Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

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A Night to Remember – Supper at Sumter

In the middle of a week riddled with the specter of  dangerous Hurricane Irene and the reality of a 5.9 earthquake felt along the East Coast (including Charleston), the fate of last night’s Ultimate Critics Dinner seemed as shaky as Ft. Sumter’s dark days dating back to its April 1861 Union occupation and subsequent Confederate take-over.

Painstakingly planned by the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival staff and board, and mightily supported by local chefs and the Charleston community, the first ever after-hours gourmet supper and fundraiser was in peril of weather-related postponement right up to the final hours before its “ultimate” impeccable and delightful debut.

The evening featured the food of five chefs (Marc Collins of Circa 1886, Mike Lata of FIG, Jacques Larson of Wild Olive, Sean Brock of McCrady’s/Husk, Ken Vedrinski of Trattoria Lucca, and Emily Cookson of Charleston Grill) to be paired with wines selected by “ultimate” sommelier, Clint Sloan of McCrady’s. “Ultimate” Host Mickey Bakst of Charleston Grill kept the crowd informed and entertained. All of the above were the highest scoring winners of a best-chef/F & B survey completed weeks ago by a panelist of food writers and critics (myself included, it should be noted). Considering the extreme logistical complexities and cooking limitations presented by cooking in the middle of a large port/harbor in an antiquated antebellum fort with virtually no electricity, what they accomplished was nothing short of a coup.  Bravo, bravo, bravo to all involved!

The Spirit of the Lowcountry, a mostly open-air boat, ferried 130 eager guests across the harbor from the South Carolina Aquarium, where re-enactors in period dress greeted all who came their way. A hush seemed to descend upon the entire audience as we approached the historic fort. Dolphins frolicked in the water just ahead, as the vast expanse of the Atlantic waved just beyond and the proximity of Morris Island, James Island and Sullivan’s Island – where so much Civil War bloodshed occured – closed in tighter and tighter, until finally the fort which looms so large from the peninsula seemed suddenly fragile and exposed, yet somehow all the bolder for the bravery it and its inhabitants enduring for four long, embattled years.   

Refreshed with the exceptional first-course appetizers provided by Marc Collins, including a mouth-popping salmon jerky drizzled with creme fraiche and fresh herbs and “Leftover Libations,” a potent brew of bourbon and fresh peach infused syrup, guests descended to greet the night – the first ever of its kind at Ft. Sumter.

A post-thunderstorm brilliant sky of puffy white clouds and waning afternoon sun set the stage for sparkling wine and Pickled Brown Shrimp, Vermillion Snapper Roe & Heirloom Roe, prepared by a straw hat-capped “incognito” Mike Lata (pictured right)  and his staff on the upper level of the fort, overlooking breath-taking, 360 degree views of the harbor and ocean. The vinegar bite of the sweet shrimp seemed to cut the sharp breezes, while the crunch of the pickled vegetables and smooth butter lettuce cooled the last breaths of the late afternoon August heat.

Several courses would follow, each expertly paired with wine. Clint Sloan greeted guests at all of the tables explaining the logic of the pairings, while chefs intermittingly described the extensive thought and research they put into their original dishes, all of which had been inspired by the mid-19th century and authentic Charleston dishes/ingredients from that period. 

For example, Jacques Larson’s toothsome and satisfying Carolina Rabbit with Barley, Mepkin Abbey Mushrooms, Balsamic and Black Truffles (pictured right), reflected the heavy consumption of both game and barley by Charlestonians of the time and also focused on local mushrooms, foraged and consumed as they have in days past and increasingly do now in our local restaurants. Larson jokingly conceded that black truffles and balsamic vinegar would likely not be on the menu then, but he felt that guests deserved a little something extra special to help justify their $300 (each) passage to this special fund-raising event.

The delicious food just kept coming. My cheerful table-mates and I couldn’t help but notice that each dish seemed to trump the last, but maybe it had something to do with the wine. I think there was magic in the air, too. It was mystical, taking a breath and a moment between bites and sips to look up at what had become a star-filled, cool evening and scan the remnants of this formerly formidable fortress and imagine the voices that once echoed here, the feelings that were felt here; love, fear, pride, hunger, and what must have been, at times, panic. The pathos of war was palpably embraced by the late summer night and the humbled walls of the historic fort. Yet, all around there was joy and an irrepressible sense of community. Witnessing Charleston’s amazing chefs help each other plate their respective dishes and laugh in genuine fraternity was a heart-warming sight to see. It was a night to remember, indeed.

