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Best Bites BB&T Charleston Wine + Food: The Year of Pimento Cheese

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Photo courtesy of CWFF
Celebrating in the Culinary Village / Photo courtesy of the Charleston Wine and Food Festival

The BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival has come and gone again (this time celebrating its tenth anniversary) and once again, we ate and drank our way through as many events as possible. It was wonderful to see familiar faces, meet new ones, and celebrate the connections that food forges for us.

But let’s get right down to it. While we won’t forget the good times we had, we won’t forget how good these dishes were, either. Here are our best bites from the festival. Enjoy, and hope to see you there next year. We hope you like pimento cheese

Chef Ian Boden’s Pimento Cheese Gnocchi, Rabbit Gravy, and Smoked Cured Egg Yolk / The Local Palate presents Shacking Up

Ok, so we are starting out the list with a choice from our own event, but if you tasted this dish, you’d understand. Satisfying, salty, and smoky in just a couple of bites, we didn’t think pimento cheese could get any better. It can, especially when transformed into gnocchi by Chef Ian Boden.

Chef John Ondo‘s Borscht Oxtail / Signature Dinner at Lana with Chef Matt McCallister from FT33

This was the third of five courses at Lana‘s signature dinner on Saturday night. Everything was excellent from both Ondo and Guest Chef Matt McCallister, but the Borscht was unexpected—beautiful in its red color, sweet with beets and caramelized onion, and texturally layered in a lovely way. Adding a goat cheese perogi was a solid move.

Fresh Cracklins with Pimento Cheese / Artisan Meat Share Pop-Up

The second pimento cheese item to make the list (hey, we are Southern) these warm cracklins topped with ooey, gooey housemade cheese weren’t very photogenic but that is a good thing because they were gobbled up by the crowd as fast as Chefs Craig Deihl and Bob Cook could pass them out. These guys know what they are doing at Artisan Meat Share, and so while we weren’t surprised they provided a best bite, we are surprised at how many we had, regardless of the calorie count.

Chef Jeremy Ashby’s Crispy Bourbon Tilefish / Signature Dinner at Magnolias with Chef Donald Drake

This really was an outstanding dinner all around (including a serenade of “Summertime” from Porgy & Bess!), but this course was a definite stand out. Chef Ashby persuaded Matt Jamie of Bourbon Barrel Foods to smoke Weisenberger Mill grits, and they were the basis for a dish that had a lot going on—including green tomato-moonshine chutney—but still managed to showcase the perfectly cooked tilefish as it deserved to be.

Chef Anne Quatrano’s Summerland Farm Spring Herb Frittata / Southern Betty Brunch 

Photo by Andrew Cebulka
Chef Anne Quatrano's Summerland Farm Spring Herb Frittata / Photo by Andrew Cebulka

There was one word for this: beautiful. It was delicate with mild herbs and a perfectly creamy texture, and when we complimented the chef on its outstanding nature, she said, “It’s all because of these beautiful eggs. I just wanted to showcase them,” and pointed to the pastel-hued specimens from Summerland Farms (a sister property to her restaurants) that decorated her table. For comments such as this, she will always be Queen Anne to us.

Southern Dim Sum, with Cheeky Bao, Radish Dumplings, and Benne Peanut Balls from Chef Phoebe Lawless / Southern Betty Brunch 

Another installment from the Southern Betty Brunch, we couldn’t help but include it because of the amount of the “What part was your favorite?” debate heard murmured throughout the brunch: Taking a cue from the dim sum tradition, this plate was three small bites, but let us settle the argument … that Radish Dumpling was the standout. Reminiscent of Chinese take-out egg rolls, but light years better, we wish we could order a dozen by phone anytime in the same fashion. What do you think Phoebe?

Southern Sweet Corn Cake with Jalapeño Bacon, Pimento Cheese, Collard Green Pesto and Quail Egg from the The Southern Steak and Oyster in Nashville, TN / Baker Motor Company Grand Tasting Tent

It was Sunday, and we shouldn’t have had room for more pimento cheese, but one staff member unabashedly reported that she had to have “three of these just to make sure that they were as good as I thought they were.” It had a sturdy base in the sweet corn cake, which also acted as a perfect foil to the spicy bacon. Need we go on? It was all good things together making a better thing, and isn’t that the meaning of a “best bite” to begin with? A true Sunday power player.