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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Parting Words

Two and a half years ago, I opened Foraging Foodies with the intention to explore the Carolinas and share my eating discoveries. With that in mind, I dined my way through the South, meeting some really incredible people along the way who put out some really incredible dishes, and in general learned more about food then I ever imagined I would.

And I wrote. And wrote. And wrote, about everything I could find and share about. It was an invigorating experience finding a new gem and sharing it with the public, a feeling which I still can't fully describe. And you all responded, with more warmth and generosity then I could have ever imagined, for which I am eternally grateful.

Two years later though, with all the knowledge and experience I accrued, Foraging Foodies suddenly didn't feel like the direction I wanted to be. I've grown so passionate about everything local, from farm to table, in the hands of locals working for the love of their community and their craft, so much so that the idea of criticizing the hardworking locals who have put so much effort into adding to their community became too awful to think of. I've also learned so much about the culture of food and began understanding the many different ways food acts as an expression of self, and have made so many new friendships through that. Talking about restaurants wasn't enough for me anymore, not when there is so much more to say. Filled with new questions and ideas, I finally decided that I needed to move on to new adventures to keep growing and understanding everything I've come to learn in my short time as a foodie. So with great sadness, I have decided to shutdown Foraging Foodies, to pursue those desires.

Before we depart from foraging foodies, however, I wanted to list some gems that never got the opportunity to make the blog, because there are many out there, more than I could ever list in just a single post. I wish I had the time to go and do these fine eateries the justice they deserve, but I will instead leave it in your hands to go and check these recommendations out, and perhaps you can give the community your own words of wisdom.

The Unmentioned, for Columbia, SC:
Cellar on Greene - One of the best romantic deals in Columbia with their $19 three course meal, of which is so substantial and delicious, it is a shock to behold.
Sunming - The best Chinese food in Columbia, and the most authentic. Bring friends and share a family meal off the Chinese menu. Yes, those exist.
Crust - Amazing, amazing foccacia, and really good bread. Come early, they sell out fast.
No Name Deli - Cash only, just flat out good local fast food. Be prepared when you walk in, it's like the soup nazi in there.
Chocolate Nirvana Bakery - Tucked away in the historic houses of Columbia is perhaps one of the most decadent, moist chocolate flourless cupcakes you've ever had in your life. Really cute location too.
Lady Antoinette's - If you haven't heard of their beignets, you are missing out.
Motor Supply Bistro - How have I not talked about this place? It's amazing, just go. Possibly best brunch in the city.
Camon Sushi Bar - Stashed away on the side of Assembly St. where surely no one looks is one of the coolest places you can go for a quiet, not really authentic but still just really solid piece of sushi.
Bombay Grill - In my experience, the current champion of Indian food in the city. Prices are unusually affordable for Indian, and just flat out good. It is without a doubt better than Spice Junction in my book, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Terra - Well-deserving of all the praise it receives as one of the city's finest, and no where near as wallet breaking as you may think with their weekly specials.
Original Pancake House - It is a chain, but I really don't care, because it's mighty fine diner food, packed with bacon.
Just Us Cafe - Even more diner-ish than Original Pancake, but with even bigger portions.
Golden Chopstix - Just a terrible name and location in general, but the massuman curry here will blow your mind.

The Others:
McCabes BBQ, Manning, SC - The absolute best sweet potatoes I've ever had, and just a great buffet in general in that classic South Carolina way.
Autobanh Food Truck, Charleston, SC - Fried chicken banh mi with pickled okra and sriracha-honey drizzle. You are welcome.
Glazed Gourmet, Charleston, SC - The greatest donuts you will ever have in your life.
Voodoo, West Ashley (Charleston), SC - Truffle fried tater tots and bacon s'mores and it's a tiki bar and really do I need to say more?
Parker's, Wilson, NC - East Carolina bbq in the most delicious way. Amazing fried chicken, great sides, and ridiculously awesome prices. Just ten minutes off I-95, well-worth a stop.

