Say Cheers with Irish Mojitos

I’ve got a refreshing cocktail for y’all just in time to say cheers on St. Patrick’s Day: an Irish Mojito! Bright and a little on the dangerous side (because you can’t taste the alcohol), the Creme De Menthe gives this cocktail a minty flavor and a festive pop of green color. It’s fruity and just the kind of thing I love to sip on while watching the parade go by in the 80 degree Savannah, Georgia “spring” weather. Continue reading “Say Cheers with Irish Mojitos”

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Whiskey Fit For A King

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Contributed photo

What do you get when you combine a bunch of food and beverage lovers, a beautiful venue and exquisite whiskey? One hell of a SOME KINDA GOOD Tuesday evening! The high was 96 degrees in the Lowcountry, without a cloud in the sky. We met on the roof of Stars Rooftop and Grill Room in downtown Charleston on historic King Street for one reason: to explore two new variants recently introduced by Crown Royal Canadian Whisky. Here I would meet Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, the brand’s first-ever blended rye whisky, and Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel, a drink which pays homage to the brand’s signature smoothness.

The crowd turned out in true Charlestonian fashion -- dressed for a proper night on the town.
The crowd turned out in true Charlestonian fashion — dressed for a proper night on the town.

During cocktail hour, waiters circulated the rooftop with trays of summer tomato-mozzarella skewers and shaved salmon crostini with capers and cream cheese. I met other marketing professionals and beverage connoisseurs, among them Susan Lucas of King Street Marketing Group, representatives from The Local Palate, Taneka Reaves and Johnny Caldwell of the Cocktail Bandits (super fun girls!) and Robin Rodriquez of locally owned Egan’s Spirits.

Meet Brandon Verkaik and Bud Huber, the two mixologists who created the four signature cocktails of the evening: Holy City Brunch Punch, Royal Shandy, The Light Dimmer and Wild Flower Whiskey Sour. I can’t wait to share one of the recipes with y’all! Choosing a favorite of the four cocktails is a bit like being partial to your best friends or family members…you appreciate them each for what they bring to the table. If I had to choose one though, I’d pick the Wild Flower Whiskey Sour. This drink features Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, known for its oak flavor with spicy notes of vanilla and a hint of butterscotch.

For the guided whiskey tasting portion of the event, we made our way into the air-conditioned (thank you, Jesus!) Wilkinson Room on the second floor of the restaurant where we were enlightened by Master of Whiskey Stephen Wilson. At one point, this guy asks if anyone in the room is a fan of country music. Are you kidding!? Without hesitation I raised my glass and in my sweetest Southern accent, said with fervor, “You can’t be a whiskey fan and not love country music!” He later asked how we enjoyed whiskey best, and I told him “To the tune of George Jones.” Is there any other way? Maybe a Jack Daniels audience would understand this better. 😉

Master of Whiskey Stephen Wilson teaches us how to sniff and taste the libation for its full pleasure.
Master of Whiskey Stephen Wilson teaches us how to experience the libation at its fullest. Contributed photo. 

I was pleased to learn Wilson first discovered Crown Royal Deluxe in none other than the beautiful Savannah, Georgia. Here’s a guy who grew up on the Tennessee Virginia line, and says he “fell into” a career as a Master of Whiskey and now works for Diageo, the company who owns Crown Royal. He said, “There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy whiskey. Good conversation over a glass of good whiskey is what it’s all about.” Sounds like we share the same philosophy! He taught us that Crown Royal was first created as a gift for the King and Queen of England to celebrate their visit to Canada in 1939. The iconic purple bag which the whiskey is purchased in is a concept from the original packaging! It was developed to suit the royal occasion and outfitted with gold drawstrings, a tradition that continues to this day.

A decadent chocolate cake in the form of a whiskey bottle! What's not to love?
A decadent chocolate cake in the form of a whiskey bottle! What’s not to love? Contributed photo

The attention to detail at this event was unmatched! Dessert was a moist, rich chocolate cake shaped like a bottle of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye whiskey. Who knew eating whiskey could be fun too? HA!

