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Review: Sorghum & Salt

I’ll save you the Google search. Sorghum is a drought-tolerant grain commonly processed into either sweet sticky molasses syrup or ethanol…quite the range! Apparently it’s cheaper to make ethanol from sorghum than corn so I imagine we will be hearing more about sorghum in the future. I am equally certain we will be hearing more about Charleston’s month-old restaurant Sorghum & Salt.

Chef Tres Jackson must have crazy wild dreams because I am not sure how else he could come up with his menu’s amazing flavor combinations. I usually like to do a little pre-planning before going to a new restaurant by reviewing the menu. But Chef Jackson’s menu demanded more than just a peek. There were all sorts of new Scrabble-worthy words.

Mizuna: an Asian lettuce with crisp green leaves

Shiso: another Asian lettuce that kind of tastes like basil

Garganelli: tubular pasta

Cremeux: dense pudding

Financier: almond cake

This is a menu written by a chef who doesn’t need to come up with clever names for his food. For example, his fried chicken isn’t called “I’m not chicken to order this fried chicken.” It’s called “Crispy Fried Chicken-Fermented Collards-Chili-Sweet Potato-Ginger Honey.” This is also a menu of items screaming to be shared with other adventuresome eaters. Luckily I was there with my husband and our foodie friend, Michelle. Neither one blocks me when they see my fork creeping toward their plates.

The menu is divided into Gardens & Grains, Meat and Fish, Larger Plates and Dessert. While we studied the menu to make our final decisions, we ordered the bread service which was a sharable loaf of brown sugar bread with pork butter. Yes, Chef Jackson combined pork with butter…which may make him eligible for sainthood. Then we each picked two items for our dinners and three different desserts.

Crispy Brussels sprouts, root vegetable bolognese and cured steelhead trout started off our meal. The order-again winner here were the Brussels sprouts. The cooking time on these must be measured in seconds because just a few more seconds and they would have tasted burnt. Instead, every bite had a crunch of smokiness  complemented with some feta and local buttermilk. (As an aside, I always appreciate when a menu correctly lists the vegetable as Brussels sprouts rather than the incorrect Brussel sprouts.)

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Brussels sprouts, bolognese and trout…oh my

Next up were the panzanella, a smoked carrot and lamb ragu and the aforementioned fried chicken. Now fried chicken would be the last thing I would order from this innovative menu but thankfully my husband ordered it. It was hands-down the best bite of the table. It was the true trifecta of good fried chicken: sweetness from local honey, heat from the chili and juicy, perfectly cooked boneless chicken. No remorse over leaving a tasty morsel trapped on the bone. The whole, golden, crispy, sweet/hot delicacy was devourable. The panzanella was definitely not your traditional Italian bread cubes-tomato type panzanella. It was a little on the fancy food spectrum but it was fun to try different flavor forkful combinations with the creamy ricotta, the sweet bread cubes and different types of lettuces. The ragu was a very rich dish and the serving was huge for something that wasn’t on the “Larger Plates” section of the menu.

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Panzanella

For dessert we ordered the beet cremeux, the blue cheese cake and the chocolate cake. The chocolate cake was the one dessert not on the menu but it’s definitely the one that should be put on the permanent menu. The beet cremeux was the texture of pana cotta and didn’t have a strong beet taste. Which I guess is a good thing in a dessert but I was hoping for a more intense flavor. The blue cheese cake had the opposite problem…it was TOO intense. It was reviewed by our friend as “something better served at the beginning of a meal with some crackers and a nice glass of wine.” It was more blue cheese and less cheesecake. We attempted to morph it into a dessert by combining it with the beet cremeux and then with the chocolate cake but it just didn’t want to grow up to be a dessert. But it would be an amazing first course. The chocolate cake, served with pistachio butter,  was the perfect ending to this meal and thankfully my husband knows how to share.

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Aptly named Cheese Cake… definitely not Cheesecake #allspacesmatter

Sorghum & Salt’s concept is to highlight local ingredients in innovative ways. This isn’t your typical farm-to-table restaurant. Chef Jackson is more of a “Buckle up, you farm fresh ingredients. I am about to take you for a ride.” Our server (server name on the receipt said Babes) was exceptionally friendly, knowledgeable, funny and charming which always makes a great meal even better. Chef Jackson even stopped by our table to welcome us and share a little bit of his story with us.

I will be keeping my eyes on their website to see when they change their menu each season so I can make a return visit. And as an extra bonus, I am pretty sure I will pick up some more Scrabble-worthy words.

I am Amy. And this is my feed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Noble Meal Fit for a King

Chef Jim Noble opened The King’s Kitchen & Bakery  in 2010 as a non-profit restaurant in downtown Charlotte, NC. Chef Noble’s concept is to provide job training and other life skills to folks who may need a second (or third) chance. He donates 100% of the restaurant’s profits to feed the poor. With all that goodness in the backstory, I seriously doubted that there was any goodness left for my plate.