And that's it. Again, I want to take everyone for their support and just taking the time to read any and all of what I've wrote here at Foraging Foodies. It's been a real honor, and I hope to see you all in my future foodie endeavors. Until then, keep on foraging folks, the world's waiting for you.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Columbia Eats: British Bulldog Pub

I didn't realize Columbia was sorely in need of good Irish-y pub food until I stepped into the British Bulldog Pub last week. If you asked me prior, I don't think I could possibly name an Irish place off the top of my head in the Capital City, one that really did potatoes and meat pies some justice at least. Fortunately, this problem has rectified, and everyone can sleep at night again.

In a nutshell, Bulldog is pretty great. And by great, I mean the best thing you'll find on Harbison, hands down. In a land of not just awful chain restaurants, but all the awful chain restaurants, Bulldog is positive step in the right direction. The menu is kind of surprising; a host of meat pies along with the usual suspects headline the list. Shoving a fish and chips craving aside, I grabbed an order of the chicken, bacon and leek pie. The pie itself was an easy decision, but Bulldog sweetened the deal with something I've never seen before as its side - an order of mustard mashed potatoes. Hand mashed potatoes with a burst of tangy mustard seed, it was kind of awesomely good in a way I wasn't expecting at all. The meat pie was great too, full of potatoes and stuff, in a flaky dough and slathered in nice gravy just because. The photo I think says it all. If a potato, chicken, leek and bacon pie sounds good to you, then you'll like it, no doubt.

Fish and chips did make the table, and delivered just fine. I've had a lot of really great fish and chips this year, so these may not stack up as the best I've had all year, or in Columbia for that matter (check out Bone-In Artisan's monstrosity if you see them rolling around a corner near you). They were totally fine though, and came with grilled lemons (totally cool in my humble opinion, but a distant second to the malt vinegar any day as far as fish and chips are concerned). Bulldog is kind of the most authentic pub I've been too in awhile also, serving mushy peas as an optional side. I've never had them before here, and they certainly weren't my favorite thing in the world, but they are there, and I imagine they are about as decent as mushy peas get.

This being my first visit to Bulldog, it might be absurd to call this one of my favorite places in Columbia, but I definitely liked what I had on this visit and have plans to come back often as long as I'm in the midlands. The beer is a touch pricey (decent collection though), along with the food, but as an occasional splurge, I think it's totally worth it, especially if you're wandering the Irmo area for something to eat.

The British Bulldog Pub on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Guide to Korean Food

Everyone knows Chinese food. And most people at least know what sushi is, and have had a bowl of ramen in some way, shape or form and can pretend know what the gist of Japanese cooking is. Thai curries and pad thai have acclaimed much fame, and Vietnamese even kind of has exploded and become a bit of a thing everywhere with pho and banh mi becoming mainstream. But as far as Korean food is concerned, that's been surprisingly under the radar for a lot of people, especially in the South. Defiantly authentic, unlike it's other counterparts which have sacrificed a lot of tradition in favor of dipping a bit into the melting pot for business, Korean food has always been made for Korean people, unfazed by the pressures of American taste buds. Fortunately, it's really delicious, and fairly no-fear stuff, featuring flavors we all know and love in an Asian backdrop. The following is the big information dump that you need to know before entering the big, beautiful world of Korean cooking.

Banchan, The Initial "Whoa Man" Moment
Banchan is your typical set of a bijillion side dishes that unload the table during each meal. They can be a lot of things (I've had up to 16 dishes at once at some places), but the staples tend to be kimchi (we'll talk about this), a spicy cucumber thing, cold potatoes with a sweet cream, japchae (sweet potato noodles, personal favorite) and often some cold blanched beans sprouts. There are many more, all of which are tasty, delicious, and varying in textures and taste.

