Charleston Restaurant Week
Organized by the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association, the group’s biannual Charleston Restaurant Week begins Wednesday.
Set to run through Sept. 15, more than 100 restaurants are scheduled to participate, offering three courses for between $20 to $40, depending on the restaurant.
Because of the popularity of the prix-fixe promotion, reservations are highly recommended.
For a complete list of restaurants and available menus, go to charlestonrestaurantassociation.com.
For your uptown breakfast needs, there’s now bread and a toaster at Elliotborough Mini Bar.
The young corner saloon added morning hours about a month ago, so I swung by last week on my way to work. I may have staked out the shop a mite too soon: There’s no tea yet, just quality pour-over coffee, but the bleary-eyed staffer said tea’s a planned addition.
On the food side, there’s a basket of $1 eggs and a toast bar with fixings. The $1.50 toast is a self-service set-up: Customers choose a slice of plain-Jane white, wheat or gluten-free bread, then garnish with butter, cream cheese, strawberry jam or peanut butter. Or with all of the above: Elliotborough isn’t a highly regimented kind of place.
It’s also not yet a very busy place; the staffer attributed his fatigue to the slow traffic that comes with locating in a newish neighborhood. Go keep him awake, folks; Elliotborough’s open from 7-11 a.m.
Top this contest
If your ideal burger is dressed with sardines and kimchi, you’re out of luck at Big Billy’s Burger Joint. But if you can combine the North Charleston restaurant’s existing patties and toppings to create the perfect sandwich, there may be $250 in it for you.
This month, Big Billy’s started choosing a weekly winner in its “Build a Burger” contest, which runs through Sept. 6. The top finisher will receive a $250 prize and the priceless honor of having his or her creation added to the specials menu.
The dozens of ingredients available for burger construction include sliced mushrooms, ham, chow chow, queso and honey horseradish sauce. The second week’s winner garnished his burger with roasted red pepper, fried pickles, caramelized red onions and mac-n-cheese.
To play, ask a Big Billy’s server for an entry form.
Three new brunches
Three downtown restaurants are adding Sunday brunch to their schedules, bringing more biscuits and bloodys to an already busy morning.
Of the newcomers, Vendue Inn was first out of the gate with its “brunch basket” program, which premiered earlier this month. As the name implies, Vendue’s Rooftop Bar brunch is a picnicky affair, in which guests can purchase a bottle of bubbly and a basket of snacks for $40. The baskets are sized for two, and designed around a culinary theme, such as The Pacific, Paris or Tuscany: Menu items include cured salmon, Boursin cheese and dried figs. Baskets are available from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
On Sunday, Republic Garden & Lounge will join the brunch crowd with its “light, healthy approach,” writes spokeswoman Grace Newland. The menu features honey biscuits with salt butter, housemade pork belly rillettes, duck prosciutto and creme fraiche scrambled eggs. But there’s coconut water in the ReHydrator cocktail, made with cucumber vodka, St. Germain and lemon. Brunch is served from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Finally, Warehouse is readying to roll out its brunch service on the same day. Although the menu hasn’t yet been released, it’s likely the eggs and cheeses on the bar menu will be reconfigured in morning-appropriate ways. But the specials aren’t exclusively for early risers: Brunch starts at 11 a.m. and runs through 11 p.m.
Boba bubbles up
It’s a reliably bad idea to go looking for an edible specialty of the last place you lived in your new hometown. Not only are the search results bound to be disheartening, but the whole endeavor’s unfairly dismissive of local culinary culture. At least that was my stance until last weekend, when I really wanted a coconut bubble tea.
Bubble, or boba, tea originated in late-1980s Taiwan, possibly when a teahouse staffer impulsively poured her tapioca pudding into her iced tea. Whether the story’s true, flavored tea with chewy tapioca balls is now slurped compulsively across East Asia and in North American cities with significant Asian populations. In Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Valley, an entire subculture has sprung up around boba shops.
In downtown Charleston, though, there’s only one source for bubble tea: Chopsticks House, a quick-service Chinese restaurant that got into the boba biz about 18 months ago.
Compared to the baroque boba operations on the West Coast, Chopsticks is astoundingly minimalist: There are only 19 flavors available, and there’s no chance to customize the cold, milk-based teas with fruit jellies, red bean paste, egg pudding or tapioca balls in various sizes.
More disappointing, at least for the newcomer who’s made the elementary error of craving bubble tea out of context, is the beverage’s construction. Rather than starting with freshly brewed tea, Chopsticks staffers put flavored powder and ice in the blender, and then add limp pearls to the watery smoothie.
