Trading in ribs and pulled pork from the Charley West BBQ Fest two Saturdays ago for pretty much all the things at this past Saturday’s Taste-of-ALL, it was another weekend of celebratory (over)eating in the capital city.
For the 22nd year, we calculated, fellow food writer Judy Grigoraci and I had the enviable task of sampling food from 15 different restaurants and food trucks at this year’s event, which drew a big crowd to the Four Points by Sheraton and Kanawha Boulevard.
Most years, this process involves a painstaking tasting of dozens of items to come up with our list of favorites, followed by lots of re-tasting and negotiating to come up with our agreed-upon winner for the coveted Delmar Robinson Food Critics Award, given to what we determine is the event’s best-tasting dish.
But this year, the process was much quicker. After we each conducted our own round of initial tastings, we both agreed there were only two clear plates in the running — and it came down to a battle of hotel chefs.
Although the Four Points by Sheraton’s generously portioned seafood risotto topped with perfectly cooked sea bass was a clear crowd favorite, Chef Brentford Young’s beautifully presented dish came in a close second.
We gave the nod to a simpler — but undeniably delicious — entry this year: Chef Christopher Kirksey’s perfect little bite of crab cake slider with green tomato chow-chow from Town Center Marriott’s Brick Salt Bar + Kitchen.
Side by side, the seafood-topped risotto certainly looked like a more impressive dish, but at an event with the word “Taste” in its name, that crab cake slider was too good not to win. The crab-filled cake was moist, had very little filling and was delicately seasoned. The tart relish added great color, texture and balance. Even the potato chips served with it were phenomenal.
Congrats, Chef Kirksey!
Two hours later, Judy and I reconvened with local chef Andrew Quesenberry to judge the Taste-of-ALL Chefs Challenge cook-off pitting Ichiban’s Evan Wilson against Four Points’ Young in a “mystery box” competition.
After revealing the three secret ingredients that had to be incorporated into their dish — tomatoes, red skin potatoes and salt/vinegar/green onion-brined chicken — the chefs had a few minutes to grab ingredients from the pantry, then 30 minutes to cook, plate and serve a main dish to our judging panel.
While Wilson’s chili and honey-grilled chicken had a nice flavor and great char, Young’s dish came out on top by offering a great balance of tastes and textures: well-seasoned chicken; crazy-good potatoes fried with onions, peppers and tomatoes; and a fantastic sweet-and-sour sauteed Napa cabbage slaw.
I really wasn’t hungry after sampling 20-plus dishes just two hours before, but I still pretty much cleaned my plate it was so good.
With the last day of school just a few days away, summer vacations are right around the corner. If yours takes you down around Hawks Nest State Park in Ansted, a loyal reader suggests checking out the lodge’s restaurant, which is now under new management.
“I ate a few meals at the restaurant recently while at a conference and the food was outstanding,” Barbara Smith reports. “I heard people at other tables going on about their delicious meals, and they were even talking about the food after returning to the conference room.”
Now how often does that happen at a conference?
“The favorites were broccoli soup, fish and chips, meatloaf and chili,” she added. “Service was great, too, so it would be a great destination restaurant for Charlestonians.”
Plus, you get to enjoy the ridge-top restaurant’s Southern comfort menu while also savoring breathtaking views of the New River Gorge below. I can’t wait to check it out as I do my own exploring this summer.