Monthly Archives: May 2010

Charleston is for Food Lovers

A couple weeks, lot’s of strawberry shortcake eating, Top Chef Masters watching, Eat Pray Love reading, working, walking and lot’s of bakery hours later, I am finally getting around to telling you about the culinary haven and foodie’s paradise that is Charleston.

Over Mother’s Day Weekend, I ventured down south just a ways, with my mom and sister, to see Charleston for the first time.  It didn’t take me long to fall in love with this charming southern belle of a city.  The gorgeous homes and buildings, rich history, palm trees and southern coastal cuisine got under my skin (and is still there I think) ever so quickly.  Unfortunately our time there was brief, as we only had a weekend, but Charleston will call again and I will answer.

Here are some of our exciting culinary ventures:

Our first stop was the popular hot spot, Hominy Grill (for lunch).  Housed in an old Barbershop building at 207 Rutledge Avenue, this restaurant is small but inviting and is the kind of place where you’ll have an intense inner debate with yourself, trying to figure out what to order because everything sounds incredible and you want to order one of each.  It’s the kind of place with chalkboards adorning the walls, enticing you with southern delights such as shrimp and grits and fried green tomato BLT’s with ancho chile lime mayonnaise – what I ordered, and it was tasty except for the mayo, which is my fault because apparently I don’t care for the ancho chile flavor.  My mom and sister ordered vegetable plates and were in the mood to share (thank God), because  their macaroni & cheese, cauliflower gratin and mashed sweet potatoes were divine and the cornbread was thick and and the perfect balance of dense with a fine crumb.  It was probably the best cornbread I’ve ever had.

We were too full for dessert, which was heartbreaking to me, because I wanted to take on the entire dessert menu – especially the Devil’s Food Cake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting – something I had promised to come back and get the next day, but missed because it had sold out.  Extra heartbreaking.  I was also curious about the famous buttermilk pie and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ogling the chocolate pudding at the table nearby.  It will just have to wait…but man how I wanted that cake.

I’m glad I didn’t go all the way to Charleston and skip this wonderful little gem.  After all, I had to see what The New York Times, Food & Wine and Gourmet were all raving about.  Plus, a deliriously happy and buzzed looking photo of Anthony Hopkins is in the bathroom there, and you can tell he had a blast and enjoyed his meal.  That’s good enough for me.

Now one of my most favorite things to do is research restaurants weeks, sometimes months before I travel, so I can scope out the best spots and add them to my itinerary – I even have an ever growing collection of saved Word documents stored on my computer, with restaurant names and addresses, as I learn about them, organized by city.  Yes I am aware this validates that I am in fact, a dork.  I’m okay with that.  Anyway, moving right along, I naturally this trip was no different, so a few weeks prior, I began looking up restaurants in the area.  In my findings, much to my elation, I found that there was a Baked in Charleston!  I thought there was only one Baked.  The one in Brooklyn, very far away from Charleston.  I had never been to Baked but had seen the cookbook “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking,” by owners Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito in quite a few stores and heard about the “sweet and salty brownie,” in an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate.


We walked in and found probably the cleanest, hippest bakery I’ve ever seen, decked out in browns, whites and oranges and organized neatly with confections and merchandise.  We saw homemade marshmallows – not just ordinary marshmallows, there were violet and chocolate flavored marshmallows!  I actually considered trying one of the cupcakes but realized I’d commit a regretful error if I didn’t go for a brownie instead – the “Sweet and Salty” brownie, with homemade caramel inside and fleur de sel on top.  One of the best decisions I’ve ever made, it turns out.  I kid you not folks.  This Baked brownie is not a brownie to contend with.  This is a bold statement I’m about to make here, but I’ll say it with the utmost conviction: this was the best brownie I’ve ever had.  It’s pretty much life-changing.  Fudgey and cakey, moist and rich, and full of the most intense chocolate flavor, with buttery caramel that isn’t too overwhelming or chewy.  And the salt!  Oh the salt just balances everything out and makes it all the more heavenly.  This brownie is so good I would barter valuable things in exchange for one, and pay an embarrassingly large amount of money for its recipe.  I’m still thinking about it.

Now I want one and there is no sweet & salty brownie to be found and that is just a shame.

Our first night in Charleston, we went to High Cotton, at 199 East Bay St. for dinner.  If that isn’t a true southern, classy restaurant name, I don’t know what is.  It was beautiful, with a lively atmosphere.  Classy but not pretentious, and our waiter resembled the actor Jeremy Renner, so that was kind of fun.  I started out with some gin with elderflower liqueur, lemon and tonic and it was delightful.  We all shared an arugula salad with goat cheese, strawberries and lightly candied walnuts, which was wonderful, especially since strawberries in salads is one of my new favorite things.

