Two weeks ago I headed to Charleston with Charlotte based photographer and food blogger Jonathan Cooper of Nom Knowledge to kick-off the debut of the Liberate Your Palate Craft Cocktail Tour in the Holy City with a fun mini-tour organized by "the never boring" (inside joke) Charlotte Park of the Lou Hammond Group. The tour included visits to S.N.O.B, 5Church and High Cotton with a group of some of the most influential food and cocktail bloggers in the city, collectively referred to as the #TastemakersCHS.
But before the serious business of cocktail hunting began, Jonathan and I had some scheduled photoshoots to knock-out with a few of the restaurants on the Liberate Your Palate Cocktail Tour. We pulled into Charleston right at 2pm in time for our first photoshoot with Cannon Green which happens to be one of my favorite destinations in Charleston. The fact that we scored them for this tour is the icing, bourbon soaked cherry, whipped cream, chocolate drizzle and crushed pistachios on top. Cannon Green has the most lovely, open and charming atmosphere with an exquisite food and cocktail menu to match its elegant space.
Upon arriving we were met by Justin Edgar, the Food and Beverage Director and bartender Hilary Curry (@bowtie_bartender) who created the LYP Tour Cocktail, The Porch Swing, made with Tequila, Pear Liquor, Lemon, Lime, Rosemary Syrup and Edisto Island Blueberries. Since I had my video equipment (i.e. Iphone and $10 tripod) I thought I would capture some video at our shoot as well. Hilary made the cocktail for Jonathan to photograph and graciously allowed me to shoot some unexpected video footage of her making the cocktail, she was such a professional, knocking it out in one take. After arriving in Charleston on a day where the temperature was over 90 degrees, The Porch Swing was just the refreshing cocktail we needed to ready our palates for our time in Charleston.
Our next shoot was scheduled at The Grocery, which was literally around the corner from Cannon Green. One reason why Charleston is such a great fit for The Liberate Your Palate Cocktail Tour is because of it's hyper-local food culture and fondness for drink all in just a few square miles. The perfect destination for walking tours of all kinds.
The Grocery is a Chef-driven restaurant owned by Executive Chef, Kevin Johnson and is based on seasonal ingredients available from local and regional farmers and fisherman that he has worked with for years. The Grocery's kitchen is stocked with house-made charcuterie and fresh, local fish and seafood. They also accommodate an in-house canning program to preserve fresh produce for the menu.
Beverage Director, Nicki DeVenuto, hooked us up with the Violete Femme, a cocktail made with Silver Rum, Blackberry, Ginger, Honey, Almond & Peychaud's Bitters. What I really loved most about this cocktail was not only how visually stunning it was but that it had A LOT of alcohol in it, great texture and nicely balanced between sweet and tangy. We had a lot of fun shooting video with Nicki and her million dollar smile, because literally that's how much it cost me to get her to smile on camera.
Our final shoot was scheduled at Indaco pronounced (In-DAH-co.) No less than four people corrected me that day on how to pronounce it, so I'm telling you now how to say it so you'll be ahead of the game in Charleston and can avoid being corrected all day long as well, *le sigh*. Indaco is a rustic Italian restaurant that is popular for it's wood-fired pizza and hand-crafted pastas. The also have a menu filled with house-made salumi and cured sausages. Indaco is a great place for a casual night of food and drinks. The inside is not what you would expect from a Charleston restaurant, it has a modern rustic and comfortable vibe with a few butcher block style communal tables. Outside on the patio you get a great view of the energy on King Street and there is a pretty mural of an Italian countryside painted on an exposed brick wall.
When one thinks of Italian restaurants of course they think food first but with Jared Chafin (@RefridgeratorJerry) behind the bar the cocktail program is just as talked about as the food. The LYP Tour cocktail is a selection from Indaco's Classics on Tap series which are draft cocktails that change monthly. This month's selection is called the G&T and is a take on a classic Gin and Tonic with the added essence of orange and bitters. We're excited to have two cocktails on tap this time on the Liberate Your Palate Cocktail Tour. The other restaurant offering a cocktail on tap is in Charlotte at 204 North Kitchen and Cocktails.
While this trend sounds a bit simplistic you can actually get some elaborate cocktails on tap. Personally, I'm with the cocktails on tap trend. The bar science is still there, the precise measurements, the attention to detail and the innovation is still needed in order to make a good one. Its all in the craft and after tasting Jared's G&T I'm excited to experience more cocktails on tap.
Next on our schedule was to check into the hotel for a little down time before heading out to meet the #TastemakersCHS crew for the cocktail tour. We stayed at the Mills House on Meeting Street because... location, location, location and our $25 bar voucher that we put to good use in their lovely courtyard. It was nice to take a few minutes and reflect on how the cocktail tour was being so well received in Charleston and the buzz building around the tour.
