Coffee Bean Scene: Part 6, Christophe Artisan Chocolatier – Patissier

Coffee isn’t a choice. It has been a way of life. Ever since that fateful day my sophomore year of college when I was desperate enough for a little extra weeks during finals week, I ditched soda and sugary carbonation for the inimitable flavor and charge of that little roasted brown bean.

And whenever I travel to a new town, there three things that I have to fine in order to turn that city into a surrogate home: the local bookstore, an old bar, and an artisanal coffee shop. This blog will be a written testimony of the best coffee dens in the Holy City herself, Charleston.

Here are the basic ground rule. The establishment will be judged on the following four categories: coffee (flavor), food (variety and taste), atmosphere (presentation, seating space, music), and extra goodies (wi-fi, air conditioning, memorabilia, etc.). Also, I will exempt any national chains so as to absorb the distinct caffeinated taste of Charleston. So, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Krispy Kreme are disqualified. Without further ado, next up is…

Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier                                                                         Where: 90 Society St., Charleston, SC 29401

Coffee: 20 oz. French Press Coffee                                                                                 Given the decadent, intricate, and delightfully specific chocolate concoctions (ranging from ,but not limited to, mango rum, cinnamon, lavender caramel, strawberry marshmellow, and blue cheese), when it came to the coffee portion of my order I stuck with the traditional caffeinated beverage of France. The coffee, with a sprinkle of cream, was full bodied and flavorful (as is typical of the French press style) but it wasn’t overpowering. If your sweet tooth has drawn you into Christophe’s, then don’t be a stranger to the coffee. It’s worth indulging in.

Food: White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookie                                                                      This is a fair warning to any pedestrians out there in Charleston. You will want to spend all your money on the chocolate goods at Christophe’s. From their artisanal chocolates to their pecan pie and croissants, the kings of sweets don’t fall short on the food department. I opted for the simple yet textured white chocolate macadamia nut cookie because not only is it my favorite type of cookie, I wanted to see if Christophe’s could get a simple thing like a cookie right before I would venture out to their more ornate offerings. To put it simply, the cookie was a masterpiece. Well, as much a masterpiece as a cookie can possibly be. It was layered with flavor, had plenty of nuts and chocolate within its center, and it had the right balance of crunch and chewy. It was a refreshing relief that an artisanal and sophisticated chocolatier can do the sophisticated and the simple with such skill.

Atmosphere:                                                                                                                        As soon as one enters Christophe’s, one is underwhelmed with how little room there appears to be in the entire shop. But the chocolatier is sneaky in that regard. There is ample seating behind the building via a cute alleyway that leads to comfortable patio section. It is a clean, crisp almost clean kitchen environment throughout the interior. All the better to enjoy the magnificent snacks on a blank canvas so as to not interfere with the supernova that is about to unleash on any lucky customer’s taste buds.

Extra Goodies:                                                                                                                        Right off King Street and tucked into a inconspicuous alcove of Society Street, one can grab a quick chocolate or mousse and be ear shot of all the main shops and purveyors of downtown Charleston.

Final Ranking:                                                                                                                        Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier turns extravagant presentation and explosive taste into a science. The most remarkable thing is that all of that quality coffee and food won’t rob you of your wallet, with everything on the menu reasonable priced. However, it won’t matter. You’ll want to give them all your money after a few bites.

Coffee Bean Scene: Part 5, Kaminsky’s

Kaminsky's

Coffee isn’t a choice. It has been a way of life. Ever since that fateful day my sophomore year of college when I was desperate enough for a little extra weeks during finals week, I ditched soda and sugary carbonation for the inimitable flavor and charge of that little roasted brown bean.

And whenever I travel to a new town, there three things that I have to fine in order to turn that city into a surrogate home: the local bookstore, an old bar, and an artisanal coffee shop. This blog will be a written testimony of the best coffee dens in the Holy City herself, Charleston.

Here are the basic ground rule. The establishment will be judged on the following four categories: coffee (flavor), food (variety and taste), atmosphere (presentation, seating space, music), and extra goodies (wi-fi, air conditioning, memorabilia, etc.). Also, I will exempt any national chains so as to absorb the distinct caffeinated taste of Charleston. So, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Krispy Kreme are disqualified. Without further ado, next up is…

Kaminsky’s                                                                                                                             Where: 78 N Market St., Charleston, SC 29401

Coffee: Cappuccino                                                                                                                Standard concoction with a dash of cinnamon on the top, the cappuccino was substantially underwhelming given Kaminsky’s penchant for desserts and sweets. The bakery/bar is known for their delectable and late night chocolate fusions and delicacies, however, it seems, that same care wasn’t transplanted into the caffeinated realm. Uninspiring and substantially standard, the coffee at Kaminsky’s was just a neutral liquid to have with the main event: the sweet stuff.

