The Food Guy: The Barge closes, new riverfront spot opens in St. Albans

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The Barge has closed, a new riverfront Mediterranean restaurant has opened and I reveal my pre-Charleston Restaurant Week menu awards. We’re full of local food news this week, so let’s get started!

What was supposed to be a big scoop in local restaurant news turned tragic in a flash when the area’s popular (and oh, so good) Bistro at The Barge closed its doors on New Year’s Eve, apparently for good.

Just a few months ago I received a juicy off-the-record tidbit that the floating restaurant at Trojan Landing near Patrick Street would soon be moving to downtown Charleston to a new home docked on the other side of the Union Building on Kanawha Boulevard near Haddad Riverfront Park.

I shrieked when I heard the news, thinking a more central location near heavier traffic would be just what Bistro at The Barge needed to be more fully appreciated for what it was — easily one of the best restaurants in the region. The food I enjoyed there was beyond compare EVERY SINGLE TIME.

I had recently verified the move through a few other sources, who confirmed the restaurant and city were working together to make it happen and that it was essentially a done deal. I was planning to share that awesome news today.

But sadly, some of those same folks called back over the weekend to tell me the investors who were buying the restaurant and moving it downtown recently backed out, leaving the deal — and The Barge — dead in the water. Unsure of its future, the restaurant served its last food and drink on the last day of 2019.

I’d like to think some local food lovers with deep pockets could still rescue and reopen the place, but I’m not even sure that option is on the table at this point.

I am devastated.

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I recently shared news of several interesting restaurants about to open, including the buzzy new Hale House bourbon bistro in downtown Charleston, which is now in business. Here’s another one.

Located at 2678 Winfield Road in St. Albans, Mediterranean Breeze was scheduled to open today offering wood-fired pizzas and a selection of Greek and Middle Eastern-inspired appetizers, salads, sandwiches, kebabs, entrées and more.

The restaurant’s riverfront location, next to EZ Street Bar & Grill not far off the St. Albans exit of I-64, will also feature an outdoor fireplace, outdoor dining area and Kanawha River boat access for customers once the winter thaws.

For more information, call 304-769-8774. The restaurant’s menu is also available on its “Mediterranean Breeze Restaurant” Facebook page.

•••

Charleston Restaurant Week dropped this year’s special menus on Friday, creating a flurry of calls from frantic diners hoping to secure reservations at their favorite spots.

Of course, as many of you know, those calls to snag coveted tables actually began last month when folks started making reservations as soon as the week’s dates were announced. I’ve been told by many that Laury’s was completely booked before menus came out, with several other restaurants reporting near sell-outs in advance.

If you’re still able to squeeze in anywhere during this year’s celebration Jan. 27-Feb. 1, I’m giving my pre-event “most creative menu” shoutouts to Bluegrass Kitchen and Sam’s Uptown Café. Just get a load of these tempting offerings!

The East End’s Bluegrass Kitchen kicks your meal off with dandelion greens with black garlic vinaigrette and creamy blue cheese or smoked and salt-roasted kohlrabi with aged cheddar sauce and buttered bread crumb. Next comes ramp fried rice with mushroom eggroll, chicken-fried shrimp and whiskey barrel-aged soy sauce gravy, or a rich tomato and eggplant sauce over potato fennel gratin topped with two stewed eggs, green onions and feta. You can finish off with olive oil Clementine cake with cherry curd and fresh whipped cream or chocolate cake with coffee caramel sauce.

Downtown at Sam’s Uptown Café, start with your choice of pimento mousse potato souffles with crispy pork belly or rutabaga-cauliflower purée soup with fennel jam wontons, fresh greens and olive oil powder. Follow that with lobster perogies with caramelized onion alfredo sauce and lemon butter asparagus or a ribeye with poblano demi-glacé served with brown-butter gruyere grits and fried Brussels sprouts salad. Cap off the night with cheesecake croissant pudding served with chocolate ganache, whipped cream and pretzel crumble or a lavender creme brûlée with stewed berries, buttermilk-honey espuma and candied pistachios.

And here’s an honor roll of other specific dishes I’m most excited to try:

Among the area’s bistros, Bricks and Barrels’ Cajun shrimp pasta with sausage and Hale House’s bourbon bacon-wrapped shrimp caught my eye. As does Bridge Road Bistro’s apple-brined pork chop served with cornbread stuffing and maple bacon jam and The Market’s buttermilk fried chicken with smoked cheddar-pecan waffles, braised greens and honey-bourbon gastrique.

For ethnic eats, I’d check out Ichiban’s pork-fried risotto with grilled salmon and lemon-ginger crema, Mi Cocina de Amor’s sauteed shrimp on baked green chile cheese grits, Ristorante Abruzzi’s chicken Marsala with mushrooms and caramelized onions, and Soho’s jumbo scallop and shrimp served with creamed spring peas and pancetta over a grilled risotto cake.

Elsewhere around the city, Books and Brews scores with a chicken and bacon alfredo roll in fresh pizza dough topped with Parmesan and parsley, The Lookout looks impressive with petite Beef Wellingtons and Dem 2 Brothers will draw crowds for its lightly battered catfish on Southern-style grits with hushpuppies or corn on the cob – and Nilla Wafer banana puddin’!

On the country club front, I’m sold on desserts. I’m intrigued by Berry Hills’ layered and infused root beer mousse with caramel sauce and Edgewood’s Ghirardelli chocolate brownie with candied bacon and J.Q. Dickinson salted caramel.

Hope to see you out and about that week!

Steven Keith writes a weekly food column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and an occasional food blog at http://blogs.wvgazettemail.com/foodguy/. 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”.