Charleston really has become a culinary destination, and there are certain nights when it almost seems like New York or some such.

But it wasn’t always like that, which of course, isn’t a bad thing. Anyone who has been in Charleston longer than Joe Riley has been mayor (and can actually remember that far back) may recall that there were three basic eating establishments in downtown Charleston: Perdita’s, The Colony House and Henry’s. All served classic Charleston recipes that for the most part have been supplanted by nouvelle cuisine and various other forays into fine dining.

(But the best food preparation of all might have been in private homes where African-American cooks whipped up the most remarkable creations, the secrets of which have long since left this world with those who possessed them.)

When one of the new restaurants experimenting with upscale table fare opened circa 1980, I eagerly anticipated going with the expectation of something grand — or at least something new and unforgettable. And in a sense, it was all those things, particularly the unforgettable part. You’ll see why shortly.

It was a typical summer evening, much like what we’re having now, which is to say hot, humid, everything running a little bit slower, with the sun hanging on forever. The restaurant was situated downtown in the Historic District in a quiet location with tasteful interior decor and tableware.

One of the entree items was some sort of preparation involving calf brains, and I remember thinking to myself, hmmm, interesting, why not give it a go and see what the chef can produce? Calf brains sounds disgusting, but surely in a “fancy” restaurant like this, the final product will be exquisite. Particularly when served, if I recall correctly, with plantains and creamed spinach.

When the waiter brought the eagerly awaited creation to the table, the immediate visual impression was ... stunning. In the middle of the plate was not something attempting to disguise the conceptually unpalatable (i.e. a brain), but an organ (i.e. a brain) as one might expect to find in bottle of formaldehyde. There were the frontal lobes and, ah, yes, on the sides the temporal lobes, and the cerebellum tucked neatly in back.

It had been cooked, which is good, and the exterior of the organ appeared to have been charcoaled to perfection. The spinach was a creamy green and the plantains were a bit off-yellowish.

“How’s that look?” asked the waiter.

“Oh, just dandy.”

“Great! Enjoy your meal.”

Those of you reading this and having breakfast (or eating nothing and just don’t want to endure any more) should probably just stop right now, because it gets worse.

When I cut into the entree, it became pretty obvious that the appearance of the item as having been adequately cooked turned out to be a complete illusion. Something poured out of it, and I’m sure the details aren’t really required to get a visual image. But here you have brain matter mixed in with green slime and yellow mush to create something described in the medical sciences as purgative.

But I boldly pressed forward and ate the whole thing. What was I thinking? After staggering back from the bathroom and taking my seat, the waiter approached the table.

“Oh, my. I see you’ve cleaned your plate!”

“No question about it. It was the most interesting four-item meal I’ve ever had.”

He looked puzzled. “Four items? But, sir, we only served three.”

“Three down and one up makes four.”

“... Oh.”

So as I say, Charleston’s quest into the newer cuisines may have gotten off to a rocky start, but has been an unqualified success ever since.

Talking taxes

I’ve gotten a few responses on what a VAT (value added tax) really is, not the least of which is from former Sen. Fritz Hollings himself. “I’ve had many explanations,” writes the senator, “and, like you, I stay confused. The best approach is to act like the IRS. How do you measure the Value Added Tax? The ‘value added’ is the difference between the cost of parts and material and the sale of the finished product. A 6 percent VAT would be the difference between cost and sale — be it wholesale or retail.”

And speaking of taxes, it’s obvious they’re going to go up to pay for “Obamacare,” which was essentially the basis of Chief Justice John Roberts’ thinking when he sided with the liberal wing of the U.S. Supreme Court.

And with that development I’m willing to make prediction, which is to say that President Barack Obama will get re-elected. I never expected health reform to pass and thought that current economic data would do him in.

The estimates are now that 30 million to 50 million uninsured will be the potential beneficiaries of the new heath care law. Had it not passed, most of them probably would have stayed home come November out of sheer indifference with the current administration.

But now that it has passed, you better believe they’re going to go to the polls to protect their new entitlement, and this will supersede the countering protest vote for Romney.

Some people believe Roberts’ vote was a cleverly fashioned “Trojan Horse” strategy. And, of course, I hope they’re right. But I doubt it.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at