Kimchi, The Must Know of Korean Food
Spicy fermented cabbage really wasn't a winning name, so we keep to calling it kimchi here in the United States. And it really is so much more delicious then its unglamorous description. Spicy, crunchy, and like wine, full of varying flavors that make each and every jar a bit different, it's the must-have at every Korean meal, whether as a side or incorporated into the main dish in some delicious way. Koreans are known to fly back to the United States with cases of this stuff. The most authentic kimchi is a long and complicated process, but there are also several recipes for quick kimchi you can make at home as well.

Bulgogi, the National Dish for Meatlovers
Every culture has a great meat dish to prey on, and for Koreans bulgogi (sometimes called Galbi, difference is in how thick or thin it is sliced) is the basic signature they like to stand on. Beef, chicken, or pork can be used (almost always beef though), but the key being the special marinade of soy, sesame oil, sugar, garlic, pepper, and other magical things, grilled over open flame that make it so magical. The fanciest serving is often over a burner right at your own table, ensuring the fresh and hottest bites you can get, often making for a fragrant meal. Bulgogi often goes into various dishes as well, particularly their big rice dish, bibimbap.

Bibimbap, What Fried Rice Wishes it Could Be
One of the most comforting Korean things you can have after a long hard day, bibimbap basically means "mixed rice." It comes in two ways, the basic way where a rice is topped by a variety of vegetables, usually kimchi, shredded carrots and various greens along with a fried egg on top, or the spectacular and often worthy of the extra dollar or so dolsot bibimbap, which puts the rice in a hot stone bowl which caramelizes and crisps the rice to perfection. Both bowls usually come with a bottle of magical red pepper paste sauce, which gives the dish a deep sweet and spicy flavor. It's really pretty when it hits the table, but the secret to eating it is to get everything together and mash the hell out of it until you get something like a fried rice consistency, and then enjoy.

Panjeon, It's the Savory Person's Pancake
No really! Usually vegetables thinly sliced with chunks of seafood depending on the type of panjeon, or just vegetarian, it's a thin savory pancake often served as an appetizer. I sometimes wake up in the morning and fry up a batch for breakfast for a hearty breakfast (surely breaking some ancient rule).

Duk Bokki, Let's Pretend That's What it is Called
Think of it as the Korean version of gnocchi, these chewy pieces of dough are made from rice cakes, pan-fried lightly and then tossed in a spicy sauce for a warm and comforting bite. Really addicting with the chewy rice cakes and sauce.

There's plenty more to explore as far as Korean food is concerned, but this guide hopefully acts as a decent head start into the world of Korean cooking. It's really tasty stuff that's fairly healthy and just flat out good. Do yourself a favor and head out to a local restaurant to get a big, giant bowl of bibimbap with all the fixings now!

Places to Try:
DJ House, in Columbia, SC
Blue Cactus, in Columbia, SC
Tasty Korean BBQ, in Greenville, SC

Friday, November 9, 2012

Columbia Eats: Il Giorgionne Pizzeria and Wine Bar

"mmmmmmm!" exclaims Brittany Walter.
If there was one thing that Columbia always had, it was a wealth of Italian restaurants at every corner - Dianne's, Pasta Fresca, and Garibaldi's, Ristorante Divino, Delucca's, Moe's Grapevine, and Villa Tronco are just a few that come to mind (let's not even get started on those awful chains). In the last few years, however, a flood of newcomers has popped up all over Columbia, filling in those gaps and causing some buzz comparable to the food truck explosion. Rosso in particular made itself a fixture of not just Forest Acres, but in the community as a whole, supporting local events and making itself a staple of Soda City.

So here we stand, at yet another Italian addition to the capital city, Il Giorgionne. After all that, what exactly sets apart Columbia's newest Italian member from the rest?

Well, for starters, authenticity.

This is not an Italian-American joint. Though it's interiors are clean, sleek and contemporary American, the stuff that hits the table is what one might consider Italy to be. No caesar salad or garlic bread or fried calamari, but rather plates of imported cheese and cold cuts, a caprese of tomato and fresh mozzerella, cheese on pretty much everything in fact (a classic clear-cut path towards customer satisfaction if I do say so myself) line the appetizer menu. Paired with a large wine list, the restaurant lives up to its wine bar namesake fairly well.

