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  • Writer's pictureSteven Keith

Pepperoni roll festival rolls back to Charleston riverfront

Food festivals are back, baby, and I hope you’ll join me at Haddad Riverfront Park in downtown Charleston tomorrow evening for a fun one.

Pepperoni rolls from Books and Brews in Charleston
Pepperoni rolls from Books and Brews in Charleston

I’ll be serving as a celebrity judge there for “Rolls on the River,” a pepperoni roll and local craft beer fest from 5-8 p.m. that will also feature West Virginia artisans, a children’s area, and live music from Dale Harper and the Highlanders.

Deep-fried pepperoni rolls from The Bucket
Deep-fried pepperoni rolls from The Bucket

But the real highlight of Thursday’s event – for me, anyway – will be tasting different versions of West Virginia’s Official State Food prepared by Big Joe’s, Books and Brews, The Bucket, DP Dough, Enchanted Eats, Holly McCallister, Marty’s Bakery, Mea Cuppa, Mountain Pie, Pepperoni Grill, The Pitch, Swiftwater Café and T&D Quick Stop.

Bring. It. On!

General admission is $35, which includes 10 pepperoni roll tasting tickets, four beer tickets and one water ticket. A $25 alcohol-only adult admission includes four beers and one water, a $15 no-alcohol adult admission gets you 10 pepperoni roll tickets and two waters, and a $5 child’s admission includes five pepperoni roll tickets and one water.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

• • •

After last week’s request asking readers to weigh in on their experience after Yen's Sandwiches in South Charleston changed hands, several of you chimed in with positive comments under the new management.

“Regarding Yen’s Sandwiches, we have noticed a difference in their menu and sometimes they experience problems with their phones, so I usually just go and order in-person to go,” reported Erica Burdette.

Entry from the 2019 Rolls on the River festival
Entry from the 2019 Rolls on the River festival

“But that bread is so fresh and delicious, I seriously doubt they are importing it. Their eggrolls are different. Bigger and with more tasty filling. Yen’s is open and they are killing it!”

Fellow food writer Susan Maslowski also still gives the place her thumbs up.

“I have seen other complaints about Yen’s, but my one and only experience after the transition was good,” she wrote.

“Yes, the prices have increased (a little), but are still reasonable for the quantity and quality. The restaurant interior has been remodeled and modernized, although we chose to sit outside on a nice spring afternoon.”

And what about those fears that the awesome fresh-baked baguette that holds their popular Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches may no longer be made on site?

“Whether baked in house or not, I didn’t note any difference in the crusty baguette, and even bought several to bring home for sandwiches.”

She does, however, lament one change.

“The only thing I really missed was the interaction with the former owner. My husband would often stop by before teaching at MU Grad School. When Yen realized my husband, Bob, served in the military and decades later returned (as an archaeologist) to head MIA recovery missions in Vietnam and Laos, there was an endearing bond. Yen would ALWAYS greet Bob with a smile and complimentary cup of Vietnamese coffee. That kind of service is unmatched.”

It sure is, Susan. And when it’ is experienced, it should be celebrated and rewarded.

• • •

Former Gazette-Mail food writer Judy Grigoraci heard from a fan, who she passed along to me in hopes that I could help track down the recipe for a dish served at Tidewater Grill.

And I can! Sorta.

“I purchased the (restaurant’s) cookbook and love making the barbecue salmon, but my favorite thing on the menu there is the jerk shrimp and jerk sauce,” Mia Short wrote. “We lived in Charleston while my husband did his residency at CAMC and only got to eat there on special occasions.”

She said they still order the jerk shrimp with extra sauce any time they’re passing through town and have been unable to find any recipe that comes close to replicating it.

“I’ve even asked at the restaurant a few times with no luck, so I’m hoping maybe you already have access to this amazing recipe. The jerk sauce is great for dipping shrimp and even warm bread!

While I don’t have the complete recipe, Mia, I did track down a former Tidewater employee who at least gave me the confidential scoop on what’s IN that sauce.

For now, you’ll just have to experiment to get the proportions to your liking, but that magical sauce was made with jalapeno peppers, honey, garlic, cilantro, allspice, cumin, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and mayonnaise.

As for the shrimp itself, he said you just boil, pull and toss it in the jerk sauce while hot, then refrigerate overnight to let the flavors blend.

I’ll let you know if I can track down ingredient quantities, but at least this is a start!

• • •

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 or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at

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