Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dining in the Post-Husk Era: A Few Extras

For the City Paper's Summer Dish issue, I contributed the essay, in which I assess Charleston dining in the post-Husk era and contemplate where we might go next. As is usually the case with such pieces, I had far more material than would fit, and a lot of it ended up on the cutting room floor.

Most of it was expendable, but I did regret that there wasn't room for me to talk about some of the more encouraging things going on around town in terms of furthering a distinctive local culinary style. I didn't want the piece to have too negative a note, for as a general matter I'm very bullish on what's going on in Charleston dining these days.

Here's what I originally wrote about some of the positive trends in town:
At the Charleston Grill, Executive Chef Michelle Weaver recently added a fine-dining version of Frogmore Stew to the “Southern” panel of her four-sectioned menu (though I would advocate they rename it “Lowcountry”). There’s also a squab and butterbean appetizer, which hints at another promising trend. The squab is the product of Sumter’s Palmetto Pigeon Plant, for which Frank Lee of Slightly North of Broad has long been an advocate. Now Weaver and other chefs, like Mike Lata at FIG, are adding it to their repertoire.
In his Vogue piece [on Charleston dining and Husk in particular], Jeffrey Steingarten singled out the Peninsula Grill’s coconut cake for praise, noting that it is “said to be a Charleston specialty.” I’m not aware of any other Charleston restaurant serving a similar coconut cake, but perhaps they should--and recreate the long-lost Lady Baltimore cake while they’re at it. 
Husk itself is pushing in the right direction on the cocktail front. Yes, its bar established itself early on as a temple of bourbon--that foreign Appalachian import--fetishizing Pappy Van Winkle and stocking 50 other premium brands from Kentucky and Tennessee. But, with an eye to local history, they’ve added a selection of punches, too, including Charleston Light Dragoon Punch, the signature tipple of Charleston’s elite 19th century militia unit. Following a recipe obtained from the Charleston Preservation Society, Husk’s version packs a potent dose of three liquors--brandy, peach brandy, and Jamaican rum--under the cover of black tea, lemon juice, and sugar, and it’s splendid. There’s an offering of Madeira wines, too, right there on the main cocktail menu--a fitting revival of what was once the premier wine of the Lowcountry elite.
 A Light Dragoon Punch at cocktail hour, then Frogmore Stew for dinner followed by coconut cake, all accompanied by a fine old Madeira. Now there's a meal you'll only find in Charleston, SC.

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