Johnny’s favorite foods and beverages of 2010

Sookie and I enjoy trying news foods and beverages.  Below, I will outline my favorite foods and beverages of 2010– in chronological order.

1) Terrapin Depth-Charge Espresso Milk Stout

I love everything that Terrapin brewery makes, and this is one of their all-time best.  Sookie and I first had this beer in Greenville, SC at Barley’s Tap Room in late 2009.  Sookie had only recently discovered her love of porters and stouts, and she fell in love with this one immediately.  Unfortunately, we had no luck finding this beer anywhere else until we went to Trappeze Pub in Athens, GA on New Year’s day.  We were so excited to find this beer that we bought all three bottles they had (very likely the last three bottles of this extremely limited-batch brew in all of Athens).  The beer tastes like a rich, bold, nutty coffee; and it has enough carbonation and malty goodness to tickle your nose and warm your stomach.  I’d say “Go out and try this beer immediately!”  But it’s no longer available anywhere except in our memories.  And memories, while often lovely, are not very tasty…

2) Fingerling Potatoes with white truffle aioli at Gervais and Vine in Columbia, SC

Gervais and Vine is my favorite restaurant in Columbia, SC.  I love eating tapas because you can order several different dishes and share them around.  Sookie and I enjoyed a few great meals at Gervais and Vine this past year.  In January, we ate there with my parents for my birthday; and in July, we took Vince and Caroline because we knew they would love it.  Each time we go to G & V, we order different items, but we ALWAYS order the fingerling potatoes with an extra side of white truffle aioli.  The potatoes are the perfect combination of crispy exterior and soft interior; and the aioli provides the perfect creamy, salty compliment.

3) The Mustard BBQ sauce at Duke’s BBQ in Walterboro, SC

As anyone who knows me will attest, I am a BBQ connoisseur.  My first job was at a BBQ restaurant when I was 15; and my final meal, if given the choice, would be a plate of Eastern-NC style BBQ with a scoop of mustard-slaw.  I am a BBQ purest, and I believe that the meat should stand on its own without needing any sauce other than a splash of pepper vinegar.  When I moved from North Carolina to South Carolina, I was dismayed to learn that pitmasters douse their BBQ with a thick, overly sweet mustard sauce that obscures the smokey goodness of the meat.

In late February, 2010, Sookie and I went to Wiggins, SC to enjoy a wilderness weekend with our friends LeeAnn and H.T.  On the way home, we stopped at Duke’s BBQ in Walterboro, SC.  Like most BBQ restaurants in SC, Duke’s features a small buffet with chopped pork, fried chicken, and all the classic sides– mac and cheese, green beans, liver hash, rice, and hushpuppies.  At the end of the buffet is a vat of my dreaded mustard sauce; yet this sauce looks different than the others.  It’s more of a rich orange-brown color instead of mustard yellow.  It also tastes different– less sweet, more savory and with just enough spice to make my tongue tingle.  I was in hog heaven with that sauce.   I dipped my hushpuppies in it, poured it over my meat, and stopped just short of drinking it with a straw.  This place gets my vote for the best BBQ joint in SC, primarily because of how damn good that sauce is.

4) Smoked salmon bagel at Belly General Store in Atlanta, GA

I am the most predictable brunch orderer ever: if there is a smoked salmon bagel on the menu, I’m gettin’ it.  I love the combination of the warm bagel (preferably sesame seed), the cool cream cheese, the subtly fishy salmon, the salty capers, and the spicy red onion.  Sookie and I visit our friend Sara in Atlanta, GA pretty regularly, and Sara does an awesome job of finding cool new places for us to try.  In April, Sara took us to Belly General Store for breakfast.  Of course, I ordered the smoked salmon bagel.  But, this was not your average smoked salmon bagel.  Belly uses liberal amounts of olive oil when producing their bagels, giving the exteriors a slick crispness and making the insides more moist and porous than most bagels.  Pared with an iced cafe Americano, I was a happy guy.

