08 December 2009

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is - One Foodie's Quest to Buy Local this Christmas

This year, I have been inspired. Inspired to start my own business, inspired to stay in a city that I love for no other reason but the fact that I love it, and inspired to take action on the causes that I believe in most.

This year, I have fervently embraced buying local. Nonprofit oganization, Lowcountry Local First, gets much of the credit for motivating me to consciously act on the conviction that buying locally is a selfish act really -  not only am I putting my own hard-earned money back into the community which I love and live, but as a small business owner, I am profiting from the generation of more local commerce.

So then, why wouldn't I? It's good for everybody else, too. Local farms, restaurants, small businesses of all kinds - we share this common interest in the state of our local economy. In a world where we as individuals fail to impact our national or global economic situation, we can embrace the opportunity as a community to significantly affect our local economy. Below are examples of my switch to the 'Local Mentality'.

 - Need a key made? Can of spray paint? Go to Jantzen, Hughes or True Value Hardware, not Lowe's or  Wal-Mart.

 - Want the perfect holiday card? Check out the RSVP Shoppe or mac & murphy, instead of Hallmark or online card stores.

 - Ordering a birthday cake? Need a holiday pie? Skip the Publix bakery and go to WildFlour Pastry (save money and taste heaven at the same time!)

 - Have to do your grocery shopping? Piggly Wiggly is locally owned/operated and the Vegetable Bin offers the best selection of seasonal fruits and veggies at a very reasonable price. Ted's Butcherblock sells all natural meats, cheeses from around the world.

 - Need a cup of coffee and some wi-fi? Starbucks is played out and you PAY for the wi-fi. Try one of dozens of coffee joints locally owned and operated - Alchemy Coffee, Kudu, City Lights, Kronic Coffee, Muddy Waters and more.

So, as I begin my Christmas shopping, I will document here my efforts to buy them all locally. I will do my best and let you know how I fair. Good luck and BUY LOCAL!

07 December 2009

La Fourchette - Fine French Food in the Heart of Downtown Charleston

For Mackenzie's 25th birthday, we ventured to La Fourchette at 432 King St. A cozy French bistro, La Fourchette proved to be a worthy venue for a celebration. Most of us had not tried the restaurant before, but we were all immediately drawn to the French culinary staples.

The formage plate featured a balanced mix of French cheeses including truffled goat, brie and roquefort and served with the appropriate accoutrement. Housemade duck pate was accompanied by pickled gherkins and crusty bread. The pommes frites (fried in duck fat) were probably the most decadent and memorable selection from our first course, truly redefining the meaning to the words "french fries".

Our next course featured eggplant, red pepper, zucchini and goat cheese tortes, boeuf bourguignon and steak frites. We skipped desert, having planned ahead for our birthday girl, and indulged in a one-of-a-kind cookie cake courtesy of WildFlour Pastry. The evening was decadent to say the least, but La Fourchette is high on my list of places to return. Let me know what you try!

La Fourchette on Urbanspoon

13 October 2009

A 'Taste' of Local Flavor

For nearly 30 years, the Taste of Charleston has celebrated Lowcountry cuisine, featuring some of Charleston’s finest, nationally renowned chefs. This year’s event, spread out over the entire weekend, brought together more than 40 of Charleston’s best restaurants to host more than 10,000 locals and tourists alike. Put on by the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association (GCRA), the Taste of Charleston has long been lauded one of the “top 20 events in the southeast” by the Southeastern Tourism Society. The addition of three new events to this year’s schedule catered directly to visitors, enticing a weekend-long culinary indulgence from regional and national tourists. 

For the first time, the Taste of Charleston offered a full weekend of events that included a local Iron Chef competition and a downtown art walk, but it was Sunday’s main event at Boone Hall Plantation that drew huge crowds. Visitors poured into Boone Hall to take advantage of the first-rate food and live entertainment, set amongst one of Charleston’s most historic backdrops. Fine representations from Charleston’s best restaurants offered visitors a true “taste” of Lowcountry cuisine and a chance to sample local fare without the huge impact to their wallet.

Live music and good libations may be enough to draw a steady crowd to Taste of Charleston on a muggy October day, but it is the food that keeps people coming back year after year.  Standouts included seared duck with broccolini in a fig-wine reduction from the Library at Vendue Inn as well as the Maverick Southern Kitchens menu, which featured a vegetable tart with pickled shrimp and beef sliders done right. Most notable though was the abundance of fresh ingredients – much of what has recently been available at the farmer’s market presented itself in many of the restaurants’ tastings. Local event-goer Lindsay Branciforte said, “To be able to create so many small plates at such high quality is truly a testament to these restaurants, and all with the historic Charleston experience of Boone Hall Plantation. The only thing lacking about the Taste of Charleston is the parking.”

