Meeting the Family Behind Bootleg Farm

Meeting the Family Behind Bootleg Farm

SOUTHERNERS think of one thing when they hear the word “bootleggers”: Moonshine.
We all have a story or two of a friend of a friend that can get true mountain-distilled corn liquor. At least that’s what we say.

In reality, the only true bootleggers around Savannah don’t deal in the hard stuff. Their trade is in the soft stuff: goat cheese.

Bootleg Farm is small local family-owned farm that makes and sells handmade goat cheeses. They have approximately fifty acres for their 140 goats to roam and graze, keeping things as natural as possible. Their herd consists of Nubian, Saaenen, and Snubian, a cross between the two goats. Their goats, unlike many other farms, are true dairy goats.

If you have visited the Forsyth Farmers Market or eaten at one of our popular local restaurants, such as Husk and Green Truck, it is likely that you have had Bootleg’s products.

The duo who run it, Wendy and Richard Cowart, do not limit themselves to just one type of goat cheese. They are cranking out varieties from manchego to ricotta.

I met Richard at the Forsyth Farm Picnic, where they set up to let guests meet their “kids.” After speaking with him for awhile, he was gracious enough to allow me to schedule a visit to his farm. Once there, I spent the afternoon learning about his and Wendy’s trade.

Bootleg, the name and the story, comes from how Wendy and Richard started their family business. What started as a hobby and a small operation, with a few goats and the desire to explore making cheese, quickly turned into a profitable business after their cheese became popular at the farmers market in Rincon.

The problem was, they were making cheese that was unregulated and uninspected. So after lines started forming at the market for their cheese, the Department of Agriculture called.

After calling the Department of Agriculture back Richard realized he was bootlegging cheese. The name stuck and the family decided to go legit.

And now Richard tells me that they “are the area’s only Grade A dairy, and, along with that, [they] are a Grade A manufacturing plant also.” Which means Bootleg Farm is licensed through the Department of Agriculture.

But the Bonnie and Clyde duo started with honest intentions.

“The girl I married twenty-five years ago turned into the woman that wanted to make cheese. That’s how I got into it. We both came from agricultural based families,” Richard recalls.

“I met her at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, down in Tifton, Georgia. That’s where she was from. She was in the nursing program, I was in the forestry program, and we met and here we are today,” he says.

“We bought some scrub goats for another piece of property we lived on just to have some goats. Then she decided, ‘I want to make cheese, I want to make some butter,’ stuff like her grandmother did. So we upgraded from a brush goat type herd to dairy goats.”

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Although Wendy had roots in cheese and butter making, almost everything she has done is self-taught. Richard took his background in building to build the farm a dairy processing plant.

Next to a small barn sits the manufacturing area, which takes the milk straight from the goats into the needed vats. The process starts, as to be expected, by milking the goats.

Typically we are milking in the mid-60’s [head of goats] range, and we are doing 30-35 gallons per day,” Richard says as we walk through the farm.

Bootleg pasteurizes the milk themselves in-house before using it to create many variations of aged cheese offered around town. Walking me through the dairy processing facility Richard explains, “We use low temp and a longer period, we think that is gentler on the milk. It doesn’t remove all of the milk that high temperature pasteurization does.”

After pasteurization, the cheesemaking begins. Each cheese requires its very own process: different times, temperatures, and cultures. Wendy is the expert at every single detail.

The milk is separated into whey and curds, and the curds are used to make and form the cheese. Richard has even found a way to use up the leftover whey, so no part of the product is wasted.

Bootleg has two separate rooms for and aging their cheeses and for storing the cheese at the correct temperature once it stops ripening. I could happily live in those storage rooms lined with various farm fresh yet aged chèvre, gruyere, cheddar, and mozzarella.
The feta is as authentic as it gets. Keeping with a more traditional method, Bootleg’s is made from goat’s milk.

The use of goat milk, instead of cow milk, lends a bolder flavor that is expected with the tangy, slightly salty, soft cheese. If you have not yet tried Bootleg’s feta, go for it first because it is by far their most popular.

Along with the feta, I took home a hearty size wedge of sweet and nutty aged gruyere. The earthy cheese is perfect on its own, or paired with any of Bootleg’s cheeses artfully arranged on a cheese plate.

