Here is your access to some of the South's most interesting culinary stories; they are too good not to share! Listen and join the conversation.
Ep. 86: John Shields & Karen Urie Shields, Smyth
When you walk into Smyth in Chicago, there’s no getting away from the kitchen. In fact, you’re basically eating in the kitchen, so that’s exactly where I interviewed chefs John Shields and Karen Urie Shields, in earshot (or microphone range, as it were) of two industrious sous chefs whisking things in metal bowls, getting things out of ovens when the timer went off, and generally prepping for the intensive service later that night. That prep time is essential with food as highly constructed, thoughtful, and beautiful as the food is at Smyth, food that is getting all sorts of accolades, including Bon Appetit, the James Beard Foundation, Eater, and you know, just a little organization called Michelin. But the reason I traveled to see them was because Smyth, their passion project of a restaurant, is named after Smyth County, Virginia. This power culinary couple, whose resumes include Charlie Trotter properties and Alinea, left the windy city to head to the Appalachian Mountains for inspiration. They gained cult followings at Town House and Riverstead Inn there, then ended up moving back to Chicago to bring it full circle. The South is of course an inspiration to me, and I love those hollers and shady lanes and cold water creeks of the mountains, so how that gets translated onto a plate I had to see. And what I found was the translation of a palate of place into something altogether new.
Ep. 87: Justin Croxall & Matt Tunstall, Stems & Skins
Although it’s tough to say, Charleston, SC is not all postcards and porch living. It’s a city that is fighting decaying infrastructure, gentrification, the pressure of tourists, and traffic, traffic, traffic as an average of 75 people move here a day. So it can be a beautiful place but a hard place to live, to work, and to build a business. And thus begins the story of Stems & Skins, a wine bar turned bar turned a hangout with great food and great beverages located in Park Circle in North Charleston. Owners Matt Tunstall and Justin Croxall have solid resumes -- Matt was the somm at Husk and Justin owned Bull Street Gourmet -- but when the two teamed up, they couldn’t make a downtown location work. Still, in the greatest stroke of luck by choosing Park Circle, they became a locals haunt of the highest proportions, something that was their goal from the beginning. I love this place, and I always see someone I know, and we share tinned seafood, natural wines, fresh cocktails, and plenty more far away from the sound of carriage rides and tour guides. On the day I visited, rain pelted the roof so loudly that you’ll wonder what that sound is around the 5 minute mark. Just hold on. It’s only fitting it’s part of this interview because flooded streets and old-fashioned gullywashers are part of living in Charleston too. Welcome to the locals spot, which despite being in Bon Appetit, is still a bit of a secret, at least for now. Learn how a neighborhood hot spot is born.
Julia Grant, Linda Pinckney, & Sharon Coakley, Bertha's Kitchen
There is never a time where there is not a line at Bertha’s Kitchen in North Charleston, SC. That means that you’ll have plenty of time to decide what all you want for your meal (hint: you want lima beans), and you’ll also have time to read the mentions in Southern Living and Garden and Gun hanging on the wall. Owners Julia Grant, Linda Pinckney, and Sharon Coakley cook just like their mother, Bertha, taught them to, and that line from doors open to close existed long before the 2017 James Beard Foundation America Classic Award. Still, the award illustrates what locals have known for a long time: this is the place to get fed. And by fed, I mean much more than just the food on your tray. Bertha’s is the place to go when you need to know that some things, like red rice and green beans, don’t need an update, that no matter what kind of day you had, the fried chicken will be fresh for you until the doors close, that you’ll have a hefty dose of love and an occasional “baby” and “how you been” when you get to the front of the line. Bertha’s is what home tastes like, and these ladies know it. This restaurant is my comfort spot, which I admit here, along with the fact that I like sugar in my cornbread. Go ahead and make your judgement. While you are fighting about the ingredients in cornbread, I’m going to sneak another helping. Join us at the upstairs table, won’t you?