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The Food Guy: City’s culinary scene praised on national stage

steven keith

We’re famous!

Or famous again, I should say.

Charleston’s dining scene is on the upswing, so it’s no surprise others are starting to take notice. Over the past few years, respected publications, like Southern Living and The Washington Post have sung the capital city’s culinary praises.

This month, Taste of the South magazine joins the chorus.

In an article titled “Where the Locals Love to Eat,” editor Daniel Schumacher shared his experiences dining his way through the capital city during an extended stay earlier this year.

He enjoyed breakfast at Elements at the Quarrier Diner before hitting an all-star lineup of spots along and near Capitol Street: Taylor Books, Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream, Black Sheep Burrito and Brews, Super Weenie and the Capitol Market.

He called out Lola’s in South Hills, Bluegrass Kitchen on the East End, The Grill and Books and Brews on the West Side, and J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works just outside of town.

“Surrounded by the wild and wonderful mountains of West Virginia, Charleston is quickly becoming a fertile bed for culinary creativity,” he wrote. “It’s bustling downtown dotted with classic restaurants and newcomers alike, there has likely never been a better time to dine and shop in the Mountain State’s capital.”

I was invited to meet and share a meal with Daniel while he was here, to help give him a food lover’s take on the city. Over dinner and drinks at The Market in South Hills, we chatted about the local restaurant scene, my favorite chefs in the area and his impressions of our town.

At the end of the evening, he asked if I’d be willing to share my recommendation for Charleston’s best dish that he could include in the magazine article. Flattered, I immediately agreed.

Then I entered full freak-out mode.

How in the WORLD could I pick just ONE dish to represent us on a national stage?

I used to write an annual roundup of the top 10 dishes I enjoyed at West Virginia restaurants each year — a monumental task, but a fun one, as well. Unlike the excruciating responsibility of naming the state’s best restaurants, this roundup just covered individual dishes. And most were at restaurants you might not expect.

Case in point.

It’s not going to make any “best restaurant in the state” list, but I enjoy an occasional visit to Cozumel at Ashton Place. It’s minutes from my house, serves great margaritas and good food, and our service is always speedy quick and friendly. More importantly, I adore Cozumel’s Burrito Glory — a fascinating combination of grilled fajita chicken, chorizo, garbanzo beans, spinach, veggies and cilantro, stuffed in a tortilla topped with salsa, cheese and sour cream.

I can’t get enough of the thing, so it did make my “best dish” list one year. That caught many people by surprise, including the restaurant, which said they experienced a run on that dish the likes of which they’d never seen, after the article ran in the newspaper.

But Daniel’s request was to spotlight an unforgettable dish at a restaurant his readers would travel many miles for, so this was tough.

Should I call out the famous grape and Gorgonzola pizza or spinach salad at Pies & Pints, the deep-fried feta at Adelphia or the tuna sashimi nachos at Ichiban? Would it be the lobster bisque or charcuterie platter at Bricks & Barrels, the osso bucco at Noah’s Restaurant and Lounge, or the pork belly or lobster risotto at Bistro at The Barge?

So. Many. Choices.

Since no other local celeb he asked had chosen a dessert yet, I finally settled on the silky, subtle goat cheese ice cream at Bistro at The Barge, an incomparable meal-ender topped with sweet granola crumbles and tangy blackberry sauce.

There are so many worthy options, but that’s my pick and I’m sticking to it.

•••

Speaking of great local dishes, I have this friend who has done everything but threaten bodily harm if I didn’t try the chicken tortilla soup at Plaza Maya in Kanawha City the first chance I got. She’s repeatedly described this magical bowl to me like Michelangelo might wax poetic over the Sistine Chapel, going into vivid and passionate detail about its greatness. Every time I see her, she asks if I’ve tried it yet — and now, finally, she can call off the dogs.

With an hour to kill in Kanawha City on Friday evening, I popped in to give it a spin. It didn’t look like much when it arrived (meaning it’s not going to win any Instagram contests) but whoa, was it delish!

The shredded chicken, veggies, rice, sliced avocado and crispy tortilla strips are nice, especially with a sprinkle of fresh lime juice that brightened the flavors even more. But it’s the rich, savory broth that leaves you speechless. It’s a true, well-developed broth (not a thin stock) and I totally drank it from the bowl.

I can’t say for sure if it will make this year’s “top 10” dish list, but it’s in the running, so far.

•••

I popped into Bridge Road Bistro in South Hills over the weekend and was surprised to see a sign on the door announcing that the restaurant would be closed next Monday through Thursday (April 15-18) for spring break. Imagining the restaurant’s staff getting a little extra time off to spend with their children and families brought a big smile to my face. At least I was hoping that was the motivation, so I immediately reached out to owner Sandy Call to get the scoop.

“Yes, I wanted to give our Bistro family a chance to spend some time with their families during this annual event,” she told me. “Being one of our slowest weeks of the year, it also gives us a chance to do some housekeeping, like deep cleaning equipment, painting and basic maintenance that needs addressed. We’ve been open since 2004, so this is needed.”

If all goes well, she hopes to repeat the “break” again this summer, so employees will have a set week to plan their own vacations again, if they’d like.

“It’s healthy to regroup and spruce up our surroundings,” Sandy said. “I want our regulars and travelers to experience the best when they come see us. First impressions — you don’t get another chance!”

Good on you, Bistro.

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 Today, Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Armstead, David - Noon, Chapman Funeral Home, Winfield.

Crawford, Charles - 7:30 p.m., Andrews' residence, Belleaire at Devonshire, Scott Depot.

Duff, Catherine Ann - 11 a.m., Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery, Dunbar.

Jarrett, Shirley - 1 p.m., Mt. Juliet United Methodist Church, Belle.

Lawrentz, Deo Mansfried - 11 a.m., Koontz Cemetery, Clendenin.

McGraw, Judy Fay - 2 p.m., Jodie Missionary Baptist Church, Jodie.

Mullins, Alice Ellen (Blessing) - Noon, Cunningham-Parker-Johnson Funeral Home, Charleston.

Staats, Anthony Vernon “Tony” - 1 p.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.