The Westendorff

The WestendorffI find myself having to say this word with a sophisticated English accent and my pinky up. The Westendorff is the newest hot spot restaurant in Charleston, yet it sits in one of oldest historic buildings on the peninsula. The building use to be a hardware store owned by the Westendorff family for 100 years. They lived on the second floor. The building is beautiful with the original stucco and restored Westendorff sign from 1915. westendorff.0.0On the back side of the building there are iconic Charleston porches where the restaurant features private dinners and cocktails. On the third and fourth floor there is even a furnished two-bedroom apartment comlete with a chefs kitchen with an island that sits nine and is available for short-term rentals!!! Whose down for a stay-cation?????porch So last week Julia and I put on our ritual Thursday game faces and started our night at The Westendorff. I went in open minded and without any expectations because I had heard mixed reviews on the food. The typical, “It’s a new restaurant and needs to work out the kinks.” Understandable with any new opening, bring it on!

Walking into the restaurant was like being back in New York trying to get into a hot restuarant in the West Village. This was a foodie gathering and there was certainly a hip crowd present. Good thing I had my trendy sock bun on top of my head, phew.  A hostess approached us with an iPad and announced a 20 minute wait (and by the way no reservations) so she put our name down. In the meantime we walked to Pane E Vino just down the street for a cocktail. Not too long after they texted us that our seats were ready! Making our way into the restaurant, I immediately noticed the lovely exposed brick and light fixtures. IMG_0001 IMG_0002The restaurant comes off as a social place, especially where we sat at the counter, very inviting with an easy-going atmosphere.IMG_0003Ben was our waiter and very friendly. He suggested starting off with the Moscow Mule Cocktail with homemade ginger beer that he made himself. It was a classic great Moscow, but my only comment, where’s the copper cup yo??? Maybe Rarebit has spoiled us…

Julia and I decided to order a variety of plates and share them. From the menu we started with plates from the “First” section: the Crispy Heart of Palms, Geechie Boy Grit Arancini, and the Ricotta Gnudi. Our favorite was definitely the Ricotta Gnudi. The cheese comes out warm and my favorite was the crispy texture on top against the smooth ricotta. It had a smoky flavor and paired nicely with the nutty drizzled olive oil. The dish is served with red and gold beets, pine nuts, and bright green parsley sprinkled on top.

IMG_0007 The next two dishes didn’t really do much for us. The heart of palms were heavily breaded and I couldn’t even taste the inside. I found myself taking the crispy breading off and enjoying the taste of the palms that way. I’d never had heart of palms before, but Julia was right in figuring they tasted somewhat like artichoke hearts. They were served over a romesco sauce which had an amazing thick texture that seemed like a lot of flavors went into the mixture, however it was so bland. It didn’t taste like anything. Romesco originates from Spain and is a nut and red-pepper based sauce but this needed more. I’m not the expert but maybe some lemon and salt? Or a kick with some spice?IMG_0006

Now for the Geechie boy fried grits. These were good, but again with the breading. Back it down. The main feature here should be the grits and the breading was so thick that it took over. I hate to even make this comparison but Hymans always brings us their fried grit cakes to the front desk at the hotel and the ratio is right on point. The breading should be there to hold it together, not to be the spot light. I want the grits to steal the show and really shine!

IMG_0005After our starters we were between the Hanger Steak and the Pan Roasted All Natural Chicken Breast for the entree. Ben was helping us talk it out with these two dishes and it finally came down to the Chicken because of the corn puree and okra accompaniments. Unfortunately, I could not have been more disappointed. The chicken itself was okay, a little overcooked, but a typical piece of white chicken meat. However, I was so upset with the corn puree…or should I say lack thereof!IMG_0011That juice on the bottom of the plate is supposed to be the puree. That is not puree! Puree should have some consistency that you can scoop up on your fork and eat together with the chicken. That was also the main reason we chose this dish and I felt misinformed. Also, I think two pieces of okra sliced long ways and the four tiny mushrooms is a little skimpy. I mean load it up please. What is this new trend? If you are advertising on your menu okra please follow through with some okra!IMG_0008And lastly we had a side of Mac N Cheese which unfortunately didn’t cut it either.IMG_0010Looks amazing and was cooked perfectly, however the sharp cheese flavors were extreme. I love a good tangy and complex cheese, but this was too much in each individual bite. It tasted like a whole block of strong parmesan cheese in each small shell. Our server did acknowledge that the Mac N Cheese was going uneatten (sorry cheese gods) and was kind enough to send us out a complimentary dessert.IMG_0013