I have never been so happy to be so wrong.

I was a guest at a group dinner.  We ordered from a pre-set menu, which is a good thing because I would probably still be there deciding what to eat. Chef Noble prepares southern cuisine with (mostly) local ingredients and he keeps the preparations simple and the flavors delicious. This isn’t fancy food with drizzles and smears on the plate. Who needs fancy when you can have your choice of: mouth-watering, juicy fried chicken named after someone’s Aunt Beaut, no-knife-needed pot roast or perfectly grilled Wild Alaskan salmon?

Side dishes were served family style in large bowls; generous mounds of black-eyed peas, smashed sweet potatoes and collard greens. Living in Charleston, I have had my share of those three classic sides. They can sometimes be over-prepared with someone trying a little too hard to make them something they aren’t. But these sides were prepared with limited ingredients so you actually tasted the black-eyed peas (rather than smoked ham), the smashed sweet potatoes tasted like sweet potatoes (rather than brown sugar) and the collard greens tasted like greens (rather than bacon). I did add a little hot sauce to the collards so they wouldn’t taste too healthy.

Like any good southern meal, we ended our meal with some dessert. The two choices were banana pudding served in a little mason jar and a three-layered coconut cake. I had the banana pudding which could have done without the large heaping pile of toasted marshmallow cream. But the pudding tasted homemade, the Nilla wafers weren’t soggy and who doesn’t love a dessert served in a little mason jar?

Was this the most memorable southern food I have ever eaten? Maybe not. Is it one of the most memorable restaurants I have ever been to? Absolutely. Will I be coming back to King’s Kitchen in July when I return to Charlotte? You betcha.

Maybe then I can find out who Aunt Beaut is and get her recipe for the pan fried chicken that everyone was raving about.

I’m Amy. And this is my feed.

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Fit for a King (or a Queen) Indeed

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Decisions…Decisions

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Sometimes You Just Need a Cookie

I am a Brownie dropout.

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My one and only badge ceremony.

My Brownie troop met in the cafeteria of Villa Marie Elementary in Erie, PA on Saturday mornings. I remember thinking that I would be doing the “cool” activities like my brother did in the Boy Scouts. You can imagine my disappointment (and that of my feminist mother) when our activities involved baking and crocheting unusable oven mitts. So after months of home-ec-ish activities, my mother gave me the option to change our Saturday morning ritual from Brownie meetings to visiting our library. Books beat Brownies.

I never made it to that coveted green uniform with the pageant sash. I never went through the rite of passage of guilting my parents’ friends and coworkers into buying cookies. And I always rolled my eyes a bit in the spring when I walked by Girl Scouts selling cookies.

Eight years ago this month while I was at work, I found out my mother died. My coworkers rallied around me offering me everything they could to comfort me, including one sweet woman who had to write for me because my hands were shaking so much I couldn’t hold a pen. I came up with my immediate plan for the day which was for my best friend to drive me to my mom’s apartment and my boyfriend (now husband) would meet us there.

But we weren’t able to leave for about an hour. I had no idea what I was going to do for an hour. I couldn’t just sit in my cubicle while my loving coworkers looked at me with such sad eyes.

My boss at the time had suffered the tragic and sudden death of his wife less than a year prior to my mom dying. I had watched him stoically deal with his own grief yet I was avoiding him because I didn’t want to hear the adages that spill out of well-intentioned people during times like these. “I’m so sorry for your loss.” “It will get easier with time.” “She isn’t in any pain anymore.”

But my boss asked me into his office and after sitting quietly for a few minutes staring out his window, he asked me if there was anything he could do. I looked around his office and saw boxes of Thin Mints. I asked him if I could have a cookie.

He opened up a sleeve of cookies and I began eating them…the whole sleeve. Maybe he had a few. I’m not sure. I just remember sitting in his office, staring out his window, eating Thin Mints and neither of us saying a word. When it was time for me to leave to go to my mother’s apartment he handed me two boxes of Thin Mints which I gladly accepted and neither of us spoke a word.

Now every spring when we see those girls with their moms selling cookies outside of the grocery store, my husband (who is the last person I know who carries cash) picks up a few boxes of Thin Mints for me. This past weekend we picked up some cookies on the last day of sales.

At some point this month, I will have a sleeve of Thin Mints with a cold glass of milk. I will toast my mother for all of her quirks, flaws and mostly for how much she loved me. And I will toast my former boss for knowing exactly what I needed that day…just some cookies and some quiet.

I am Toni’s daughter. And this is my feed.

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My mom and me being ironic at the Juliette Gordon Low house, the First Girl Scout Headquarters, in Savannah in the ’90s.