As for the goats, they are all just as friendly as Richard and Wendy. “They are all named. The collars are for my benefit; Wendy can call them by name,” Richard smiles.

The farm also has chickens, who provide a good many eggs to the Sentient Bean.

I finished the tour by asking the bootleggers what they are considering for the future. According to Richard, “Wendy will continue to make different varieties of cheese. We are going to look to expand out marketplace. Our marketplace right now is Savannah, Statesboro, St. Simons.”

Stop by the Forsyth Farmers market almost any Saturday to grab any of Wendy’s handcrafted milk creations. Be sure and tell Richard I said hello.

Original article is here.

 

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Savannah’s Newest Pop-Up: Eden Supper Club

Savannah’s Newest Pop-Up: Eden Supper Club

BREAKING BREAD at the dinner table is the ultimate unifier. The passing of good food across a bountiful spread knocks down walls and creates community.

Sitting down for a reservation at a local hotspot does not always give patrons the opportunity to connect within the community. The chefs remain in the back, cooking away, while patrons enjoy course after course that is meticulously created by those chefs. The relation between the two remains distant, at best.

The same can be said about patrons of a restaurant. It is rare that you find a community table or the opportunity to connect with your fellow foodies at a restaurant. I am the first to admit that I am too often guilty of linking with only those seated at my dinner table.

Last month I purchased tickets to a brand new pop-up supper club in Savannah—Eden Supper Club—and after attending the inspiring feast, I have cataloged the supper club as one of the few places in town that affords guests the opportunity to connect with the chefs, fellow patrons, and the food that is served.

Creator of Eden Supper Club, Chef Jared Jackson, started the unique dinner experience with a purpose that goes beyond the food that he is creating and serving. “I started a supper club because I wanted to create something that other young chefs and go getters could use as a platform to be creative and let their ideas finally have a voice — an opportunity to build a network and community of creative bodies who wanted to do something different,” he explains.

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“The idea is to expand this beyond just the kitchen and into something that strengthens the cord between the smaller farmers and a new market of opportunity for them. The idea is just about connection.”

The new supper club entails all of the characteristics of popular pop-ups found all over the country: a secret location, a surprise set menu, and food that you can only get for one night; yet it is so much more.

I would summarize the Eden Supper Club experience as going to your coolest friends house to enjoy an intimate and thoughtful dinner created by expert hands, instead of that one friend that can “kind of” cook.

Chef Jackson explains his creation better than I can by saying that “each menu honestly starts with an idea surround the season we are in. This last Eden we had was based on the idea of spring through the eyes of Eden. The birth of a new season, which leads to the rebirth of new identity and new ideas.”

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The night began with a cocktail inspired by a snow cone and a big beautiful cheese plate for sharing.

All of the cocktails were created by Andi Osby, including the first snow cone like drink called the Low Country Sipper. The thoughtful details executed throughout the night were evident in the use of the “Fancy Parker’s” chewy ice poured into the Low Country Sipper, which emulated the childhood experience of eating a snow cone.

After relaxing with the first drink, gorging yourself on cheese and meat, and introducing yourself to the strangers you would soon share a meal with, the guests were asked to pick a community table to have a seat. Although sharing a meal with someone new is always apprehensive at first, sitting at a big table and sharing a meal with new faces is how food brings a community together.

The first course (and my favorite) was presented as a hearty bowl of gooey yet al dente Anson Mills Carolina Gold risotto speckled with fresh north Georgia field peas. Atop the pile of exquisite rice sat a perfectly poached quail egg and a crispy point of Auspicious Bakery baguette.

I cannot decide which part was more enjoyable, savoring the soul filled Low Country Risotto or watching Chef Jared Jackson and Chef Evan Bruen work in perfect unison like an expertly timed orchestra to create the thoughtful locally procured dish.

 

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The night continued with the main, Georgia Plums and Cream, and was followed a delectable dessert called the Garden Doughnut. For the main, a roulade was created with mushrooms rolled inside of tender chicken. The dish featured locally gathered ingredients like fiddlehead fronds, king trumpet mushrooms, and a mystifying savory plum sauce.

Here is Chef Jackson’s explanation:“Some of the best time sourcing ingredients has been foraging for mushrooms or edible flowers,” he says.

