R.I.P. BOWENS ISLAND
The news started spreading via e-mail that Bowens Island had burned to the ground last weekend. Owner (and Lt. Gov. candidate) Robert Barber described the situation in a Sunday dispatch: "Today is a very sad day for me and my family. Last night, Bowens Island restaurant burned down. My grandparents started the restaurant in the 1940s and I've had the honor and pleasure of running it for the last 16 years. The restaurant has always been a special place for me, my family, and many fine customers, and we are now incredibly saddened by our loss. Let me assure you, however, that we will rebuild and continue to carry on this great Lowcountry tradition." The pictures in the paper on Monday morning showed the complete devastation of the old waterfront institution, and we're all left saddened that we won't be eating oysters by the shovelful there this winter. But here's hoping that by this time next year, we'll be celebrating its grand reopening. –Stephanie Barna
CORDAVI TOPS THE LIST
They were already tops on our list, but Cordavi recently got national attention from Esquire critic John Mariani, who named them one of the top 20 new restaurants in the nation. In the write-up, Mariani gushes: "The decor is simple, with deep red walls and a single flower set on white linens adding a burst of color. Far more risqué is the food. Dreamy foie gras sits atop thick, crisp brioche toast, with a blackberry compote and tangy fruit sorbet. Lobster is poached gently in butter, retaining its satiny texture and natural sweetness, then accompanied by a rich pork-belly ravioli. For dessert, there is a Key-lime panna cotta with blood-orange jelly and graham-cracker crisps, and warm banana crepes with chocolate ice cream and blueberry compote. In a town that still loves its meat and taters and fried fish, Cordavi is a maverick. And that's something Charlestonians should be proud of."
Not to rain on Cordavi's much-deserved parade, but Mariani's rep as a food critic became somewhat tarnished after a firestorm of controversy last year. A chef in Chicago went public with claims that Mariani made diva-like demands before agreeing to eat at his new restaurant. The chef eventually recanted some of his claims, but not before Mariani's practices came under scrutiny and it was revealed that he accepted comps, which included transportation, lodging expenses, and meal costs. Mariani was attacked on both journalism discussion sites (poynter.org) and foodie threads (eGullet.com) by people like Anthony Bourdain for accepting freebies. At the time, Mariani defended his ethics, telling the Houston Press, "I do not function as a weekly restaurant critic ... whereby the rules of engagement are different." He's also said publicly that he couldn't afford to come to small cities, like Charleston, if it weren't for getting some of his expenses comped.
In Charleston, it's been no secret that Mariani has been wined and dined at local restaurateurs' expense over the years, and the city has been richly rewarded with a bevy of restaurants [Peninsula Grill ('97), Hank's ('99) McCrady's ('99), Sienna ('04)] getting on Esquire's annual list of best new restaurants.
For the record, Mariani visited Cordavi in the first month they were open and insisted on ordering off the regular menu and paying for his meal. Good to know. Makes the recognition seem all the more deserving. –SB
BREAKFAST IS SERVED
Southern cooking icon Paula Deen came over from Savannah to visit the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Goose Creek last Monday to sign autographs and demonstrate the delicious capabilities of her new Paula Deen Egg & Muffin Toaster, manufactured by Back to Basics. The device is a fully-functioning toaster with an added attachment that enables it to poach, scramble, and even boil eggs. Paula has been staying busy lately; her second show on the Food Network, Paula's Party, debuted on Sept. 29, and she still runs the acclaimed Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah as well as her more recent addition, Uncle Bubba's Oyster House on Wilmington Island. The Egg & Muffin Toaster, retailing at $49.99, is the first in her upcoming line of small appliances. Watch out, George Foreman: Paula is grilling up some competition. –Matthew Gannon
A NEW FLEET OF KITCHEN STAFF HAS LANDED
Drew Hedlund has taken over the helm as the new head chef at Fleet Landing restaurant, where he's been the sous chef for the past year. Hedlund is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University and has 14 years of experience working in restaurants. "I've done it all," he says, "from working as an expediter to serving tables to working behind the scenes in the kitchen." Since graduating in 1999, he has worked as resident chef of Dewees Island and as the chef de cuisine at the former 101 Pitt in Mt. Pleasant, where he first worked with former Fleet Landing executive chef Jim Epper. In taking over the lead role in the back of the house, Hedlund assures that there will be no major changes to the menu that has won them acclaim from the likes of Bon Appetit, Food + Wine, and Town & Country magazines. Epper has left the Landing to join Bishop Gadsden retirement community as director of dining services. –MG
The fall 2006 edition of Edible Lowcountry has hit local newsstands. This marks the third issue of the quarterly publication, which was started earlier this year by Robert and Amanda Manning, whose mission is to promote the vibrant and distinct culinary flavor that exists in the Lowcountry. They held a get-together last week for local chefs, farmers, fishermen, supporters, and friends to honor the cuisine that defines the region. –MG
MORE THAN PEANUTS AND CRACKERJACK
The RiverDogs have already received national acclaim for their diverse assortment of ballpark grub, but now co-owner and president Mike Veeck is taking his interest in food a step further as he gets ready to start his own radio show. The weekly broadcast, titled "Potluck Cafe," will air each Sat. from 12-1 p.m. on WTMA (1250 AM), starting Nov. 4. The show will contain "a multitude of food-oriented themes and subjects," says Veeck. "We'll blend a solid mix of information and entertainment on a subject that almost everyone has an interest in." The program will be broken up into several segments, including local and national guests, a calendar of food events in the area, a hot food and beverage tip of the week, a spotlight on local food joints and street vendors, as well as responses to e-mails and live call-in questions from listeners. Also hosting the show will be foodies John Schumacher, who oversees the food and beverage divisions of five minor league baseball teams (including the RiverDogs), and Jenn Kulick, who grew up on a farm in New Hampshire and is now the co-owner of two West Ashley restaurants, Voodoo Lounge and Marie Laveau's. –MG
GET INSIDE (OR ON TOP OF) A CHEF'S HEAD
Imagine yourself behind the burners, preparing a top-notch meal with the expertise of a seasoned culinary expert. Now you can ... or at least see what it would look like, thanks to the new ChefCam. Tristan Executive Chef Ciarán Duffy will don the ChefCam this Wed. Oct. 25, allowing viewers a bird's-eye view of the action as he creates a dinner at the James Beard House in New York City as part of the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star of American Cuisine series. The night will represent a major accomplishment for Duffy, as being honored at the prestigious Beard House, the headquarters of the Foundation, signifies having arrived at a certain level of excellence within the culinary world. The innovative ChefCam will transmit live, streaming video and audio to the Tristan restaurant website. For food buffs, the technology is equivalent to having a microphone and camera attached to the quarterback's helmet during the Super Bowl, Duffy says. Check out the culinary action from the Tristan website at www.tristandining.com or head to Tristan's at 55 South Market St. from 4-10 p.m. to watch the event with friends and fans in the lounge. –MG