Charleston Restaurant Week

When my sister called me last Monday to invite me to visit her and take advantage of restaurant week, I got really excited about the chance to write an article about some of Charleston’s amazing food.  For someone who lives in Columbia, South Carolina, Charleston is a mecca of delicious options for foodies of all types.  In all the excitement of our visit I completely forgot to photograph our meal (oops!), but I’ve supplemented my article with some photos that I found online, just to give you a sense of the atmosphere and menu.

Abby and I, along with two friends, decided on Cypress restaurant, located on East Bay Street in the heart of downtown Charleston.  If you’ve never been to Charleston, this is a bustling area of the city, filled with all varieties of restaurants, clubs, pubs and cafés.

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Cypress, like most restaurants during Restaurant Week, offers a three-course menu for $30.  This menu includes your choice of appetizer, entrée and dessert.  I’ve attached a photo of the restaurant week menu here.

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To start off our meal, I chose the Sweet & Sour Meatballs, served with creamy ricotta gnocchi and a sweet marmalade.  The meatballs were seared on the outside, but tender and juicy on the inside, and served as the perfect complement to the light & fluffy gnocchi.  Abby ordered the Charcuterie – a specialty of Chef Craig Deihl.  All of the meats and sausages are cured and handcrafted in-house.  The plate included salami, spicy pork sausage, a pate, homemade mustard and two perfectly flaky, buttery mini biscuits.  The whole plate was incredibly flavorful and satisfying – as the beautiful borrowed photo below can attest!

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For our main courses, I ordered the Pan Fried Catfish and Abby chose the Korean BBQ.  Although the catfish was crispy and perfectly cooked, the real star of the dish was the local bean succotash, which included deliciously seasoned kidney beans, great beans and sweet yellow corn.  The succotash was slight spicy and sweet – a wonderful counterpart to the catfish.

Although I was happy with my choice, the Korean BBQ was my favorite dish.  The skirt steak was perfectly cooked to a beautiful medium rare, with a nice sear on the outside, and was marinated in a delicious Korean barbeque sauce that was equal parts savory and sweet.  The flavor and texture that Chef Deihl was able to create with the cut of beef was amazing.

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By the time dessert rolled around, I felt too stuffed to take another bite.  Unfortunately, once I saw the Pecan Pie, I knew that I couldn’t resist.  An individual sized pecan pie sat in a pool of rich, thick caramel sauce, accompanied by a dollop of bourbon whipped cream.  This pie was heaven.  The flaky buttery crust, creamy caramel, crunchy pecans and perfectly sweetened whipped cream hit all the right notes.  Both of the two pies that were delivered to our table were gone within minutes…and I would eat one right now if I was lucky enough to have another sitting in front of me.

Overall, there were many highlights to our meal at Cypress.  Although we preferred certain dishes to others, nothing was brought to our table that I wouldn’t recommend.  What I would recommend is that you give the Charcuterie a try – it’s a perfect appetizer to share between a few friends.  The Korean BBQ was outstanding… and it’s clear how I feel about the Pecan Pie!  Our server was quirky but attentive and we never felt rushed or hurried, even though our leisurely meal lasted well over two hours.  If you happen to be in Charleston this fall, give Cypress a try.  You won’t be disappointed.

Southern Charm with an Indian Twist at the Cruze Farm Milk Bar

For many Knoxville locals who love food, crafts and music, Saturday mornings are all about the Farmers Market in Market Square.  Every week the square fills with local farmers selling organic produce and free-range meats, artisans displaying uniquely crafted products, and delicious stands where you can enjoy the perfect brunch.  While wandering through the many stalls admiring vendors’ goods, the sound of local musicians playing guitar and bluegrass mingles with the laughter of excited children playing in the fountain.

Last Saturday, I arrived at the Farmers Market hungry and looking for something to satisfy my appetite and fuel several hours of shopping.  As common knowledge dictates, the restaurant with the longest line is bound to be a crowd-pleaser – this was certainly the case at my brunch spot of choice, the Cruze Farm Milk Bar.

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The family-owned Cruze Dairy Farm milks pasture-kept Jersey cows to produce buttermilk, light (1-2%) and chocolate milk, along with all manner of dairy-based delicacies.  The cows are hormone-free and the milk is not homogenized; in addition, a conservation easement was recently placed on the farm in order to ensure that the land will be used as “a farm forever”- a slogan visible on the farm’s milk products.  The Cruze Dairy Farm may be familiar to you already – it was featured in the August/September 2012 edition of Garden & Gun magazine as a Knoxville staple – look for the magazine on newsstands now to read about the farm and other local Knoxville personalities!

As soon as I tasted the absolutely delicious food at the Cruze Farm Milk Bar on Saturday morning, I knew that it would be the subject of my next blog post.  The pictures below display the offerings that were available to me – as I walked by, I was intrigued to see that the handwritten menu featured Southern cooking with an Indian twist!  Although it took me a while to decide on a dish (salted caramel ice cream?? Delhi cornbread salad?? a peach lassi??), I eventually opted for the paneer in cashew buttermilk curry with sweet peppers and basil oil, served with a buttermilk biscuit.  I have no doubt that I made the right decision.