The entree list at Il Giorgionne is lean and focused, packed with simple, classic Italian dishes including carbonara, spaghetti aglio olio e Rapini (garlic, good olive oil and broccoli rabe over pasta), pappardelle (egg pasta with bolognese meat sauce) and of course pizzas, including margherita and romana. I tried the carbonara and tortelloni alla Stefania on my visit. Carbonara, the classic pasta dish of pancetta, pecarino, pasta finished off with a creamy egg at the end is something that you have to really go to great lengths to mess up, and Il Giorgionne certainly does not here. The pasta was fresh, and the sauce was cheesy and yolky as it should be, just a really fine dish.

The star was the tortelloni though, stuffed with cheese and sitting on a rich, creamy tomato sauce that we were sopping up with any bread we could get our hands on well after the tortelloni were gone. The portions look deceptively small when they come to the table, but the richness of it all certainly makes up for the difference, leaving you feeling very fine by the end of the meal.

The prices, compared to its upscale neighbor Diannes and other Italian eateries are a touch lower, making for a good, local place to get some solid Italian food without breaking the bank. Life-changing it may not be, but Il Giorgionne is certainly satisfying in its own right, and a fine addition to the Columbia Italian scene for what they do.

il Giorgione Pizzeria & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 12, 2012

Columbia Eats: Lunch at the Oak Table

The sister restaurant to the fantastic Macintosh in Charleston, the Oak Table landed on Main Street a couple of weeks ago and immediately became a twitter sensation in the area, garnering critical acclaim from locals for their American Bistro fare. Just this past week, they added lunch service, allowing this foodie on a budget a taste of the hottest new restaurant in town. I can happily say that, just like the Macintosh in Charleston, the Oak Table is going to be the place to be here in Columbia for what I think will be a very, very long time if this lunch was any indication. 

Warning: This is going to be a bit of a food porn heavy review. 

On the surface, we're talking about some really American stuff going on here. It is American bistro afterall, and looking up and down the list there's no doubt about it. The menu at Oak Table for lunch is fairly lean and mean, with your standard burger, BLT, salad options, and some steak options. There's even a mahi mahi dish. They do not mess around with the genre. What they do different, however, is really punch of the sex appeal of all these classics. The BLT, for example, is slathered in a lemon-garlic aioli, topped with the classic Southern fried green tomato and swabbed with some fresh pimento cheese on brioche. The bacon was reliably great as bacon always is, but the pimento cheese they slather here is what makes all the difference. Really creamy and tangy, with the crisp, chewy brioche and the excellent fried green tomato on top of that, it was a BLT that put all others to shame. There was also a housemade sausage sandwich floating around that looked spectacular, and came with an interesting beet Dijon to set it apart from the norm.

For all the interesting things they do, they don't mess with the classics completely though. The burger, for example (which was perhaps 90% of the lunch hour's orders, I understand Columbia, you love your burgers), is done how you want it and the way it should be, topped with a thick slab of cheddar and some applewood bacon. Take that beast and throw some bistro fries next to it that were cooked in truffled oil. Just straight solid and delicious. (Some people give a bad rap towards truffle oil. That might be true for a lot of things, but as far as fries are concerned, they are extraordinary and perhaps the To really set the Oak Table's lunch towards upscale, there's also the Oak Table Butcher Board sandwich, which this foodie had to order, hands down. Smooth chicken liver with a pork terrine, housemade pickles and pickled red onion with a slather of preserves, this was a real treat and a welcome find in a town where charcuterie is a rarity.  Like a classic Vietnamese banh mi, it just had all the wonderful livery taste on top of the terrine, which were extenuated by the pickled cucumber and red onion. I know this may be a little out of bounds for a lot of people, but if you are into this kind of stuff, this is a no-brainer. Served with truffle fries, it was a steal at $9.