My final thoughts regarding The Westendorff: I have better expectations for brunch. This place is set up with a great brunch atmosphere allowing for mingling at the diner style counters and the wait staff freely walking around with the open kitchen in the background. So to make this blog post a bit longer, I am now revisiting after going back for brunch this past Sunday.coffeeThis time I had my #Respect4Respect girl Shannon with me for round 2.shannonAs I sat down for the second time at the very familiar counter, it did feel different. The Westendorff really encompasses that Sunday morning vibe. The crowd was still hip and cute, but also you could tell the majority had just rolled outta bed and were trying to cover up the Sunday sleepiness. Or maybe that was just us….ANYWAYS here’s what we ordered.

I had the Eggs in Cocotte which had oyster mushrooms and wilted baby arugula served with avocado ciabatta toast.eggs The toast informed me that my instincts were right. The avocado was so creamy and a great mix between smooth guacamole and still chopped up whole avocado pieces. So far so good! Shannon ordered the Egg Sandwhich which had mascarpone, smoked tomato pepper jam, house maple cured pork belly and served on a Browns Court benne seed roll. Right on point. We also ordered a side of grits which were exactly what I had hoped this time. Creamy, buttery, and certainly stealing the show!egg sandwhichNow back to my eggs dish. Cocotte is the type of dish that the eggs are served in and I’m guessing cooked in as well. I imagine the chef cracks two eggs into this dish and then bakes it in the oven with the other accompaniments. However, with this type of dishware, the eggs continue to cook even once removed from the oven. By the time I had my first bite of the eggs, they were completely cooked through.egg 2This made the dish extremely dry instead of having a nice consistency with a runny egg through the mushrooms and arugula. Again, this was disappointing. I also wish this was something the kitchen would pay attention to because I saw a neighboring patron with the exact same dish and of course a runny egg.

So yes, great atmosphere with a great vibe for brunch, but I would agree, some kinks still to be worked out.

Happy Monday folks!

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Kyle in da House!

Oh hey Crockheads, long time no see! If there’s one way to get back in the saddle it’s with some liquid courage. Coming at you now, award-winning Food and Wine champion bartender of Charleston, SC………….Kyle DeGoyler!!!!!!!!!

“With the latest edition of Friday Feature we are literally going to shake things up. Instead of food, we are going to be talking cocktails. Specifically, we are going to be talking about bitters, what they are, how you can make them yourself and how to apply them to cocktail mixing and even cooking.20150526_204907

What are bitters? The question is as common at my bar as (What’s a grit?) is to our servers. My bartenders and I look forward to the question as I have set the bar up to encourage the conversation on a nightly basis. Our front rail is a neatly lined barricade of 20-30 different apothecary looking bottles, each adorned with a dasher top or dropper to properly distribute the unique and often misunderstood potions inside. The bottles do their job and catch many of our guests’ eyes as they belly up. The back bar-besides the selection of spirits, has numerous books that we dive into when in doubt or searching for the perfect recipe when the time calls. One of the books, Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons is what I consider to be the Holy Grail for any would-be bitters maker. Mr. Parson details everything you need to know about making bitters, from history, tools, ingredients and recipes.

Back to the question. What are bitters?

Bitters are typically a combination of dried roots, barks, herbs, fruit and vegetables and spices that are steeped in a very high proof alcohol for a long period of time, then strained, mixed and sweetened. Creating a very intensely flavorful concoction that keeps almost indefinitely and is indispensable behind the bar.20150526_182107

Bitters first gained prominence during the post-civil war era by the peddling of “snake oil salesmen” who pawned these concoctions off as cure-alls and patented medicines. The reason this was possible is because many of the primary bittering agents have positive qualities like cinchona bark, which is prominent in quinine of tonic water, helping with nausea. Even today, a few dashes of bitters in soda or ginger ale is what I swear by to help with indigestion.