“Our good friend Ancil, with Swampy Apple Seed at the farmers market, who not only grows his own, but does mushroom walks and teaches people about foraging and truffle hunting, collaborating with people in a way that’s long lasting and bigger than what’s on the plate. It’s about sitting next to someone you don’t know, and enjoying a conversation about something bigger than the little bubbles we normally exist in.”

The dessert was a show stopper. Two oversized handmade doughnuts graciously shared a bowl with blackberry compote, smoked vanilla gelato, and a hibiscus and rose espuma. The finishing course could only be described as an expertly crafted inside out doughnut.

To round it out, again creating an experience, Osby paired the dish with a coffee inspired dessert cocktail called the Java, Java, OK…

Before we left that evening, full of food and fellowship in true Southern supper fashion, I made the decision that I will buy tickets to the next available pop-up. If after reading this you feel the same, Chef Jackson can tell you what the next Eden Supper Club will entail:

“This next Eden is really about building a community. It’s geared towards our fellow food and beverage peers (although anyone can grab a ticket from the website) because we wanted to take a second to say thank you to us.”

Link to original article.

Key Lime Pie Poke Cake

Key Lime Pie Poke Cake

As you probably guessed, Key Lime Pie (and key limes) come from the Keys. Many southerners consider the Florida line to be the official end of the south, but it is south of the Mason-Dixon so it counts.

When key lime pie is done right (i.e. made with key limes) it can be magical. Refreshing yet sweet, and creamy and cool.

All of the traditional Savannah restaurants offer some version of key lime pie on their dessert menu. When I speak of traditional Savannah restaurants I am referring to the ones that have been around forever, like the Olde Pink House or Garibaldi’s.

Since summer has officially begun in Savannah, it felt natural to make a southern dessert that is inspired by the season. Note: it is not officially summer, but when you live this deep in the south, the heat makes it feel like summer arrives early.

And to be completely honest, I did not feel like making a pie crust so baking a version of the dessert without a pie crust was my approach for this one. What is just as good a pie crust? Cake!

The base flavors/components for key lime pie recipes are always the same, key limes, graham cracker, and meringue. This recipe includes all of the essential components. A graham cracker cake, key lime pudding, toasted meringue, and a graham cracker crumb.

As for a poke cake, the concept is simple. Bake a one-layer cake in a cake pan and once it is cool poke holes into and pour something delicious over the cake. I finish my version off with a slathering of meringue and a blow torch.

Key Lime Pie Poke Cake

Key Lime Pie Poke Cake

Ingredients

  • For the Cake:
  • 8 Tablespoons of Unsalted Butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 Cup of Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
  • 1/2 Cup of Whole Milk
  • 12 Graham Crackers, processed into crumbs
  • For the Pudding:
  • 4 Limes or 12 Key Limes
  • 2 Cups of Whole Milk
  • 1/2 Cup of Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 2/3 Cup of Granulated Sugar
  • 4 Eggs Yolks
  • 4 Tablespoons of Cornstarch
  • 4 Tablespoons of Unsalted Butter
  • 1/4 Teaspoon of Salt
  • For the Meringue:
  • 4 Egg Whites
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Cream of Tartar
  • 1/2 Cup of Water
  • 1 Cup of Sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a square baking pan by greasing it and coating in flour. Set aside.
  2. Cream together the sugar and butter to start making the cake batter. Once combined, cream for approximately 4 minutes on medium speed or until butter is light and fluffy.
  3. In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Set aside.
  4. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining wet ingredients.
  5. With the mixer on medium, pour in 1/3 of your dry ingredients, followed by 1/3 of your wet ingredients, and continue until all of the ingredients are fully combined and well mixed.
  6. Pour the cake batter into the prepare cake pan. Bake, on the middle rack, for 30-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  7. Allow the cake to cool while you prepare the pudding.
  8. First zest half of your limes, then set the zest to the side.
  9. In a small bowl, combine the milk for the pudding, the heavy cream, and the juice from all of the limes. Set aside.
  10. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and limes zest. Whisk together. Next add in the egg yolks and whisk to combine.
  11. Slowly whisk in the milk mixture and stir until smooth.
  12. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick. This should take approximatley 10 minutes. The mixture will coat the back of a wooden spoon.
  13. Remove the pudding from the heat and whisk in the butter until it is melted and combined.
  14. Allow the pudding to cool while you prepare the meringue.
  15. In a small sauce pan, combine the sugar and water. Stir to dissolve sugar. Turn the stove to medium-high heat.
  16. Cook the sugar until it reaches 240 degrees Fahrenheit.
  17. While the sugar is cooking, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on medium speed until soft peaks form.
  18. With the mixer on low, carefully and very slowly pour the cooked sugar down the side of the mixing bowl.
  19. Once the sugar syrup is fully poured in, increase the mixer speed to medium and whisk until stiff peaks form.
  20. Assemble the cake by poking holes into the cake with the handle of a wooden spoon.
  21. Pour over the lime pudding, spreading until the pudding fills all of the holes.
  22. Finish by gently spreading the meringue over the top of the cake. You can toast the meringue with a torch.
  23. Optional: Top each slice with a sprinkle of graham cracker crumbs.
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https://epicuropedia.com/2019/05/26/key-lime-pie-poke-cake/

