Thursday, April 10, 2008

Looking Through a Glass Onion

"Well, here's another place you can go... Listen to me."

Lennon and McCartney were right on when they penned these lyrics for The Beatle's venerable White Album classic, Glass Onion. Forty years later, these words still ring true, especially in the context of the newly opened Glass Onion restaurant in West Ashley. Now a month-old, The Glass Onion, situated in what was formerly an ugly book exchange shop on what is still a relatively ugly stretch of Savannah Highway, is putting the Fab Fours' tune to incredibly delicious culinary music, in a most modern way. It is definitely another place you can go, and one you should go to, too, if you seek across-the-board exceptionally fresh, reasonably priced and delicious food.

The folks here are not necessarily "fixing a hole in the ocean" as the psychedelic song goes, but The Glass Onion is well on its way to casting a brighter shade of green upon the Charleston localvore dining and all-important ancillary local farming scenes. Their web site outlines their commitment to buying locally and seasonally - "We strongly believe in the importance of eating seasonally, locally and naturally. So, you can expect all natural meats, local seafood and vegetables from as close to home as we can get."

The restaurant's timely and relevant creed is backed up with the seasonally revolving, Southern-inspired "soulful food" menu rife with tantalizing, homey promise in dishes like Miss Kimberly's Shrimp with Beans and Rice ($12), Grilled Pimento Cheese Overstuffed Sandwich ($6) and Fried Chicken Livers with Bibb Lettuce (Big, $8, Little $5).

The menu mood is decidedly country Southern, with serious nods to New Orleans and the Lowcountry. It's a logical composition since the restaurant's young owners (Charles Vincent, Chris Stewart and Sarah O'Kelley) hail from New Orleans, Birmingham, and Georgia, respectively. The trio found each other at FIG, where Stewart landed a job as sous chef while Vincent was working there. After a two year-long search and a long-established dream to open their own restaurant, they put their mutual fine-dining backgrounds (which include working with the likes of Emeril) to use to make "mid-scale comfort food," found the space at 1219 Savannah Highway, and set up shop.

The space is bright and uncluttered with a large, open counter to place orders. Several picnic tables are situated outside to invite alfresco dining. The restaurant employs a handy system to pair orders with their owners once the food comes up from the kitchen. Pictures of celebrities - from Jackie O to Miss Piggy - are affixed to clear, plastic stands and placed on your table. The celeb's name (in my case, Einstein!) is written on your order ticket and a clear-visioned spotter then tracks the corresponding picture down and delivers the food. It's a much better system than those pesky buzzers, and infinitely more personal. The food came quickly and with a smile, despite the fact the restaurant was serving a nearly full house the day I visited.

The personalized mood continued throughout and perhaps most importantly, in the food itself. Local, fresh flavor and a love and knowledge of Southern cooking sang through virtually every bite. The House made Pickles ($2, or one of four side choices for $7) are made of snappy cukes, red peppers and onions in a mild, sweet brine that spend a night in the cooler only to emerge as fresh as daisies. Similarly, the Roasted Garlic Potato Gratin, composed of tight layers of whisper-thin potatoes wobbling with frailty in creamery-fresh cream and sweet, roasted garlic, and subtle, luscious White Beans and Rice sides, were impeccably executed and impeccably infused with authentic, rural Southern spirit.

O'Kelley told me the restaurant buys their Bibb lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes from Kurios Farms in Moncks Corner. I assert they need to keep that up! The Glass Onions Bibb Lettuce salad is arguably one of the most simply beautiful things I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Served on chunky, off-white plates (like all the food here) that recall diners of yesteryear, the pale and lime-green leaves were opened like a flower seeking the sun and generously (but not overly) topped with a creamy/tart black peppercorn buttermilk dressing that rivals any truly house made salad dressing I've ever had, let alone in Charleston.

After the stellar starter debut, I was a tad disappointed with Stew's Meatball Po Boy ($8), finding the texture of the meatballs a bit on the mushy side. The flavor of the marina and girth of the thick, oven-warm and toasty baguette were spot on, however, and there is no topping the tender Root Beer Glazed Pork Belly ($12) served with sweet collards and toothsome Anson Mills grits.