Tastemakers sampled three varietals during the evening: Crown Royal Deluxe, Northern Harvest Rye and Hand Selected Barrel.
Tastemakers sampled three varietals during the evening: Crown Royal Deluxe, Northern Harvest Rye and Hand Selected Barrel. Contributed Photo

I’ll leave y’all with this: A refreshing concoction suitable for any summertime happy hour, courtesy of the mixologists mentioned above. Thanks to Taylor Strategy for an evening really well done, and a valuable education on the top-selling Canadian Whiskey in the United States.

This is the best whiskey sour I've ever had.
This is the best whiskey sour I’ve ever had. Contributed Photo

Wildflower Whisky Sour

2 oz. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

1 oz. St. Germaine

.5 oz. Yellow Chartreuse

1 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice

.5 oz. Wildflower Honey Syrup

Stir together ingredients. Serve over ice and enjoy!

Featuring “The Queen Julep” Just in Time for The Kentucky Derby

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The Kentucky Derby in action! (Contributed photo)
On the first Saturday in May since 1946 (the Derby actually debuted in 1875), thousands of revelers have graced the infield at Churchhill Downs to place bets on the fastest horse, go cow tippin’, don their fanciest hat and sip on mint juleps at the infamous Kentucky Derby. In fact, more than 80,000 onlookers are expected this weekend to experience the pageantry and tradition of the 141st “Run for the Roses” live in Louisville.
Though I’ve never personally been to a race, (I would LOVE to go one of these days), I’ll be celebrating from a far with mint julep in hand — and thanks to Charlotte, North Carolina Mixologist Bob Peters, I’ll be sippin’ in style.
Bob Peters doing what he does at The Punch Room in Charlotte, NC.
Bob Peters doing what he does at The Punch Room in Charlotte, NC. (Contributed photo)

Peters uses one of my favorite bourbons, Bulleit Rye, to make this sugar spirit-water cocktail. I use the same stuff to create the ultimate Blackberry Smash. An award-winning cocktail master, he’s the head bartender at Charlotte’s newest hot-spot, The Punch Room, nestled on the 15th floor of the Ritz-Carlton.

With a mere four ingredients, you’ll be glad you made this drink at home. Word on the street is, one mint julep at the races will cost you $8 a pop.

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The Queen Julep by Head Mixologist Bob Peters (Contributed photo)

The Queen Julep
Recipe by Punch Room Head Mixologist Bob Peters

Bay Breeze, Take Me Away

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Meet my go-to cocktail: the Bay Breeze. No matter where I am, what season it is or the kind of mood I’m in, with one sip, the Bay Breeze inevitably takes me to the Islands. Something about a semi-sweet fruity cocktail in a cold glass sets my mind at ease, and kicks off the countdown to relaxation.

On my recent vacation to the Western Caribbean, I picked up a bottle of Coconut Rum, and I’ll be putting it to good use with this recipe. Don’t forget the garnish…much like a good outfit needs finishing touches, so too, does a good drink.

It’s almost Happy Hour…cheers y’all!

Barcadi Bay Breeze

      Serves 1

    • 1 part Coconut Rum (I like Bacardi or Malibu)
    • 2 parts Cranberry Juice
    • 2 parts Pineapple Juice

· Squeeze of fresh lime juice

  • Fresh pineapple wedges, slices of lime for garnish (Tip: Rather than garnish randomly, I enjoy adorning the glass with something that gives a nod to its ingredients)

Enjoy.

Rae’s Coastal Café: An Inland Island Hideaway

wpid-0530141929.jpgRae’s Coastal Cafe
Augusta, Georgia 

Two of my best friends recently took me to dinner at a place more than 153 miles inland from the Georgia Coast located in my hometown of Augusta, Georgia. They promised it would be “right up my alley” and said I should “be prepared to blog about it.” Though it’s been open since I was nine years old, that Friday night was the first time I’d ever heard of it or set foot through its doors. Tucked away in a small community at the west end of Walton Way, Rae’s Coastal Cafe transported me to the islands the moment I stepped inside, perpetuated only by the best Key Lime Pie Martini I’ve ever had, and a house salad that rivaled my go-to Caesar and sailed away with my heart.

wpid-0530141930b.jpgThe cafe touched on every indicator I consider noteworthy about a restaurant: 1) It’s independently owned, 2) The local, casual atmosphere was well done–coastal but not in an obnoxious way, 3) The food was excellent and 4) The service was informed.

Our waitress, April.
Our waitress, April.