 

An interview with James Beard Award Winning Chef Mashama Bailey

An interview with James Beard Award Winning Chef Mashama Bailey

SOMETHING big happened last week. Something bigger than you or me, and something that is guaranteed to change the way people view Savannah as a culinary haven.

On May 6, Chef Mashama Bailey, Executive Chef of The Grey, was awarded a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast.

The entire Southeast!

Chef Bailey, like many before her, began on a path riddled with encumbrances and naysayers.

I speak for many locals when I say, historically Savannah has not been the most welcoming when it comes to new food; and to be brutally honest, the perspective on food in Savannah has been muddled at best

As a historic town rooted in Southern tradition, the foundation for local and farm fresh food has always been present —at least until fried chicken buffets and fried seafood platters turned Savannah into a campy food destination for tourists.

The resurgence of restaurants and true Southern cuisine has been slow, at best, here. Unlike many of our now well-respected neighboring food destinations, which have put themselves on the culinary map of go-to food tourism hotspots, many say that Savannah just hasn’t quite made it there yet.

The rebirth of the food in our sister cities is not the result of a singular cause or event, but it can be said that certain historical events speed up the change.

For Charleston, Hurricane Hugo acted as the mechanism that wiped the city and made way for a big change in its culinary community. Hurricane Katrina is said to have done the same for New Orleans.

As for Atlanta, the 1996 Olympics served as the catalyst for change that helped the city become a cultural destination for food in the South.

Thankfully Savannah has not experienced a catastrophic event that forced our hand to recognize that we have the framework needed to become great. Instead our city has slowly chugged along implementing change as slowly as molasses in January.

At least that’s how it was until Chef Bailey returned to her hometown.
When Chef Bailey returned to Savannah to open up The Grey, after spending years honing her skills, she kept her head down and focused on the food she believed in.

Taking inspiration from a foremother of Southern cuisine, Edna Lewis, Chef Bailey set out to preserve history through her kitchen.

Her vision and determination is exactly why she became one of only three chefs in Savannah to be awarded a James Beard. Keep in mind the last was 19 years ago.

She was gracious enough to sit down with me and discuss her experience:

When you first stepped into a professional kitchen, did you ever think you would be where you are today?

“No, absolutely not. The first kitchen I stepped into that was professional was called the L Cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was a cafe that had two parts: one part was a coffee part where you got breakfast, pastries, and coffee, and the next part was more for dinner. We had a microwave; we didn’t have quarts and pints. We would use leftover containers that sour cream came in and we would wash them and reuse them. I was there for a very very short period of time, but it was the very first kitchen that I worked in while I was going to culinary school. I am a career changer so I decided to just throw myself into something, and I wanted to see if I could work in a restaurant. In this little crappy kitchen I fell in love with the industry.”

How did you feel about your second nomination?

“This time around I felt really honored. I think last year I was scared and nervous, and I didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t feel like I belonged in the room. I think that this year there was a little tinge of nervousness. But, I felt really honored because all of the people on those lists are such good cooks, they are such good chefs, they are such good leaders that even to be in the same conversation as them is really the point. That is enough for me.”

Who went to the award ceremony with you?

“Johno went, his wife Carole, my parents, and me. There were five of us.”

