James Beard honors, FeastivALL and the return of Donuts
In case you missed this truly huge local food news last week, our little ol’ town of Charleston had not one, but two, chefs named as semifinalists for the prestigious James Beard Awards for “Best Chef in the Southeast” this year.
That’s two out of only 20 chefs honored from the six states of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. That’s more semifinalists than in foodie cities like Lexington, Charlotte, Asheville, Columbia, Raleigh and even that other Charleston down south. And that’s the same number as in foodtopias like Nashville and Wilmington.
In fact, the only city in the Southeast to have more semifinalists than Charleston (population 48,864) was Atlanta (population 498,715), which had just one more.
This has NEVER happened, folks. West Virginia has only had two James Beard chef semifinalists in the history of these awards – considered the Oscars of the culinary world – and never one from Charleston. Much less two. In the same year.
Mega-congrats go out to Chef Paul Smith of 1010 Bridge Restaurant and The Pitch, and Chef Ramin Mirzakhani from Laury’s Restaurant. If either one of them make the cut to finalists announced this spring, that’ll be another first for Almost Heaven as well.
Fingers and toes crossed.
Speaking of Chef Paul, when I stopped by 1010 Bridge this week to sample a dish featured at this year’s FeastivALL (see below) I happened to be there when the restaurant’s staff surprised him with a little celebration complete with a moist and delicious tres leches cake with raspberry filling and towering cupcakes topped with, among other things, brownies.
It was definitely a sweet moment, in more ways than one.
Sneak Peek at FeastivALL
Fresh off the big announcement, Chef Paul invited me to stop by 1010 Bridge for a sneak-peek tasting of the main dish he’ll serve at next weekend’s FeastivALL beer and wine pairing dinner extravaganza at Berry Hills Country Club.
A fundraiser for FestivALL, the annual event on Feb. 18 offers a festive (read: raucous) evening of elegant plates – each paired with both a wine and a beer, offering diners the chance to vote for which pairing they like best.
The evening will begin with a Shrimp & Grit Cake from Chef Ke featuring Manchego cheese, cilantro-infused DiTrapano Olive Oil, candied bacon and micro-greens, followed by Chef Brian Magliochette’s Seared Ahi Tuna Salad with togarashi-crusted tuna, wasabi miso drizzle, mixed greens, pickled shallots, marinated cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, wonton strips and (whew!) yuzu cilantro vinaigrette.
Next up is Ristorante Abruzzi Chef Chase Collier’s Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque topped with candied pecans and chili-infused DiTrapano Olive Oil, leading to Chef Paul’s main course featuring an Appalachian Abattoir Short Rib with smoked-farmhouse cheese grits, winter vegetables, tomatoes, demi-glace and chimichurri. (Spoiler alert: It’s FABULOUS. Hearty, flavorful and fork-tender, without being too rich and heavy.)
Finishing up the night is Chef Anthony Bower’s Pistachio Baked Alaska, consisting of a pistachio cake topped with blood orange and olive oil ice cream with fudge and caramelized meringue.
The event on Feb. 18 begins with a cocktail hour from 6-7 p.m. featuring a silent auction, followed by the five-course meal. Only a few tickets remain at $125 per person, and they can be purchased at https://bit.ly/3kH2PsR or on the FeastivALL event Facebook page.
Charleston Restaurant Week … So Far
With Charleston Restaurant Week now underway, I’ve already enjoyed dinners at two participating restaurants and have one more reservation this weekend. (More on all three experiences coming next week.)
If you’re not able to score a table in Charleston this week, Olive Tree Café in South Charleston is offering its own “Restaurant Week” menu through this Saturday as well.
For $45 price, guests can choose either a Greek or Fatoush Salad or Hummus, Red Pepper Hummus or Baba Ghanoush for an appetizer, followed by either a Hand-Cut Black Angus Petit Filet with fire-roasted North Atlantic lobster tail or Fresh Charcoal-Roasted Swordfish Salmoriglio finished with Southern Mediterranean herbs and butter as their entrée.
Dessert options include a Chocolate Decadence Cake drizzled with berry compote or the AAH-mazing Baklava Cheesecake topped with housemade Bananas Foster that I recently raved about on Facebook. (Just look at that photo!)
Donut Shop Reopening in Buckhannon
Finally, if you’ve been following the on-again, off-again saga of the fate of The Donut Shop in Buckhannon, have I got some sweet news for you. That beloved food spot that recently closed (much to the dismay of many) will reopen this Friday with a new name and operator.
The Donut Spot will take over what was The Donut Shop at 51 North Locust St., but will now be run by the Par Mar Store chain based in Marietta, Ohio. Par Mar already has lots of stores throughout West Virginia, including six others in the Buckhannon area.
“When we learned that The Donut Shop planned to close, we knew we had to step in,” said Par Mar Stores president Brian Waugh. He added that the company knows how much The Donut Shop meant to local residents, so no major changes are planned moving forward “We can assure their longtime customers will continue to enjoy the donuts, pepperoni rolls and hot dogs just as they always have.”
In addition to the drive-through, Par Mar will reopen the restaurant’s dining area so folks can enjoy their food on-site as well.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.