Meet our waitress, April. Servers have the ability to make or break a dining experience and if they’re on point, nine times out of 10, your visit will be too. April was well-informed on the menu items, at the ready with refills, and intuitively aware of when to ask if we were ready for the next course or if she could take our empty plates. As a first time visitor, she sold me on the house salad when I routinely ordered a Caesar, and I’m so glad I took her word. Super friendly and seemingly happy to be at work, April enhanced our meal and represented Rae’s expertly well.

wpid-0530142028a.jpgThere on the table, much to my surprise sat a product from good ol’ Statesboro…Braswell’s Vidalia Onion Steak Sauce. That made this Statesboro food writer proud.


The meal began with fresh-baked rolls, served with spreadable butter, followed by Rae’s Famous House Salad, known as an Augusta favorite. A simple combination of fresh greens and tomatoes tossed in a homemade dressing, the salad is plated in a cold, pewter-like bowl and topped with crunchy croutons made in-house. It was everything one could hope for–light, tangy, crunchy and refreshing.

I ordered the Blackened Mahi-Mahi, a healthy 9 oz. fillet topped with Cajun spices, seared in a cast iron skillet and served with new potatoes. April informed me that Rae’s uses the same spices on the fish as in their famous Jamaican Jerk Chicken. The Mahi-Mahi had the perfect kick to it and together with the buttery potatoes, I was happy and satisfied. My friends shared the special that evening: Carolina Mountain Trout with crisp green beans and new potatoes. For dessert, we tackled a slice of Chocolate Cheesecake made with Kahlua and drizzled with raspberry syrup. Other tempting menu items included Coconut Fried Shrimp, the Crabmeat Sandwich (yes, that’s right. Not crab cake, crabMEAT!), the Dolphin Sandwich and Filet Mignon. Chicken, steak, seafood…they do it all!

wpid-0530142028.jpgIt’s a good thing that I no longer live in Augusta because I would have to have this drink in my life every day. Rimmed in a graham cracker crust, the Key Lime Pie Martini was the most balanced blend of sweet and tart I’ve ever experienced. It was like drinking pie. Move over Malibu Bay Breeze, there’s a new sheriff in town.

wpid-0530142134a.jpgDining at Rae’s Coastal Cafe felt like an episode of Cheers. The owner, Walter, makes his way through the restaurant greeting guests and shaking hands. You’re bound to run into someone you know there. It’s a comfortable place where people go to enjoy good food and good company…after all, that’s what it’s all about!

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My friends, Levi and Angela.

Special thanks to these two (who just celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary!) for a wonderful evening out. Y’all know me well.

 

Rae's Coastal Cafe on Urbanspoon

New Flavors with Nashville Friends: A Food Adventure at The 404 Kitchen

wpid-0329142036.jpgThe 404 Kitchen
Nashville, Tennessee 

The older I become, the more I realize that so much of life is about our experiences. When I auditioned for ABC’s cooking competition reality show “The Taste” last year, I couldn’t have predicted the friendships that would result and never would have imagined I’d be hanging out in the Music City with the co-owner of an award-winning food truck eating chicken liver pate and drinking cocktails with smoked bacon. I’m talking about my friend, Carlos Davis of Riffs Fine Street Food. You may have seen him on the Cooking Channel’s Eat Street or featured in the Nashville Scene. He’s the coolest Caribbean I know, with a local, inside perspective on good eats. On a chilly Saturday night in early spring, Carlos and I reunited for the first time since we’d both hopped on a plane Southbound from Burbank, California in September 2013. Carlos showed me around a Nashville neighborhood known as the Gulch, and introduced me to The 404 Kitchen, led by Chef Matt Bolus.

wpid-0329142033.jpgAs noted on The 404 Kitchen’s website, the restaurant is “Housed in a former shipping container…and offers a modern take on classic European cuisine with an emphasis on local, seasonal fare, including herbs grown on the rooftop garden.”

A semi-finalist in the Best New Restaurant category of the 2014 James Beard Awards, The 404 Kitchen features indoor and outdoor seating to accommodate 56 guests for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday.