The Taste of Charleston also serves as a forum for the GCRA to give back to the community in which it thrives. The GCRA represents the largest private sector employer in the tri-county area and serves as the voice of the Charleston Area food industry. The Taste of Charleston and the annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival, both sponsored by the GCRA and held at Boone Hall Plantation, raise funds for local charitable organizations such as the Hollings Cancer Center and Charleston County Schools enrichment programs. For more information about these events, visit www.charlestonrestaurantassociation.com

06 October 2009

Recession Savvy Foodie

If there is an upside to the nation's economic woes, it is that locally, businesses are embracing unprecedented customer service and benefits, offering pocket-friendly deals to customers in order to maintain their bottom line. This is no where more evident than in the food &  beverage industry. Many of Charleston's best restaurants and specialty stores are modifying their businesses to best serve their customers. 

Tristan's Dinner Incentive Card offers half price on any bottle of wine on Monday/Tuesday nights (under $75) in addition to their new (and affordable) bar menu and Sunday brunch. They have a new chef and everything we tried recently was tasty. 

Red Drum Gastropub (Coleman Blvd.) has added a Margarita Madness happy hour on Thursdays as well as a Sunday Brunch. The Red Drum never disappoints, and the brunch menu is cheap and diverse with plenty of Chef Berryhill's signature Southwestern touch.

Fish Restaurant is doing half price wines on Monday and "Mercy of the Chef" night on Tuesdays - 3 courses for $25, 5:30-8:30pm.  But as long as you go early, they have a deal every day of the week. 

Oak Steakhouse even has a Sunday Brunch, and recently held a recipe contest awarding one local talent a night at Oak for two. 

I have also noticed a serious surge in wine, sake, fondue and sushi tastings, in-store cooking demos and foodie classes- from Queen St. Grocery, Caviar &
 Bananas, Avondale Wine & Cheese, Ted's Butcherblock, Bull St. Gourmet and the like, you can sample new and different store pairings for a nominal fee ($10). I want to try the sushi tasting at Caviar & Bananas next. Who's with me? 

So, I say thank you, recession. For forcing businesses back to their customer base, and for breeding new and innovative ideas. I look forward to reaping the benefits.

Fish on Urbanspoon
Tristan on Urbanspoon
Red Drum Gastropub on Urbanspoon
Oak Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

20 August 2009

Local Produce - Charleston Farmer's Market

The Charleston Farmer's Market definitely has the widest variety of heirloom tomatoes that I have ever seen in one place. Along with good-looking green bell peppers, and some of my summer favorites including fat, juicy peaches and scuppernongs/muscadines!

If you have never heard of a scuppernong/muscadine, it's a type of grape, except about 100 times more delicious. The skin is thicker than a grape, so you put the stem end in your mouth and pop it open, sucking out the fruit which is a really rich, sweet flavor that makes them popular for jams/preserves. You can eat the skin if you like which I do occasionally, but it tends to be tart. These were local, which was impressive considering their short growing season. They are indigenous of North Carolina and only grow in extreme heat and humidity (hmmm, sounds familiar).

18 August 2009

Charleston Chinese

For six years, I have wondered why Charleston did not have better Chinese food. Something fresh, non-grease laden, and generally delicious. I am happy to report that upon recommendation, I ventured to Red Orchids China Bistro, located in the Ashley Plaza Mall on Sam Rittenberg Blvd.

I know, if you don't live off the Charleston peninsula, or on James Island for that matter, I may have lost you. But as skeptical as I was of its location, (Between Big Lots and Burlington Coat Factory), Red Orchids was a refreshing surprise. Red Orchids is modern, with a simple and tastefully decorated dining room (red-hued obviously), a front bar and friendly staff. What skepticism remained was lost when I read a sign on the door saying, "No Buffet!".

I had read on Urban Spoon that Red Orchids, "Made P.F. Chang's look like a Denny's," so I was excited to see the menu and was so far in agreement. Our server happily informed us of the specials which included a Lobster Wonton and an entree I don't recall, but also that everything was made in-house with the exception of the duck sauce (!!!!!). I am officially impressed, but I digress. We started with the Lettuce Wraps, which were very similar to the P.F. Chang's variety. Spicy chicken stir-fried with shitake mushrooms and crunchy water chestnuts served in chilled lettuce cups with a dipping sauce. I ordered the Hunan Chicken as our server had also mentioned that any entree with the Hunan sauce was a good choice. Stir-fried chicken with mushrooms, peppers, bamboo shoots and snow peas. We also tried the Tangerine Chicken which was a fresher take on sweet & sour chicken, crispy fried then stir-fried with orange peel and a sweet & hot sauce.

Now I rarely order dessert at a Chinese restaurant, but Red Orchids offers freshly made ice cream in some pretty unorthodox and interesting flavors. We tried Green Tea and Ginger. Both were really good - Green Tea was nutty like pistachio and the Ginger spicy. I cannot even recall all of the other flavors but a few that we didn't try included coconut and lychee.