5) BBQ lamb shoulder stuffed mac and cheese gratin at Terra in West Columbia, SC

I have to give our friends Sarah and William props for suggesting Terra to us.  This place takes Southern cuisine to new heights of culinary awesomeness.  If you go, you HAVE to get the BBQ lamb shoulder stuffed mac and cheese gratin.  The mac and cheese comes out hot and bubbly, with a nice crisp panko topping.  Inside the dish, smokey chunks of lamb swim in a creamy sea of poblano peppers, fontina, and goat cheese.  This is hearty comfort food at its best.

6) Fois Gras Milkshake at Flip Burger in Atlanta, GA

Flip Burger, an innovative burger boutique in Atlanta, Ga, is the brainchild of Top Chef contestant Richard Blais.  In June, Sookie, Sara, and I made our first trip to Flip Burger and enjoyed Blais’ unique pairings of high quality beef, local veggies, and interesting condiments.  And what better way to wash down a fancy burger than with a liquid nitrogen milkshake?  Milkshake offerings at Flip Burger include a Krispy Kreme milkshake with bits of donut, a Nutella shake with a burnt marshmallow topping, and a fois gras milkshake (for non-foodies, fois gras is goose liver).  I absolutely love fois gras in all of its silky, fatty glory; so I knew which shake I’d be ordering.   The fois gras gave the chocolate milkshake a nutty maltiness that was as savory as it was sweet.  This shake surpassed all expectations and was undoubtedly the best one I’ve ever had.

7) The German style salad at Julia’s German Stammtisch in Columbia, SC

Julia’s German Stammtisch is one of our favorite restaurants in Columbia.  Sookie and I usually split a Cheesy JagerSchnitzel with a side of their fabulous potato pancakes.  The entree comes with a small German style salad, and we order an additional German style salad so we don’t have to fight over it.   This is a desert island salad; hell, this is a desert island food.  This wonderful salad is served on a bed of lettuce and consists of marinated beets, green beans, onion, and cabbage, with a tomato to top it off.  Drizzled over everything is a generous potion of Julia’s secret dressing.  I tried to get Julia to tell me what is in the dressing, but her lips are sealed.  If I had to take a guess, I would say it’s definitely got water, vinegar, and salt and pepper.  The dressing is light and refreshing with a perfect balance of sweet and sour.  When the dressing combines with the marinated beet juice, it produces a scintillating mixture that just begs to be sopped up with one of Julia’s crusty rolls.  This salad is a great compliment to the heavy German food.  It’s not only my favorite salad of 2010– it’s my favorite salad ever.

8 Everything at the Southern Skillet in West Columbia, SC

Southern buffets are a dime a dozen in these parts.  It really takes something special to make any of them stand out, but take my word for it: The Southern Skillet in West Columbia is top-notch.  Sookie and I stumbled upon this place while searching for a tasty brunch on Halloween morning.  We were skeptical because we had never been, but we were both thoroughly impressed (and thoroughly full for the rest of the day).   The meats at The Southern Skillet (turkey, fried chicken, pulled pork, etc.) are all really good.  However, the side dishes, particularly the cornbread stuffing, mac & cheese, and squash casserole, are the real stars.  Add to that the delicious desserts (strawberry shortcake, peach cobbler, and an assortment of pies), and you have the perfect recipe for a really good Southern food experience.

9) Black Friday Sliders at Chez Robinson- Townley

Sookie and I really enjoyed cooking for friends at home for Thanksgiving this year.  Sookie prepared a wonderful turkey with all the fixins.  Everyone knows that the best part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers.  This year, I enjoyed making Black Friday sliders by placing turkey, stuffing, grilled onions, jellied cranberry, gravy, and a dab of mayo on a small poppyseed bun.  I pared a couple of the sliders with a pale ale, and life was good.

10) Sierra Nevada Estate Homegrown Ale 2010

I started this list with a beer, so why not end it with one as well?  I love really hoppy, bitter beers with a touch of spiciness.  The newly released, limited batch Sierra Nevada Estate Homegrown Ale fulfills all my requirements for a great beer.  It also comes in a fancy 750ml bottle that’s been dipped in green wax.  How’s that for presentation!?  I enjoyed this beer while sitting on the porch with Lilly on an unseasonably mild evening in early December.  It was the perfect way to enjoy one of the final days of a good year.

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