Monday, March 28, 2016

Bowens Island Restaurant

1870 Bowens Island Rd.
Charleston, SC 29412
(843) 795-2757

My low country journey would not have been complete without a trip to Bowens Island. What is Bowens Island? If I was given the (very remote) opportunity to go to heaven, and Bowens Island was one of the choices, I would be there. At the restaurant (seen on the left below), they get clusters of oysters dropped off at the dock, where they are hosed down before being sent to the basement of the building to be roasted and steamed and slapped on a tray. Unbelievable.

As you can see, there is already a line of folks waiting to order, but checking out the process was an integral part of the trip for me.

If you get someone in line, another member of the party can sneak around the back and grab drinks from the bar to hold you over until it's your shot. Unfortunately, you will have to watch THIS sunset while you sip a cold beer and wait your turn.

Inside is a bit more chaotic, with the food line wrapping towards the heron, and the bar line on the right. I typically would not wait in line for an hour, but chatting with the people waiting with you and having some drinks makes everything all right in the world. Plus, this is the South. No one is EVER in a rush, and it takes a couple of days for a neurotic Northerner to settle down and relax. I did not want to head back North at the end of my trip.

After you order, you pick up your tray of oysters from the oyster man himself in the cinder block and graffiti-adorned basement. The clusters are roasted over this fire with a burlap sack, then shoveled into a steamer.

At that point, they serve you with a snow shovel. Just amazing.

You are handed an oyster knife rolled up in towel, are left to find a table (with a convenient hole in the middle to discard shells as you eat) and get to work.

These oysters clump together in the marshes, and they are served just so. As you almost cut through your hand with the knife, get small cuts on your fingers from the shells, and quaff beers, you wonder why you don't live here.

After breaking apart a cluster, find the open shells, and pry them farther with your trusty knife. It's unbelievably fun, and makes for quite an experience.

All of this danger and effort results in a plump little briny reward. Slurp and repeat. Curse yourself for only ordering a tray and a half. Get back in line and repeat.

I also tried some of their other offerings. Boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, hush puppies, fries and slaw. Simple and perfect.

The fried shrimp had a beautiful flaky batter, and were just addictive. The sweet crustaceans were devoured like popcorn, and helped to soak up some of the beer.

The boiled u-peel shrimp were heavily seasoned, and quickly disappeared.

The surprisingly delicate hush puppies had a golden crust, and a slightly sweet interior. Everything about this place was just phenomenal. It was the best meal I have eaten this year, and one of my favorites of all time. I can't wait to go back to the low country, and next time I will probably order twice as much. If you are in the Charleston area, drive the dirt road back Bowens Island road, and you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

AC's Bar & Grill

467 King Street
Charleston, SC 29403
(843) 577-6742

When visiting other cities, I often like to check out the places who try and present their take on an authentic cheesesteak. If that coincides with a great divey bar, then all the better. I was into AC's, in particular, because I'd heard that the owner is from PA.

It's is located downtown in Charleston, right between all the hot clubs and expensive shopping spots. But it had all the trappings of a dark, fantastic, late-night bar. Great dim lighting, booths, perfectly greasy bar food, and fantastic drink prices. I'd spoken with the owner, Jim Curley, for the better part of my meal & drink experience and I must say, he adds to the appeal here. Born in the Pittsburgh area, he's been living in The South for all of his life; worked at AC's for about 21 years and has owned it for about the last 15 and although he's technically not 'working' there now, he definitely spends a lot of his time there, delivering food and drinks to customers.

They are famous for their chili cheeseburger and their cheesesteak. Although I had literally just come from a dinner party, I threw caution to the wind and had to try both.

The chili cheeseburger did not slouch on the quantity of chili. Beans, green peppers, and onions strewn about the loose beef, this chili would make a Texan cry. On top of a burger, it made me smile. At $5.50, it made my wallet smile as well.

A nice medium cook on the patty, and much more manageable to eat than the initial picture conveyed. This was spot on bar food. Well seasoned, enough fat to cut the whiskey you just shot, and some carbs to soak up those ten beers.

The cheesesteak was the surprise of the night. Amoroso roll aside, it was a great replica. The meat was heavily salt and peppered, and had some mighty caramelized onions.

Look at the amount of melted American cheese intermingled with meat grease. Perfect.

I hate a dry steak, and this was quite the opposite. The roll did marginally well, and though I am a Liscio's lover, I was okay with this low brow replacement. I think that Jim's attention to quality control in the kitchen is key. He knows what a great cheesesteak can be and he doesn't let his own standards suffer, much to my appreciation.

There was no lack of meat or flavor on this cheesesteak. Never did I think that a place in the Lowcountry could compete with some of the Philadelphia area middle of the steak joints. Now I know.

Friday, March 18, 2016

"In Search of Israeli Food" Film Screening Ticket Giveaway! WINNER – Elysia Lichtine!

WINNER – Elysia Lichtine! Thanks to everyone who participated!

The talented and well-known Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov (Zahav and Dizengoff, to name my 2 favorites) has a movie coming out. Yes, you read it, a movie about food, about the "culinary revolution" in Israel that's been influencing menus all around the world. The film isn't out yet, but it's been screening all around the country in festivals since January and it's coming to Philadelphia SOON! The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival is bringing it to the Gershman Y on Monday, March 28 and I'm here to give away 2 FREE TICKETS!

"In what is clearly a labor of love, Solomonov travels the length and breadth of Israel, meeting with an eclectic group of professional and amateur chefs, cheese makers, vintners, farmers, and fisherman, who draw on their own ethnic heritage as they add to the ever-growing lexicon of Israeli cuisine."