What were you thinking as you were waiting for the announcement?

“I don’t know. I was drinking from a flask while I was waiting. I had a flask of tequila.
I sort of blocked everyone out. Adrian Miller was behind me. He is a cookbook author, and he is really awesome. He sat right behind us and he taped the whole thing. It’s on YouTube: ‘Mashama wins the Beard.’ It is kind of beautiful because he actually caught the moment of it. The thing I feel bad about, I thought about it after and before I knew there was a video, I was like, “I don’t think I hugged my parents.” Carole was the first person I hugged, Johno was the second person because I made a beeline to get out of the spotlight.”

Did you prepare your speech?

“No. I wrote down my parents, Johno, Edna Lewis, the James Beard Foundation. I just wrote down these names and words so I would not forget anything, but I did not prepare a full-on speech.”

What did your parents have to say?

“They were just like wow, you know. They were really disappointed last year. I don’t think we were disappointed last year, I think we just had to put on a face to be like it is okay everyone, it is totally fine. It is really a rite of passage. I think last year they were really bummed, and I think this year they were really happy.”

What did Johno have to say?

“I couldn’t make it out through his tears.”

Did you cry with him?

“I didn’t cry until a little later honestly. When I gave him a hug he was just like, “Congratulations, I am so happy for you.” He really just said congratulations over and over. Then I spoke to him later on after the awards were over and we were out in the lobby, and we both started kind of tearing up then, because it started to set in that this is something that not only I accomplished but we accomplished. On stage I said he was my backbone. Johno will throw down for anyone in this restaurant. He is the most loyal person I know. I think a lot of his vision and a lot of his drive is why we are where we are. Even when you think I am going to rest a little bit, he is like “But you didn’t finish this?” or “You didn’t do that.” There is always more to do for him. I think it is really nice to learn from someone like that.”

What’s the one piece of advice to cooks or chefs stepping into a professional kitchen for the first time?

“One of the pieces of advice that I received was to make sure that you love it. I didn’t know what that meant. When I first decided to cook, I think I was very interested in it and I thought I was very capable of it. It took me until I really had to work hard to fall in love with it. So, making sure that you love it is something that you have to ask yourself. No one else can tell you that. Know your history, read, know who the chefs are, know what the competition is, learn from people. And be kind.”

Original article is here.

My Favorite Sushi on Tybee: Raw Ingredients

My Favorite Sushi on Tybee: Raw Ingredients

OUR port city boasts a wealth of seafood. You can get it grilled, blackened, fried, steamed, whole, on the half shell, or filleted.

Even as much as there is available in our local sea of seafood, not every fish is seen as desirable. The biggest concentration of fishy fare is on Tybee Island, which is as to be expected.

And with so many options, it can be seemingly difficult to decide where to shake out the sand and fill your belly after a long day at the beach.

For the past few years, Raw Ingredients has made that choice easier, I would argue in an undebatable way. Raw makes it much easier for seafood aficionados to rendezvous with fresh fish expertly rolled into creative sushi. Marshall Stevens and Ian Davis opened the joint, eventually bringing in Marshall’s brother Myles Stevens to act as the Director of Operations. The idea was to fill a large hole that was present in the restaurant market of Tybee.

Myles tells the me tale of Raw Ingredients.
“They were working in the surf shops, hustling, and had all of these different ideas,” he says. “This building became available, they were across the street working, and the owner of the building was like, ‘Hey guys, I am going to put this building up for lease.’ They brainstormed and decided to open a sushi restaurant.”

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But before opening the doors, Marshall and Ian gained experience by working at various sushi restaurants. The rest was history—everything fell into place and Tybee was never the same.

When you have the love of your locals, success comes easy on Tybee, which becomes apparent in the slow months when all of the tourists have packed up their beach bags and headed back inland.

The idea is to “put out high quality food and in a place where you are comfortable being. Where you can come in, be yourself and relax, and enjoy yourself and still enjoy high quality food,” says Myles.

As for the menu, the most important part of any good shop, it was a collaborative effort, and according to Myles, “also testing the competition, seeing what the competition is doing, then taking what they are doing and adding our own flair.”

I remember the first time I discovered Raw, picking up a Create Your Own Bowl at the end of a long, salty day on Tybee. And since trying it for the very first time, several years ago, the store has only extended its menu into bigger and better options.

