Shrimp and Grits Showdown Round 2: SWAMP FOX

(Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar)

As Georgia (Nic Bell) and New Orleans (Briana Prevost) natives, we know authentic Southern food. Naturally, coming to Charleston as Spoleto festival reporters meant finding the best food in the low country. Our mission started with one simple goal in mind: finding (and eating) the best bowl of shrimp and grits in the city. Our next stop in our bi-weekly Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Swamp Fox Restaurant & Bar.  

Swamp Fox Restaurant & Bar, located inside the historic Francis Marion hotel, is the epitome of Southern charm. White tablecloths, ornate settings and beautiful china, rich mahogany and Southern gentility abounds in the dining room. Nestled in the corner of the restaurant was a grand piano pumping out contemporary songs and setting the mood for a wonderfully relaxing brunch. On to Round Two!

Nick’s picks: First and foremost, as a restaurant in Charleston, shrimp and grits should be on your menu all day everyday, breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and nightcap. Am I right? Well, the Swamp Fox doesn’t disappoint. When B and I ordered, we each were presented with a steaming, delicious bowl of Southern gritty goodness.

Creamy, smooth grits were topped with plump, perfectly opaque shrimp. Throughout the velvetiness, red and yellow bell peppers provided a subtle sweetness and texture. Pepper jack cheese was sprinkled over the top and provided just enough depth of flavor, but it wasn’t overpowering for the delicate shrimp or grits.

Shrimp and grits in Charleston seems to come served with a signature gravy pooled over the top of the dish, and while the grits at Husk was overpowered by the smoked tomato gravy, the grits at the Swamp Fox were elevated with its lobster and Tasso ham gravy. Rich and decadent, it provided a deliciously briny seafood flavor that only heightened the flavor of the shrimp. Morsels of Tasso ham definitely didn’t hurt the dish. It may have provided too much richness for an otherwise deftly executed dish, but the flavors melded together beautifully and left me completely satisfied.

B’s business: After trying the first batch of shrimp and grits from Husk, I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when this batch came out as I scoped the contents of its bowl. Automatically, the gravy reminded me of popular New Orleans bases for remoulade or etouffee, which was exciting – until I saw the red and green bell peppers and my skepticism was amplified.

But upon first bite of the smooth, soft grits with just Swamp Fox’s Lobster and Tasso Ham Gravy, I thought, “now this is what grits should taste like!” The savory grits were cooked just so that the pepperjack cheese blended into the grits without stringing and separating from its parent ingredient. Not too salty, yet not at all bland thanks to the rich flavors from the gravy, the grits were the main delight in this dish – as they should be.

Although originally doubtful, the other contents within the grits were surprisingly agreeable to the palette. The onions were sautéed just right as to taste a hint of carmelization while the sautéed bell peppers supplemented the slightly sweet flavor in contrast to the savory taste of the thick grits they sat atop.

The shrimp, however, was not worth adding to the rest of the medley of flavors in the bowl. Tastlessly too fishy, the shrimp was also translucent and tough. By the end of my meal, each piece of seafood had been pushed to the side of my bowl, leaving me to enjoy the tasso ham as the meaty counterpoint for my grits consumption.

Expect the unexpected:

Nic’s pick: The bread pudding was all kinds of decadent, but it wasn’t nearly as heavy or dense as some that I’ve had before. Inundated with raisins, the vanilla custard was subtly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Delicious and unctuous, the bread pudding is definitely not something to be missed.

B’s business: The bread pudding was not terribly drenched in a cream based finishing sauce, this warm dessert-for-breakfast had just enough cinnamon and dryness to the dough to be considered a mushier version of French toast. It included a New Orleans favorite ingredient – raisins – dispersed perfectly throughout the pudding as to not overpower any of its simple tasting pleasures.

Robot Candy Co. store closing

One of the first places that caught my attention on King Street was the Robot Candy Co., with its large T-Rex in the window, and eponymous machines on display. It was exactly the kind of place I’d like to shop for candy, inviting me to explore that kid-centered part of my brain that wishes to really just make things and eat sugar.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I learned they were closing.
However, as reported in March by the Post and Courier, the store will be closing as the owners search for a new location in the downtown area. Until then, if you want to get their quirky and tasty candy, you’ll have to stock up before June 1st, or make the trip out to their Mt. Pleasant location.

Check out this panorama of the current store’s setup before it disappears.

Robot Candy Co.
Mount Pleasant
Belle Hall Shopping Center
Mt. Pleasant SC 29464
robotcandy.net

Getting to Know a Couple of “Reformed Whores”

 “Reformed Whores” will be running at Theatre 99 in Charleston as part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival from May 24-28. The musical comedy duo, Katy Frame and Marie Cecile Anderson, perform songs about love and life in what they describe as a “raunchy country-western hoedown.”

Listen to an audio clip of the two “Reformed Whores” talking and singing about their show. (Audio by Christina Riley)

Who are the “Reformed Whores”?
Frame: We are a musical comedy duo, singing in a country western style. We have an hour long show we do. It’s full of raunchy fun, which incorporates music into a raunchy hoedown.

How did the duo come to be? 