Read more about the film here and if you don't win the contest, purchase tickets here.

Who – one winner will get two tickets to the movie screening on Monday, March 28 (and this includes the post-film discussion and an opportunity to get books signed by Michael Solomonov).

How – leave a comment on this post letting us know your favorite Israeli food experience. Tell us about the best hummus you ever had or about the falafel from a food cart that blew your mind.

How to Win – all valid comments (no spam) will be given a number and the winner chosen at random.

When – Contest starts now (Friday) and closes Wednesday, March 23rd at noon.

Don't forget - if you comment anonymously, email me your contact info so I can get in touch if you are the lucky winner

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Boxcar Betty's

1922 Savannah Highway
Charleston, SC 29407
(843) 225-7470

With fried chicken sandwiches all the rage in Philly, I sought out a worthy competitor on a recent trip to the low country. As could be expected, the results were spectacular. The design on the exterior of this place took it from a boring, non-nonchalant standalone building, to a funky, hip chicken spot. All it took was some pallets, reclaimed wood, and cool neon lights.

They specialize in fried chicken here, and it is basically a couple of sandwich options, a couple of salad options and some sides. Short and sweet; simplicity at its best.

I decided to take a trip around the menu with a "Boxcar" and a "Chicken & 'not so waffle'". Also, an order of pickled fried green tomatoes was obviously not to be missed. Man, do I love the low country.

They must have one heck of a designer on board because all of the packaging, along with the interior decor, was clean-lines and reminiscent of a timeless fast-food joint that I've always dreamed about. Like Chick-fil-A but really classy in all-around execution, with a casual side note of extra pep.

Up first, their classic namesake: the Boxcar.

Pimiento Cheese, Peach Slaw, House Pickles, Spicy Mayo. Everything was in perfect proportion, the flavors were incredible, and the light and crispy breading was heavily seasoned, something a lot of fried crusts lack. This was probably the best chicken sandwich I have ever eaten.

The balance of ingredients was on point, and why the hell doesn't every place in the country use pimento cheese on everything? I just don't understand. It is the pinnacle of processed cheese & mayo innovation. Tangy, creamy, a hint of spice, it goes well with everything.

The fried, pickled green tomatoes were such a brilliant retort to the fried pickle trend. They benefited from the same well seasoned batter, and the acidity punched through the heaviness typically associated with fried food (that I may or may not have been dipping in ranch dressing). The pickled tomatoes were still very crisp, a texture that's usually lost in the fryer.

The "not so waffle" (obviously because it is served on bread) came with: Bacon Jam, Maple Syrup, Pimiento Cheese, Tomato. Even though there wasn't any waffle, all of the necessary flavors were creatively applied, and then some.

Again, you can see the quality of the ingredients and the execution of the sandwich are both about perfect.

The version was sweeter than the Boxcar, and had a totally different flavor profile. Probably because it was made with mostly different ingredients. The bacon jam and maple syrup combined to form a sweet and salty one-two combo. Pimento cheese added all the richness you could handle, and the tomato helped to freshen up this potential gut bomb.

Like everything else, the fries were incredible. Perfectly cooked, hand cut fries just sealed the deal on this place. Coupled with some spicy mayo to dip, you were certainly not losing any weight here. But if you come to a fried chicken joint with the intention of dieting, you should just turn yourself right back around and beat it. God I wish they had one of these in Philly.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Imli Indian Kitchen

769 E Passyunk Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(267) 858-4277

A recent invite to Imli on Passyunk meant a dinner out with some local food writers, and a chance to eat somewhere I haven't been. The result was some of the best Indian food I have eaten in the city, and putting some faces to names of the Philly food scene.

Imli greets you with a waft of delicious Indian aromas, and the bright interior is quite inviting. As a bonus, they are BYOB, so you can match some big wines with big flavors.

We were brought out the samosas first, these were large, deeply fried and packed with flavorful curried potato, peas, and served with mint tamarind sauce.

The butter naan was another crowd-pleaser. Nicely browned, and the perfect vessel to scoop up the remnants of the various sauces.

The rashmi kebab presented charred chunks of chicken with sugar threads on top for effect. Served on romaine with red onion, this dish was visually appealing, and interesting, but it was lacking any discernible flavor profile.

The chicken Seekah kebab packed more memorable flavors, including I believe coriander, and garam masla. The textures were nice on this minced tandoori dish, with tender meat and crunchy specks for contrast. It was a sort of chicken sausage, but not really.

Kalmi kebabs were yet another tandoori favorite, with tender chicken thighs.

The baingan bhurta, an eggplant dish stewed with tomatoes, offered a rich repository for wayward naan.

My favorite dish of the bunch was probably the shrimp aachri, cooked in  rich spices and loaded with snappy acidity.

Lamb korma was right up there, though it did not photograph quite as well. If it isn't apparent by now, I got to taste just about all of it. Pure sensory overload.

Let's be honest, there isn't much Indian food that photographs well; it's too bad most dishes look like a thick, monochrome soupy blob. However, looks can be deceiving and the flavors here at Imli really surprised me.

Chicken tikka masala had the smooth consistency that makes it an intro to Indian food winner. The rich gravy perfectly suited the tender chicken morsels.

Basically, you will be hard pressed to not have a good time at this place, no matter what some of the finicky reviewers may say. I really loved the food, and would put it above Tiffin based on my experiences that night. As always, your mileage may vary.