As I prepared to put my head on my pillow before I retired last night, all of these emotions kept washing over me which was a sweet lullaby for someone who loves Charleston, history, and delcious food as much as I do. The final note before slumber, though was the memory of Ken Vedrinski’s Lightly Cured & Smoked Grilled “Deckle” of Kobe Beef, Warm Lobster, Peanut Potato Salad, and Barolo Vinaigrette. The fork-tender beef held the smoke of the grill that was buffeted with something silky and so smooth, quite probably olive oil. A background of acid in the vinaigrette, firm/tender buttery new potatoes, and swaths of lobster – it matched the night in every ounce of its perfection.

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FOODIE’S NOTE: Tickets for the world-class BB&T Charleston Wine and Food Festival go on sale next week for next spring’s festival.  For more information and to order your tickets, go to www.charlestonwineandfood.com

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Should Be World Famous Pig at Moose’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Famous” has lost its meaning of late in the haze of “reality” t.v. and constant celebrity seeking in everyone from pet poodles’ parents to crooning toddlers with mediocre talent who manage to find their moment of  “fame” on You Tube and the internet. Recently,  a friend of a friend even asked me if I was famous, to which I replied, “If you have to ask, you probably know the answer”.  

Fortunately, a barbecue aficianado friend of mine didn’t tell me about the “famous” part of Moose’s Famous BBQ monicker, when he lured me up into the outer reaches of North Charleston/Moncks’ Corner to sample the pig at Moose’s. I probably would have written it off as hype, especially since it’s the first time I’ve heard of the place after eleven years of living in greater Charleston. But, I trusted his word on ‘cue, having proven his pork muster in the past. 

Moose’s Famous BBQ is not to be missed. I dare say it is the best pig I’ve ever sampled in these parts. Owner Mark Moose, a native of Gastonia, NC, has been “cooking since high school,” spreading his love of barbecue all over the South including pork and beef smoking junkets in NC, GA, KY, and SC. Moose’s has been open for five years on a sleepy stretch of Highway 17 A, where it sits, like the best of most barbecue places, mostly unadorned and very easy to miss. Unless, you sniff for the smoke.

Hickory all but billows from the two, hickory wood-fired pits behind the friendly, grey building. Inside, framed puzzles form the pictures into the country soul of the place and a steaming buffet table whets the appetite of all who enter with unrestrained yet unintended cruelty. Forget about diets here. They are simply not going to happen.  A prominent sign reads “If you can’t smell the smoke, the BBQ’s a joke”.

No joke here, save Moose, wielding his knife merrily about as he prepares to personally cut the crusty, moist, 12-hour smoked brisket to order for all who pass through the buffet line. “What would you like, hon?” he asks with soul-warming sincerity. The skinny sliced brisket, complete with a crusty, black, caramelized crust gets dressed (if you take Moose’s suggestion, and I suggest you do) with an airy, tomato puree, or a “sweet red sauce,” as he calls it. It’s a beautiful interpretation of a NC tomato/vinegar sauce and smacks to the high heavens of sweet/tart flavor to further enhance the pink, smokiness of the beef.

For “pulled” pork, Moose plunges his gloved “paw” (he’s got big hands) into the moist, 12-hour smoked Boston butt where it falls effortlessly in pink, tan and brown, unctuous shreds, like a shower of ‘cue goodness,  onto your plate. This is best paired with Moose’s “old slave sauce”, a steaming bath of rendered pork fat so heavily peppered and seasoned with enough mystery spices he jokes it will render your butt hairless. It took him “years” to get the recipe from a friend, and you’ll want to thank him personally for doing it. 

Most ‘cue joints (even the “famous” ones) serve up a side or two of mac ‘n cheese, slaw, beans, and the like, but Moose throws in heart-breakingly delicious casseroles – his specialty (unless you count the sauces and the smoked meats). He puts his personal touch and love into the sweet potato and hash brown casserole (a gooey marriage of hash brown and oodles of cheese), both of which are served daily. On alternating days, try the Brunswick stew, squash casserole, and red rice casserole. The whisper thin strands of yellow squash that weave their way through cheese-whipped custard in the squash casserole are like a Southern souffle. Sheer decadence! The hush puppies, nutty nuggets of savory doughnuts and ham-studded baked beans, alongside anything your Styrofoam plate (the health department mandates a fresh plate at each pass) can handle at Moose’s will make it your new favorite ‘cue stomping grounds.

If not officially famous yet, perhaps Moose’s soon will be. It certainly deserves fame, accolades and all of that,  but I’d hate to risk taking the country bloom off this already perfect ‘cue rose.  There is a web site and a new Summerville location looming in the near future and he wants to set up as many as 10 stores in greater Charleston in the coming months/years.

Moose is THE place in Charleston to get your pig on.  All you can eat lunch plates are just $10.50 (plus tax) and dinner a modest $11.50 (plus tax). It’s spotless, friendly, and the parking is easy. Get it while you can!

Moose’s Famous BBQ

1440 South Live Oak Drive, Moncks Corner, SC 29461

(843) 899-4999

Thursday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

NOTE: NO CREDIT CARDS! Cash only.

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