All great choices, all things I would have again. We will definitely be back and will undoubtedly try something else that is sure to be delicious. If you have been missing out on good Chinese food in Charleston, here's your chance!

Red Orchid's China Bistro on Urbanspoon

13 August 2009

Marion Square Farmer's Market

The Charleston Farmer's Market in Marion Square runs every Saturday from April-December. Located in the heart of the peninsula, local farmers haul goods all the way from Johns and Wadmalaw Islands and the surrounding areas. The market bustles with tourists and locals alike, especially this time of year. Lowcountry craftsmen and artisans create little shops within their tents and a litany of food vendors produce an array of choices including crepes, gyros, paninis, freshly squeezed lemonade and handmade fresh pastas. Jewelry makers, photographers, carpenters, ironworkers, glass blowers, potters, sweetgrass basket makers set up shop, all of whom would consider themselves Charlestonians.

07 August 2009

Summer Pizza

Shrimp & Feta Pizza with Peppers

Cook's Note: This was a recipe of opportunity, as I had many of these ingredients on hand and combined to make this easy pizza. I used panko-breaded shrimp that I had pan-fried the previous night. Delicious way to use up leftovers!

  • 3 fresh banana peppers, sliced (mine came courtesy of Perry County Farm, AL)
  • 4-5 hot (jalapeno) peppers, (depending on size and taste) sliced
  • 1/3 c. red onion, chopped
  • 1/2 c. feta cheese
  • 1/4 c. blue cheese
  • 3/4 c. shredded mozzarella
  • Dozen cooked shrimp
  • 1-2 T olive oil
  • 1 prepared pizza crust (found in refrigerated section of grocery)
- Preheat oven according to pizza crust directions.
- Saute banana peppers, hot peppers and red onions in olive oil until slightly translucent.
- Chop to combine feta and blue cheeses.
- Layer peppers and onion mixture, feta/blue cheese, and mozzarella onto pizza crust.
- Top with shrimp and additional mozzarella.
- Bake to crust directions, or until desired browning has occurred, about 15-20 min.

05 August 2009

Seasonal Delights at a West Ashley Favorite

Fresh local figs. Scored and stuffed with gorgonzola butter. Wrapped in pancetta and baked to perfection. Now normally I don't care for figs, but the burst of flavor from the pungent cheese and bite of perfectly crisp pancetta mixed with the sweetness of the fruit itself was enough to convert even the most avid fig-hater. This is just one of many seasonal creations being served up by West Ashley's crown culinary jewel, Al di La. If you've dined with me in Charleston, you've likely been here. It's the first restaurant I recommend for a number of reasons - 1. it's off the beaten path 2. because it's off the beaten path, it's less expensive than your downtown eateries 3. it's locally owned and consistently good 4. I have a serious weakness for Italian food.

The first menu item to sample is decidedly a toss up between divinely simple tomato-basil soup or the house specialty, tomato and shrimp gnocchi, made fresh from ricotta and mascarpone as opposed to typical potato gnocchi. The service has left a little something to be desired the last few times I have been in, and no doubt there is less front-of-house oversight without former owner John Marshall to greet you and your guests. Hostesses seem stressed as the small trattoria bubbles over with patrons. If you're looking for a quick bite, good wine and nice ambiance, the bacaro/wine bar offers a different dining experience including small plates, various meats and cheeses, and wood-fired pizza in a more casual environment(5:30p-until). I have enjoyed the new patio as well, offering outside seating at Al di La for the first time.

If you haven't tried it, you should. Simply put it's "al di la", beyond the beyond. There is not a better Italian restaurant on the peninsula, and I dare say in all of Charleston.


UPDATE: Al di La has announced new Lunch Hours on their facebook page! I have posted the information below. See you there!!

**We would like to announce our new lunch hours of operation. Al di La will officially open for lunch on Wednesday, August 5th at 11:30 am. We will serve Wednesday thru Saturday from 11:30 am - 3 pm.

In addition to the menu, we will serve a baked pasta special of the day and will offer a $7 discount on any bottle of wine during lunch hours.

We hope to see you soon!

PS - Our lunch menu is posted in our 'Photos' section of the Facebook page.**

Al Di La on Urbanspoon

The Holy City

Recently I have had the opportunity to explore Charleston from a new perspective. As a non-native of six years hailing originally from Birmingham, AL, I have experienced Charleston on a variety of levels- broke and bright-eyed college student, thriving young professional, and now as an evolving, nouveau Charlestonian. As I rode my bike around downtown this past Sunday, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the city in which I live. All the senses seemed richer as I was breathing in fresh air, watching tourists amble, and riding down cobblestone streets too narrow for a car. My intent was to capture the intensity of some of the Holy City's most famous churches and other sites, which is what inspired these pictures: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?id=21303093&aid=2193528. Most of my blog postings will be about food as it is something that I love inherently - on the fly, with friends, in the kitchen and around town. I believe that food is family and that loving good food is good for your soul. Enjoy and bon appetit, y'all!