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Past the Punchline So Pass the Bubbly

In the 80s-John Hughes-experience of my youth, anchovies were a punchline. “I want everything on my pizza but anchovies—yuck!” calls out from my memory of some Who’s the Boss? episode. And I know at one point, my former self believed them to be some kind of weird olive (my North Carolina, chicken-and-rice-eating childhood did not include them, needless to say). But whatever they were, I didn’t want any part of them on my pizza or my salad, right?

Boy, was I wrong.
Photo by Mac Kilduff
Photo by Mac Kilduff

It’s been years since I cooked with my first anchovy (and even longer since I’ve recalled anything about Who’s the Boss?), and yet all of this flooded my senses as I sat down to my first anchovy appetizer experience at Social in Charleston, SC. A direct homage to the juxtaposition of highbrow/lowbrow, Chef Jesse Sutton recently added them to the menu as a personal project.

“When I worked at Woodlands [Inn, now closed], Nate Whiting and I got into these sardines with bread and butter—I know, weird, right—and we would keep a case for the kitchen,” he explains. “I just kept doing it when I started here, and then the time was right to try it on the menu.”

What comes to the table is just that—a tin of Agostina Recca anchovies, presented on a plate with a ramekin of butter and some toasted baguette slices. Simple and genius. The butter mixes with the rich saltiness of the fish, and the bread balances all to help create a fun pre-dinner nosh, especially when partnered with wine pairings from Brad Ball, Social’s proprietor and wine director (and former TLP wine panel participant).

Brad took on our challenge easily, pairing two fun selections that elevate the simple tin presentation into an anticipatory promise of a special bite. (I’m a fan of the bubbles, but then again, I love bubbles! Maybe you should listen to him to make your choice):

Jagdschloss, Riesling Brut, Rheingau,  Germany ‘11  /  “This is such a cool sparkler!  It has the aromatic intensity and steely minerality of a dry Riesling, but with bubbles!  Two of my favorite wines just birthed a beautiful baby.  When paired with the anchovies, it adds a brightness and freshness to everyone’s favorite briny, canned fish.”

Skouras, Moscofilero, Peloponnese, Greece ’13  /  “This is a match made in heaven. The strong aromatic profile of anchovies can be overwhelming to some, but when a wine that is as stunningly beautifully aromatic as Moscofilero comes into the picture, this wonderful combination of the sea and fresh flowers strikes a perfect harmony. Additionally, this wine possess some weight on the palate which pairs seamlessly with the inherent fattiness of the anchovies.”

It’s time to crack open a tin and pop a cork. No more punchlines for the petite fish.

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