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Top 10 Charleston dishes not to miss in 2017

Over the past year or so the blog has stretched and grown to reach the many branches and leaves of Charleston’s culinary tree. One of my favorite things has been getting to know all the incredible restaurants and tasting so many of Charleston’s talented chefs’ best offerings. It is, after all, great food that inspires great writing. While we are getting excited for new foodie projects around here, I wanted to take a moment and highlight a handful of super special dishes you definitely don’t want to miss enjoying in 2017. Browse through our list, grab a date (or a book and some gumption), and head out for your first palate orgasm of the new year!

10. Seafood Paella with chorizo by Barsa

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We love Barsa. Like, REALLY love Barsa. New specials are always popping up in Charleston’s most established Spanish-style restaurant, but what really shines is the paella. Especially the seafood paella. But, never fear carnivores- we always add chorizo! The small size paella with a couple of tapas is perfect for two, or if you head in really hungry, take on one by yourself. It will be worth it when you have to learn to sew later in the week to fix your busted pants button. With a dark and cozy atmosphere and a kick-ass patio, Barsa and her paella will not disappoint.

9. Fancy Tots by HōM

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Everyone knows HōM makes stand-out burgers. Seriously, so juicy, so flavor-packed, and so satisfying. But, one little side item always gets me everytime: the Fancy Tots. These crunchy beauts covered in parmesan cheese and free from any sauce are enough to make you gasp in glee. However, you will need to prepare the smelling salts for the fainting spell you’ll have after dunking them in the truffled aioli. Literally the only thing that could make this tot-bite better is a sip of a dark, local brew, of which they usually have on tap.

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8. Banh Mi by Mercantile and Mash

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I was surprised by how much I love this Vietnamese-style sandwich. It is sticky and sweet in the best way. The crunchy veggies and the aromatic cilantro round out the delicate texture/flavor balance going on in this sammy. And the fries. Oh, the fries! The are wonderfully crisp, light, and salty. No ketchup needed.

7. Curry Chicken and Pork & Ginger Gyoza by CO

CO is so dang scrumptious that we had to pick two dishes- just call them tapas and eat both! See that curry down below? I’m just telling you about it now so you can save up to buy in bulk for the family, because one could eat this on e. ver. y. thing. Here served with bread, the curry can top rice and noodles, be eaten like stew, spooned over eggs, used as a water substitute…be the key to world peace. Just kidding. Maybe.

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And if that curry can bring about peace on earth, then these little dumplings are going to be served at the giant, hedonistic shin-dig we throw to celebrate our victory. Some little angel in the CO kitchen stuffed these soft pillows with pork and then made me dunk them in scallion soy sauce. Let the people say, “Amen!”

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6. Bourbon Pecan Pie by Pearlz

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I don’t even want to put descriptive words to this photo. Look at it. Study the cool, but slowly-melting vanilla ice cream. Watch it begin to permeate the top layer of the bourbon-infused pecan dream. Follow your eyes down that thick slice and make your own decisions about dessert. Don’t let anything I wrote influence you.

5. Bacon and Egg breakfast sandwich by The Daily

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The Daily. What would I do without you? Feel infinitely less cool, that’s what. You make even a simple bacon and egg breakfast look sexy. I for sure cannot say no to their smooth coffee, but I don’t like to skip the green juice either. It’s tangy and fresh, and when you sip it, you feel like this is California and you just got a light brunch with Jennifer Aniston. Now you’re on your way to interview potential Pilates instructors to take on vacation with you, or whatever you and Jen decide to do that day.

4. Any and all ramen by 2Nixons

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Have y’all heard about the ramen guys? It’s 2017’s version of do you know the muffin man. They are Charleston’s hottest pop-up right now and it is VERY important to know where these guys are at all times. Follow them on social media from restaurant to restaurant, putting out a fabulous spread of plump and juicy noodles bathed in broth that has been loved on for days. That runny egg in there is just to make you question everything you’ve ever cooked before. It’s okay. Head down, eat your ramen.

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Don’t forget to slurp those last, juicy bits down!

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3. Shrimp and Grits by Early Bird Diner

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This is a gorgeous version of shrimp and grits that our neighborhood diner puts out. It’s fried. It’s creamy. It’s got gravy. I’m not sure what else you’re looking for in breakfast, but stop it. It’s all here and served up with toast.

2. Fried Shrimp Po’boy by Bay Street Biergarten

Bay Street Biergarten is like our second home. It has everything a home needs- TVs, heaters, beer, your dog. And really good food. We already have a love affair going with the tots. They are unspeakably good for the soul. To our trio we have recently added this fried shrimp delight. It is so perfectly balanced, especially when chased by a Westbrook White Thai. The shrimp are crunchy and perfectly cooked, layered in with sweet cherry tomatoes and a creamy remy sauce. Get you some.