Food: Snickers Chocolate Cake                                                                                            A cake version of my favorite candy bar? How could I say no. The chocolate icing combined with the caramel center with nuts and nougat allowed the slice to embody the taste and texture of the popular candy. This was just one of the numerous tempting chocolate and dessert goodies glowing under the glass near the entrance of the bakery. And with late business hours, one can indulge and imbibe in their favorite dessert or experiment with a new pie or cake at any time, day or night.

Atmosphere:                                                                                                                           And speaking of imbibing, Kaminsky’s has the environmental lighting and decor of a bar. Well, because, there’s an actual full stocked bar in the right corner. The alcohol also flows into the establishment’s speciality dessert drinks with such names as: a Kahlua Espresso, Curious George, Blush, and White Monk. And the bar mentality of dark lighting, bar stools and black tables permeates throughout the location. If there wasn’t a menu offering coffee drinks behind the dessert, one would be hard press to realize that you were standing in a coffee shop.

Extra Goodies:                                                                                                                       Desserts + Liquor + Late Hours = Good Times and Late Night Munchies.

Final Ranking:                                                                                                                        A bar and a bakery but not much of a coffee shop, Kaminsky’s is great if you’re in the Market Street district looking for a pick me up or want to split a dessert. But if you’re looking for a coffee shop or some intense java action, you are better off looking elsewhere.

Kid’s Corner: The Velveteen Rabbit

Follow a stuffed rabbit and his quest to become real at the ballet performance of The Velveteen Rabbit, part of Piccolo Spoleto. This bunny’s story has been around since 1922 and on May 27, the Charleston City Ballet is bringing it to life for children of all ages.

WHO WHAT WHERE: May 27 at 9:15am, 10:45am, and 12:15pm at the Charleston County Public Library Auditorium. Free admission.

Lord What Fools These Mortals Be: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Delights

Glitter-laced fairy dresses and artsy woodland trees filled the stage at Charleston Music Hall Wednesday night for a delightful production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by the Columbia City Ballet and directed by William Starrett.

Shakespeare’s famous comedy brings together characters in three different worlds: the lovers, the players and the fairies–all of whom are overseen by the fairy king and his loyal servant, Puck. The story consists of a love triangle that gets tangled into a knot, a fairy queen who falls in love with an actor-turned-donkey, and a mischievous fairy that manipulates the whole hullaballoo. Did you catch all that?

It comes across very successfully in this production as the dancers elegantly glide across the stage in distinct, beautifully crafted costumes made of sparkly toile and ribbons. The stand-out of the night was Puck (Philip Ingrassia) whose incredible ballet technique was heightened by his ability to portray a character who is both a manipulator and a jokester. He leaped into the air for jump after jump and kept the audience on his side as he caused all kinds of trouble.

Helena (Anna Porter) and Nick Bottom (Wayland Anderson) had excellent comedic presences on stage, including their exaggerated facial expressions and large movements. Hermia (Laura Lunde), Lysander (David Ligon) and Demetrius (Maurice Johnson) danced together beautifully, with a sense of youthfulness and love that fit this production perfectly. Oberon (Journy Wilkes-Davis) and Titania (Claire McCaa) gracefully carried each other through the ballet, in sequences of flowery duets.

The story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is truly a comedy in this ballet interpretation, and the themes of unrequited love and mischievous behavior are humorous. Because this dramatic nature takes center stage, this production is an absolute joy to watch. It is light-hearted, beautiful and bursting with magic and glitter, all of which leads its characters to finding true love and makes for a lovely evening.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays at Charleston Music Hall at 7:30 pm May 28-29.

 

Coffee Bean Scene: Part 4, City Lights Coffee

City Lights Coffee

Coffee isn’t a choice. It has been a way of life. Ever since that fateful day my sophomore year of college when I was desperate enough for a little extra weeks during finals week, I ditched soda and sugary carbonation for the inimitable flavor and charge of that little roasted brown bean.

And whenever I travel to a new town, there three things that I have to fine in order to turn that city into a surrogate home: the local bookstore, an old bar, and an artisanal coffee shop. This blog will be a written testimony of the best coffee dens in the Holy City herself, Charleston.