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Mildly cheesy chunks of paneer and chopped red and green peppers were served in a creamy buttermilk cashew curry with the perfect hint of nuttiness.  Chopped cilantro leaves and whole pomegranate seeds, aside from lending the dish a beautiful pop of color, cut the thickness of the curry with a wonderful freshness.  Finished with a drizzle of basil oil and slivers of peppery radish, the flavors worked together perfectly!  I was able to construct the perfect bite for the picture below, combining each element of the dish together in harmony – it didn’t last long. J  The entrée was the perfect portion size for breakfast or brunch – the small cup of curry, along with the accompaniments, was more than enough to satisfy my appetite.

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It being the middle of July, Saturday morning in Knoxville was hot and steamy and my curry, although only slightly spicy, was certainly heating me up.  To provide a refresher for the palate, the cup of curry was served with heirloom cherry tomatoes and a fresh cucumber and onion salad.  The vegetables provided a nice balance to the meal, preventing the dish from becoming too hot and heavy.  However, the entrée wasn’t finished yet – no Southern breakfast is complete without a homemade buttermilk biscuit!  In this regard, the Cruze Farm Milk Bar did not disappoint.  My biscuit was warm and fluffy on the inside, just a tiny bit flaky and had a golden brown top.  Served with fresh butter, honey, or simply used to sop up any leftovers, this biscuit provided just a bit of Southern flair to this delicious Indian-inspired meal.

Guests can either order at the window of the truck or with one of several “milk maids” that staff the Milk Bar; I chose to enjoy my snack underneath a tent set up to shade several long bar tables and stools.  The staff is very friendly (I received a free sample of the peach lassi – also delicious) and knowledgeable about the products.  Each Saturday throughout the summer and fall, you can find the Milk Bar sitting at the bottom of Market Square and I would highly recommend a visit.  You can either head to the Farmers Market or check them out on Facebook to discover the various restaurants and locations where their products are sold.  All in all, I truly enjoyed my experience at the Cruze Farm Milk Bar – with the exception of filling up too quickly to sample a salted caramel ice cream cone.  Luckily, there’s always next Saturday!

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- Carrie

Keeping It Simple Tastes So Sweet

Interning at Scripps Networks Interactive, home of the Food Network, HGTV, Cooking Channel, and Travel Channel, definitely has its perks.  One such perk here at Scripps headquarters (for the next several weeks while the Food Network kitchens are getting a makeover) is the daily arrival of food trucks from around the Southeast.

There is a definite buzz throughout the office as excited staffers discover what delicious culinary surprises the day will bring.  An internal website lets staff members know who to expect in the upcoming week – recent appearances have been made by Taco Sherpa, Tootsie Truck, Savory and Sweet, and Famous Nater’s.  From dak galbi and bulgogi tofu tacos, to fresh Greek veggie wraps with roasted red pepper hummus, Scripps Networks has been treated to some seriously delicious street food.

On Tuesday morning, I had the pleasure of sampling the Monkey Town Donut Company, owned and operated since 2011 by Kris Spengler, originally of Seattle, Washington. Derived from the nickname “Monkey Town”, bestowed on Dayton, TN following the nation’s first case against teaching evolution in public schools, the Dayton-based Monkey Town Donut Company made the trek up to Knoxville on Monday, July 16th and Tuesday, July 17th.  Everyone was delighted with the truck’s fresh, French-press coffee and mouth-watering mini donuts.

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Sure, there are plenty of places around town to grab a donut; however, Kris isn’t simply serving your average, everyday Krispy Kreme.  His donuts are made with wheat flour and fried in soybean oil, rendering them virtually guilt-free at only 30 calories per donut.  They are made fresh to order – fried and lightly dusted with cinnamon and sugar right before the customers’ eyes.  He keeps things very simple, by offering only his signature donuts, fresh coffee and limited beverages.

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After speaking with Kris about his venture, I was eager to sample some of these special donuts.  Walking out of the office building, the sweet smell of roasted coffee beans and cinnamon greeted me at the door.  After settling on a dozen minis (the perfect amount to share with friends) and a 12 oz. freshly pressed coffee, I headed back inside to savor my snack.  The donuts did not disappoint.  Warm, light, and slightly sweet, they were the perfect complement to my cup of coffee.

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Kris always wanted his own business and really started to get interested in the food truck phenomenon as it took off across the country several years ago.  Watching such programs as Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race and Fox’s MasterChef, in which Gordon Ramsay featured several food trucks, made him realize that owning his own food truck could be possible.

Kris’ inspiration came from his hometown of Seattle – more specifically, from a small donut kiosk in Pikes Place Market, which was always extremely popular with the crowd.  By personally converting his old trailer into a food truck (which he admits is a continuous work in progress), Kris decided to make his idea a reality.  After completing extensive research, he was able to find the perfect machine with which to fry up his donuts and begin business.  The Monkey Town Donut Company even takes innovation further than most food trucks, working to create a fantastic product in an environmentally sustainable way.  Kris was able to utilize his background with the navy and nuclear propulsion to create a food truck that harnesses solar power to help provide the 110-volt standard required to run his equipment.  This method has allowed his truck to go wireless and slows the depreciation of his batteries for a longer life.

To find out where you can indulge in these bite-sized sweets, check out the Monkey Town Donut Company on Facebook, where it posts information regarding upcoming events and locations.  Currently, Kris can be found in Chattanooga, TN every Thursday at Warehouse Row, every Friday at Miller Plaza and every Sunday at the Chattanooga Farmers’ Market (Kris’ busiest day of the week).  You can also hire the truck for $150.00/hour (2 hour minimum) for all of your private events and parties!  Kris’ machine can churn out 3600 donuts/hour and has been a hit at wedding receptions and other events.

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- Carrie