Side by Side Wine Pairing, Charleston

It seems appropriate the day before Thanksgiving to publish this story about a night amongst friends in Charleston, SC. A great night at a great home.

Not that The Week that Was: Charleston, SC wasn’t anything but non-stop nights to remember, the exclusive Side-by-Side dinner pairing a vertical of three of my wines, Heritage, Double Barrel and Blueprint with the Insanely Good (oh ya, that’s trademarked) cuisine of Chef Brett McKee was certainly the night never to be forgotten.

The second I walked through the front-door of the Kingsland and Rebie Bland’s home, I was struck with energy. I’ve been to enough dinners over the years and plenty of homes to know when an event has spark, action, a vibe about the room; this was one of those nights.

It’s collective and contagious energy. Margaret, my host since day one in Charleston, exudes energy. Bill Lehew is one of the most positive guys I know. I instantly felt a sense of elation as Rebie welcomed me into her home and I was greeted with a glass of my own wine from her husband Kingsland.

(A quick post script: Flash forward to October 27 in Healdsburg. Bill, Margaret, Rebie, Kingsland and I were all at dinner together at Chalkboard and we picked up where we left off in Charleston, sharing food, stories, and a little bit of wine; a genuinely great group of people to be with.)

But the vibe doesn’t end there. Because I haven’t met Chef McKee. Chef McKee was born and raised in Brooklyn and Long Island, New York. He graduated first in his class from the New York Restaurant School and first established himself in Charleston in 1989. He went on to open Brett’s and Brett’s at Wickliffe House, as well as Oak Steakhouse, recognized by the New York Times, Bon Appetit and Esquire Magazine.  He walked away from the restaurant business to start his own brand, Insanely Good.

Chef McKee lived up to his persona; gregarious, chummy, professional, an imposing figure but not intimidating, experienced but not arrogant. The kind of guy who has got your back and the first to tell you you’re saucing his duck improperly.

I received the world-wind tour of the cuisine and the kitchen. I also was introduced to the individuals assisting Chef McKee that evening. Everyone is positive, upbeat, looking forward to the next couple of hours.

As we dined, the positive rhythm of the evening continued throughout dinner. Courses of food and wine easily flowed from kitchen to table, bottle to glass. The guests naturally gravitated to the kitchen at the conclusion of dessert for another glass of wine and more conversation.

This is the last story of The Week that Was: Charleston, but certainly not my last trip to visit fine friends from the Palmetto State.


The Week that was Charleston, SC: Part 2

Part 2 of my week in Charleston, South Carolina...

The BEST LOOKING food truck I have ever seen has to be the Coastal Crust truck. (Pic from the Coastal Crust Facebook Page). I didn't get to eat any food from the truck, but I did catch both trucks driving around town. Generally, I don't judge a truck by it's paint job (I eat at taco trucks regularly), but locals tell me the food is equally as good as the facade.

I ate at both Melvin's and Home Team BBQ for ribs and collards. Collards were solid at both places, with sweet collard nectar coming through. I love collards.

Low Country Carolina BBQ is a big departure from the California style bbq I've had recently from friends. I think I'm coming to the conclusion that we Californians have our own style of BBQ.  Among the Elite BBQ in Fresno I’ve had from Fresno Bites and Tops BBQ there are differences from Low Country BBQ; cook times being one.

Carolinians will BBQ their pulled pork AND ribs for 12 hours or more. These longer cooking times cause several texture and flavor differences in the meat (more "pull", less "chew") when compared to ribs cooked only for 6 hours and foiled or rested properly. The cooking temperature of Carolina BBQ from the people I spoke with was always around 180 degrees, about where I like to BBQ. But from talking with Fresno Bites, 180 degrees is a little low for his style; Bites prefers over 220, but there are always factors to consider; like the fact Bites uses a Big Green Egg.

Sauces were remarkably different in Carolina. Each sauce I tasted was vinegar based and heavily seasoned with black pepper, with an option of a mustard based sauce. No combination of sauces in Carolina matched anything I’ve tasted from friends or restaurants in California. On a side note, there is a lot of sweet tea served at BBQ places in South Carolina, but I didn’t taste any sweet BBQ sauces.

