A Fresh Take on an Old Friend
No matter how wonderful, perfect, or beautiful a person, place (i.e. Charleston), job, relationship, or just about anything starts out, it’s easy to take any of these for granted and fail to really see or recognize why you fell in love with them in the first place. Stress, rushing, bad attitude and plain old not stopping to smell the roses can take its toll on perspective. As wonderful as the last two years have been in my life, they have been very busy. So busy, I was starting to feel grumpy and rushed about too many things, including the city I fell in love with at first sight and have called home for nearly twenty years. Recognizing this, I made a personal vow to take some time to recharge my spirit, mind, soul, take better care of my health, and more time with family, friends and my pets.
Nearly two months into my self-prescribed recharge initiative, I’ve lost seven pounds, am sleeping better than ever, feeling extra creative and productive, and enjoying life and Charleston with renewed vigor. The other day, while walking down East Bay Street near Broad, the morning sun lovingly cast upon the mostly 19th-century roof lines, it seemed as if I had never seen them, really seen them, in their purest and most tangible form as I did at that moment. Later that same week, a friend I haven’t seen in thirty years came to town for a visit. Turns out, Deb and I are in the same place; re-assessing our lives and priorities. She’s looking for potential new places to live (at least part time), so thought she’d give Charleston a whirl. Naturally, I found myself wanting to show Charleston off, and in a most unexpected and delicious turn of events, ended up with a renewed appreciation for my hometown.
Friday morning began with a brisk walk on the beach with my dog Rocky and a spin by Bowen’s Island restaurant to show Deb the tumbledown seafood shack that embodies Charleston and especially Folly Beach with mollusk and hush puppy aplomb. She spied something I never had before, Charleston Outdoor Adventures and kayak tours. I’d never been on a kayak and had never even known about this location for taking them So, we signed up! I felt as excited as a kid on Christmas Eve. Next stop, was a walking tour downtown, and lunch at one of my personal favorites, Little Jack’s Tavern. I felt compelled to introduce Deb to the justifiably famous Little Jack’s Tavern Burger and the cool vibes of this neat little cosmopolitan spot with cheerful Charleston charm. All juicy and packed with flavor and glazed with its signature, secret sauce, it somehow seemed to taste better than ever as we laughed our way through thirty years of memories, some shared and some lived individually and shared over the meal and throughout the weekend.
A warm summer Friday night for two baseball fans seemed like a fitting way to wrap the afternoon at Joe Riley Baseball Park for some all American fun and (as Deb was hoping) a possible Bill Murray sighting. Well, the latter didn’t happen, but a magnificent pink and purple and blue cotton candy sunset did over the marshes at the rear of the park and we watched the likes of players with names like Gage Cunning (fodder for my novel’s lead character’s name) smash the ball around the park and mascots bumping into each other and acting silly. Beer and brisket sandwiches provided sustenance for our bellies, while the charming little park, feel-good sports fans, a rocking fireworks display, and witty banter fed our souls.
Saturday arrived in a flash and I was up before dawn preparing the our kayak tour with Charleston Outdoor Adventures. A quick tutorial with our handsome guide Josh and we were in the saltwater estuary waters behind Folly Beach. A rocky glide across open water went fairly well until our group of five kayak pros and kayak virgin me tried to negotiate our way through a narrow, serpentine slip of water. I felt like I was leaving an aorta and entering a capillary as my poor boat lined itself up horizontally in the flow, nose and tail firmly plugged into the marsh grasses. I was motionless, breathless, and slightly scared. None the less, I was not too proud to flail my oar in the air and meekly cry “help” to the group three turns farther down the path. Josh arrived like the kayak savior he was, pulling out a large hook and line to attach to the tip of my kayak. “Oh my God, you’re not my own personal kayak tugboat are you, Josh?” Yes, was the response, but don’t worry it wasn’t the first time.
Seriously humbled and blushed with shame and exertion, eventually I was able to figure out how to negotiate the rudder pedals and re-joined the group in the open waters, just in time to catch a grounded old shrimping boat and a pod of dolphins. Josh explained that female dolphins (what we were witnessing) typically live sixty years, while males live only fifty. The pristine world where we were watching them play was custom made for their lifestyle and playground, largely created and protected by the barrier islands that surround Charleston. It was a morning I’ll not soon forget and my arm and shoulder muscles, three days later, still possess significant recall.