Here are the basic ground rule. The establishment will be judged on the following four categories: coffee (flavor), food (variety and taste), atmosphere (presentation, seating space, music), and extra goodies (wi-fi, air conditioning, memorabilia, etc.). Also, I will exempt any national chains so as to absorb the distinct caffeinated taste of Charleston. So, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Krispy Kreme are disqualified. Without further ado, next up is…

City Lights Coffee                                                                                                              Where: 141 North Market St., Charleston, SC 29401

Coffee: Caramel mocha coffee milkshake                                                                                A concoction that I’ve never come across, the coffee milkshake (which they have white chocolate and dark chocolate as well) is dripping with caffeinated decadence and sweet tooth adrenaline. In the hot Charleston daytime, the milkshake was the perfect remedy for a dry mouth. The coffee was spot on with a soothing coffee kick buried by caramel and mocha goodness. Even though the bean itself was covered by the powerful flavors of caramel and mocha, the coffee bean was distinct and had gentle touch. Which is fitting given the cozy confines of City Lights (but more on that later). City Lights’ beverages can best be described as coffee comfort food. From the aforementioned milkshake to the assorted frappes, lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, and macchiatos, City Lights’ palette is like the Charlie Chaplin film that shares its namesake: light, frothy, romantic and ultimately feel good.

Food: Coconut Cake                                                                                                               Sweet and with the right balance of cake and coconut flakes, the coconut cake was a soft pillow to accompany the cool blanket provided by the caramel mocha coffee milkshake. The cake wasn’t too moist or too dry and was of almost Goldilocks proportions: just right. Also available on the menu were forests of croissants, scones, muffins and bagels ripe for the plucking. Several sandwiches and panini are available as well such as the roast beef tuscan and roasted chicken on focaccia. City Lights Coffee’s food is equivalent to their coffee in that it is full of warmth and personality often lacking in the get-in-get-out coffee houses around town.

Atmosphere:                                                                                                                           With the right levels of space, wood color and tone, lighting, and kitsch, the City Lights Coffee’s interior design appears like the kitchen of the cool grandma one always wanted. Custom multicolored mugs and dishes line the upper line of the back counter, hanging just above where the coffee machinery and espresso maker reside. The main countertop hugs the majority of the room with no more than five or six tables filling up the remainder of the shop. The tight interior is a plus considering the loving personalities of the owner and employees, the colorful glassware, and the walls bedecked with custom signage enables City Lights Coffee to become Charleston’s friendly neighborhood coffee house. Where everyone can know, and probably will soon learn, your name.

Extra Goodies:                                                                                                                       Besides the standard wifi, the real extra goodies are the coffee milkshakes mentioned before. Sweet, delectable and a near perfect antidote to the onslaught of the Holy City humidity, the coffee milkshake is a singular creation of City Lights that I haven’t encountered anywhere else in town.

Final Ranking:                                                                                                                        Warm and inviting like the coffee they sell, City Lights Coffee is of a different breed from those around town. Where others feel like shops and coffee business, City Lights feels like a home. Where else does the barista behind the counter after serving people goes in the corner and practices riffs on the ukulele? No where. If one’s looking for a “usual place” for coffee, one would be hard pressed to find a better place to set up cafe roots.

 

Review: The Universal Language of Romantic Composers

“The Universal Language of Romantic Composers” kicked off Spotlight Concert Series in Piccolo Spoleto Festival on May 23. Consisting of three pieces composed by Schubert, Myaskovsky and Fauré, the one-hour concert was performed by two pairs of couples: local artists Micah Gangwer (violin) and Rachel Gangwer (viola), along with James Waldo (cello) and Alyona Aksyonova (piano) who are based in New York City.

These three works by Austrian, Russian and French composers vary in style from one to the other, even though they are under the same general genre of “romanticism.”

Although it is an unfinished composition, “String Trio in B-flat Major, D. 471” shows Schubert’s sense in mastering the romantic style. Written at the age of nineteen, the String Trio stands out with a delightful gorgeous atmosphere. If must be compared to something, it tastes like sparkling lemonade. This piece breathes energy, and actually, as we were so close to the musicians, their breath could be heard during the performance, all at the same time between rhythms.

Myaskovsky’s “Sonata for cello and piano No.2 in a minor, Op. 81” was finished in 1948, near the end of the composer’s life. It is highly emotional at a time when romanticism was out of fashion. Facing with all sorts of problems, Russia was trying to recover from the trauma of World War II. Sorrowful and heavy, the first movement is filled with deep mutters and outpourings. And then, in the following two movements, power comes in. Waldo’s cello and Aksyonova’s piano led alternately, and accompanied each other. The couple was featured in Piccolo Spoleto last year, performing the “Rachmaninoff Sonata for cello and piano.”

