it's just not the same," Tyler says.

For more information, call 559-8051.

If the design firm charged with "refreshing" Magnolias is successful, patrons won't be taken aback by any of the changes they notice when the restaurant reopens in February after a monthlong renovation hiatus, unless they use the bathroom.

"The restrooms are going to be completely changed," promises Bill Johnson, the Charleston native who heads up The Johnson Studio. "The restrooms were very, very plain."

Beyond the restrooms, the tweaks will be less dramatic. The dining room will gain "softer seating to make it more comfortable," and its acoustics will be upgraded to reflect contemporary technology. An antique mirrored wall with sconces and a banquette will be set against the back wall. Still, Johnson predicts guests will be struck mostly by the "crisp and clean" look of the spruced-up space.

"It'll just be renewed, really," Johnson says.

Much of the renovation work will focus on the bar area. Magnolias is adding an expanded seating area with a black slate floor and a heart pine liquor shelf behind the bar. According to Johnson, dark Charleston green bar stools and gray-blue accents will complete the new color palette.

Although The Johnson Studio has worked on small projects at Magnolias, including a revamp of its bar after South Carolina did away with mini-bottles of liquor, the renovation marks the restaurant's first overhaul since its opening in 1990.

"It really hasn't changed in 25 years," Johnson says.

Atlanta's The Johnson Studio was new when Magnolias opened, but the firm handled the design of sister restaurants Blossom and Cypress. Other Southern restaurants in its portfolio include Fearing's in Dallas, Roost in Greenville, and KR Steakbar, One Midtown Kitchen and The Spence in Atlanta.

Magnolias will remain open for the holidays, closing on Jan. 2. The restaurant plans to reopen the first week of February.

Barsa executive chef Cole Poolaw last week predicted the hiring of a new sous chef at his tapas bar could herald the exploration of "more exotic ingredients," but James Burge says patrons shouldn't brace for baby eels and fried quail eggs just yet.

"There's nothing too exotic on the menu," says Burge, who launched a reformatted menu when he joined Barsa's kitchen crew last month. "It's still very familiar. We still have paella, we still have meats and cheeses."

The menu does feature a few new plates, including a pan-roasted red snapper with salsa verde, a grilled hanger steak and migas served with a fried egg.

Burge, who wasn't aware of any established items being axed, says he anticipates tweaking the menu in response to the availability of local products.

"If there's cool asparagus or cool radishes, we'll buy them up," Burge promises.

Burge previously worked for Barcelona Wine Bar, which operates nine locations in Atlanta, Washington and Connecticut. He describes his tapas philosophy as basic: "It's definitely nothing rushed, nothing fancy," he says. "It's just small plates."

Located at 58 Line St., Barsa is open on weeknights from 4 p.m.-10 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m.-midnight.

S&S Cafeteria put on its holiday best for its reopening last week, a restaurant spokeswoman says.

"After two months of intense renovation due to a fire, we are excited to be able to invite all of our friends and customers to come in and enjoy our delicious Southern meals," Rita Kiser writes.

Kiser is urging patrons to "dine in and relax in our renovated facilities, complete with Christmas decorations." (Although she adds that the take-out shop is reopening, too.)

The area's last surviving cafeteria, S&S Cafeteria was badly damaged on Oct. 2 by an early morning laundry room fire. General manager Mike DeLaney initially forecast the restaurant would require a few weeks to rebuild, but it took months before loyal customers were given another crack at deviled eggs, broiled chicken livers, ambrosia and turnip greens.

The S&S at 1104 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. is one of eight locations operated by the 77-year old chain. The West Ashley restaurant opened in 1978.

"We look forward to serving (customers) for many more generations," Kiser writes.

For a late-summer month or so, Bradford watermelons were showing up seemingly everywhere in Charleston. And now the heirloom melon has shown up in Slow Food's Ark of Taste catalog, a global list of "delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction."

"The Bradford watermelon is a plant with a beautiful flavor and a beautiful history, and I am thrilled to see it included on the Ark of Taste," says Megan Larmer, manager of biodiversity programs for Slow Food USA. "Foods like this watermelon are at risk of disappearing because they don't fit into the factory farming system."

More than 200 U.S. foods have been added to the Ark, including Ossabaw Island hogs, Carolina Gold rice, American chestnuts and traditional cane syrup. Anyone can nominate an item to the Ark, but only foods deemed endangered, good, clean and fair (meaning it's not a trademarked or commercial product) are allowed aboard.

The Bradford, championed mightily by food historian David Shields, was first bred in the 1840s by Nathaniel Bradford. It was one of the region's reigning end-of-season market melons until the early 1900s, when farmers shifted their focus from flavor to hardiness. Their interest in disease-resistant melons that were easy to transport led to the last commercial crop of Bradfords being planted in 1922.

But Bradford's descendants continued to grow the melon: His great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson, Nat Bradford of Sumter, in 2012 told Shields about the family's inheritance. "I met him, reviewed his photographs against the classic description of the melon's characteristics, and concluded he had the real deal," Shields recalled in a Slow Food USA blog post.

Fans of the elongated Bradford describe it as an extraordinarily sweet melon with a tender rind. Following the lead of 18th-century cooks, Charleston chefs this year pickled it, boiled it down for molasses and turned it into jellied candy.

Slow Food this week approved the Bradford's entry into the Ark.

"The dedication of the Bradford family in preserving this watermelon is remarkable," Larmer says.