So I officially checked Charleston Wine and Food Festival (@chswineandfood) off of my bucket list. Chef Jesse Roque of Never Blue (@theneverblue) in Hendersonville , and I packed our bags and headed South for the big show. Not only did I run into some of my favorite food people from all over South Carolina, we met some of the contestants from Bravo’s Top Chef, some of the world’s most revered food writers, and not only did I SEE New York’s famed Restaurateur Danny Meyer, I actually MET him! Talk about fangirling out. Yea, okay, that wasn’t the only time I totally freaked out. Everywhere I turned there was something to get excited about. This IS one of the top Food and Wine Fests in the world, after all. Jesse said it was like taking a four year old to Disneyland and seeing Cinderella for the first time. That pretty much wraps up those magnificent three days of meeting, mingling, and eating our way around Charleston.
After throwing our bags in the room and taking a peek at the beach, we ran out for our reservation at Obstinate Daughter (@theobstinatedaughter). How could I bring Jesse to Charleston without showing her all of my faves? We sampled a table load of plates from the menu, including the Faro and Brussels Sprouts which were seriously delicious. We didn’t even order them, but the chef sent them out to us, and I’m so grateful he did. Their Old Danger Pizza has been dethrowned. This is my new favorite thing to eat there (NOT gluten free, sorry).
We spent our pre-party Happy Hour at Four Ninety-Two (@492king). It was sort of a fluke that we wandered in. We basically liked the woodwork and lighting. And there’s a badass metal gate outside that is a map of this part of the city. There’s something to be said for good restaurant design. This cocktail, Remembrance Avenue (stiff and stirred) was take on rootbeer float, and was amazing. I discovered Root liquor, and I’m a fan. I also found out that Josh Keeler (@joshkeeler) of the recently closed Two Borough’s Larder is Executive Chef of this joint. The menu was interesting, and incredibly reflective of the style of Two Borough’s, but we were saving room for our event.
Under the big white tents of Marion Square, chefs, food writers, industry folks, and food fans mingled and chomped on delicious bites offered by some of Charleston’s and South Carolina’s best chefs. I made my way down the line talking to all twelve of our South Carolina Chef Ambassadors including Greenville chefs (and seriously cute sweethearts) Steven Musolf (@the_lazy_goat) and Teryi Youngblood (@teryijy), and one of the four talented 2017 Chef Ambassadors, Spartanburg’s William Cribb (@cribbskitchen). I ran into Sydney of Queen of the Food Age (@queenofthefoodage), and the always smiling Columbia, South Carolina restauranteur Kristian Neimi (@kristianmn). I FINALLY met my chef crush, Nico Romo, formerly of Fish Restaurant (@fishrestaurantchs). He’s opening a restaurant this Spring on Mount Pleasant, a French Oyster Bar he’s calling NICO. Better believe I’ll be checking that one out, so stay tuned!
Jesse was excited to run into Chef Michelle Weaver, who she worked with at Charleston Place back in the 90’s. It was very cool to see the two powerhouse women reconnect. Cocktail Bandits (@cocktailbandits) were also in the house and Johnny stopped to say hi. We love those girls! My favorite thing under that thousand degree tent was the delicious Banana Ice Cream Tacos with Strawberry Sriracha sauce from Scott Lovorn at Circa 1886 (@circa1886). The stuffed wing from 2Fat2Fly (@2Fat2Flywings) was also yum. Still haven’t figured out how you stuff a wing, but God bless him, I’m glad he figured it out.
The next morning, I called Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts (@glazedgourmet) to reserve a dozen doughnuts, plus three of their new gluten free. Sometimes there’s a line out the door, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. These are my absolute favorite doughnuts in South Carolina, so we had to grab some for Jesse while we were in town. I have been so bummed that I couldn’t have them since I’ve gone gluten free. No more, my friend. Their coconut iced gluten free doughnut was freaking amazing.
Next stop: Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit (@callieshotlittlebiscuit). Best. Biscuits. Ever. I bought a dozen to bring home for the fam. And shoved one bite (NOT gluten free) in my face. Couldn’t resist. You can also find the Callie’s take-n-bake biscuits in the freezer section of our local Fresh Markets and Whole Foods.
We also popped into Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream (@jenisicecreams) missing founder Jeni Bauer herself by like 5 minutes. She was in town to for a Charleston Wine and Food ice cream demo class. After sampling a few of her seasonal flavors, we made a note to come back to grab some pints on our way out of town. If you buy 3 pints, they’ll give you a freezer bag and dry ice for the long ride home. I brought home Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, Juniper and Lemon Curd, and Brown Butter Almond Brittle. Jenie’s has an ice cream subscription service that delivers new flavors to your door every month. If you are ice cream obsessed, then you might want to check it out. If you are local to Greenville, you can also find her ice creams at Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery.