We decided to forgo the entrees all together and jump right in with Starters and Cocktails. We took our seats at the bar where Carlos quickly pointed out The Nearest Green, a libation featuring Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, Laird’s Rare Apple Brandy, Benton’s Smoky Mountain bacon and citrus infused Tennessee honey. It had every flavor going for it–fruity, smoky and sweet. Who wouldn’t love a cocktail including bacon? I was all in, and it didn’t disappoint. When I had finished sipping the cocktail, I shamelessly ate the bits of bacon in the bottom of my glass with a spoon to which Carlos commented, “You would be weird if you didn’t!”

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The next order of business came in the form of Crudo, an appetizer of Cobia, blood orange, fennel, bee pollen (that’s right, bee pollen), pistachio and vidal ice vinegar. Now, I grew up in Blythe, Georgia and Twiggs County farm country. My folks and I didn’t eat quite like this. I had no idea what the majority of these ingredients were, but I tasted them with gladness and what a refreshing combination! I learned that Cobia is a type of fish. I loved the crunch of the pistachios and fennel. The vinegar and citrus flavors gave every bite a noteworthy kick. As for the bee pollen, I was at a total loss.

wpid-0329141912.jpgStarter number 2 was delivered on a butcher block: Kennedy Farms Chicken Liver Pate, served with whole grain mustard, pickled radish and the Lowcountry’s popular benne wafers. A pate is a mixture of cooked ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste. Nothing about that sounds appealing to me, and by the looks of it, you’d think it came directly from a Spam can. Tasting chicken liver pate was another first for me, and the truth is, I really liked it. Reminiscent of humus in texture, its flavor was rich and herbaceous. When the dish came out, I looked directly at Carlos and said, “Alright chef. Teach me how to eat this.” He took a healthy portion of the pate and spread it on the wafer, then topped it with a bit of the spicy ground mustard. I asked, “What about the radish?” to which he informed me it was a palate cleanser. Makes sense! This home cook surely enjoys having chef friends.

wpid-0329141932a.jpgNext up came my pick for the evening, and my favorite of all: 14 Month Aged Benton’s Country Ham served with buttermilk biscuits, Tennessee whiskey jelly and red-eye gravy. In the moment the plate came, Carlos tweeted, “#CountryHamAndBiscuits @The404Kitchen. @SKGFoodBlog just squealed.” It was true. I had church with this appetizer. The biscuits were perfection, the country ham was salty and sliced to the perfect thinness, and the jam? I can’t. I could have turned the red-eye gravy ramekin up and drank it, but civility got the best of me.

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With each new dish, the bartender switched out our silverware and brought new small plates. Lastly, we tried the Burrata featuring celeriac, grapefruit, black truffle, pine nuts, leeks and calabrian peppers. Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. Smooth like butter, I’d never known a cheese could be elevated to such heights. Other Starters on the menu that night featured Lamb Sugo, Winter Squash Soup and a 3 Cheese Plate. Entrees included Rabbit, Cioppino, Swordfish, Pork Ragu and other mind-boggling dishes. Dining in a place like The 404 Kitchen reminds me of just how much I have to learn about the world of gastronomy.

We wound the evening down with dessert. The grand finale was brioche bread with bittersweet chocolate, and a banana nut loaf alongside cold ice cream. With a daily changing menu, this is a place I could return again and again.

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With clean plates and full hearts, we left The 404 Kitchen satisfied, anticipating the next great food adventure. From the service to the atmosphere, topped only by the food, The 404 Kitchen was Some Kinda Good, and the perfect spot to catch up with my culinary pal. After all, good food and good company is what it’s all about.

The 404 Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Georgia and Texas Collide at Hottie Hawg’s Smokin’ BBQ

wpid-20130713_202140.jpgHottie Hawg’s Smokin’ BBQ
Atlanta, Georgia

Barbecue restaurants are a dime a dozen in the South, but not all of them shine. A bit off the beaten path, I was recently invited to visit Hottie Hawg’s Smokin’ BBQ in Atlanta, and while the menu did include some typical side dishes, like mac & cheese and potato salad, the real surprise came in the blackened Mahi-mahi fish tacos, the whole fried okra and the chocolate pecan pie. It was a combination of the menu’s unpredictability and the atmosphere’s eclectic, neighborhood vibe, set to the sound of live rhythm and blues that caught my immediate attention. The smell of smoked pig hovering in the parking lot indicated a good time before we even walked through the doors.

