Here’s to second chances, and readers coming to the rescue
Everyone deserves a second chance, and that’s especially true with restaurants.
You’ve heard me preach countless times how difficult it is to own and run a successful independent restaurant – and how I wouldn’t take on all that hard work, headache and risk for all the tea in China.
As such, I’ve also taken a vow to adopt two very important tenets in my approach to restaurant reviews.
One, I never base a “bad” review on a single dish, visit or experience. If I don’t enjoy a new restaurant, I make sure to go back several times to see if it really is consistently poor, or perhaps maybe they were just having an off night. (We all do.)
Two, even if a restaurant really isn’t that good after several visits, I will still never trash the place. Instead, I’ll simply explain the areas where they fell short, offer constructive feedback to improve and let readers make up their own minds.
That’s only fair, given the fact that these folks are willing to put their livelihoods on the line in a way I wouldn’t dare.
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen? That’s why you won’t see me in a restaurant kitchen. My chef’s hat is off to these unsung heroes.
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Speaking of second chances, reader Peyton Forbes said he was glad he gave one to a local restaurant after catching my story on the reboot they had undergone in light of recent struggles.
“A while back my wife and I visited Barkadas and both of us had uninspiring meals,” he told me. “A few weeks later, I read your column where Barkadas management acknowledged they had lost their groove, but promised to get it back on. Well, I’m happy to say that … Barkadas is back.”
Turns out he and his wife did return to the Fort Hill restaurant, where they both reported great meals that made them excited to plan future visits.
“In our small market, it only takes one so-so meal to start a slide that may not be immediately noticed by management or commented on by customers. How many times have we been asked how our meal was, and we say it was fine, but was it? I don’t know how a restaurant can consistently stay on top of their game, but you do and I’m glad, in this case, your column got us back in the door. Keep writing your articles so we know where to go and what to try. Thanks again for the good intel!”
I’m happy to report similar recent personal experiences at Barkadas as well.
Although I did have to send a Flip’n Wedge Salad back a few weeks ago that they agreed should’ve never been served (thanks to the saddest slab of iceberg lettuce I have ever seen) the replacement Adobo Chicken Salad they offered instead was fantastic. With marinated adobo chicken, crispy avocado, pico de gallo, queso fresco and fresh field greens tossed in calamansi vinaigrette, it’s a dish I’d definitely order again.
I’ve also started to notice bigger crowds and more servers on hand at Barkadas, so here’s hoping that positive momentum keeps going in the right direction.
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Reader Alan Kingery wrote in with a request I thought would be easy to grant, but it turns out I need your help.
“I was glad to read your story about Jeff’s Curbside, because I really miss that Cagney’s Cajun Chicken Pasta,” he said, adding that even though he lives in Poca he’s happy to know he can now drive to Jeff’s place in North Charleston to pick up servings for him and his wife.
“There is one other, maybe bigger, craving I miss,” he continued. “Bill Arthur from The Anchor in Kanawha City was going to show me how to make his Tomato Pie pizza, but I never got time off work to learn how. It is the best pizza I ever had and was so good I could eat it even if I wasn’t hungry. Bill had other great food I miss, but that Tomato Pie is number one.”
Known around town as The Admiral, Arthur passed away in August 2020 at age 72.
His claim to fame was a pizza made with fresh dough brushed with a garlic and olive oil glaze, then topped with diced tomatoes, mozzarella, Parmesan, basil and a blend of five secret spices. A version of that same Tomato Pie is still served at the WV Anchor restaurant he later opened down the road at 3315 Kanawha Blvd. E. that is now under new ownership.
“Steven: Your mission, should you choose to accept it,” Kingery said, “is to find out how to make Bill Arthur’s locally famous Tomato Pie pizza.”
I’ve written about this legendary dish from Charleston’s past a few times, and even swore I had tracked down the original recipe to share in a previous column. But alas, my Googling came up empty and I can’t find hide nor hair of said recipe.
Does anyone out there in Food Guy Land have the original Tomato Pie recipe that either I, or someone else, shared in the past? I know Alan, and countless other fans of the longtime original Anchor, would love to have it.
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Finally, another reader also sent in some very nice words – and a challenge.
“I look forward to your articles – highlight of the paper,” reader Nina Rutledge recently wrote, “You do a great job.”
She went on to say she’d love to see me put together a “Best Charleston Restaurants” booklet that could be my own version of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” written and photographed by me on my culinary adventures.
“You write about your personal adventures on dining and the reader is ready to go out and eat! Travelers at area hotels would love it. Thanks for your time and your great area coverage.”
Throughout the past 25-plus years I’ve spent writing about restaurants and food, I’ve been approached several times about writing a book, filming restaurant review videos, appearing on TV segments and such.
I’m not gonna lie, it’s flattering as all get out. But it’s also a lot of work for a father of three, husband of one and member of several local boards who only does this food-writing gig on the side.
But maybe someday, my friends. Living a life of leisure just eating and drinking my way through retirement sounds pretty darn nice, if you ask me.
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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 email@example.com.