The talented women behind Goat. Sheep. Cow. (@goatsheepcow), my favorite gourmet specialty cheese shop in Charleston, have opened a second, larger location. Goat. Sheep. Cow. North (@goatsheepcownorth) is located at 804 Meeting St. and offers a larger retail space, easy parking (a big deal in Charleston), and beautiful dining area.
When you are there, ask to try the “crack cheese”. I ran into one of the writers of Local Palate magazine (@thelocalpalate) at an event recently and she told me it was an office favorite. For good reason. It’s a must. We had to make a cheese stop and I got to say hi to co-owner Trudi Wagner and congratulate her on the new space.
The number one thing on my list for Charleston Wine and Food this year was The Business of Food panel. I’m about too food geek out on you here, so if I mention someone that you don’t know, click on their name and you can find out a little info, okay? The panel included Danny Meyer, Nancy Silverton and Ruth Reichl. These people are food industry royalty. They might as well be Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lopez… and Danny Meyer? He’s like Michael Jordan. That put it in perspective for you? We sat on the second row. Danny Meyer was within arm’s length of me. I had zero game at this point. One section over and a few rows back in the theater was Top Chef winner, Kristen Kish (@kristenlkish). ZERO Game. Jesse was reminding me to breath at this point.
The Senior Writer for Fast Company Magazine moderated the event. Karalee Neilson Fallert, the Founding Partner of Charleston restaurants The Park Cafe, Taco Boy, Monza, The Royal American and Closed For Business interviewed legendary restaurateur and author, Nancy Silverton. Charleston Magazine Editor-in-Chief interviewed author, former Gourmet Magazine Editor-in-Chief and former New York Times Restaurant Critic, Ruth Reichl. And South Carolina restaurateur, Steve Palmer of Indigo Road Hospitality group interviewed Danny Meyer. I barely know Steve, but I seriously almost cried for him in excitement when I found out he was going to have this opportunity. It’s serious business to sit on a stage in front of and with the industry’s most notable faces. The restaurateurs and writers talked about the challenges of success, the changing industry, and touched on the ramifications of our current political situation.
After the panel, we rushed to the High Wire Distillery (@highwirechs) private party at the home of Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall. I know Scott from my Travelers Rest Arts Mission days when I ran the TRAM Fair, an outsider folk art festival. He is a huge supporter of folk art, and has one of the largest collections of folk art in the South. Blackwell founded Immaculate Baking Company out of his garage in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Check out their products when you are in the cookie dough section of the grocery store. He later moved to Greenville, SC and sold his company to General Mills. Then he and Ann founded High Wire Distillery.
The company is up for a James Beard Award, so I’d say they are doing well. It was great to see Scott again and to meet Ann. We also randomly met Top Chef Season 10’s John Tesar (@chefjohntesar) who Jesse and I found standing in around during the party. And I met Danny Meyer face to face. The stupid look on my face in the picture with him tells it all.
I can’t get enough of The Warehouse (@wearewarehouse), and had to take Jesse in for some deviled eggs. I’ve written about their chef’s choice deviled eggs before, and if you’ve watched Top Chef Season 14 in Charleston, you’ve seen their chef, Emily Hahn (@sempanadamamma).
We popped in for a couple of cocktails, some deviled eggs, and a little tour of the menu. I was stoked that Emily was actually working and came out to talk to us for a few minutes, and it just happened to be the night a new episode of Top Chef was airing and on the big screen in the restaurant.
After chilling and letting our crazy amount of food and booze settle, Jesse and I headed to The Ordinary (@eattheordinary) to met my buddy and Executive Chef of Restaurant 17 (@restaurant17), Nick Graves, and his friends New Orleans restaurateur and Chef Phillip Lopez (@chefphilliplopez) and Petit Lion Executive Chef Ben McCauley (@petitlionnola).
This is one of those moments as a food writer that you just can’t explain to someone. There aren’t words to describe what’s its like to walk walk into a restaurant where Ruth Reichl and Nancy Silverton are dining in the booth in the back. Nancy tells you she loves your jacket. You walk past former Food and Wine Mag editor Gail Simmons (@gailsimmonseats) chatting it up at the bar with her friends. You go upstairs and sit at a table with your friends, who are some of the best chefs in the South. You know when you have those dreams filled with random people and you wake up and wonder what the heck just happened? That’s my life now, apparently. And I don’t want to wake up.
We drove all over downtown while we were in Charleston, eating and shopped our way through my favorite South Carolina coastal town. And I have a long list of growing restaurant recommendations for Charleston, but I’m leaving you with this: my newest favorite is Spero (@spero_chs). I don’t think more than 30 people can fit in this little joint, but parking is easy, their menu is creatively solid, and oddly enough, witty. When you go, tell them Gap Creek Gourmet sent you.
All of my gratitude to Chef Jesse for taking me on the trip of a lifetime and for letting me show her my favorite things in Charleston.