The talk of “the best BBQ” is silly. There are different types of BBQ, different styles. A vinegar based BBQ sauce should be judged against other vinegar based sauces, not sauces created by friends in California, that’s comparing apples and pineapples. Carolina BBQ is as different from California BBQ as food from Puglia is from the food in Milan, they’re both Italian, but very different.

The unexpected hit at Home Team BBQ was crispy seasoned chicken legs. I’m thinking these legs were smoked for a little while; to dry out the skin, then deep fried, like you would a Pekin duck, without any breading or flour. Each chicken leg was then finished in a bath of dry spice rub. The spice rub seasoning was a hint sweet, salty and spicy. I didn’t detect any cumin in the finishing dry spice rub. I rarely eat chicken legs, but when I do, I’d prefer these.

Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.) Restaurant, part of the Maverick restaurant group in the Historic District, served up a solid Reuben sandwich complete with in-house cured corned beef. The classic sandwich was rounded out with fontina cheese, special sauce, sauerkraut all between toasted rye. There were a lot of things I wanted to try on the menu, but when offered a Reuben, with in house corned beef, I'm obligated to order and I wasn't disappointed. And having a Reuben was a welcome break from two days of BBQ.

I never expected to attend a Bulldog tailgate outside of Fresno, but it seems The Citadel has an equally famous Bulldog tailgate tradition. I don't know if they were playing football and tailgating back in 1842, the year The Citadel was founded, but the modern tradition of pickup trucks, beer, and barbeque (I didn't notice any tri-tip) is alive and well in the Palmetto state. I especially want to thank my host and Citadel graduate Bill Lehew for inviting me to this Charleston tradition.

A great way to end the week in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Week that was Charleston, SC

Charleston, South Carolina…they have Bulldogs, the best looking food truck I've ever seen, gourmet chocolates and pastries, a Hipster coffee house, and rock star chefs. Fortunately for me, I had great company to dine with every afternoon and evening in Charleston. I’d like to personally thank Margaret Mays and Bill Lehew for the time they spent taking care of me in the Palmetto State.

On my first evening in Charleston, we went big; which translates as STEAK. I’ve been to steak houses all over the country and Hall's Chophouse rivals any one.

The action in the downstairs bar is fierce; upstairs in the main dining room, plenty of wood, leather, and dim lighting…heaven. Looking at the menu is a mere formality, as I naturally selected the classic steakhouse line-up...steak tartare, wedge salad, dry-aged rib-eye with truffle butter, creamed spinach, sauteed mushrooms. If a steakhouse doesn’t have these, my standard order, there’s a problem already. There wasn’t a single problem. The entire meal paired perfectly with Mastro Scheidt Family Cellars Blueprint and Signature.

The following afternoon, it was suggested we stop into a boutique chocolatier Christophe in the Historical District, for a quick treat and prepare for dinner at Anson Restaurant. A treat indeed; plenty of chocolate, in addition to a full-blown patisserie. Everything one would expect from a fine patisserie, breakfast, lunch or a snack. I logged the location of Christophe into memory for the next morning.

The following morning, I drove directly to Christophe for an almond cream-apple torte.  Absolutely knocked my socks off. I didn't dine inside, instead, I brought my perfectly boxed pastry outside, placed the craft cardboard box on the hood of my rental silver Hyundai Sonata, ripped open the box and proceeded to eat my pastry like a wanton savage. I would have taken my pastry French style, simply wrapped with waxed paper and eaten out-of-hand, but I can see where the sealed craft cardboard box takes my rather pedestrian approach to breakfast to another, more refined level, as the craft cardboard box protects the pastry for the ride back home.

Black Tap Coffee exudes hipsterism, but I can't malign the coffee. The coffee is roasted by Counter Culture in Charlotte. Black Tap has a Japanese cold brew system and a proprietary cold brew methodology; which I think is: 

  • Add Tap water to coffee grounds for 24 hours and filter 

I had their Black Tap cold brew for a late-afternoon pick-me-up. The flavor was intense, deep, dark chocolate flavors on the back palate with a solid linger. 

I'll round out The Week that was Charleston in a second post.