This past weekend saw the return of closed-street outdoor dining along Hale and Capitol streets downtown, a move that seemed to be celebrated by many, based on the number of folks I saw filling tables on Sunday afternoon alone.
For those who are unfamiliar, the city of Charleston blocked off those two streets during weekends last summer, so local restaurants struggling with sales during COVID-19 could set up tables and tents outside to increase seating capacity and offer a safer environment for those who were uncomfortable dining indoors at the time.
City officials recently announced they’ll offer the same setup again this year and I, for one, couldn’t be more pleased.
Not only should we be doing everything within our power to help locally owned restaurants and small businesses right now, but outdoor dining options are something our town desperately needs more of anyway.
Although a cool breeze Sunday made me opt for a table inside, I took advantage of a window seat at The Block to watch so many people out and about enjoying themselves safely.
I also took the opportunity to try even more items on The Block’s new brunch menu, which has quickly climbed to offer one of the best brunches in town — along with perennial favorites Sam’s Uptown Cafe and Black Sheep, plus relative newcomer Barkadas.
Unable to decide between savory or sweet options (breakfast or lunch, if you will), I fully embraced the concept of “brunch” and had both!
I started with the Pain Perdu, a plate of New Orleans-style French toast served with fresh berries in syrup with whipped Greek yogurt on the side.
Although the large wedges of bread were pretty tough to cut through, it’s because they were coated with a golden butter-toasted crust, so it’s hard to be mad about it. But having more of the berry juices or that yogurt plopped on top — so they would soak into the thick slices of bread — would’ve created a more unctuous bite.
I then moved on to a new “Chef’s Choice” offering, a Teriyaki Banh Mi Meatball Bowl featuring teriyaki and ginger-glazed pork meatballs with coconut lime rice, pickled onions, fresh jalapenos and a sunny-side-up egg drizzled with sriracha crema.
This dish wasn’t as good as it sounded, unfortunately, but it’s definitely one that can be saved.
Although the couple next to me liked the rice in the same dish, it was the only component me and a few others nearby didn’t care for at all. The chef was clearly going for a sushi-style rice, but its mushy consistency — not quite rice, not quite grits — was off-putting.
My plate was very light on the promised pickled onions, which would’ve really brightened the dish, and the meatballs were very dry. That’s highly uncommon when using pork, so there was either too much breading added or they were cooked too long or something else went awry. (But again, easy fix.)
That teriyaki glaze glistening atop them, however, was pure liquid love.
Next time, I think I’ll go back to the stronger brunch dishes I’ve had here before — the incomparable Spanish Shepard’s Breakfast (a bubbly hot crock of sofrito tomato sauce, chorizo, baked eggs and goat cheese with toasted garlic bread for dipping) and the Gorgonzola Shrimp & Grits (Cajun shrimp over creamy Gorgonzola grits with candied bacon crumbles and a sunny-side-up egg).
Still, paired with one of The Block’s mile-high Bloody Mary’s, the two new plates I did try made for a fairly satisfying midday meal.
From Big Joe’s, Sam’s, Bar 101 and Ichiban to Ellen’s, Adelphia, Pies & Pints, Hale House and other smaller spots, there are so many good local dining options all within just a few blocks of one another downtown, whether you prefer to dine indoors or out.
After I went on and on about the nice cauliflower pizza crust I recently enjoyed at Pepperoni Grill in Kanawha City, someone asked if I’d tried the new broccoli-cheese crust up at The Lookout Bar & Grill at Eagle View.
“WHAT THE WHAT!?” I asked, before nearly whiplashing myself to make a beeline up the hill to try it.
So there I was — sipping a cold beer, soaking up sweeping views of the Kanawha Valley on a picture-perfect spring evening, making plans to create my own pizza with bacon, spinach and mushrooms — when owner Dave Andrews popped by the table and suggested the “Teddy Special” pizza, which has taken the locals up there by storm.
Created by Lookout bartender Teddy Bequette, that off-the-menu pie features sausage, bacon, spinach, green pepper, red pepper and cheese, which I ordered on the aforementioned broccoli-cheddar crust.
Oh, my word.
The pizza itself was sublime, but I also really dug that crust, which was pretty much like a flatbread base reminiscent of my favorite crispy thin-crust pizzas. (Anyone who has complained about soggy cauliflower crusts will not have the same issue with this option.)
As I mentioned here a few weeks ago, I have nothing against a traditional pizza crust. But I will absolutely be seeking out cauliflower, broccoli-cheddar and other alternative options to see where those flavors and textures take me.
IF YOU GO: The Lookout Bar & Grill, 530 Silver Maple Ridge at Eagle View in Charleston, is currently open from 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 681-265-5011 or visit the restaurant’s Facebook page.
In other local food news, the longtime owners of popular Shuckers in St. Albans have sold the business to new owners, who plan to keep the place going as-is.
That was welcome news to the restaurant’s fans, who rave about the casual spot’s welcoming vibe, friendly service and platters of fresh seafood that taste “just like you get at the beach.”
In a Facebook post over the weekend, owner Paula Lucas said: “We (Paula, David & Jeffrey Lucas) have been so blessed to have had Shuckers for 10 years. We have really made some good friends and have enjoyed serving St. Albans! It’s time to move to a new chapter in our lives. We welcome Guy and Robin Turturice as the new owners of Shuckers. We wish them the best!!”
I surely do, too.