Waldo introduced Fauré’s “Piano Quartet No.2 in g minor, Op.45” and called it a roller-coaster with conversation of strings and the piano. He said there are too many melodies to track. He also described it as dramatic romanticism, cool and colorful. The performers changed smiles and obviously enjoyed playing together. Piano became more and more prominent during this period and the combination with strings made a beautiful ending to the program.

14 chamber music concerts will be presented in Spotlight Concert Series through Friday, June 6. See the completed schedule at http://www.piccolospoleto.com/?cat=17

Insher Pan is a Goldring Arts journalist from Syracuse University.

 

Coffee Bean Scene: Part 3, Black Tap Coffee

Black Tap Coffee
Coffee isn’t a choice. It has been a way of life. Ever since that fateful day my sophomore year of college when I was desperate enough for a little extra weeks during finals week, I ditched soda and sugary carbonation for the inimitable flavor and charge of that little roasted brown bean.

And whenever I travel to a new town, there three things that I have to fine in order to turn that city into a surrogate home: the local bookstore, an old bar, and an artisanal coffee shop. This blog will be a written testimony of the best coffee dens in the Holy City herself, Charleston.

Here are the basic ground rule. The establishment will be judged on the following four categories: coffee (flavor), food (variety and taste), atmosphere (presentation, seating space, music), and extra goodies (wi-fi, air conditioning, memorabilia, etc.). Also, I will exempt any national chains so as to absorb the distinct caffeinated taste of Charleston. So, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Krispy Kreme are disqualified. Without further ado, next up is…

Black Tap Coffee                                                                                                                  Where: 70 1/2 Beaufain St., Charleston, SC 29401

Coffee: Slow drip dark roast coffee from Papua New Guinea.                                              Dark and enticing as a grand adventure, the bean at Black Tap is full bodied and potent. The flavor lingers on the tongue and feels like one is reacquainting themselves with an old friend. Wrapped in a a thorough embrace of the coffee palette, Black Tap are consummate task masters on the journey to cafe nirvana.

Food: Cinnamon Coffee Cake                                                                                                 A fitting accompaniment to the dark and stout slow drip splendor frolicking in my mouth. The coffee cake was chewy and sweet in wholesome bites but fragile enough to pick off little bits. Though the coffee cake was scrumptious, the food options at Black Tap are minimal with a handful of cookies, cakes, scones and croissants available to purchase. Make no mistake, Black Tap throw their coffee mixology skills around. They are skilled samurai in the arts of the coffee bean. There is no time for inconsequential things like sandwiches, parfaits and biscuits when caffeinated greatness is on the line.

Atmosphere:                                                                                                                          A minimalist outlay and decor cover the black and brown tables, chairs and counters inside the modest sized storefront. The aroma, indie music bouncing off the walls, and good cheer is given plenty of room to move, however. Huge expanses of natural light opens upon the inhabitants of the coffee shop through the expansive front windows. Vintage black and white home photos line the wall. It is a classic feel in an establishment striving to be on the cutting edge of caffeinated elixirs.

Extra Goodies:                                                                                                                       Tucked in a residential corner of Beaufain Street and just a stones throw away from the hustle and bustle of the College of Charleston’s campus and the King Street retail row, Black Tap Coffee nearly guarantees a quiet and relaxing coffee sanctuary. There is wifi but surrounded by private residences, it is hard to find the internet stream. Overall, Black Tap Coffee is for the no nonsense coffee drinker. The guys behind the counter are mad scientists intent on perfecting their concoctions for optimum bean explosion. We are lucky enough to taste the results.

 

SPAMALOT! – Review

After the second trip to Woolfe Street Playhouse I didn’t think I’d ever get to see SPAMALOT. You see, it was sold out. Both nights.

But third time’s the charm, as they say. I finally got a chance to sit in the audience and hear the music queue up from the stage side of the large wooden doors separating the audience from the lobby. It wasn’t long before I got to see firsthand why the show had been sold out for the first two nights of its run.

SPAMALOT is a musical comedy based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a spoof on the legends of King Arthur. SPAMALOT differs from the movie in many ways, which makes the play a unique experience.

The first thing you notice when you get past those large doors is the space around the theatre. The space is intimate and comfortable, projecting a sense of being at home (although this space comes with a bar in the back). The set design was simple and well-constructed. A castle facade served as the point of entry for a number of locales visited by the cast.