Myles says they “didn’t [expand the menu] the first two years. We had a solid menu then added some other things like the Hide Tide and the Spring Roll.”

As one of my favorite menu items, which you will still find on the menu featured along with a few new Create You Own variations, making your own bowl is a great starting point for newcomers.

The available ingredients to pick include twelve different proteins, all of the classic sushi options of course, a plethora of vegetables to layer in, and a choice of sauce to finish it all off. The caveat is, it is extremely easy to go overboard with all of the quality options—but who is judging?

Why not add in multiple sauces and all of your favorite sushi proteins, especially considering “almost all of the sauces are made in house,” as Myles says.

My typical bowl includes shrimp tempura, spicy kani (crab), seaweed, avocado, carrots, spicy mayo, and eel sauce.

The same ingredients can be placed on top of a salad, rolled into a burrito, or handcrafted into a sushi roll you can name after yourself.

If you do not want to create your own, instead relying on the expert’s hand, you will find classic sushi rolls like the California, Spicy Tuna, Spider, and Philadelphia on the menu.

There are the Simple sushi rolls like an Avocado, Cucumber, or Salmon roll, and finally the best options of all of handcrafted rolls—the Special rolls.

The Special rolls are where the store really showcases its unique perspective and style, which you probably already gathered from the the walls that are covered in rotating hand drawn art by Jessica B., a good friend of the restaurant.

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My favorite roll is the Flamingo Roll. Its bright colored soy paper wrap makes it easy to ascertain where the roll got its name. Spicy crab meat, avocado, eel, and tempura shrimp, make up this satisfying work of art. For me, there is not a better combination of ingredients that you can put inside of a roll.

Taken as a whole, the flavors that fill your mouth are spicy, sweet, fatty, nutty, and finally umami from the fish—a sticky, sauce-covered creation that I dream about. Ingredient-wise, it is relatively close to the Create Your Own Bowl I order.

The High Tide is filled with shrimp, cheese, and fresh avocado then topped with salmon before the entire roll gets a bake. The tiny touch of baking the finished roll changes the flavor profile of the entire dish, illustrating the distinctive style of Raw.

Keeping with the imaginative theme, the Chathamite is yet another roll that is unique to the store. It features fried shrimp, and rightly so. Alongside the shrimp sits cucumber, a summer fruit that can be found on so many southern tables. The final touch is a topping of spicy tuna and seaweed.

There is much more to come from the cool cats at Raw. The sushi team is set to open a brand new spot next door Ripe Ingredients. The new joint to maintain the cool laid back attitude of Raw while offering high quality and well made smoothies, sandwiches, wraps, and more.

I know I will be keeping an eye out for its inception this summer and stop by to grab a light lunch to take with me to the beach.

Original article is here.

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Savannah’s Most Loved Food Family – Big Bon – Expands To Bagels

Savannah’s Most Loved Food Family – Big Bon – Expands To Bagels

A BODEGA is a small grocery store, a place where you can stop in grab beer, wine, and snacks in a pinch.

Now Bodega means a small local storefront that turns out woodfire bagels right here in our town.

The Big Bon family started out with a truck and a dream, albeit a truck with a large wood fire pizza oven on the back. Most locals have devoured Big Bon Pizza’s pizza at various locations around town, wherever Big Bon had parked its oven.

Kay Heritage and her daughter Anna started their adventure with Big Bon Pizza in 2016. A speedy success, the duo decided to expand their woodfire resume to include bagels with the opening of Big Bon Bodega at the beginning of April.

They also added a new team member to the family, Charlotte Masters, Creative Director. The result is the cumulation of the Heritage’s southern Korean roots and Masters’ well deserved art degree into the newest spot that locals are flocking to.

“The purpose of Big Bon is to equip our young team members with business and life skills. And as Big Bon Pizza team started to grow in numbers, we needed a home base where we can expand our purpose and to connect with our community closer in a permanent structure. Big Bon Pizza will continually remain intentionally mobile and do wood fired bagels at the Bodega,” Masters says.

Though the on-the-go pizza oven is incredibly convenient and accessible, for food this delicious, brick and mortar is the best thing that could happen for customers. It’s not often you find the Big Bon mobile oven without a line three bumpers down, so it’s great for patrons to have a place to sit down for a solid meal without standing in the street.