The two ladies of "Reformed Whores"

The two ladies of “Reformed Whores.”
Photo: Christina Riley


Frame: Marie Anderson and I met at a mutual friend’s birthday party about three years ago. We started talking about music, and she found out I play the accordion and she plays the ukulele. And we thought we should start a band and it really started organically from there.

Are there any other “Reformed Whores” in your band?
Frame: No, it’s just us. We play the accordion and the ukulele. But on our CD, we do have a full band.

Where does the inspiration for your songs come from?
Frame: Definitely from real life experiences—break ups, relationships, things that have been bugging us that we think should be talked about more… things that I think are relatable to both men and women, but we are girls so it’s things that are from a female perspective.

How would you describe the genre of music you play?
Frame: I would say country-western comedy.

How would you describe your performance?
Frame: It’s kind of a concert but it’s also very theatrical depending on the performance.

How did the name “Reformed Whores” come about?
Frame: Actually, my roommate had a playlist on her computer and it was titled Reformed Whores and I loved it. I loved the concept. I brought it into Marie when we were looking for names and it just really made a lot of sense for what we were talking about.

Taking a spin on the Auto-Banh

The last thing I expected to see in True Value’s parking lot on East Bay this past Wednesday was a large purple truck.  But there it was, the Auto-Banh Vietnamese Sandwich food truck. It smelled delicious, so, I stopped to read the massive chalkboard that served as a menu affixed to the side of the vehicle.

There were people milling around, but not a big crowd. A generator hummed nearby. Getting in line, I was helped very quickly, and ordered a lemongrass chicken sandwich.

The combination of crunchy pickled carrots, daikon radish, cabbage, and cucumbers with the soft bread worked in keeping my taste buds excited for the surprisingly fresh cilantro boldly keeping its own flavor above the mayo and nuoc chom. If those were the only contents of the sandwich, it would still have been delightful to devour. But there was the chicken, which added warmth and subtle sweetness to the sandwich that sealed the deal.

Given a tasty, memorable lunch with quick and pleasant service, I’ll be sure to find them again in Charleston.

The Auto-Banh Vietnamese Sandwich truck can be found online on Twitter, Facebook, or their at auto-banh.com.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Round 1 HUSK

(Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar)

As Georgia (Nic Bell) and New Orleans (Briana Prevost) natives, we know authentic Southern food. Naturally, coming to Charleston as Spoleto festival reporters meant finding the best food in the low country. Our mission started with one simple goal in mind: finding (and eating) the best bowl of shrimp and grits in the city. Our first stop in our bi-weekly Shrimp and Grits Showdown was Husk.

Voted as GQ’s best new restaurant of 2011, Husk has been awarded many accolades, both from locals and critics alike, but it does have a reputation for being a little inconsistent. Our immediate reaction to Husk was how gorgeous it was. Situated in an old antebellum house, complete with a two tier wraparound porch, the restaurant had a rustic feeling with dark wooden floors and butcher block topped tables. Even the dishes were rustic and earthen.

Nic’s picks: When our shrimp and grits arrived, I was a little confused by the contents of the bowl. Perched atop the grits were wonderfully plump and tender shrimp, but it was all bathed in a disturbing amount of a tomato sauce. Included in the dish was peppers, onions, peas, and smoked pork.

The grits were velvet smooth and satisfying, not as gritty as most grits I’ve had, but not too watery. The smoked peppers, onions, and peas were a pleasant surprise, but the tomato was heavy handed and overpowered the subtle taste and texture of the star ingredient, the grits.

I appreciated the smoky flavor of both the pork and the tomatoes, but the overwhelming amount of tomatoes, in my opinion, ruined a perfectly good dish.

B’s business: Husk’s shrimp and grits comes in a huge bowl fitting for its contents. Comprised not only of shrimp and grits, but also a bed of peas, chives and tomatoes with tomato gravy sat atop the white corn confection.

Although a bit gritty, the grits were cooked just long enough and with just enough butter to be enjoyed by itself. The peas added an extra unexpected mini burst of flavor when combined with the subtle taste of cheese, however, the overpowering taste of the tomato and its juices took away any chance this dish had at making it an enjoyable hodgepodge of southern flavor.

Too bad too, the best part about Husk’s shrimp and grits was the shrimp. Jumbo and plump, the shrimp reigned supreme as both meaty enough to make this dish edible as a main course, yet flavorful on its own merits.

Expect the unexpected:

Nic’s picks: The cornbread. Studded with bits of bacon and topped with sea salt, this was a delicious compliment to the creaminess of the grits.

The burger. It’s not a stretch to say that this was the best burger I’ve ever eaten. Soft, supple bun, perfectly melted cheese, briny pickles, and pungent mustard for a great burger make. Also serve with potato wedges and homemade ketchup (which was delicious, and also coming from a man that HATES ketchup).

B’s business: Another unexpected treat was the cornbread. Baked with bacon and basked in butter, this cornbread had more of a savory fill than sweet but was just as moist as should be. For any sweet toothers (like myself) a slather of Husk’s Portland butter on the cornbread will fix this problem. And as the sweet butter melts into the cornbread, so will the cornbread into your mouth.

