• Steven Keith

A delicious soup at Books and Brews, and equally satisfying feedback

Facebook food envy got the best of me again, when a friend posted a photo of a delicious-looking soup running as a special at Books and Brews on Charleston’s West Side.

Meatball and Cabbage Soup from Books and Brews
Meatball and Cabbage Soup from Books and Brews

“The weather is miserably cold and you’re hungry,” he taunted. “Bundle up, head over to Books and Brews, and order the meatball and cabbage soup. I promise it’s exactly what your soul needs today, or tomorrow, or Sunday, or anytime really.”


And he was right.


So I met him and another friend for a guys night out Saturday enjoying dinner and drinks, which was really fun, but was also really just a ruse to try that soup. (Sorry boys!)


It was every bit as good as advertised. Earthy, meaty and full of flavor with a silky tomato-based broth, delivering the perfect hint of spice and heat with every glorious bite.


The food, beer, service and company were all great, and I can’t wait to go back and try the fries. Both guys got a plate of them, which I may or may not have kept sneaking bites of every time they turned their heads.


They’re different since the last time I visited – thin and a little crispy, not thick and mealy – and I’ll soon be enjoying a platter all to myself.

  • IF YOU GO: Books and Brews, 222 Washington St. W. on Charleston’s West Side, is currently open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday. For more information, call 681-265-5014 or visit www.booksandbrewswv.com.


• • •


After more than 25 years writing about the local food scene, I continue to be amazed at the positive feedback I get from restaurant owners, even after publishing a review that politely points out some of their flaws.


Some are quick to call these “negative” reviews, but I always challenge them to read them again. I’m never nasty, always accentuate the positive and try to share slip-ups in a gentle, constructive way with the goal of helping these small local businesses improve.


Yum Yum Bowl from Melange Cafe
Yum Yum Bowl from Melange Cafe

I’ve honestly only had one restaurant lose their mind in more than two decades, even though my assessment of their new place was the same as I’ve described above – pointing out a few flaws, but with the overwhelming takeaway being I was really rooting for them.


The rest have been overly appreciative, understanding that you can’t fix problem you don’t know about, and sometimes it takes an objective outside observer to point those things out. Because, as restaurant owners, they juggling so many other hats as well.


Case in point.


The folks at Café Appalachia definitely “get it,” sharing these comments after last week’s mostly positive review pointed out a few dishes that, in my opinion, could be a bit better.


“Life and business are about learning and every day striving to be better than you were the day before,” the restaurant wrote in a Facebook post sharing my review.


“At Cafe Appalachia, we not only give grace to the women we train in our ReIntegr8 program, but we also ask for grace from our community when we fall short of expectations. Thank you to Steven Keith for your honesty and kindness in your delivery. It seems we have work to do, but we will get there. Thank you for your continued support!”


The president of the non-profit café’s board reached out as well, saying “We’re owning your comments and striving to be better and more consistent. Thanks for your honesty and generosity, it is much appreciated.”


Despite what some may think, it’s really difficult to publicly call out when things fall short at locally owned restaurants, knowing how difficult that industry is and how hard they’re working to overcome one obstacle after another – especially now, when COVID has dealt yet another blow.


But it’s the right thing to do, if delivered with honesty, compassion and a desire to truly help a place succeed. I’ve always strived to do that, and I promise that’s what you’ll always get from me.


• • •


I’m sure many of you have been following the amazing feel-good story of Melange Café, the Samoan-Hispanic café on the corner of Virginia and Summers streets in downtown Charleston.

Teriyaki Burger from Melange Cafe
Teriyaki Burger from Melange Cafe

After being denied an SBA loan nearly two weeks ago, owner Cathie Tuinei said she may finally have to call it quits.


That prompted Rock City Cake Company co-owner Morgan Morrison to share a beautifully heart-felt video on Facebook encouraging her army of friends and fans to flood Melange with business the next day and support a Go Fund Me that was established with a goal of raising $1,000 to help pay the bills.


Flood the place they did, with the restaurant seeing a full house and long lines for a few days afterward. (I tried to go as well, but couldn’t get in that next day.)


And that goal of raising $1,000? The fund has topped $17,000 and counting.


I finally made it down almost a week later to get that Yum Yum Bowl I’d been craving. I also spoke to Cathie, who was exhausted but overwhelmed with gratitude by the outpouring of support she received.


You’d think she’d be ready to take a break after all of those long, crazy days. But no. When I asked her what’s next, she told me Melange Café was ready to pay it forward.


“There’s another local small business out there in need now, so we hope to help them like so many people helped us.”


How awesome is that?


And speaking of awesome, Melange recently added a new Teriyaki Burger to the menu that is my next must-have obsession. Stay tuned, my friends. Stay tuned.

  • IF YOU GO: Melange Café, 700 Virginia St. E. in downtown Charleston, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 681-265-5155 or visit the restaurant’s Facebook page.

• • •


Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at www.wvfoodguy.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at wvfoodguy@aol.com.

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