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I was sorry to see the news confirmed when The Block abruptly closed its doors last Wednesday, but there is a heartwarming silver lining to that story I broke.

When the owners of downtown Charleston’s Bricks & Barrels heard the news, they couldn’t bear the thought of so many of The Block’s employees being out of a job over the holidays. So even though they weren’t hiring at the time, they took a few of them in anyway.

“We felt so bad that they lost their jobs right before Christmas and it happened suddenly so they couldn’t even plan for it,” said Nikki Carte-Holbert, who owns Bricks & Barrels with her husband, Matt Holbert. “Our business has been strong enough over the holidays that we wanted to provide a few of them jobs for the time being. It’s the least we could do to help.”

Folks, that’s a business that’s worthy of your support right there. I had to convince them to let me share this news, so I can promise you they weren’t doing it for the attention.

And it gets even better.

Matt Holbert said one of The Block employees they tried to hire was head chef Anthony LeRose.

“He’s the one who really deserves some recognition,” Matt told me. “We offered him a job, but he asked that we hire a couple of his line cooks instead. He said that he had put away enough money to get him through the holidays and would rather us try to take care of his kitchen staff if we could.”

Excuse me while I grab a tissue.

But seriously, in the midst of an unfortunate restaurant closing, how awesome is this turn of events that came out of it? It’s the true “spirit of Christmas” in action.

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A healthy food café that started in Hurricane just celebrated the grand opening of its second location in Kanawha City.

Serving good-for-you juices, smoothies, toasts, treats and more, The Juice Box has already gained a loyal following of fans clamoring for giant bowls like Berry Delicious with acai, dragon fruit, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, hemp seed, chia seed and flax seed, or the Cookie Butter with oats, dates, banana, cinnamon, nutmeg, almond butter, blackberry, organic cocoa and gingerbread crunch drizzled with honey.

I mean, I’m not sure how “healthy” that last one it, but I know I want it in my belly nonetheless.

Located at 4614 MacCorkle Ave. in Kanawha City, the new location is currently open the same hours as the Putnam County store – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. And they may not be done with just the two locations. A post on Facebook encourages customers to stay tuned for “more exciting news to come.”

In other local restaurant news, Bluegrass Kitchen owner Keeley Steele darn near crashed Facebook Monday with a post teasing “New beginnings!” along with photos of windows being replaced at the popular East End restaurant that closed at the early onset of COVID on May 16, 2020.

No other details were shared, but the massive number of kudos posted in response prove many are excited to see signs of new life at this beloved old spot.

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Even though one lands in my inbox every few days, I never get tired of those “America’s most loved this” or “West Virginia’s top that” surveys where they rank everything from our favorite picnic food or ice cream flavor or whatnot.

The latest one I received is especially timely, since it ranks every state’s “Favorite Iconic Christmas Food.”

Ooooh, I thought, I can’t wait to see what Mountain State residents named their best Christmas dish – with visions of beef roast, green bean casserole, yeasty rolls, cranberries, pumpkin pie and sticky pudding dancing in my head.

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So imagine my surprise when I learned the food most West Virginians want on their Christmas menu is … seafood?

“West Virginia is a state that adheres to the traditions of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, so seafood is commonplace over Christmas,” reported the online Christmas resource www.christmas.co.uk, which polled thousands of Americans to name and rank each state’s favorite holiday food.

“Typical fish you might find at a dinner in West Virginia,” they continued, “include salt cod, shellfish, eel, squid, conch meat and clams.”

Listen, I’m well aware of that Italian tradition and know there’s a great festival celebrating it in Fairmont, but really? I don’t think there will be many plates of eel, squid and conch being passed around most West Virginia tables this weekend.

On a positive note, however, our seafood pick did rank the 16th most popular holiday food nationwide. That sure beats the 48th, 49th and 50th rankings we’re all too familiar with at times.

Speaking of, the last-place dish went to Minnesota’s strangely beloved Scandinavian “lutefisk,” a dried whitefish (usually cod) that is soaked in water and pickled in lye until it has a gelatinous texture. Umm, gross.

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The romantics behind Shane Co. Jewelers celebrated National Pasta Day by sharing the results of a recent survey identifying the favorite pasta of every state in the nation based on Google search frequency.

Turns out we’re a divided country when it comes to carbs, too.

The 50 states picked 19 different pasta dishes as their favorite, although there were some clear top plates in the bunch.

Fettuccine alfredo bested all by far, capturing 14 state titles. Coming in a distant second was gnocchi and spaghetti tied at four votes. Spaghetti with meatballs and squid ink pasta (really?) earned three votes each, with lasagna, lobster mac ‘n’ cheese and manicotti winning two states.

Earning just a single state’s love were linguine with clam sauce, mac ‘n’ cheese, pasta puttanesca, penne alla vodka, ravioli, shrimp scampi, spaghetti aglio e olio, spaghetti carbonara and truffle pasta.

So let’s get this straight. Squid ink pasta earned three times as many titles as mac ‘n’ cheese, ravioli, shrimp scampi and spaghetti carbonara? No way.

At least the Mountain State didn’t flake, going with the masses professing fettuccine alfredo its favorite.

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RTA Outdoor Living jumped into the fray by polling where Americans stand on their favorite milkshake flavors.

Using Google Trends to analyze search data over the course of a year, they learned that strawberry reigns supreme, winning 10 states overall. Chocolate was a close runner-up with eight states (it was robbed!) followed by Oreo, mint and vanilla.

West Virginia’s favorite? Orange Creamsicle, a pick we shared with — of all places — Idaho.

Although I can get behind our pick, I think Florida (Nutella), Ohio (peanut butter) and Georgia (peach) had the best picks in my book. But where’s the butterscotch, people?!

Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy.” He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or wvfoodguy@aol.com. Follow @wvfoodguy on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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