The production at Woolfe Street Playhouse featured a talented cast that took on the ridiculous nature of SPAMALOT with enthusiasm and joy. King Arthur (Josh Wilhoit) and the Lady of the Lake (Becca Anderson) stood out in particular for their comedic timing and powerful singing.

But they only had one role. Robbie Thomas had four. Thomas performed as Lancelot, a Knight of Ni, a French Taunter and Tim. Each role was handled with the necessary hilarity of SPAMALOT and left you walking out still singing, His name is Lancelot/And in tight pants a lot/He likes to dance a lot.

Lara Allred’s choreography utilized the intimate space well. My field of vision always had something to enjoy as the principle cast, Laker Girls and Ensemble Knights “rode horses,” danced and spun about.

With six more shows to catch I wouldn’t be surprised if their track record of sold-out shows continues. Hopefully you won’t have to make the trip three times like I did, but I will say that it is worth it.

Produced By: Village Repertory
Shows: May 24, 30, 31, June 4, 6 at 7:00pm; June 1 at 2:00pm; June 7at 8:00pm
Venue: Woolfe Street Playhouse, 34 Woolfe Street
Admission: $35 adults, $30 seniors, $25 students

 

Coffee Bean Scene: Part 2, Whisk

Whisk logo

Coffee isn’t a choice. It has been a way of life. Ever since that fateful day my sophomore year of college when I was desperate enough for a little extra weeks during finals week, I ditched soda and sugary carbonation for the inimitable flavor and charge of that little roasted brown bean.

And whenever I travel to a new town, there three things that I have to fine in order to turn that city into a surrogate home: the local bookstore, an old bar, and an artisanal coffee shop. This blog will be a written testimony of the best coffee dens in the Holy City herself, Charleston.

Here are the basic ground rule. The establishment will be judged on the following four categories: coffee (flavor), food (variety and taste), atmosphere (presentation, seating space, music), and extra goodies (wi-fi, air conditioning, memorabilia, etc.). Also, I will exempt any national chains so as to absorb the distinct caffeinated taste of Charleston. So, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Krispy Kreme are disqualified. Without further ado, next up is…

Whisk                                                                                                                                       Where: 209 Meeting St., Charleston, SC 29401

Coffee: Iced Crème Brûlée Latte                                                                                            I’ll admit this order seemed like an extravagant choice when I approached the counter to order. But this seeming luxury was well worth diving into and trying (other speciality lattes in house include Cinnamon Dulce, Butternut Rum, and the ever favorite Pumpkin Spice). A velvet smooth kiss with a kick, this latte is a among the cavalcade of taste bud treats available. As opposed to more traditional earthy roasts, the bean purveyors’s concoctions at Whisk will seduce you more and more with each subsequent visit.

Food: Sticky Bun                                                                                                                    A satisfying combo with the iced coffee, the sticky bun was a sweet blanket intermixed with the crunchy texture of the pecan bits. Other food offerings include the standard assortment of pastries and parfaits.

Atmosphere:                                                                                                                          The interior of the shop looks like a model kitchen from a Hope Depot with an eclectic mix of colorful furniture, clear tables, and black and white patterned tile. It is a crisp and clean surrounding decorated with a natural contrast of glass containers filled with plants and various fruits and vegetables so as to present a vibrant, healthy tone. The music playing throughout the building were classic rock staples from the 1950s through 1980s. Not too jarring but wish the playlist included more alternative soundscapes and artists. Overall, Whisk is an idyllic refuge from the zoo of a tourist trap of Hyman’s Seafood up the block.

Extra Goodies:                                                                                                                      Fruit smoothies are king at Whisk. With such intoxicating drink names as Immunity Please (strawberries, blueberries, bananas, ginger), East Bay Breeze (cranberries, strawberries, pineapple, apple), and Surfer’s Delight (oranges, strawberries, pineapples, bananas), you can have a quality smoothie for each day of the work week. And the healthy staples don’t stop there with plenty of fresh custom juices on the menu. The seating is comfortable. There is plenty of natural light from the Charleston streetscape. And, there is wifi for the work and social media obsessed.    

Final Ranking:                                                                                                                         Though the coffee isn’t as strong as I’d like, the number of flavors, speciality drinks, and amount of fresh ingredients in their coffee and fruit drinks elevates Whisk into a quality hangout. The dozens of tourists and seafood connoisseurs that sit outside of Hyman’s Seafood every afternoon should move a couple hundred feet down the block, their wait will be a mini-haven from the Charleston sun.