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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Southern Mac and Collards

Good day Crocks,

Last night I had a trial run of some dishes for my upcoming guest chef night at Elliot Borough Mini Bar. I am super nervous because number 1: I am no chef. The people who have participated in this in the past are all cooks from restaurants which is extremely intimating. Number 2: I am a…crocker? which is different because the bad boy does all the work, I’m just there to throw it all in. Number 3: I relate more to a writer who strictly writes about food and now here I am on the other end. So, yes nervous, but also thrilled about the opportunity and wouldn’t want to cook at any other establishment! So the rules of last night: You couldn’t say a dish was ‘good’. I needed some real feedback with describing words and solutions to what the dishes needed. Here’s how it went:

                                                 Crockpot Mac and Cheese

IMG_0018Ingredients
-Medium HT Traders shell pasta
-1 stick of butter, melted
-2 eggs, beaten
-4 cups of cheese: American, Cheddar, Gouda, Gruyère
-1 can evaporated milk
-1 can condensed cheddar cheese soup
-1 cup 2% milk
-Salt and Pepper to taste
Yields 6-7 servings
Cook pasta according to package. Transfer to crockpot and stir in melted butter.IMG_0022 In a separate large bowl, combine eggs, cheese, evaporated milk, cheese soup, and milk.IMG_0020 Pour mixture over macaroni in crockpot and cook on low for 3 hours.IMG_0023IMG_0028

(Original recipe calls for only putting the first 3 cups of cheese in crockpot and then adding the last cup at the very end just on top and sprinkling with paprika.) So my personal assessment, I wish the macaroni kept some of the creamy consistency it started with. If you look at the last two pictures, picture one is before the mixture cooked for three hours and it was very soupy. Picture two, the macaroni soaked up most of the liquid and the cheese separated a bit. However, Jayman and Raymond both agreed that they preferred this texture better. I believe Ray even stated, “This is more of a high end macaroni dish”. Katie had me add more salt and pepper which I agreed it needed and then Louise had a good recommendation, she wanted more sharpness. The cheeses cooked together to create a smooth taste and she wanted more of a bite from some sharp cheddar. And sweet Cath said her palate was too immature to know what we were talking about and she just really liked it. Thanks Cath I love you. Moving on to the collards.

                                                    Crockpot Collard Greens

Ingredients
-1 ham hock, 2lbs
-Collards 4.5lbs=~3bunches
-2 tablespoons Olive oil
-1 yellow onion, medium diced
-3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
-1 cup chicken broth -1 tablespoon cider vinegar
-1 tablespoon granulated sugar
-salt and pepper
-Red pepper flakes
Yields 6-7 servings IMG_0004 IMG_0002 Place dat ham hock in the middle of the crockpot and well come back to it. Side note, ham hocks are awesome. I’ve been somewhat naïve of them as I marched straight up to the butcher asking for one and he had to redirect me to the prepackaged section. They add so much flavor and make me feel like I’m a Southern grandma cooking for my family of 10 on a Sunday with the dogs barking on the front porch. IMG_0006Thoroughly run collards under warm water in the sink to make sure all dirt and grit washes off, dry them, and set aside.

Next, heat olive oil in a large pot on the stove top. Once collards are dry, use your hands to remove collard leaves from stems and throw stems away. Allow plenty of time for this process because separating through 5 pounds of collards mimics paddling upstream in a kayak. I was going strong, but wasn’t making a dent and couldn’t see the dock. Worst part, my olive oil was burning! During this time I thought of Mama Connie and how she always had collards simmering on her stove top. I respect you so much more Mama Connie for all those long hours you did in the kitchen! Tip: Prepare the collards first and then heat your olive oil. Once olive oil is hot, add in the onions and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes until onions are clear. Next add in chicken broth and increase heat to bring mixture to a boil. I used chicken stock I had saved from a  previous crockpot meal. Remember to always save the juice!IMG_0008 IMG_0010 Stir in collards a handful at a time, adding more as they wilt. I made the mistake of using too small a pot so I had to transfer some collards out to the crockpot prematurely to make more room. So again, make sure you use a very large pot. Also, I noticed the bottom of the pan was burning a bit and I wanted more stock to pour in, but had used it all. I had to substitute some white wine in its place just to give the pan more juice. Once all collards are in the pot, turn off the heat and add 1 tablespoon of vinegar, the sugar, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes (your preference on measurement depending on desired spicy level).IMG_0012 Transfer all to the crockpot and cook on low for 3 hours, until the greens are very tender.IMG_0013 IMG_0015 After doing some errands and coming in the back kitchen door after a run, I knew something was right. The kitchen smelled like the Terrill’s kitchen. I’ll always think of that kitchen of home to the best Southern dishes and casseroles I’ve ever had. I loved eating dinner over there growing up because I was a deprived Southern child growing up with two Yankee parents who did not cook things like pineapple casserole or green bean casserole. (Mom, Dad-just kidding, just making the story more intense.) As I lifted the lid and lowered my face into the pot, Southern Sunday scents of a home cooked meal swirled in my nostrils and my mouth began to water. The last step is to take out the ham hock and cut it into bite-sized pieces and then stir it back into the greens. Now for the taste test.IMG_0026I wasn’t sure if the collards needed more sugar. Jay said it just needed a little more salt so I let him do the honors. Ray said he is used to collards being drenched in vinegar to the point where he can only eat a certain helping. He said he could eat these for days so they might need some more vinegar. Jay quickly opposed this idea so I went with Jay, sorry Ray, but I do appreciate your input. Louise and Katie said the collards didn’t need anything, and sweet Cath was happy. At the end of the day everyone is going to like their collards somewhat differently and I had to focus more so on whether or not they had a good base because you know I’M ALL ABOUT THAT BASS ‘BOUT THAT BASS. IMG_0030(Not pictured: Jayman and Susu) Thanks for coming out and testing frands and thank you to Katie for making some dank BBQ chicken, to Cath and Weez for the wine, and to Raymond for the ice cream sandwiches and snickers. I’ll let y’all know how the big day goes or hopefully will see y’all there: February 24th!