Our first stop on the mini-tour was at Slightly North of Broad (affectionally known as S.N.O.B. ) on East Bay Street where we were meeting everyone. Immediately upon entering you are caught up in the atmosphere, the restaurant is basically one large dining room full of lively and happy patrons. I don't know about you but delicious food makes me happy and S.N.O.B. is certainly known for that.
Our tour group included Charlotte Park and Kay Rowe from the Lou Hammond Group, Johnny and Taneka from the insanely popular and widely adored @CocktailBandits,( these ladies are all things cocktail, all the time,) Stephanie Lee, the gorgeous face behind @CharlestonFoodieBabe, Miguel of @HolyCityHandcraft, who upon meeting he instantly just feels like your BFF from college and Libby Williams, an accomplished Charleston photographer who has recently started blogging about the food scene in Charleston on Instagram @Plate.South.
After being seated, GM, Peter Pierce served us our our LYP Cocktail, the Barn Raiser – he was full of personality and made the dining experience even more fun. The Barn Raiser was downright delicious and everyone raved about it. The cocktail was comprised of Honey-Infused Bourbon, Orange Bitters, Blenheim's Ginger Ale and Garnished with an Orange Peel.
As S.N.O.B. suggests in the Liberate Your Palate Passbook as a food pairing, The Barn Raiser was served with the Carolina Quail with lemon & rosemary sausage, cracked rice grits and blackberry mustard. We were also served an alternative pairing dish, the Sweet Potato Tamale with oxtail, guijillo mole, salsa verde and avocado. Both were beautifully plated and delicious dishes. I felt a little guilty because for a few minutes I couldn't stop eating and drinking enough to talk the group.
Our next stop on the tour was High Cotton. The restaurant is fantastic, the space is expansive and the decor has an undeniable traditional colonial Southern charm but it's the people, the service and atmosphere that make this restaurant approachable. On this evening there was a seriously funky bluegrass band playing. The High Cotton experience gave me all the feels. The cocktail was the Local Muscadin Grape Mojito, I'm not a fan of Mojitos but if all Mojito's were made like this one I would probably retract that statement. This cocktail was light, fresh and slightly sweetened. The ingredients in it were Cruzan Light Age Rum, Local Muscadin Grapes, Fresh Mint, Lime Juice and a Grape Garnish. It was perfectly paired with the Broiled Oysters with Creamed Spinach and Bacon. What made it feel like an effortless pairing was the delicate flavors of the cocktail and the oysters, one not overpowering the other.
Our final stop on the mini-tour was 5Church Charleston, and as soon as you step up the stairs through the front door you know that you have arrived at one of the most happening places in town. The guests are hip, fashionable and good looking and they perfectly compliment the space, the magnificent space. 5Church is housed inside of a former church complete with stained glassed windows throughout, arched chapel ceilings that have the entire "Art of War" written on them and an expansive bar that runs the entire length of the main dining area.
We were so fortunate to have one of the owners of 5Church, Patrick Whalen, come out and greet us. Patrick made sure that we were served some wonderful dishes along with our Liberate Your Palate Cocktail which was their signature drink called The Viper, made with Patron Silver, Orange Liqueur, Lime Juice, Cucumber Water and Cayenne Pepper. Of course I was a fan of this cocktail, any spicy cocktail usually peaks my interest. My love affair with spicy cocktails dates as far back as 2006 when I was first introduced to a jalapeno infused one at the Red Pearl Kitchen, a posh and a bit pretentious Chinese restaurant that used to be located on Highland Blvd. in Los Angeles.
It's easy to understand why The Viper is a 5Church favorite, this refreshing take on a margarita has a little kick and pairs well with a lot of items on the menu. In addition to the suggested pairing item listed in the Passbook, a succulent Lamb Burger dressed with red onion marmalade and gorgonzola fondue, Patrick also brought the table a few more dishes from the menu. The Jumbo Lump Crab Salad was served over a bed of seaweed salad and the Beef Carpaccio was melt in your mouth tender. Jonathan's photos make me want to experience this all over again.
After our longer than necessary visit to 5Church, Jonathan and I reluctantly said goodbye to our cocktail scavenging crew and thanked them for a memorable evening. Charleston is full of laid back, creative, collaborative and passionate folks and experiencing the Liberate Your Palate Cocktail Tour with this group of people was a great reminder of what the cocktail tour is all about, it's really quite simple....
Great People, Great Cocktails, Great Food and Celebrating Those Behind it All...
Because as they say, "no great story ever began with someone eating a salad"
Enjoy a few tunes that perfectly sum up the vibe from our visit below