Columbia, and Main Street in particular, was sorely in need of a place like the Oak Table. With elegant indoor seating and casual outdoor seating, it brings an upscale atmosphere that's incredibly lacking in our downtown, and the fact they are producing what may be some of the best food in town right now makes it all the more exciting. Bring the party there for dinner, bring yourself there for lunch. You will not be disappointed.

The Oak Table on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Soda, Schnitzel, and Songs: This Week in Columbia, SC

Jam Room Music FestivalIt's another busy week in Columbia this weekend with festivals and fairs going on everywhere, particularly the beloved South Carolina State Fair. Though exciting and a fine choice for entertainment this weekend, my money for this Saturday is on Main Street, where all the action will be going down starting at 8 AM when Soda City makes its debut. Formerly the All Local Farmer's Market at 701 Whaley, the new market aims to land on the constantly evolving Main Street, including Paradise Ice and in the near future, the new Drip on Main. Expect to find all all your favorite Whaley vendors this weekend, and more exciting additions as the ambitious new market expands on Main. After Soda City, you can hang around and get ready for the much hyped Jam Room Music Festival, which really needs no introduction after all these weeks of hype in the capital city.

If you're looking for more humble offerings this weekend, Octoberfest fun continues in Columbia, this time at the Incarnation Lutheran Church. Lots of live German music and dancing (particularly all day Saturday) and of course great German food aka schnitzel everywhere.

For those who missed the first announcement, Lake Carolina's Food and Wine Festival is also this weekend. For $30 (of which go to Children of Columbia Charities), you can sample various Carolina wines along with great food from some of Columbia's best, including Cafe Caturra and Solstice.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Columbia Eats: Spice Junction

Blessed and cursed with a generous amount of hype from local bloggers and news makers, Spice Junction garnered a lot of talk about its Indian buffet. Folks clamored over its wide array of unique, tasteful Indian dishes that have dazzled eaters in West Columbia since its grand opening last year. It was obvious that the minute I got back to Columbia, this was the place I had to go. 

Turns out, I may have been wrong. 

I sat down to eat at Spice Junction last weekend - well, walked in and scurried to the buffet line that is. It's only buffet at Spice Junction, and for the most part you are alone in servicing yourself, with a water machine to the left and buffet in the back waiting. The owners are always active in the back though, ready to guide you if you have any questions and serve you other drinks if you are craving. 

The selection was fit and fine. Samosas, the staple butter and chicken curry, a spicy cauliflower dish, some tandoori and the usual saag panir (curried spinach dish). There were the less usual suspects though, including some spicy, curried lentil dishes and a goat biryani. A goat biryani! In my buffet line! That alone should have cried wonderful. 

Unfortunately, a lot of their dishes just weren't up to par. The spice level on a lot of the dishes, for one, was slightly strong, maybe even overpowering for someone who has a low tolerance level. The chicken curry was filled to the brim with far too dry chicken. Loaded chicken may be a good thing in a lot of dishes we eat, but I really pine for the thick curry and succulent bites of chicken in between to swab up with my piece of naan (Indian flatbread). That just wasn't there in the curry, and for a lot of the dishes in fact. The butter chicken may have been the only fair one, but its richness in a buffet setting makes it a hard sell for having a lot of it along with anything else. The goat biryani, though, was interesting and definitely worth a taste, but alone not enough to save everything else going on.

There was good though. The samosas were crispy and flavorful. The vegetable samosa had the right balance of crisp, potato, dough and spice that you want in it. And the naan. Good god, the naan. If there were one reason to come back to Spice Junction, it would be just to sit there and eat mountains of their warm, buttery naan. This was really where I was crying for some good dishes to mop with, because it seriously is some of the best naan I have ever come across, and for sure miles ahead of any other naan in town.

So there you have it. Great, really great, naan. Pretty tasty samosas. A bit flat in the world of everything else. I really want that rich curry, some good, dependable saag panir for my naan, and some really comforting, maybe even surprising dishes that bring not only flavor, but the right balance of it that makes good Indian cooking so extraordinary. In those departments, Spice Junction let me down a bit. 

Spice Junction on Urbanspoon