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The Food Guy: A celebratory week full of tasty food and drink

steven keith

Someone you know turns the Big 5-0 today.

It’s me! Turning 50! This very day! As if my “subtlety” needed any clarification.

I’ve always been one more inclined to celebrate my birthday week or month (what’s this “day” stuff all about?), so to mark a half-century, I’m really ramping up the festivities this year by doing ... pretty much ALL the things.

I kicked off the weekend at Friday afternoon’s Court Street Live concert at Charleston Town Center mall, followed by Live at the Levee at Haddad Riverfront Park. Saturday I spent the afternoon judging Charleston’s first-ever Taco Fest, followed by Wine & Jazz on the University of Charleston lawn that night.

Sunday found me relaxing at the pool before grilling steak, Monday I met friends for lunch, last night I celebrated birthday eve with burritos and brews at Black Sheep, and today I’ll be cutting cake with the family at home.

Then tonight — tonight! — my wife pre-surprised me with a big soirée at a local Charleston hot spot, where we’ll usher in the next half-century with friends, neighbors and colleagues at a lovely outdoor reception.

I’m a blessed man, for sure, and I encourage everyone out there to take a moment to count your own. Gratitude is truly one of life’s greatest gifts.

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As I mentioned, I finally made it down to my first Court Street Live concert of the summer — a sad confession considering how much I adore these free Friday afternoon concerts from 4 to 6 p.m. outside the mall’s Court Street entrance. Sitting on the patio at Tidewater, sipping wine, eating some great food, soaking up live music on a breezy summer day. What’s not to love?

I especially enjoyed Tidewater’s salmon cake sliders and Jamaican chicken kebabs that were being grilled up right on the patio during the event.

If you haven’t been down yet, it’s not too late. The series continues this Friday featuring Of The Dell and concludes July 12 with Dale Harper and The Highlanders.

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The next morning, I was super stoked to judge the Charleston Taco Fest sponsored by Black Sheep Burrito and Brews to benefit multiple local charities.

Music, tacos, beer, margaritas and tequila tastings during a downtown street celebration. Again, I ask you, what’s not to love?

There, I joined celebrity judges WOWK meteorologist Bryan Hughes and cake-baker extraordinaire Petra Vasale to help select the best-tasting taco among seven competitors. (As event host, Black Sheep did not enter the competition.)

After sampling delicious soft and crunchy corn and flour tortillas stuffed with everything from beef, beef tongue and tofu to ramen noodles, pepperoni roll filling and more, we all agreed on our top-tasting tacos, just ranking them in a slightly different order.

As a group, we selected Piedmont Elementary School’s double-shelled traditional Mexican street taco as our winner, with Pastimes Bar & Grill on Tennessee Avenue as our runner-up.

It was Pastime’s first time entering a contest like this, and I actually ranked them first on my individual scoresheet. I didn’t care for the raw green pepper garnish on top, but the meat under it was so tender, juicy and flavorful — with a nice slow heat — that I couldn’t get enough of it.

My personal runner-up was Bar 101’s entry featuring beef and cooked onions with fresh cilantro and lime, but Piedmont had enough points to catapult it to the top in our overall standings. (Other groups competing, by the way, were Books and Brews, Manna Meal, Melange Café and Mi Cocina.)

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Later that evening, I waddled over to UC for the Wine and Jazz Music Festival, where my efforts to steer you to the best wines to sample at the event came back to haunt me. After writing in advance about which wineries had the winning bottles during our pre-event judging, I found myself waiting in long lines at those same tents that night.

Tough lesson learned, I guess, but as a reader in line told me: “Hey, at least you know people respect your opinion.”

I’ll take that over a little wait any day.

•••

Finally, I just wrapped up a fun month’s worth of weekly chef tasting dinners sponsored by Kanawha Valley Senior Services at their offices in the old Tiskelwah Elementary on Charleston’s West Side. I can’t tell you how much fun these were.

Every Monday throughout June, a different celebrity chef served a delicious three-course dinner to about 70 guests who enjoyed great food, nice wine and a silent auction throughout the evening.

Café Cimino kicked the month off with a house salad, three-cheese baked pasta, garlic Parmesan chicken breast, fudge brownies and chocolate chip cookies. I missed Soho’s night featuring a Caesar salad, Tuscan-baked pesto chicken over spinach, cannellini beans and tomatoes, and bourbon-glaze bread pudding. Best of Crete turned in a solid performance with garlicky hummus, a Greek salad, giant marinated lemon chicken legs over rice and baklava.

And while all chefs and restaurants are to be commended for helping out such a great cause, Bridge Road Bistro definitely “won” the month closing out with an artisan salad, tender braised short ribs over silky polenta and Krispy Kreme bread pudding with sun-dried cherries.

Those short ribs were to-die-for, and Chef John Wright says he plans to put them on Bridge Road Bistro’s regular menu this fall.

Kanawha Valley Senior Services Executive Director Paulette Justice estimates the dinners raised about $11,000 to help fund their programs, so she hopes to bring the series back in some form in the future.

I sure hope so!

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 Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Adkins, Denvil - 11 a.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Armstrong, Lola - 3 p.m., Old Pine Grove Cemetery, Sumerco.

Cottrell, H. Harvey - 2 p.m., Allen Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Hager, Doran - 1 p.m., Highland Memory Gardens, Godby.

Hedrick, Phyllis - Noon, Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Lane, Mary - 11 a.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Ludwig, Michael - 1 p.m., Epworth United Methodist Church, Ripley.

Morton, Laura - 1 p.m., Ida Baptist Church, Bentree.

Sodder, Elsie - Noon, St. Anthony’s Shrine Catholic Church, Boomer.

Stump, Ruth - 1 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Grantsville.