"Locals don't let locals eat imported shrimp," one of several green-themed bumper stickers posted on the small refrigerator behind the small order-taking counter implores. Indeed, I contend that locals (or anyone) must not waste another precious minute to take a big bite out of The Glass Onion. Reasonably priced, locally grown and delicious, Southern "soulful" food doesn't come along every day, especially with free and ample parking. The restaurant's menu is updated daily on the web site listed below.

The Glass Onion

1219 Savannah Highway, West Ashley

(843) 225-1717

Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Sat., brunch, 10 a.m.-4 -p.m.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sizzlin' Bacon and Cercie Surprises

Recently, I found myself at Carolina's to share an easy Sunday dinner and a birthday celebration with friends. Since this wasn't a working dinner, per se, I didn't go into it with the requisite review perspective. However, I came out of it with some distinct impressions and some new information that I want to share.

Firstly, Carolina's, which was not so long ago stumbling clumsily along in the food department, has truly stepped up to a pristine plate of restrained, gorgeous Southern-inspired cooking in the capable hands of executive chef Jeremiah Bacon. In just over a year, this Charleston native and CIA grad has transformed Carolina's once again into the belle of Charleston's culinary ball with stunning dishes such as Laquered Bacon with Sauteed Cabbage and a Carrot Puree ($9) and Glazed Quail with Bacon Hominy, Ragged Jack Collard Greens and Black-Eyed Pea Relish ($10).

More than impressed with his cooking, I hope he soon gets the public recognition for the grand work he has privately forged in his kitchen.

Though I was aware that the restaurant started serving lunch in early February, I wasn't aware they offer a most appealing special on Sunday and Monday evenings (1/2 off bottles of wine $75 and under and 30% off bottles over $75). This is a soothing break during these tough economic times and one that cut our bill, literally, in half. "It's one of those things that's advertised in email blasts and something that locals and regulars know about," says Bacon.

In addition, frugal diners can look to a 1/2 price bar menu on Monday - Friday from 5 -6:30 p.m. where Carolina's justifiably celebrated Shrimp and Crabmeat Wontons and burgers (among other things) can both be had for just $6.

10 Exchange Street, downtown
(843) 724-3800

Culinary Cost-Cutting 101

Coupon Crazy

When I was a little girl, I marveled while watching my Great Aunt Frances sitting at her linoleum-topped kitchen table, cutting coupons from the daily newspaper in the tiny Kansas town she lived in until she was nearly 100 years old.

It seemed like such a waste of energy in order to save a few pennies on, what I thought, were probably things she wouldn't normally buy anyway. But, I was naive. She, a thrifty survivor of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, had her coupon system down pat and it's probably one of the reasons she made it through a long life of hard times, many of them spent alone.

The latest bout of monetary unpleasantness, however, has created a market for New Age couponing systems. The internet now has a number of hot coupon sites (I like which provide free, brand-name coupons and more if you select to register as a member. They're just a click, a printer, and five minutes away. In addition, many grocery stores' websites offer lists of daily specials. And, here's the kicker. Many provide selections from the kind of items you usually purchase, anyway. That was it for me. The last straw supporting my long-standing anti-coupon mindset finally broke its resistant back.

Harris Teeter's online specials shopping list became this list-hater's new best friend. I dipped into it with reckless abandon. With a little practice and increasing knowledge, I'm slowly forming my own semi-profitable coupon system. By combining the free manufacturer's coupons from sites like with a daily special shopping list constructed from Harris Teeter's web site ( , my handy VIC card, and an extra dose of concentration at the grocery store, I have scored some serious savings.

The best yet happened last week. Granted, it was a big sales day at the downtown Teeter. The store was offering buy one get one, two or even three, all over the place on big ticket items like beef, coffee and wine. Since I'm expecting company in a couple weeks, I decided to stock up on these and other staples. The net result was a whopping $67 total savings. In essence, I bought three weeks-worth of groceries for less than I usually spend in one week!

My heart raced with anticipation as I watched the basket cave with the weight of my cache and the numbers creeping slowly higher on the cash register. Then, as the cashier started calculating in the selected coupons, the numbers amazingly started going down. It was like getting on the scale after a week of gorging Haagen-Dazs only to find you'd lost five pounds. I was beaming. She was beaming and said, "You did good today!"

Admittedly, a follow-up trip to replenish the fresh vegetable drawer just one week later only yielded $10 in savings, but next time I'll do better. I'm on a coupon-crazed mission. Intelligent use of coupons and smart shopping add up to saving a lot more than pennies. And, I'm not in Kansas anymore.