My favorite bitters flavor to make has to be Coffee. This is a flavor that isn’t as widely available as others on the market and after lots of trial and error, I have worked out a consistent recipe. When making cocktails with bitters, one important to remember is that bitters to a bartender are like salt and pepper to a chef. They are not used to be the main flavor but they are there to enhance, round out and bring forward the flavors that are already present.

Coffee Bitters
2 C Bacardi 151 (you can use any alcohol of at least 100 proof)
1 ½ C coffee beans (cracked with mortar and pestle)
1/3 C roasted cacao nibs
1 tsp cloves
3 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick (cracked)
1 TBS wormwood
½ TBS gentian root
3 TBS demerara sugar syrup
3-4 C H2O

Most of these unusual ingredient like wormwood or gentian root can be purchased online from places like Mountain Rose Herbs or Kalustyans.20150526_200513

Combine all ingredients except syrup and water in a mason jar, cover with high proof alcohol and seal well. Shake like crazy and store in a dark cupboard or somewhere away from light. Shake the jar every day for three weeks. I have found light to be my biggest culprit when spoiling good bitters.20150603_183812

After three weeks, open the jar and strain your liquid through cheesecloth into another jar. Feel free to strain multiple times to ensure you are getting all of the tiny particles. Squeeze your solids tight to get all of the alcohol that you can, then seal your alcohol solution and put it aside.

Next, place your solids in a pot and pour just enough water (3-4 cups) to cover everything entirely. Bring them to a quick boil and then gently simmer them for about 10 minutes, extracting all of the flavors into your water. Take off heat and allow to cool before adding everything, solids and all into a second mason jar. With this step I like to sterilize the Mason jar with some alcohol before I pour, as this solution will not have the alcohol content of the first and you don’t want bacteria ruining a month long project.IMG_20150607_232248

Some recipes call for this second solution to sit for up to a week. I have found that 3-5 days is sufficient, if you let it go too long this can turn funky and chunky. Again, shake this jar daily until your last step.

After 3-5 days, open your second jar and strain your solids out one more time. This time, discard them, we have from them everything we need. Repeat your strain until you are happy with the consistency. Then combine your water and your alcohol solution from the first mason jar. To this jar we will add our sweetener. I prefer the demerara with my coffee bitters and you can adjust your sweetening agent according to the flavors you want to put on display. For example, with Chocolate and Aromatic bitters, I prefer Muscovado sugar which has a higher molasses content reminiscent of raisins and black currants. For Citrus Thyme bitters, I use a honey syrup. Once our sweetener is in, we shake the jar until our arms are sore, ensuring that all of the sugar has been incorporated.20150526_201111

Finally…nope we are still not done. Let this jar rest for 3 more days, allowing any remaining sediment or floaters to separate. After 3 days, skim the surface for any would be floaters and decant your bitters into individual bottles. These bitters will keep indefinitely but are best used within a year.20150610_120221

Even if you have executed this perfectly, you may still notice separation at the bottom of your bottles. This is entire naturally just like a blood mary mix. Simply give a shake before you pour.

Now for using your bitters. The most common application of bitters that I have found is the classic Manhattan cocktail. The original recipe calls for 2 oz. of Rye or Bourbon, 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth and 2-3 dashes of aromatic (typically Angostura) bitters, stirred with ice, strained and garnished with a cherry or lemon peel. As for the coffee bitters, at Poogan’s Porch I have a drink called the Man of the House in which we use 2 oz. of Chattanooga Tennessee Whiskey, 1 oz. Dolin Sweet Vermouth and 3 dashes of coffee bitters, stirred, strained over a large cube and garnished with a brandied cherry.”