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Would you like fries with that?

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1. Oysters Rockefeller by Leon’s Oyster Shop

This oyster Rockefeller dish, and really the whole damn Leon’s Oyster Shop restaurant, is our new favorite right now. We lurrrrrve it. There’s always a groovy vibe on the patio, the drinks are always on point, and the food is slap your mama’s mama good, especially the oysters Rockefeller. We like to get the old-school iceberg salad and, of course, hushpuppies on the side. As you can see, Alfonso cannot be bothered by my photography as he is so hypnotized by delightful flavors.

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Another thing: one cannot simply go to Leon’s Oyster Shop and ignore the dessert options. In a simple, yet beautiful way to end an oyster meal, the ice cream cones and milkshakes take the whole ordeal into old-school joy territory. I love the vanilla cone with sprinkles and Alfonso will fight you for a chocolate milkshake.

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If you’ve tried one of these Charleston plates, what do you think? If you missed out in 2016, you still have this year to make up for it. What were you eating, anyway??

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A Lowcountry Navidad

On assignment for another article, Alfonso and I made this Spanish roscón de reyes to tell a little bit about the integration of Spanish culture in our American lives. It seemed to be the perfect food representation of our two cultures coming together for the holidays. A Spanish pastel –meant to hide a small figurine bestowing luck upon its finder- houses a whole, but imperfect seashell found in the sands of Folly beach a few years ago. Makes you want to swing your long, sandy beach hair over your shoulder as your fingers snap artfully above your head in a dramatic ‘¡Olé!’.

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The story goes that little Spanish children wait for the Three Wise Men (Los reyes magos) to bring them gifts on…January 6th! Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are usually reserved for big, GIANT meals that last for hours and into the wee hours of the morning. Sobremesa on top of sobremesa on top of sobremesa. While most of the eating and gorging is done on actual Christmas, there is one special treat reserved for el Día de los Reyes Magos. The roscón de reyes. 

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It is baked like yeast bread, but sugary. There is some kneading and shaping that has to go on, but not too much- keep it light and fluffy.

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I would like to make a very important and possibly legally-obligated statement: Please be aware that there is a hard seashell in your pastry. It could crack your tooth. Please be aware that there is a hard seashell in your pastry. It could crack your tooth. And one more time for the folks in the back: Please be aware that there is a hard seashell in your pastry. IT COULD CRACK YOUR TOOTH.

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hard seashell
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could crack your tooth

I say the above because right as he took his very first bite of this year’s very first roscón de reyes, Chef Fonz cracked our very hard Folly Beach seashell. And he is lucky he didn’t crack his tooth.

The sweet whipped cream in the middle and the goodies and glaze on top make it the perfect breakfast/dessert cake to munch while opening shiny packages, provided you are aware of what’s on your fork.

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Alfonso and I usually make the Christmas cake on the 6th to eat as we exchange presents with each other (We celebrate with family and friends on the 24th and 25th of December.), but you can make it for Christmas Day and add a little español to your celebration!

Roscón de Reyes (Three Kings Cake)
4.5 c flour
1 packet active, dry yeast
1/2 c whole milk
1/2 c warm water
3/4 c softened butter
2/3 c powdered sugar
2 large eggs
1 shot of brandy
3 oz. orange tea
zest of 1 limon
zest of 1 orange
pinch of salt

For the topping:
1 egg
2 T water
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried, diced dates

For the filling:
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar

For the glaze:
1/2 c powdered sugar
juice 1/2 orange
Disolve the yeast in warm water (100-110 degrees). Add milk and 3/4 c of the flour and mix. Form a ball with the dough (Add more flour, 1 T at a time, if dough is too sticky.) and keep in a warm place covered with a wet towel until doubled in size.

In a large mixing bowl add the rest of the flour, sugar, salt, and zest. Mix together. Then add the eggs, butter, brandy, and mix everything together. Combine with the yeast ball, making one large ball and let rest and rise under a dry towel for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.

Place on a cookie sheet with floured parchment paper underneath and begin pulling the dough in the middle to make a large “doughnut”. Add in the small figure (covered in plastic wrap) to the dough in a secret spot. Bake at 100 degrees (or the lowest your oven will go) for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and brush with an egg wash (the egg and water for the topping mixed together). Then, spread out the cranberries, dates, and almonds over the cake and press slightly into the dough. Return to the oven and bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat the heavy cream and sugar on high until whipped cream has formed. Once the cake is done and cooled, slice it in half and fill with the whipped cream. Mix the powdered sugar and the orange juice to form a glaze and drizzle on top.


