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The Food Guy: Clay Center brings back popular bourbon party

If you remember me going all ga-ga over last year’s inaugural “Sip & Savor: A Bourbon & Bites Bash,” you might want to brace yourself for another lovefest.

The second year of that spirited affair returns to the Clay Center from 6:30-10:30 p.m. next Friday, Sept. 20, and you can bet your Buffalo Trace I’ll be there. Featuring more than 30 bourbons you can sample with special food pairings while listening to great music throughout the grand lobby, what’s not to love?

I had a fantastic time testing and tasting throughout the evening last year to pick my favorite pairings, which I’ll do again this year so I can share the results with you.

Virgil Kaine Ginger-Infused, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, Bib & Tucker Barrel Proof and Bowman Brothers are just a few of the exciting bourbons that will be available to sample this year, with pairings provided by Angelo’s Old World Italian Sausage, Embassy Suites, Sokolata and Peace, Love & Little Donuts, in addition to other local restaurants.

Also on tap are bourbon beers and wines, build-your-own Manhattan and Old-Fashioned bars, and a new “blind tasting” table that will add to the fun.

Whether you’re a bourbon connoisseur looking to hone your tasting skills or a novice just wanting to learn the basics, this is an awesome place to do it. Brand ambassadors will be on hand to talk about each bourbon and answer your questions, rare bottles will be auctioned and DJ EJ will bring the beats.

Although VIP tickets offering access to special bourbons, chef pairings and a live auction sold out quickly, a handful of general admission tickets remain. They are $80 each and include six bourbon/food pairing tickets, a tasting glass and a passport with tasting notes to keep track of your favorites. A special $20 add-on ticket provides one-hour early access to the event at 5:30 pm, and $20 designated driver tickets give you everything but the bourbon tastings.

Organized by Friends of Clay, the event raises money to help fund the Clay Center’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) education programs.

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To offer a little sneak-peek at what’s in store for this year’s “Sip & Savor,” the Clay Center and Bricks & Barrels hosted a special preview pairing dinner last month that I was lucky enough to score an invitation to.

The feast began with deeply satisfying deep-fried Manchego cheese with rosemary apricot dipping sauce (think of it as a mozzarella cheese stick’s classier cousin) served with Redemption bourbon, not their signature rye, which was a really nice pairing with the rich cheese softening the bourbon’s sharpness and the apricot enhancing its spicier notes. It was fascinating that a sip of the bourbon itself was intense, but when paired with a bite of the cheese it mellowed considerably.

That opening course was followed by an interesting venison carpaccio and arugula salad that was tossed in a blood orange vinaigrette and served with Old Forrester 100 Proof. That food-drink duo was pretty one-dimensional, though, with neither selection adding anything of interest to the other.

Next came a trio of big-game sliders: a venison one with fried apples; an elk topped with Swiss cheese, caramelized mushrooms, onion, squash, arugula and roasted garlic aioli; and the best-of-three bison burger topped with cheddar cheese, candied bacon, crispy onion and barbecue sauce. They came with a side of cotija sweet potato fries and a shot of Eagle Rare.

The meal concluded with what was called a chocolate pecan “tartlet,” but was more like a toasted-nutty bread pudding or cake that put me in the mind of pecan pie without all the sickly-sweet goop. But I don’t care what they called it — it was delicious.

The appetizer pairing of fried Manchego cheese with Redemption bourbon was the best “planned” combination of the night, but then an amazing thing happened when that dessert was served.

“Can you please bring The Food Guy another shot of the Old Forrester 100 to go with this dessert,” said Tim Dunlap, a co-chair of the “Sip & Savor” planning committee who was dining with us. He suspected that would be a better pairing than the salad it was served with earlier, and OMG was he right. That Old Forrester came to life alongside the dessert’s rich, chocolatey, nutty, slightly-sweet flavors.

All in all, it was an eye-opening night that made me even more excited to see what’s in store at this year’s “Sip & Savor” next Friday.

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In local restaurant news ...

Melange Café on Friday launched a two-day soft opening of its new second location on the corner of Summers and Virginia streets announced just two weeks ago. A limited menu of drinks, treats and food was available — including bagels and new specialty chocolate, strawberry and caramel/pineapple waffles, which are also now being offered at the shop’s original location at 1031 Quarrier St. No word yet on the new location’s official opening.

And remember the news I recently shared about the troubled Red Fire Asian Grill turned Osaka Japanese Steakhouse across from Panera Bread at Southridge, that was about to reopen as a new restaurant called Robata Sushi & Hibachi? Well, scratch that. A new sign hanging off the shuttered building now announces the arrival of yet another-named sushi and hibachi place instead. What in the blazes is going on with that place?

Steven Keith writes a weekly food column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or by e-mail at wvfoodguy@aol.com. You can also follow him on Facebook as “WV Food Guy” and on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest as “WVFoodGuy”.

Funerals for Monday, September 16, 2019

Campbell, James - 2 p.m., St. Anthony Catholic Church, Charleston.

Chaney, Doris - 6 p.m., Ridenour Lake Gazebo, Nitro.

Conger, Jacqueline - 2 p.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Daugherty, Roy - Noon, Deal Funeral Home, Point Pleasant. 

De Roo, Mary - 11 a.m., Blessed Sacrament Church, South Charleston.

Garrett, Barbara - 1 p.m., Grace Episcopal Church, Ravenswood.

Jennings, Betty - 4 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Legg, Phyllis - 1 p.m., Bell Creek Missionary Baptist Church, Dixie.

Lyons, Ronald - 1 p.m., Bartlett - Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Parsons, Joan - 2 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Persinger, Patsy - 1 p.m., White Funeral Home, Summersville.

Petry, Jo Ann - Noon, Cunningham - Parker - Johnson Funeral Home, Charleston.

Stirling Sr., Robert - 1 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Grantsville.

Waldron, James - 1 p.m., Curry Funeral Home, Alum Creek.

Woodard-Thomas, Carolyn - 1 p.m., West Virginia Memorial Gardens, Calvin.