MIND BLOWN! Mixology=Science Class. We had a such an informative night’s lesson at Kyle and Jen’s house and I learned a whole new side of the drink world. Who knew all of this knowledge and specific techniques went into making a cocktail. Now I know I like my Manhattans with aromatic and lavender bitters and egg whites, shaken. THANKS KYLE!IMG_0011

Saint Alban

This Saint of a coffee shop is nowhere near my house, but you will catch me here most mornings Monday-Friday, and the occasional Saturday. IMG_0009IMG_0001Saint Alban’s is situated on upper King street just past the bridge and is Brooks Reitz’s second child after Leon’s, another favorite. The first time I came here was with Richard and Julia after an early morning yoga class. We all went with the light Ethiopian roast coffee and I experienced a feeling unlike any other coffee intake I’ve ever participated in. I became not sober. This coffee energized my soul and body for hours. Richard had come in town for SEWE weekend and we had big plans that day at Brittle Bank Park. As we were getting ready, Richard and I couldn’t stop running around my house.  We were bouncing off the walls and Katie and Jay had to ask what was wrong. Or right? Julia even said she sang and danced the most she ever has in the shower. Maybe our natural temperament played a part, but we were definitely boosted to another extremity. dunks and juliaNow that I know what I know about Ethiopian coffee, I keep coming back for more. But that’s not the only reason. For starters, these lovely ladies at Saint Alban offer a FREE REFILL (as if one doesn’t do it)! IMG_0005 Saint Alban’s free parking and free wi-fi also play a part. And more importantly, this coffee shop is one of those inviting places you feel extremely comfortable in by yourself. Saint Alban is what gets me out of bed early and excited to start writing. Imagine taking all that crazy boosted energy and forcing it instead to circulate through my body and express itself through writing at a small quaint table. Telling you I be like “akdjflkejfeiofndklgneiojgeioj” just typing away. This place inspires me because I find myself coming in here without a story. One morning I was all caught up on my restaurant adventures and recipes, but was really craving sitting up there with a cup of Ethiopian, so I grabbed my lap top anyways and propped down at a window table. Two hours passed and I realized I’d dived head first into I guess a new project, “Memoirs of a Hospitality Servant.” I’ve decided to start writing all of my hotel stories down and giving each crazy crisis its own chapter. (Debut will be when I retire or leave the business). So my point being, Saint Alban and it’s coffee is extremely revitalizing and encouraging and I love starting my days in here.IMG_0004Beyond the coffee, I will say the food here is somewhat pricey, but worth every penny. I have indulged in their waffles, hard-boiled egg brioche, ham and cheese scone, turkey avocado and sprouts open sandwich, and their homemade granola. My favorite is the turkey avocado and sprouts sandwich which I of course devoured before even considering a picture. At first I was discouraged because it is $9 and open-faced, so one piece of bread, but once I polished it off I was beyond satisfied. I could taste the dough in the sour dough bread and the avocado spread was so smooth and creamy. And put those hazardous sprouts on anything and I’m down.IMG_0015IMG_0007 IMG_0002 IMG_0003So my Crockheads, check out Saint Alban’s and let me know how you handle the caffeine. Or I’ll prob just see you in there. Take care amigos.coffee

Delish Bakery & Bistro

I’m a little shocked that I’m on the late train and have just recently discovered Delish. As soon as I opened the seafoam door I swear the bakery started echoing “SuuuuuuuuuuuSuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.” I am a huge fan of cafes and I didn’t realize it until I lived in Spain and New York. One of my favorite things was stumbling into random coffee shops because it helped make the cities seem smaller and more comfortable. I’m a very extraverted person, but I really enjoy and appreciate being by myself with a cup of coffee and a local paper/magazine in a cozy cafe. I thought I had found them all in Charleston until I spotted the seafoam door at 272 Meeting Street.

The cafe kind of reminds me of Alice’s Tea Cup in New York if any of you are familiar. It is a quaint spot and has a lot to take in. When you walk in, you first notice the place is covered in seafoam. Sea foam walls, seafoam pictures, seafoam dishes, seafoam counter, AND a seafoam BIKE! So you probably now understand why I’m obsessed.

The menu ranges from bakery items to paninis, wraps, and salads. I went simple with a bagel and cream cheese and a coffee. I settled down at a table by the window and had the best little morning to myself. And then it got a little better when my bagel came out on a seafoam plate!

photo

Yes. Seafoam is my favorite color.

Have a wonderful day!