Going out on a limb, I’ll assume that everyone has at least tasted the delicious pizza pies that Big Bon has been pumping out for the last few years. But if you thought those slices of heaven were great, just wait until you see what else they have in store.

Masters and the crew are pumping out bagel sandwiches that will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about the doughy circles of deliciousness.

“Our bagel recipe is inspired by Montreal style wood fired bagels. The recipe is based from our great friends in DC area, Call Your Mother Deli, they were so generous to share their recipe. We brought it home and tested and refined it with the help from friends at Mate Factor. We wanted to make our bagels truly unique by using local raw honey and molasses in our dough and boiling water,” Masters says.

I was able to grab a few bagels although the first week Bodega opened they maintained a line around the block. Don’t be scared by the crowds—they’re there for a reason.

The expansion of a pizza company into bagels may seem odd, but once you have one of these little halos of yeasty perfection, you’ll understand why the owners decided to move in that direction.

The best part about Bodega’s artisan bagels is the light finish of smoke that is imparted through it’s cook in the big woodfire pizza oven that sits in corner. That’s something you don’t normally get with a bagel, and, let me tell you, the charry chew of a smoky bagel was something that I didn’t know I needed.

Obviously the options for what you can order are endless—you can get a plain bagel, a bagel with a smear, a dozen, or a bagel sandwich. And let me be the first to tell you that these bagel sandwiches aren’t like anything you’ve had before.

The thought that went into each and every option is clearly tasted with every bite. I would say there’s something for everybody, but not everybody can take the flavor bombs that Bodega is pumping out of their woodfire cannon.

Patrons have the option to buy a single bagel, a half dozen, a baker’s dozen, or—in my opinion the best way order a bagel—as a sandwich.
After looking at the menu, I couldn’t be swayed from ordering the Spicy Mama. I would recommend getting it on a sesame bagel, but any of the artisanal bagel options work perfectly.

Fork tender pork bulgogi, Korean style barbeque meat, sits in the middle of the sliced and toasted bagel along with crunchy peanut slaw and a gooey, fiery kimchi cream cheese. The finished sandwich encompasses all flavors: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and ultra savory umami.

The kimchi—a staple Korean dish made by fermenting vegetables with spices—is a “nod to Kay’s heritage, pun intended, we will be featuring Kay’s family Kimchi recipe in jars for sale at the Bodega.” Masters confessed when I inquired as to the origin of the store’s special recipes.

On the sandwich list you will also find The Donna—a turkey, avocado, and bacon option, which tastes perfect on an everything bagel.

On the more classic bagel shop side of the menu you will find the Lox and Schmear. It is a hearty dish created with delicate smoked salmon, sharp red onion, cucumber, arugula, and house made lemon caper cream cheese.

The Veggie meets all the needs of non-meat eaters. This sandwich features vibrant pickled purple beets layered with sprouts, radishes, and spiced walnuts. In the place of cream cheese, hummus is slathered on.

I will encourage everyone to try multiple options because each sandwich has its own unique flavor profile and each is worth tasting.
As I mentioned at the start of this thing, the new store, or bodega, goes way beyond bagels.

Masters explains, “Bodega itself will house not only delicious wood fired bagels, sandwiches, and yum-yums, but also featuring local specialty foods like Libbie Summer’s Yum Yum Smile Shop products, and Hale tea, healthy pick up snacks and local craft beer and wine. The Big Bon team wanted to have more than just a bagel shop, from the start so we designed our small space to be thoughtful and transformative so we can open it up at night to host local creatives and special pop up dinners.”

Original article is here

Savannah’s Oldest Bakery,Gottlieb’s, Starts Dinner Service

Savannah’s Oldest Bakery,Gottlieb’s, Starts Dinner Service

THERE ARE certain restaurants that could be designated cornerstones of Savannah’s food scene. For a BLT salad you go to the Olde Pink House, for ice cream it’s Leopold’s, and for decadent oversized baked goods, specifically for me the caramel roll, Gottlieb’s Bakery is the choice.

At least that was the way until a few weeks ago, when Gottlieb’s decided to expand their repertoire to include brunch on Sunday and dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.

