We’re back in Charleston at the moment, which has us obsessing about food. Charleston has proclaimed itself the Foodie Capital of the Universe, and we can’t even keep up with the hot new restaurants, much less just the new ones (90 opened last year). But we soldier on and do our best.
You know how in France the star chefs are opening up small bistros in addition to their flagship restaurants, to sort of play around a bit? Well, that’s what the US golden boy chef du jour, Sean Brock of the fine and fancy Husk Restaurant, has done in Charleston. Chef Brock seems to be in every national magazine I pick up these days, showing off those beefy arms, tattooed with intertwining vegetables.
So what sort of casual place did he open? You wouldn’t guess it. It’s a hole-in-the-wall (but stylish) Mexican place with just a few tables, offering tacos ($3 each) and burritos ($8) served up with Tecate beer and margaritas.
We love Husk, so we decided to try Minero, as he calls his new place. There is always a wait, even on a Monday at 6pm, when we went, so we saddled up to the tiny bar—and never left. We sat down next to a local chef who owns a farm-to-table catering business and who was on a tasting mission. He started passing bites to us (“sharing is caring”, he said), so the three of us together worked our way through most of the menu, served by our cheerful bartender. Photo above of Minero by Sweet Tea Jubilee.
No normal Mexican joint, this. Brock spent 6 months just learning to make a true Mexican tortilla. He imports three varieties of corn and grinds the corn himself. He makes his own Mexican cheese. I told our bartender that somebody must be back there making tortillas all day; he told me there are in fact three ladies who do nothing but. Photo right by Jonathon Boncek.
The food is inspired by Mexican street food, meant to be eaten with your fingers, or rather devoured. Silverware is discouraged (it’s kept in a drawer at each table; if you must have it, help yourself). There are piles of paper napkins, though a bib and a washcloth might have been useful.
Despite the authentic tortillas, the food is a Mexican mash-up. Behold this unlikely burrito: it was filled with hoppin’ john, avocado, queso de Oaxaca, and crema. The tortilla that enveloped it was burnished to a crispy shell. There was also a dish improbably labeled “hot dog confit and ham torta”. Huh? Turns out Brock is riffing on a sandwich of unapologetic excess that he spotted in Mexico City: a split hot dog on a round bun with deli ham. Brock sautés the hot dog in rendered pork fat, hence the confit handle. Then he tops the sandwich with a thick slice of ham, avocado, shredded lettuce, tomato, a vegetable relish, shaved onions, and a chipotle mayo. Dessert was churros, served with a chocolate and chile dipping sauce. We didn’t have room for the churros—so we’ll be back!
RECIPE: New South Collard Greens
Speaking of food from the deep south, I tried a new-fangled collard green recipe this week from that iconic food writer Ruth Reichl, former editor of the deeply missed Gourmet magazine. I tried it because it’s about as different from traditional collard greens as you can get, and because Ruth Reichl is one of my heros. Slow-cooked collards are just about my favorite food, but it’s good to step away from the dog-eared cookbook sometimes.
The collards are chopped into very thin strips (with an ingenious technique that is super quick), briefly sautéed with aromatics, then topped with toasted breadcrumbs, parmesan, and a splash of lemon. They were quite delicious and different. You can find the recipe at Ruth’s blog. I liked them cooked just a minute longer, and we preferred cider vinegar over the lemon juice, but otherwise I followed the recipe. So go on now, make yourself a mess o' modern collard greens!
In the COMMENTS: First of all, for a very thoughtful and thorough post on Charlie Hebdo and the tradition of French satire, go to the blog Recollections of a Vagabonde, written by one of our readers who was raised in Paris.
Well last week's post on French kids and their eating habits certainly generated some interesting comments! Rebecca, Tammy, and Caterina all share their experience working in schools, so they've seen some picky eaters. Martin gives us the UK perspective. Rhonda and Dottie (a pediatrician) both have some good tips to share on feeding kids. And Betty really did have les bébés who loved boudin!
Bonnie and Natalia have movie recommendations for you. And many thanks for all the feedback on The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I'm reading it now, what a quirky and fascinating book!