Later that day, we headed back into town for a ride with Ross of Palmetto Carriage through the French Quarter and lower peninsula. Probably my 20th carriage tour, I learned some things I didn’t know, such as how a boat had smashed into two houses on East Bay during the hurricane of 1911, completely destroying them, and reminded myself again how beautiful the old mansions look in the ebbing light of day, cool afternoon breezes refreshing our spirits anew. There was more on our robust to-do list that got done, such as a “sip and stroll” to The Pavilion Bar, Anson, and The Blind Tiger, and breakfast at The Hominy Grill Sunday morning, enjoying what surely must be the best shrimp and grits and she crab soup in town, if not the entire world.
Three nights, two and a half days, several great meals, a massive lightning storm, Thursday night book club with delicious food and great gals, even more great adventures, and I don’t know how many laughs later, I’d re-found two friends. A Charleston I had partly forgotten and a friendship of thirty years refreshed. And, Deb made a new friend in my little puppy, Rocky Rocken Roll, who practically would not let her go home.
Lesson learned – remember to savor life and take no moments, no place, or no one for granted. And, when you come to or visit Charleston, savor all she has to offer.
Voila! She’s Finally Here and A Cookbook Give Away
It’s been a long time since I’ve visited. It’s been a very busy and wonderful year. In addition to a new cookbook (number nine), I have a now sixteen month-old puppy named Rocky (Rocken Roll) and have been enjoying writing press and news for a large Charleston restaurant group.
I deem The New Charleston Chef’s Table “number nine” with some hesitation, as I’m not sure exactly what to call a new edition of an old book (the original Chef’s Table came out in 2009). Is that really a new book? But since it’s essentially an 80% new book, that is almost all of the old book was pulled and new restaurants, chefs and recipes were added, I’m going to go with number nine.
The reason so much of it is new is that Charleston went through yet another massive restaurant renaissance during the past decade. What was delicious got even more delicious and the boundaries for types of food and restaurant locations and styles got even broader. Increasingly, Charleston taste buds veered farther from formality and more towards casual ethnicity diversification, but always, always with a demand for outstanding cuisine. Because, if it was not delivered, those restaurants went away in short order.
Reluctant at first to take on such a huge task, I was glad I did, and am grateful for the opportunity from Globe Pequot Press. The New Charleston Chef’s Table truly reflects the Charleston of now, which was my intention. I pursued recipes that were less structured and more adaptable for the home cook. Some of my favorites include Leon’s Whole Grain Spoon Salad, Fig’s Classic Arugula Salad, Crust’s Chilled Summer Corn Soup, Lewis’ Hatch Green Chile Corn Pudding, The Ordinary’s Fish Schnitzel, and The Daily’s Buttermilk Rhubarb Fool. In this book, more than in the original, I let the book morph with the commentary and thoughts of the chefs. For example, Matthew Niessner at Halls Chophouse didn’t want to share just one recipe, but an entire meal catered to this audience, just as he likes to do for groups when they come to Halls. So he shared recipes for creamed corn, iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese dressing, and how to perfectly prepare a restaurant style ribeye. Meanwhile, at Mex 1 Coastal Cantina I surfed with Ryan Jones into the Baja, California peninsula and cool surfer mentality with cantina chicken tacos and stewed lima beans slow and steady with Martha Lou Gadsen of Martha Lou’s Kitchen.
The design and editing team did a beautiful job of designing the book, which is verdant and fresh with lots of green color and beautiful photography, and has an equally more casual and modern look, reflecting an ever morphing Charleston.
The book was released this past week and is available at major bookstores and online now. I’m offering a signed cookbook to one of you. Just click like on this post or elsewhere where you see it and I’ll do a randomly picked number search on June 4 and announce the winner that day.
Wishing you a beautiful and soulful Memorial Day!
“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
Thursday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
NOTE: NO CREDIT CARDS! Cash only.