My mom and I shared the roast duck breast and leg confit with butternut squash green bean and hazelnut risotto, in a port wine reduction.  The duck breast was a little too rare for my taste, but still delicious and the leg confit was perfect.  I’ve never had hazelnut in a savory dish before this and I really enjoyed all of the plate’s components.  We also split a side of whole grain mustard, sour cream and green onion mashed potatoes which were so flavorful and tangy.  Instead of dessert, we opted for an espresso martini and a chocolate martini – both were fabulous and fun since I don’t typically order those kinds of drinks.  (I’m more of a wine or gin and tonic kinda gal).  I’d definitely go back to High Cotton though and you should too.

Saturday we had lunch where Tennessee Williams used to dine.  And Giada de Laurentiis.  Poogan’s Porch was a place not to be missed and they had the softest, most lovely biscuits with honey butter and a damn good shrimp po boy.  I’d love to go back and try them for dinner sometime.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I failed to tell you about the Sugar Bakeshop, on 59 Cannon St, voted among “Best of the Bakeshops,” by Bon Appetit Magazine.

Now, you should know (in case you don’t already), I don’t just have a sweet tooth.  I have many.  Dessert will forever be my biggest weakness, and when traveling, I feel it is my mission to seek out all the best bakeries around…or else I could miss out on the best chocolate croissant I’ve ever tasted or the best cupcake, etc.  That would be a tragedy.  Sugar Bakeshop looked too adorable to pass up.  It was tiny and a little retro looking and was the kind of place I would open myself if I ever opened a bakery.

We bought some sun tea with fresh mint – something I had never tried before and discovered that I like!  We bought a little strawberry rhubarb tart that melted in our mouths…and 4 cupcakes – lemon, caramel, almond and yellow with chocolate icing.  A couple of the cupcakes were just a tad dry and crumbly but they were still delicious – especially the lemon.  It tasted like sunshine.

Being a foodie in Charleston was a little like being a kid in a candy store.  My stomach definitely wants me to go back.

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Dough NOT Underestimate the Power of Doughnuts

A few days ago I decided I wanted doughnuts.  Not doughnuts from a chain though.  My boyfriend and I were in Fort Lauderdale (after spontaneously pouncing on some irresistibly cheap tickets through Jet Blue).  We only had a day and a leisurely morning, and on that leisurely morning, before departing for the airport, we set out in quest of breakfast.  Hoping to find a simple mom & pop shop with pancakes or even better, a mom & pop shop with doughnuts.  Unable to find either one, we settled (or *ahem* I settled) for some Dunkin’ Donuts – something Jay has always loved and something I have always stubbornly despised a little bit.  (Don’t even get me started on their “coffee”).  I don’t mean to sound like a snob, but I guess when it comes to doughnuts, I just am.  I have always loved Krispee Kreme’s classic glazed doughnuts and if in the middle of an intense craving for doughnuts, Dunkin’ will suffice, but it must be said that a homemade, old-fashioned doughnut shop is simply unbeatable.

There’s a place that exemplifies precisely what I envision when I think “doughnuts,” and it is in my hometown of Cary, North Carolina.  It’s called Daylight Donuts.  It’s plain but humble; family owned.  Their cake doughnuts with chocolate or maple glaze are my absolute favorite.  Thick and cakey, never dry and full of flavor.  On mornings when my mom and sister and I would take off for the beach for a day or two, we’d always make a point to stop there for a treat on the road.  And one time, during a debate with Jay on Dunkin’ Donuts, I raved about Daylight to him, insisting he had to try it.  So on one of his visits to Cary, he did and although he enjoyed it, he still remains a faithful Dunkin’ devotee.  Oh well, I sigh, I tried my best to convert him.

While Dunkin’ Donuts mildly satisfied my ravenous craving in Fort Lauderdale, I came back to Greensboro, with doughnuts still on the brain.  So when I awoke this morning, and made some coffee while the rain pitter pattered soothingly, outside on this dreary Monday, I decided to look up doughnut recipes on Tastespotting.  What first started out as a harmless pursuit for a recipe for another possibly rainy day, quickly turned to a more urgent, pressing matter, as my mouth began watering as glorious images of homemade doughnuts filled my monitor.  Then something occurred to me…was there a homemade, non-chain doughnut shop in Greensboro, or was the city just dotted with a few of the obligatory Dunkin’s and Krispee’s?  I had to find out.  Let me just say, I am very grateful for Google.  What would we ever do without this savvy, always reliable porthole of knowledge?

