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  • Writer's pictureSteven Keith

A special Juneteenth dinner and pepperoni roll winners

If you’re one of those people who complain there’s never anything to do in Charleston, you need to know this: You drive me bananas.







On any given day or night or weekend there are multiple fun things to do around town – so much so that I’m often left agonizing over which events to make and which I’ll have to miss.


Such was the case this past Friday night, when I was crushed – CRUSHED, I say – that I couldn’t stay for West Virginia’s first Juneteenth farm-to-table dinner featuring black businesses, farmers and chefs.


Braised short ribs and grits (Photo by Rafael Barker)
Braised short ribs and grits (Photo by Rafael Barker)

I was able to swing by the start of the event at Capitol Market to witness nearly 100 guests sipping wine and grooving to a smokin’ set by visiting DJ Delecta, who was in town to perform at Saturday’s Wine and Jazz Music Festival at the University of Charleston.


It was this whole amazing vibe, I’m telling you, but I had to leave for another obligation before guests were treated to this praise-worthy four-course menu under the market’s outdoor pavilion.


  • First course: fried green tomato with corn salsa, cotija cheese and spicy dill remoulade

  • Second course: nested salad with buttermilk fried oysters, deviled egg, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, mixed greens, focaccia croutons and BBQ vinaigrette

  • Third course: tender braised short ribs and grits with Southern-style collard greens, caramelized onions and green onions

  • Fourth course: watermelon sorbet


Even though I missed out on those good eats, I have it on good authority (from several friends and foodies in the crowd) that the plates were fantastic and the inaugural event was a resounding success. I sure hope they do it again next year.


Fried green tomatoes (Photo by Rafael Barker)
Fried green tomatoes (Photo by Rafael Barker)

Organized by Dem 2 Brothers & A Grill’s incomparable Chef Ke, the dinner also highlighted the talents of farmers Donnie Hairston of Mr. Joe’s, Nicole Edwards of Heritage Mountain Berries and Third Eye Bee Company, and Jason Tartt of T&T Organics and Appalachian Gold.


“This event is special to me because it represents an opportunity to contradict so many of the misrepresentations of African Americans – especially farmers,” Chef Ke said.


“I am so proud and happy to showcase the work of Black farmers and to emphasize and exemplify the beauty and freshness of African American cuisine and soul food.”


These pepperoni rolls reign supreme


The night before that special Juneteenth dinner, I was having a hot time on the Kanawha Boulevard as I joined a talented team of fellow food writers and chefs to help judge the best pepperoni rolls at this year’s Rolls on the River Festival downtown on Thursday evening.


Winner! Charleston Convention Center & Coliseum
Winner! Charleston Convention Center & Coliseum

By the time all was said and done, we tasted, tested and re-tasted a dozen rolls to pick our favorites in both the traditional and non-traditional pepperoni roll categories. And, drumroll please …


Our winner in the traditional category was the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center, which served a delicious roll featuring thin dough wrapped around sliced pepperoni and cheese.


On the non-traditional front, we gave the nod to the “pestoroni” roll from Oh My Greens featuring thin bread filled with pepperoni and topped with a healthy dollop of their signature micro-green pesto.


But there were others I liked, too.


Winner! "Pestoroni" roll from Oh My Greens
Winner! "Pestoroni" roll from Oh My Greens

As is protocol in most food-tasting competitions, we conducted a blind judging of all entries so we weren’t swayed by knowing whose food we were tasting.


That made it really fun (and very eye-opening) when we later learned who made each entry – and then referred back to our notes to see whether we did or didn’t like them, and why?


In the non-traditional category, the Daily Dose Café’s rolls packed a nice bit of heat and D.P. Dough’s small pepperoni knots offered a a good overall balance of bread, pepperoni, seasoning and heat.


Among traditional entries, Wild N’ Wonderful Rolls had a solid contender thanks to a housemade bread recipe they have worked hard to perfect. I also really appreciated newcomer Montenaro Cakery’s yeasty pepperoni rolls (served in cute little pastry boxes!) and I thought St. Timothy’s Church had a nice overall roll.


And yes, I know there are folks reading this right now who are absolutely losing their minds over the thought of the classic West Virginia pepperoni rolls being desecrated by being made with ingredients like sliced pepperoni or cheese or sauce and such.


I get it.


The original is bread, stick pepperoni and nothing else but the truth.


But this is a festival.


It’s a fund-raiser.


It’s fun.


So I’m not going to split hairs over creative interpretations in this case.


If you want a good ol’ plain classic West Virginia pepperoni roll, there are plenty of places to find them.


• • •


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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