Update 4/7/13 — It's clear to me that I've gotten my point across with this post and my emails to the restaurant; I think I've had a healthy enough exchange with Empire, and that they've done enough to try to do right by me. As I mentioned in the original post, I think the restaurant does a lot of good for our local economy and environment, sourcing locally and being locally owned; I don't feel that leaving details of my negative experience up is really warranted. That's not to say I'll necessarily go back to Empire, but if you've had positive experiences there, by all means, you should continue to return.
So I've taken down the content of the post, but I'm going to leave the headline up and continue to allow comments.
Shrimp and cheesy grits and fried pickle spears at Boulevard Diner.
Despite the fact that it's the last Tasting Charleston spot I'm writing about, Boulevard Diner was our first restaurant stop in Charleston. We stopped after a windy walk at Shem Creek, where we saw shrimp boats and pluff mud and piles of oysters sitting under the raised walkways.
The sweet tea was perfect, the fried pickles are always going to be an acquired taste (one I'm not likely to acquire, though I will admit to consuming them), but oh my, the shrimp and grits.
This is one of those places that is primarily an eatery for locals, including people who were clearly there on their lunch breaks, where the servers are friendly and the portions are ample.
I just can't tell you, though, how creamy and delicious those grits were. When you eat food and you suddenly feel like you're sitting in front of a fire drinking sherry and eating chocolate lava cake, even though it's clearly lunch, you know you got the right meal.
Like Black Bean Co., I wouldn't make Boulevard Diner a destination stop, but if you're in the area and looking for a place to go, you could do a whole lot worse.
While on the way to Folly Beach – because if it's semi-warm enough to walk on sand during the winter months, you do – we got hungry and, in an effort to umm, push through some of the fried southern cuisine we'd been eating, we stopped at the Black Bean Co., a local chain.
I ate a really tasty wrap with chicken, almonds, oranges, rice noodles, greens, goat cheese and a citrus vinaigrette, along with a side of couscous.
The food was good and light (much needed, the way we'd been eating), and was tasty. It wouldn't be worth mentioning, though, if I didn't say something about the ceiling fans, which are a series of a half dozen kayak paddles rotating on a pulley driven by a single motor at one end of the building.
It's clearly a restaurant that cares about the environment and the people it serves. I wouldn't call it a destination restaurant (don't go to Charleston and make it your one meal in town), but if you need a light lunch, go for it!
Hyman's Seafood is one of those tourist places that locals eat, sort of like Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse. It's always busy, the hush puppies are amazing, and there's always an owner or manager around to come chat.
The gentleman that came to chat us up was an older fellow in a wide-brimmed hat, which he tipped at the ladies, and when he asked about business, he asked only of the men what we did. That's Old South; felt a lot different than we're used to up north, especially in a busy restaurant.
The restaurant is famous for its flounder, which some complain is bony because it's a whole flounder. There's a video on the restaurant's home page explaining how to eat it without worrying about bones. Pretty awesome.
By the time we got to Hyman's, I needed a break from fried foods (other than their hush puppies, of course &ndash they serve a basket for the table before your meal, much like Italian restaurants serve bread). I ate jerk shrimp with some mac & cheese, and tried am amber from Palmetto, a Charleston brewery that's been brewing since 1850.
The food was delicious, the atmosphere outstanding, and the beer was a nice, full-bodied ale that wasn't overly hoppy.
You'll also get a sticker as you're preparing to leave; they hand out between eight and twenty gift certificates a day at the Old Market to people seen wearing the stickers.
If you're in town, make it a stop (you were probably going to anyway).
OK, so Waffle House is a national chain; in fact, if you're so inclined, it'll take you less than two hours from Syracuse to get to the one in Clark's Summit, Pa. But Waffle House is uniquely southern, and I'm not sure I'd visit one north of the Mason-Dixon line – you can give people a recipe and train them all you want, but if you're making food that's not in your vernacular, you can't make it right.
If you need proof, go to your local northern U.S. Cracker Barrel and get some grits. You'll come away with the feeling that they're just like watery oatmeal, but made of corn.
I spent the summer of 1997 as co-director of music at a camp in Cleveland, Ga., about an hour's ride north of Atlanta on the Georgia 400. It's where Babyland General Hospital is, the place where Cabbage Patch Kids are born.
We were allowed off camp for a couple hours each night, and the only two places in town to go were a smoky little townie bar and a Waffle House. And so for two months, nearly every night you could find me at the Waffle House with a double order of hash browns scattered, smothered and double-covered (that's scattered over the grill, instead of in a crispy pile, smothered with grilled onions, and covered with cheese), along with a glass of sweet tea.
And so when I found myself in Charleston, I had to return to Waffle House. And it was every bit as wonderful as I remembered: classic diner, waitresses who can retain a patient, southern hospitality while still moving at Sunday-morning diner speed no matter the day or time. And the hash browns are every bit as delicious as I remembered.
Fried chicken, green beans, mac & cheese and rice & chitlins at Martha Lou's Kitchen, Charleston, SC.
Let's start with what Martha Lou's Kitchen is not.
