John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly
Charleston: a good place to ride out the pandemic
If you’re a food and wine junkie like me, this pandemic has really altered your lifestyle. My wife and I enjoy eating in and opening a good bottle of wine at home more than just about anybody, but we miss those restaurant or bar date nights where we can let someone else prepare our meal and serve us our beverages.
However, visiting restaurants or bars now, though, is not nearly as much fun as in the past. Social distancing, limited seating arrangements and facial coverings – while understandably necessary, present impediments and obstacles to having a relaxing and enjoyable dining experience. And if you are in the geezer demographic or are physically compromised, the fear of contracting the virus in public places – like restaurants -is an even more inhibiting factor.
But guess what? I have come to the conclusion that Charleston is a pretty good place to shelter in place for a while, especially for foodies and wine geeks. Why? Well, in our little corner of the world, we are blessed to have access to purveyors who provide us with some of freshest and highest quality victuals you can find just about anywhere in this region of the good old US of A.
Let’s start with the basics like bread, vegetables and proteins.
I have travelled in some of the most famous epicurean capitals of Europe where the local bread is spoken of reverentially, but none of those bakeries is any more accomplished than Charleston Bread located on North Capitol Street in our fair city. Their baguettes, ciabatta, multigrain, honey whole wheat, sour dough and other breads are delicious while the salt, pepper and olive oil focaccia is otherworldly. They even crank out delicious and varying styles of pasta noodles you can buy right there at the bakery. Oh, and the pastries are the real deal too, especially the cakes, brownies, cinnamon rolls and biscotti.
But man does not live by bread alone, right? If you love to consume locally grown produce, you’ve been to the Capitol Market’s outdoor farmer’s market to buy tomatoes, fresh corn, beans, peppers and just about anything else that grows in the fertile soil around these parts. Just last week, I bought a bushel of locally grown red peppers which I promptly roasted, peeled (and packed with basil) and then put in the freezer for use as a taste of summer in the dead of next winter. Inside the market, you will also find excellent produce at the Purple Onion.
Of course, the Capitol Market also features a wine shop where you can pick up a few bottles of vino to accompany your home cooked feast. I recently purchased a bottle of 2018 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay (see the description below) to accompany a home made dish of linguine (from Charleston Bread) with broccoli and Italian sausage in a béchamel sauce. Also, in the market, you’ll find a great selection of fresh meat at Johnny’s. Everything from chicken to just about any cut of steak and pork is available or can be cut for you while you wait.
And if you’re a seafood lover, you’ve probably been to General Steak and Seafood (formerly known Joe’s Fish Market) on Quarrier Street in downtown Charleston. This place is an institution and the home of the freshest seafood you’ll find just about anywhere. They even hot smoke whole salmon filets over apple wood! And in the past several months, the business has added meat to the array of fresh goodies – hence the name change. Brothers Joe and Robin Harmon have owned the place for years and remain in charge. The new butcher shop is amazing! I’ve ordered (and grilled) Berkshire pork chops, prime filet, dry-aged steaks and free-range chickens.
So, while all of us are doing our level best to survive these weird times in good health, we’re very fortunate to have exceptional businesses that provide us the opportunity to purchase and prepare quality meals in the safety of our own homes – and sip a little wine too. It certainly makes this pandemic more tolerable!
2018 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay ($24) From Santa Barbara County, this wine is Burgundian in style, but with California ripeness and intensity – a chardonnay of structure and restraint melded with richness. In the glass, a touch of vanilla enhances the ripe apple flavors to produce a very full, but balanced wine. The wine was a very compatible pairing with the linguine, broccoli and Italian sausage meal we enjoyed in our semi-isolation.
John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com.