What’s on the menu? Something new and different, I hope!
You’ve heard me preach this many times before. But here we go again ...
It doesn’t matter how much I love a restaurant, or how good the food, service and ambiance are. If they don’t periodically shake things up a bit with seasonal menus, themed dishes or occasional specials, I’m probably going to lose interest over time.
Show me something new. Something fun. Something different! And if you do, I’ll be back time and time again.
Along those lines, I was impressed by the number of local restaurants offering St. Paddy’s Day food and drink specials (beyond just that horrid green beer) during last week’s Wearing o’ the Green.
The Bear’s Den in downtown Charleston and Bridge Road Bistro in South Hills both offered a plate of thick-sliced corned beef and cabbage with potatoes and carrots. Popular 1010 Bridge Restaurant featured a sweet Irish Car Bomb Brulee made with Guinness and Irish whiskey custard, Bailey’s Chantilly, chocolate drizzle and cornmeal oat crumble. Black Sheep Burrito and Brews downtown served up $1 mini-pints of Irish red ale and there were enough Reuben specials around town to stretch to that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
It was a glorious sight to see.
On a related note, I had been hearing great things about The Olive Tree Café’s Mardi Gras-themed specials running now through mid-April, so I finally made it down to that South Charleston spot this weekend to check them out.
And let me tell you, they are embracing that famous New Orleans mantra of Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler. (That’s “Let the Good Times Roll” for us non-French speakers.)
For a limited time at Olive Tree, you can enjoy jumbo crawfish boils with crawfish, shrimp, corn, potatoes and either pork or vegetarian sausage, plus ginormous muffulettas and pillowy, powdered sugar-dusted beignets.
I’ve heard people rave about the crawfish boils, but I had my eyes on that muffuletta sandwich stuffed with slices of ham, Genoa salami, mortadella and more with marinated peppers and olives on a thick Za’atar-dusted bun featuring a blend of herbs, toasted sesame seeds, dried sumac and salt. The veggies were bursting with flavor and the stacked meat and cheese alone was nearly two inches thick, making up at least half the height of the towering creation.
Their take on this sandwich isn’t pressed flat like the original served at Central Grocery in N’Awlins, but it is every bit as delicious.
Similarly, the beignets I tried were thinner triangle-shaped pastries rather than the round puffier version made famous at Café du Monde in the French Quarter. But again, they were tasty, especially when dredged through the mixed berry sauce adorning the middle of the plate.
“We put our own Italian-Mediterranean spin on these classics,” Olive Tree chef-owner Michael Jarrouj told me afterward, “and people are really enjoying them.”
Count me among them.
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There’s a funny story about that massive muffuletta I enjoyed at Olive Tree.
As I was there inhaling on the outdoor patio Saturday afternoon, a friend of mine walked by the table but didn’t recognize me at first. When I said hi, she looked over and apologized that she didn’t have her contacts in and didn’t recognize my face.
“But I did glance over earlier and notice someone eating the largest sandwich I’ve ever seen,” she said. We both had a good laugh, but it was no joke. This thing is a delicious monster you don’t want to miss.
What other restaurants have you heard about offering “off the menu” specials and featured dishes this spring? I want to hear all about them!
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Speaking of restaurants trying new things, Coco’s Kitchen & Café in downtown Charleston offered its first Sunday brunch this past weekend.
Now under new ownership, the cheery breakfast and lunch spot tucked away on Hale Street opened from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. that day serving a small menu of big brunch plates, along with bloodies, mimosas, beer, wine and unleaded bevvies.
There's a fruit and yogurt platter with housemade granola, Charleston Bread multi-grain toast, mixed-berry jam and whipped maple butter, plus avocado toast with soft-boiled egg, fresh radishes, charred grape tomatoes, pickled onions, olive oil jam (what!?) and pea tendrils.
Heartier options included a potato stuffed with white cheddar, caramelized onion and bell peppers topped with chorizo, scrambled egg, lime crème fraiche, queso fresco, pico de gallo and fresh jalapenos, or a smoked crab cake benedict with two eggs, smoked Hollandaise, griddled tomatoes and crispy onion straws on an English muffin with arugula salad.
Or how about this bad boy? A $30 “Steak & Eggs” dish came with beef tenderloin medallions, two eggs, bourbon demi-glace, pimento potatoes, honey-glazed root veggies and sauteed greens with focaccia toast.
Brunch? That last dish would do me for the entire day, and I am so here for it.
Stay tuned to see if Coco’s Sunday brunch was a one-time deal or becomes a regular (or at least more frequent) offering in the coming months.
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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.