Martha Lou's is not a place you drive by and say, "I've gotta try that someday." It's an airbrushed pink trailer on a rocky lot in a neighborhood you'd drive through with both eyes open. It's not a place you bring a big party. Four of you can cram into a booth if there's one available, but a dozen of you would likely create a standing-room-only environment. It's not a place you go if you're in a hurry. They pre-cook the sides and keep them warm, but if you walk in and sit down, you get waited on in the order in which you arrived, and they cook the food one table at a time. And it's not a place you talk back. The customer is only right when the customer's right, and Martha Lou Gadsden and her daughter Debra are pros – if they think you ordered sweet tea, you ordered sweet tea, not unsweet. And if they're not sure, they'll ask, because they're not interested in wasting the energy.
Now, here are some that Martha Lou's Kitchen is.
Martha Lou's is a place you either read about or were brought. And where you're welcomed as if you're home, and you're remembered, and appreciated and you leave happy, and certainly not hungry.
My parents were in the former group (they read about Martha Lou's). They went and had the best fried chicken they've ever eaten. My mother was starting a new job in a new town and asked if she could take a photo of a poster that had a prayer for today – something about making the most of today, because it's your choice and you can make it or waste it – and Debra just took it off the wall and gave it to her. And four months later, when they walked in for the second time, Debra made sure they got they same booth they sat at the previous time.
And so it was when we walked in a little after 11:00 on a Thursday morning, Debra hugged everybody and shoved us into a booth and took our drink orders and danced her way back to the kitchen, where she told someone who had walked in that she'd be happy to help him after she cooked for the two parties that had walked in ahead of him.
Martha Lou came in at some point near noon, and the place was already full, and she brought out our food on foam trays and then we all swapped trays because we had the right meat but the wrong sides. And we stopped talking because we were too busy eating, and then we stopped eating because our trays were empty, and then we sat in silence absorbing the experience.
Now you've read about Martha Lou's, so go if you're in town.
We've been in Charleston, S.C. for a week and change; I'll put in a couple of posts about some of the things we did, and we'll start with Holy City Brewing. Generally speaking, the beers were a little hoppy for my taste (more in-depth as the post goes on), but it was a pretty cool experience.
South Carolina's colonial constitution was written by John Locke; while some of the colonies were designed for the religious freedom of the founding colonists, South Carolina was designed for religious freedom, period. Charleston, with easy access via water and road, was a place a lot of people from a lot of different faiths came, and it still has one of the highest houses of worship-to-population ratios in the country. For those reasons, the city is frequently referred to as The Holy City.
Hence the name of the brewery.
Holy City is located in a former mechanic's garage – it has a two-bay garage for storage and a couple of tanks, and a four-bay garage for some tanks and a tasting area. There's also a shipping container they use for storage and an outbuilding with a restroom. It's not open to the public for very many hours, but definitely worth a stop when it is.
When we went by, there was a solo guitarist playing acoustic instrumental Phish covers and a family playing cornhole. Each guest is allowed one sampler of four 4-oz. beers; you can sit at the small bar or at 50-gallon wood barrels that serve as tables, or wander around the garage (that photo at the top there? yeah, there were, perhaps, a dozen people when we were there on a Wednesday afternoon).
The atmosphere was fantastic; I don't think I'd want to be there with a big crowd or when it's really hot out, but on a chilly evening with lots of space, it was great.
Now, the beers. I will start by saying you can taste every ingredient in each beer we tried – they were all very well-crafted and complex.
We started with the Pluff Mud Porter. Pluff mud is lowcountry mud with the texture of quicksand and the color of coffee with a little milk in it. Pluff Mud Porter was a little darker than that, and, thankfully, more liquid than actual pluff mud. It's a bit hoppier than I like my porters (I sort of like coffee porters, but my favorites are Scotch porters, like Middle Ages' Duke of Winship).
We then moved on to the Slanted Porch Pale Ale. If you've ever had beer with me, you know there are a couple of weeks in August when I enjoy some pale ale, but the rest of the year I'd rather not even smell it. (Basically, when it's really hot and humid, I'll enjoy one, but other than that an amber or lager is about as light as I like.) Slanted Porch, though, is among the most complex beers I have ever had; if it were a notch less sweet I'd actually have taken some home as a gift. On the plus side, they're going to continually modify the recipe, so the Slanted Porch we tried – with notes of hops, citrus and honey, isn't the same Slanted Porch you'll get if you try it in six months.
I don't like a lot of flavored beers, but Pecan Dream would make the short list (Ithaca does a nice Apricot Wheat). It starts with a really good brown ale as a base, and adds pecan. It starts sweet and ends nutty, which for me is the right way to go. I didn't like my first couple of sips because it was too sweet, and then the nut and the brown settled in together and it came out really good. Highly recommended, especially for spring and fall weather.
I don't know what you're feelings on chocolate beers are, but I've had a wide variety of experiences with them. Notorious P.I.G.: Mo' Chocolate Mo' Problems is another really good take. They do it with their porter (unfortunately – I already mentioned it was too hoppy for me), but the aftertaste is pure dark chocolate – the somewhat bitter sort of chocolate you bake with, not the syrupy sweet stuff you put on your ice cream. Big win for me.