The other thing we realllly like to make around the holidays are mantecados. Last year I ordered some online from an American company that imports Spanish products. They were like Sevilla in a mouthful.

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But this year we decided to make our own. Two kinds: dark chocolate (a little nontraditional) and almond.

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We are tweaking a recipe we started working on last year. The greatest challenge is extracting an authentic Spanish flavor while using American ingredients, temperatures, and measurements. When we have a final Castejón version we are satisfied with, we will be sharing!


What makes your families’ holidays different and special? What do you do if you can’t be with your loved ones over the holidays? Follow us behind-the-scenes on Snapchat (thecastejons) this holiday season and keep up with our daily eats on Instagram (@thecastejons). Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Charcuterie and Pastry Dough

There’s only 78 days left until the Charleston Wine and Food Festival and I have no idea how I’m going to make it that long. Do y’all remember last year?

sausage and shrimp rice stew
sausage and shrimp rice stew
grilled, charred sweetbreads over slaw
grilled, charred sweetbreads over slaw
Complexus Beef Tartare
Complexus Beef Tartare

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While I anxiously await next year’s festival, Alfonso has been finishing up this semester of culinary school. His favorite class, by far, was the Butchery and Charcuterie class, of which I benefited as well- a little sample here, a little sample there. Apart from bringing me delicious bits of spiced meats, Chef Fonz took to the kitchen on weekends to try his hand at “apartment-made” charcuterie. Enter forcemeat.

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I was a little nervous about the project because I didn’t think our Ninja would work as well as the school’s grinder and I thought that we were going to have a meaty mess. I was completely wrong. Ninja is the bomb. Go buy a Ninja. We ground up Boston butt and pork belly (the recipe, a variation on Fonz’s master On Cooking book) in the Ninja, added the spice mix, and wrapped that little meat cake in a puff pastry Snuggie.

pork belly
pork belly
Boston butt
Boston butt

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forcemeat in a blanket
forcemeat in a blanket
wrapping it up
wrapping it up

To be honest the name “forcemeat” did not entice me from the beginning. I was worried it would have too chunky of a texture and gross me out. But, I was wrong again! Make sure to grind it long enough and it will be smooth and creamy. After it bakes and and sets for about an hour, the tart will hold up and you can cut and sear a piece to enjoy with onion sauce.

forcemeat in pastry dough with onion sauce
forcemeat in pastry dough with onion sauce

We had fun experimenting with charcuterie-at-home and now I’m kind of hoping Chef Fonzi takes a dessert and pastry class sometime in the near future. I wouldn’t mind doing the taste testing for his final, either. Bring on the mini chocolate tarts!

On a side note: it feels a little culinarily (hmmm?) badass to grind up meat and bake it up in pastry.

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Basic Forcemeat en croûte with Onion Sauce

*adapted from a recipe in On Cooking

2 lbs Boston butt
1 lb 6 oz pork belly
3 gr. cloves, ground
3 gr. nutmeg, ground
3 gr. paprika
4 gr. black pepper
1 gr. bay leaves
3 gr. dry thyme
1 gr. dry oregano
2 T salt
4 eggs
2 sheets pastry dough, defrosted

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grind the Boston butt and the pork belly together in a high powered blender, such as a Ninja, until smooth. Add the spices, salt, and eggs and mix together. Refrigerate for 4-6 hours.

Divide the meat mixture into two equal portions and grease and flour appropriately-sized, oven-safe dishes. Line the dishes, each with one sheet of pastry dough. Let enough spill over the sides to cover the filling. Fill each pan with half the meat mixture and cover and wrap with the pastry dough. Brush with an egg wash and cut two slits on top of each pastry.

Bake uncovered for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350°F, cover the dishes, and bake until center reaches 145°F. Remove from the oven, uncover, and let sit for 1 hour to firm up. When ready to serve, slice the loaf and sear in a pan over medium-high heat until golden brown on each side. Top with onion sauce (see below).

Onion Sauce

2 T olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 t flour
3/4 t salt
3/4 t pepper
3/4 quart chicken stock, preferably homemade

Heat the oil over medium- low heat and add the onions. Slowly caramelize the onions so they brown, but also become tender. Add in the flour, salt, and pepper and stir around to make a paste. Slowly whisk in the stock to make a sauce. Simmer the sauce on medium-low until it reduces to the desired consistency. Add more salt to taste.

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Stay with us this week because we’ve got some Spanish holiday baking going on we don’t want you to miss!

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