Much to my surprise and excitement, good ole’ Google led me to an address for a place called Donut World, located at 5561 W. Market Street.  I showed my boyfriend.  “Would it be totally crazy to go get doughnuts right now?” I asked him.   “Not at all,” he said nonchalantly.  So through the rain, with pup in tow, to Donut World we went!

When we arrived, I knew we were in for the treat I had been looking for.  The selection was impressive and I wanted one of each.  (No really, I did).  We compromised with 1/2 a dozen.  My choices: glazed, buttermilk with maple frosting and cake with chocolate glaze.   Jays: bavarian cream, old-fashioned and raspberry.

A truly good, classic doughnut is heavenly.  A truly good, classic doughnut can easily be consumed in multitudes of 3 (at least).  I am re-professing my love for doughnuts.

What better way to spend a lazy, rainy Monday morning than with some French-pressed Peet’s coffee, the New York Times, a good book, and homemade doughnuts from (my latest obsession) – Donut World?!  As soon as I took my first bite of the glazed doughnut, I had to close my eyes so I could intently and properly savor the sublime experience that was taking place in my mouth.  I’m not exaggerating, folks.  Krispee Kreme ain’t got nothin’ on Donut World.  Owner and doughnut wizard Lean Ly definitely knows what she’s doing.  Check out this little article on her place.

And while I’ve got doughnuts on the brain, I remembered seeing this nifty little feature in Bon Appetit awhile ago, and thought I would share it with you in case you haven’t already seen it.

Perhaps it would still be a lot of fun to experiment with making doughnuts at home, but when there are places out there like Daylight Donuts and Donut World, why bother tampering with something that is already perfection?  I think for now, I’ll leave it to the pros.  Thank goodness my boyfriend doesn’t think less of me for already being able to happily and easily consume all three of my doughnuts in the same morning.

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Me Oh My, I Love Pie

(So Andie MacDowell sings in the movie Michael)…and I think she’s onto something.  I’ve always been more of a cobbler gal and still am, but I just made Molly Wizenberg’s “Hoosier Pie” in honor of Derby Day (since it’s very much a derby pie with a different name) and man it was good!  In fact, I just ate some and it’s disappearing rather quickly.  I have to say I’m a little pleased with myself, because I’ve only made crust a couple times in my life and I find pie crust especially intimidating, but not wanting to opt for the store bought thing, I settled in for the real deal.  I followed Mrs. Wizenberg’s directions and though I was a bit puzzled when I read “crimp the pie dough,” I found an excellent Youtube tutorial and figured it out!  Here’s what came out…

it all started with Mr. Jim Beam here…

Lo and behold…

Hoosier Pie!  It was ooey and gooey and crunchy and chewy and had the perfect amount of bourbon in it – you knew it was there but it didn’t steal all the glory of the pie.

I also made The Pioneer Woman’s “Fancy Macaroni” and it was basically gourmet mac & cheese on steroids.  I love that there’s gruyere and bacon in it – it reminded me of the macaroni gratin at Vin Rouge (except Vin Rouge has it beat, sorry Ree)!  While this dish was awesome, I would change one big thing the next time I make it.  I would leave out the onion.  I love caramelized onions and the onion in this gave it a nice flavor but I found it to be too sweet.  I prefer my macaroni and cheese to be savory and savory only, but other than that, I doubt I’d tweak anything!

Okay, back to Mrs. Wizenberg.  I meant to mention awhile back that I finished reading her book A Homemade Life, which I devoured like a piece of chocolate cake (maybe even the “Winning Hearts and Minds” cake, which I’ve been dying to try by the way).  I want to try just about every recipe in that book, even the ones I ordinarily wouldn’t think twice about.  Now that is the sign of a good writer.  I enjoyed Molly’s book so much, that it was sad to put down and I’m already excited at the idea of re-reading it…many times.  How she intertwines her life’s journeys, anecdotes and encounters with food with each recipe is done so stunningly and effortlessly.  The result is some truly gorgeous, endearingly candid prose, and I swear you’ll want to be her best friend after reading it.  I also love how family and friend centric it is, because it is true, our best food memories are experienced or shared with the people we love and I think many bonds can formulate over a mind-blowing piece of cheesecake or a simple plate of spaghetti.  I checked Molly’s blog, Orangette yesterday (something I check daily since I can’t get enough of her writing), and sure enough it had been updated.  I swear, each new blog post she puts forth is a treat.  It is like waking up on Christmas morning.

I have some more updates but for fear of crowding this post too much, I’ll refrain for now.  Also, I’ll be back shortly this week, with some Cary Restaurant favorites!  (I promise I’ll be a good blogger this week and that I won’t be absent for almost 10 days straight).  Time to relish the sugar coma of the Hoosier Pie!

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