Still, it’s at least nominally boba, which is a great find at a Chinese restaurant that serves chicken wings and French fries for lunch. And Jeff Wragg, a College of Charleston physics professor who dines at Chopsticks at least four times a week, says plenty of customers are ordering it.
“Sometimes two or three people come in just for bubble tea,” says Wragg, who was asked by a Chopsticks staffer to handle my questions on the restaurant’s behalf. “It’s more popular than I thought it was going to be.”
Although Wragg’s made seven trips to China, where he first encountered bubble tea at a cafe “in the middle of nowhere,” he doesn’t consider himself a fan of the drink.
“If I had to pick, blueberry would be interesting,” he said, scanning the dry-erase board listing the offered varieties, “if you could just remove the tea flavor.”
Dinner, show deal back
Tristan and Charleston Stage are again teaming up on a deal designed to make enjoying the city’s culinary and performing arts a more affordable pastime.
The “Dinner and a Show” program returns Friday, offering a two-person food, wine and Dock Street Theater ticket package for $150.
In addition to a three-course meal and bottle of house wine, participants receive valet parking and a post-show dessert. The menu includes hay-smoked tonnarelli pasta, house-made mozzarella, beef rib loin with pickled ramps and Scottish salmon with ember-cooked carrots.
“Dinner and a Show” is only available Thursday-Saturday. First up on the theater’s schedule is “9 to 5: The Musical.” For the complete calendar and more information, go to www.charlestonstage.com.
Black Tap’s new gadget
As Black Tap Coffee acknowledged in a recent tweet, the debut of a new coffee dripper is likely to leave non-obsessives cold.
But for folks with strong opinions about how to construct the perfect cup of pour-over coffee, the shop’s switch to Kalita Wave, a piece of equipment pioneered in Japan, is cause for celebration. Already popular in hardcore coffee circles, the Wave’s reputation skyrocketed in April after Erin McCarthy used the gadget to win the 2013 US Barista Championship.
Black Tap’s Ross Jett says the victory helped secure the Wave a spot behind his cafe’s counter.
“With the recent success of the Kalita Wave at the world Brewer’s Cup, we decided to get one to try it out,” Jett e-mails.
Pour-over coffee works exactly like it sounds: Water is poured over freshly ground beans in a cone. Its acolytes say pour-over, or hand-brewed, coffee is cleaner, fresher and more aromatic than the joe produced by a French press, espresso maker or automatic drip unit, like the one you might keep in your kitchen. Pour-over tends to get plenty of attention in summertime, because it’s the recommended method for making iced coffee. But Black Tap Coffee, like many serious coffeehouses around the world, is exclusively pour-over year-round.
The simplicity of the process, though, means it’s nearly impossible to conceal problems created by faulty equipment.
The Kalita Wave has drawn near-universal praise for its flat-bottomed design, which is supposed to create a more complex coffee.
“The consistency and fool-proof nature swayed us to make a permanent switch here at Black Tap,” Jett explains.
Wine + Food tickets
Bocce and badminton are the newest additions to the Charleston Wine + Food Festival’s annual Ticket Launch Party, scheduled for Sept. 18 at the Mixson Bath & Racquet Club. Tickets to the evening event, priced at $40, are now on sale.
In addition to participatory sports, the kick-off will feature local chefs, artisans and bartenders offering up samples of their food and drink. Other cast members include local cookbook authors and Charleston Symphony Orchestra members, who will provide musical accompaniment.
To purchase tickets or learn more about the event’s line-up, go to charlestonwineandfood.com.
Something fishy at Ted’s
Salmon’s been a staple of Ted’s Butcherblock since Ted Dombrowski opened the downtown meat counter and cafe in 2005, selling at a rate of three to four sides a week, but customers have always gotten their flounder, halibut and scallop needs met elsewhere. Now Dombrowski’s installed a seafood case that he hopes will help make Ted’s Butcherblock a one-stop shop.
“On the peninsula, there aren’t a lot of places for fresh seafood,” he says. “We put on the case and took on the same concept as the butcher side: My whole No. 1 thing has been I need to carry the best quality I can find.”
That means the seafood case, like the butcher case, won’t be restricted to local products.
Still, there are plenty of fish from faraway places that won’t show up at Ted’s Butcherblock, including shrimp, catfish, tilapa and other products from Southeast Asia and South America.
Dombrowski, realizing the sustainability concerns pertaining to seafood are far more complex than the issues posed by domestic beef and pork, consulted the S.C. Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative before putting together his fish case.
Dombrowski ultimately settled on a lineup he describes as “basic,” featuring grouper, mussels, shrimp and clams.
The case also will include a rotating fresh catch. “This week we had in some really beautiful rockfish. Next week it might be wreckfish.”
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.
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