King Street Storefronts Get Festive

The entire city is preparing for the start of Spoleto, and the stores on King Street are no exception. With storefronts containing the festival poster and window displays inspired by it’s aesthetic for Spoleto Festival USA’s merchant contest, the shops on King Street are certainly showing their Spoleto pride.

Juicy Couture is promoting the festival with this simple window cling.

Juicy Couture

Shooz has installed this series of hanging pentagons inspired by this year’s poster.

Shooz

Copper Penny decked out both window displays with Spoleto colors and shapes.

Copper Penny 1

Copper Penny 2

American Apparel ran with the colors and shapes from the Spoleto poster.

American Apparel

Francesca’s surrounded their hand-stitched poster with orange products. 

Luna's

Spot any more festive window displays on King Street?
Send us your photos on twitter @SpoletoChas!

Southern Eats: Butcher & Bee

A restaurant review by Nick DeSantis

Butcher & Bee doesn’t have the most inviting entrance. Set far back from the road on 654 King Street past a barbed-wire fence, the sandwich shop’s humble exterior would be easily missed by a passerby if it weren’t for the restaurant’s circular logo unassumingly painted right above the door.

Those that stroll through the entrance, however, are instantly greeted with a relaxed, stylishly hodgepodge atmosphere. With no two metal seats looking like they match, the décor seems as if it were cobbled together from a scrap heap of chairs, stools and large, wooden tables of assorted heights.

In fact, the space’s high-ceiling and weathered interior makes it seem as if a sandwich joint popped up within an old factory. There is not a single whiff of high-brow pretension about Butcher & Bee (right down to the rolls of paper towels provided in lieu of napkins), but make no mistake: the food is truly premium, gourmet quality.

Butcher & Bee’s focus on fresh, local ingredients is evident in their curated menu, which is carefully scrawled out daily on a wall-sized chalkboard. It offers a limited number of eight sandwiches for lunch, but the selection changes daily and definitely slants more towards the unique rather than the familiar.

The Chana Masala sandwich, for example, brings together spiced chick peas, coconut jam and tomato curry within two halves of a deliciously brittle ciabatta roll to create a dinner plate sized Indian inspired sandwich that packed a spicy kick even when a bulk of my bites proved to be a bit too bready.

The best bet on the menu at the time I visited (12:30 p.m. to be exact, before the lunch rush, but after four sandwiches had already sold out), was the Korean Shortrib. It was a messy endeavor, with juicy short ribs slathered in spicy slaw and crowned with a fried egg within a spongy, absorbent brioche roll.

The sticky hands and balls of paper towel required to down this thing will be forgiven once the explosive flavor of the first taste is experienced. It’s even worth its rather hefty $12 pricetag, which will sadly be responsible for relegating this selection as an occasional indulgence rather than a lunchtime standby.

A selection of quirky beverages (like a surprisingly good cucumber soda), and simple, flavorful side dishes like a tasty asparagus and garlic and a fresh kale slaw round out the abbreviated menu, earning Butcher & Bee all of the local raves and national accolades it has received from publications such as GQ, New York Magazine and Food & Wine since it opened only 2 years ago.

Tourists and locals with plump wallets looking to reward their midday hunger with a unique Charleston original will find their lunchtime salvation with Butcher & Bee.

Festivals: They’re for the dogs

No, really. It’s not just people from around the country who flock to Charleston for Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto.

And here to prove it, the Dogs of Charleston blog:

Dogs of Charleston

 This blog is the brainchild of Greg Cwik, one of the Goldring Arts Journalists in town covering the festival. As Greg and the other reporters travel about the city, they capture photos of and facts about four-legged festivalgoers for your viewing pleasure. Dogs like Lucy:

Lucy the golden retriever

So check out Dogs of Charleston, and, if you’re feeling ambitious,
submit your own Spoleto-pup snapshop!

Following the Festivals on Twitter

If you’re planning to follow along with the Spoleto USA and Piccolo Spoleto Festival on Twitter this year, be sure to check out our list of must-follow accounts so you get the most up-to-date festival news right in your Twitter feed.

Twitter Bird

For local coverage of the festival, follow the Post and Courier at @postandcourier, and its designated Spoleto account, @spoletochas.

A group of 15 arts journalism master’s students from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School are in town covering the festivals for the Post and Courier. Follow them here: Josh Austin, Nic Bell, Lucia Camargo, Paige Cooperstein, Greg CwikNick DeSantis, Melanie Deziel, Joseph DiDomizioXiaoran DingVinny Huang, Zach Marschall, Alyssa Nappa, Eesha PatkarBriana Prevost and Christina Riley.

You can also subscribe to this Twitter list containing all the arts journalists.

Festival announcements and information will come from the official accounts of Spoleto USA (@SpoletoFestival) and Piccolo Spoleto (@Piccolo_Spoleto).

If you’re looking for other information about the city while you’re in town, follow @CityCharleston@EventCharleston@ExploreCHS and @HistoricChas. To get the weather forecast for Charleston right on your Twitter feed, try CharlestonWeather at @chswx.

 Got another suggestion of a festival must-follow account?
Tweet your suggestions to @spoletochas!