One Plucky Chicken, Four Marvelous Meals

With grocery costs rocketing to the stratosphere, it’s imperative to save wherever you can at the supermarket without eliminating taste. In addition to reaching for reduced daily specials, what you buy and how you put it to use in your kitchen can happily translate to huge savings with bodacious bite.

In this era of grocery gouging, chicken can become your new best friend for just pennies per four ounce serving when paired with practical pantry staples like pasta and veggies. Low in fat, high in protein and exceptionally versatile, chicken marries equally well with the exotic (think truffles or saffron) to the humble (think roasted potatoes and rosemary).

For these reasons, it’s a regular menu guest at my house, where I pride myself on transforming a single, four pound chicken (preferably organic and purchased at a reduced rate) into four fabulous feasts for a group of four. That’s sixteen meals, folks! A four pound chicken runs anywhere from $6-$10 (depending on where and how you shop), throw in a little change for ingredients to flesh it out into a meal (4X), and you’re looking at less than $20. A night out for a family of four at any fast food favorite will set you back the same amount or more faster than you can say “heart attack”.

Gotcha? Let me tell you how it’s done!

Meal #1: This is the launching pad for the meal plan event(s) – a whole roasted chicken. Since it’s going to be transformed several times, keep the seasoning simple – ground pepper, a nice crust of coarse salt and a rub down with olive oil. Roast at 425 until done (about 20 minutes per pound) and top it with a few love pats of butter to sink deeply into the bird. Allow the roasted chicken to rest and re-absorb its juices. Cut the both legs and thighs away from the chicken (reserving warm). Cut the breasts away from the rib cage, cool and store in your refrigerator for later use. Serve both legs and both thighs with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes for a satisfying, nutritional meal. Go ahead and prepare a pan gravy with a little roux, white wine, chicken stock, Dijon mustard and fresh tarragon to dress things up, but hold on to the carcass!

Meal #2: Start this after the roast chicken dinner to prepare for tomorrow’s old-fashioned and DELICIOUS chicken noodle soup. With a sturdy chef’s knife, cut up the reserved carcass remnants – the rib cage and spine – into four or five coarse chunks and put them in a two quart soup pot with a quartered onion, carrot, celery stalk and a clove or two of garlic to make an impromptu stock. Add a few peppercorns, a bay leaf and fresh thyme for added flavor. Bring it up to a boil, reduce to a slow simmer over low heat and forget about it for three to four hours. Allow to cool and refrigerate, covered, overnight.
About thirty minutes before you’re slotted to serve dinner, skim off any accumulated fat off the top of the stock, strain it, discarding all solids except any bits of chicken flesh. Finely chop an onion, carrot and celery stalk and sauté them in the same pot with a tablespoon of olive oil until softened. Season, return the strained stock to the pan and bring up to a boil. Add reserved chicken and about ¼ pound of dried pasta (flat noodles, spaghetti, linguini – your choice) and cook until tender. Serve with a drizzle of fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, or thyme will do) and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A small, fresh salad and warm baguette make this a meal.

Meal #3: Chicken Salad Deluxe! This is where you can really have fun with chicken’s flavor/texture marriage versatility. Cut one of the reserved breasts into chunky, ½” cubes and toss in a bowl with coarsely chopped dried cranberries (or another dried fruit like figs or currants), coarsely chopped roasted almonds, fresh herbs, a dollop of Dijon, a dash of mayo and vinegar, salt and pepper and you’ve got a meal in minutes over a bed of greens. Other flavors that work in tandem with chicken include curry, paprika, cinnamon and almost any fresh herb imaginable. Make this your own!

Meal #4: Chicken Sandwiches Supreme! Again, versatility and imagination set the stage for show-stopping chicken sandwiches prepared with freshly roasted chicken breast. Go for the best quality bread you can find, from baguette to whole grain, and fill it with thinly cut slices of the remaining breast and toppings. One sliced breast will handily complete four sandwiches. Zip up mayo with fresh basil and Dijon mustard for a fresh, personalized sauce, top with a slice of red onion and crisp romaine. Go whole hog and add a few pieces of browned bacon and a slice of avocado if the mood moves.

Chicken never tasted so good for so little.