I’m Rebekah Faulk and that’s my boyfriend Kurt and I above, along with Katelynne, our server. We visited Hottie Hawg’s on a Saturday night. As soon as we walked in, we heard, “Hey y’all. Welcome to Hottie Hawg’s! Just have a seat wherever you’d like,” followed by another voice from the bar who hollered, “Welcome to Hottie Hawg’s!”

wpid-20130713_203935.jpgWe took our seats close to the small stage just a few tables away from the lively bar, where we were entertained with old school blues all night long by Steve. Jam on, brother.

THE STAFF:

Shortly after sitting down, we were greeted by Chef Charles, better known by the staff as Chuck. Eager and excited to share his creations, Chuck was from Hinesville, Ga. Then later, Kyle, the owner, AKA Boss Hawg, made his way to our table. We told him to pull up a chair, and he grabbed a beer from the bar and joined us. A straight-shooter and native Texan, he was laid back and easygoing. His passion and drive was infectious, and it was apparent that Hottie Hawg’s was his heart. He could tell you every detail about the Stump’s Smokers they use to cook the meat, the local artwork on the walls and the menu items. Boss Hawg was in his element. “There’s Texas. There’s Georgia. We put it all together,” he said. Here, he explains how the magic happens:

THE FOOD: 


Best known for their sliced brisket, ribs and smoked chicken wings, Hottie Hawg’s Smokin’ BBQ is the three-time reigning Taste of Marietta champion, having won the competition consecutively from 2011-2013. Their stand out side dishes include fried okra, collard greens and Brunswick stew. You can expect to pay anywhere from $6-$25, depending on your appetite. We shared two meat combos including sliced brisket, chopped brisket, beer can chicken, pulled pork and andouille sausage. My favorite? Beer can chicken. The smoked flavor of the skin was crispy and slightly charred, and the chicken, perfectly moist. On brisket, my favorite was chopped because I found it easiest to eat. Boss Hawg compared the Texas style brisket to steak, explaining it this way—“If you’re a rib eye fan, you’ll probably like the chopped brisket. Filet mignon fan? You’ll liked the sliced.” The chopped brisket tends to contain more fat. Served on a cutting board, the meat combo came complete with your choice of two different sauces: Carolina-style mustard or Georgia style tomato-onion. Many of the menu items are Southwestern influenced, and the meats and cheeses are as locally sourced as possible.

THE ATMOSPHERE:

From the moment you walk in at Hottie Hawg’s, you feel comfortable. It’s unpretentious. Nothing fancy. It’s down home, local, informal, casual. It’s where the firemen hangout…an atmosphere where everybody knows everybody. Oftentimes folks think Atlanta is all white table cloths and candlelight, but not so. Sports memorabilia, tag plates and ball caps grace the walls. With a sexy pig for a logo, Hottie Hawg’s brings a fun, party vibe to the outskirts of town.

THE BAR:


The restaurant offers some rather “spirited” drinks, like the Rusted Out Muffler and the Adios Mother @%#$&. From the Hawg Balls to the 32 oz. Hawg-a-Rita, Hottie Hawg’s really follows through with the pig theme of things. For instance, the 18-Squeeler:

wpid-20130713_202342.jpgIt’s a 35-foot BBQ rig, fully equipped with grills, refrigeration, an air-conditioned kitchen and flat screen TVs!

wpid-20130713_202356.jpgOpen for just three years, Hottie Hawg’s Smokin’ BBQ, has more than 3,000 Facebook fans. They even offer brunch! Be sure to check them out on Lifetime this Tuesday, July 16 for the premiere of Catering Wars. I’ll be rootin’ for ’em.


Note: I was invited to review Hottie Hawg’s BBQ and our meal was comped.

Hottie Hawg's Smokin' BBQ on Urbanspoon

The French 75

Meet The French 75. Perfect to serve at an elegant dinner party, it’s festive and fun with a touch of elegance. You’ll need fresh lemon juice, some good quality gin, chilled champagne and some simple syrup. To make simple syrup, just dissolve equal parts water and sugar in a small saucepan and let simmer until thick, about 15 minutes. You can also pour the mixture in a blender to help it thicken faster.

Don’t forget the garnish–a maraschino cherry and a twist of lemon. It’s cold and I love how it fizzles.