They sell growlers and over-sized bottles, along with merchandise like t-shirts and truckers hats.
I'd say the beer is about a three out of five, but if you're into beer and into culture and want to see something cool while you're in the area, definitely stop by Holy City.
Here was a good afternoon project: peanut butter cups. They were time-consuming, but fairly easy to make.
Food you'll need:
• 2 boxes Baker's chocolate (I used 54% cacao, which has 6g sugar per serving; could probably have used darker for healthier)
• Fat (I used 2 sticks butter; if you want healthier, go coconut oil; you'll probably need about 8oz)
• Peanut butter (I used a kind that has peanuts and a little sea salt; use a regular brand if you don't mind the extra sugar)
• Some water
Equipment you'll need:
• Double-boiler (or a metal bowl fitted over a saucepan, pictured, like I used)
• Rubber spatula
• Muffin pan
Get your double-boiler going (or, if using the fake one, fill a saucepan about a quarter full with water and start getting it warm over medium heat). In the top part of the double-boiler (or the metal bowl), put half your chocolate and half your fat.
Once the water is starting to get hot (it doesn't need to get to a boil – it'll get there eventually), start melting the chocolate and fat, stirring with the rubber spatula. When it's liquid, pour evenly into muffin pan.
Put the pan in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, until the chocolate hardens. Spoon some peanut butter on (I'm a peanut butter junkie; I used a full 2-tbsp serving on each). You could, in theory, just use a dollop. I could not.
Repeat the first bit with the other half of your chocolate and fat, pouring the liquid on top.
Put back in the refrigerator for a couple of hours until it all hardens.
I mutilated this one taking it out, but this is what I got for the final product.
I corrected a wrong on my eat local resume last weekend by going to Hullar's.
This place has been around since the early 19th century, and it still has a neighborhood pub atmosphere.
We started by walking in, putting our names on the list and flopping down at the bar for beers next to someone we knew. Always a good sign.
It's the sort of bar that brings out the older adults; while there were some families dining, we were easily the youngest people at the bar by close to 30 years. The bartender, Neil, seemed scattered at first, but I didn't see anyone wait more than two minutes for a drink, and when tables were called, Neil was quick with a check to settle up a bar tab.
The waiter did one of the things I didn't mention in my giving great service post that I should have: He knew his products. Specifically, when he came to ask if we were ready to order, I first asked, "This is our first time here. What have we been missing?" And he had an answer for me. We'd already decided on our dinner, but there's probably going to be a lunch in our future in which we try some of his suggestions.
The food is better than passable (I won't call it amazing, but it was definitely good), the portions generous (those of you who have seen me eat will be surprised to hear I'll have an entire second meal out of it), and the cost very reasonable (drinks, appetizer and dinner for about $50).
Absolutely worth a visit. They also have an adjoining coffee shop I'll have to hit up for breakfast some day.
The first time I weighed in during 2011 I weighed 170.8 pounds. The first time I weighed in during 2012 (which was around 5:30 in the morning on New Year's Day), I weighed 160.4 pounds. OK, I get it, 10 pounds in a year is good. But I'm not happy with that, especially since I did a weight loss program in the beginning of the year and dropped almost 30 pounds. I understand that maybe that was a little quick, and it explains why I gained 2/3 of it back.
This year I set a goal of getting to 145 pounds by March 1. That's 15.4 pounds in 60 days, or just under 2 pounds per week.
That's sustainable, and while I could probably drop that 15 pounds more quickly, I want to be able to maintain this year, and still be under 150 at year's end.
Here are some things I'm going to do (other than checking in on the blog occasionally):
• Lose fat, not muscle. This means resistance training mixed with some heavy lifting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). I think it would be really easy to do a lot of cardio and burn off the weight, but I feel pretty strong and I want to maintain that, perhaps grow it. In that sense, if I don't hit 145 pounds but I get down to 11-12% body fat, cool (I'm probably around 20-22% now).
• Use trackers. I have a DietMinder, and I'm using it. I also love FitDay, which counts my nutrients for me.
• Live a little. Repeat after me: Diets. Don't. Work. You can get on a diet for a little while, but the second you feel like you're "cheating" or you hit your goal, all the results you achieved go out the window. I could pretty easily lose those 15 pounds in 2-3 weeks using a strict low-carb (under 15g or so a day) and high water consumption diet. But you know what? With a goal of 2 pounds a week, I'm going to be able to drink wine (dry red), eat chocolate (moderate amounts of dark), and enjoy the heck out of a Super Bowl party (unless it's a Giants-Broncos thing, then I can't enjoy it at all).
• Try new exercises in my workouts. Know what kicked my butt during my first workout of the year? One-legged deadlifts with a 20-pound dumbbell. I've never incorporated them before, and 10 each leg – done immediately following some one-legged jumping rope (hopping rope?), which was also a first for me – had my quads burning like they haven't in a long time.
• Have people I can check in with. Someone actually asked me yesterday if I could check in with him, call him "fatty" and be mean about it until he gets his act in gear. Done. And Ben, even if I don't comment on every entry, I'm watching you, pal. And there will be a dinner party at some point.