The second I heard, I zoomed over to check it out. I visited on a Friday evening, and sat down to chat baked goods with Laurence Gottlieb while his brother Michael Gottlieb cooked dinner in the back.

The rest of the patrons filled the side of the shop where Laurence bakes, sitting at the actual tables where he rolls out his dough on every early morning. Eating at this table provides an experience that allows you to daydream of kneading, twisting, and filling pastries while you eat.

In the back sits a modest kitchen in which Michael impressively cranks out dish after dish for the influx of patrons that fill the family shop.

The fourth generation Gottlieb brothers re-opened the more than 100 year-old bakery and brought their own experience and tastes to the table.

“We are slowly incorporating old school bakery products into the mix as well as having fun creating new bakery items based on inspiration from old family recipes,” Michael elaborates.

The two work together like peas and carrots—Laurence the baker and Michael the cook. With their powers combined, the resulting food is well thought out and prepared exquisitely.

Most locals know and love the institution that has been Gottlieb’s Bakery, so speaking to the quality of their food didn’t require many questions on my end; the reputation speaks for itself. I was, however, curious to learn why the family bakers decided to expand to dinner service.

Michael explains, “Dinner was brought on by our desire to showcase our passion for food influenced by bakery products and ingredients found around us. Baking is our second calling (well first really as we grew up in the bakery), working in kitchens serving fun foods is where Laurence and I both started in our careers.”

Just as surprised as I was to learn about the ever growing and changing bakery, I was surprised to find a well rounded menu. You’ll find anything from fluffy gnocchi coated in pesto to an earthy roasted mushroom burger.

Up close of the mushroom burger

Michael educated me on how bakers with a lifetime of experience go about creating a savory dinner menu:

“Laurence and I talk about weekly bakery production and see what items, doughs or desserts will be floating around and then the menu is created based on those influences. We also look at seasonal products that are coming into play and showcase those based on our menu writing experience,” he says.

To create each recipe, old or new, the process is simple according to Michael:

“The dinner and brunch items are based on our love of food, travel and past work experiences. We enjoy a free flowing menu that incorporates foods from all over. Currently we are having fun creating and paying homage to our favorites and the challenge of recreating a dish that would normally cost $30 plus in a more formal setting but figuring out how to serve the same quality at a $15 – $17 price point,” he says.

I started with a shareable dish, the Foie-nut. For this rich starter a warm sticky sweet donut is served with seared Hudson Valley foie gras. A hint of texture is added to the outside of the velvety delicacy.

The salty/sweet combination is finished with a sprinkling of nuts and a sticky sauce. Foie and doughnuts is what chicken and waffles wants to be.

It is the right time of year to find soft shell crab featured on the brand new menu. Gottlieb’s offers theirs spewing over its bun.

The bread—tender with a chewy outside—was the perfect vessel to deliver the meaty flash fried soft shell crab. As you bite into the sandwich, the expertly baked bread gives away just enough to let the crab shine. The finished sandwich had all the textures and flavors of a stellar deli sandwich but with a salty fare flare.

The Grilled Charleston Cheese Curd Sandwich was recommended to me, probably because it is one of the more unique items on the menu. Creamy curds are paired with a spicy sweet apricot horseradish and floral herbed olive oil. The dish comes together like an upscale sandwich version of that pepper jelly covered cream cheese party dish that so many locals make.

In lieu of staple Savannah shrimp and grits, the brothers serve red fish over creamy grits with basil and a corn cream. The fish is well seasoned, cooked delicately, and serves as the perfect counterpart to its base of custard like ground southern corn.

The mushroom burger will make you forget meat. A gigantic slice of mushroom is layered with charred onions and sharp melted cheddar between the same handmade bun that serves the crab.

The best part of my meal was how warm and welcoming the Gottlieb duo was. Their hospitality truly pays homage to the legacy that is the Gottlieb family.

The restaurant does not have a liquor license, so don’t forget your favorite bottle (or two) of wine to pair with your meal. You can replace the empty space in your bag with a take home box full of fritters, cookies, and danishes.

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My Favorite Cake Pop Shop in Savannah: Sweet Whimsy

My Favorite Cake Pop Shop in Savannah: Sweet Whimsy

HAVE YOU ever had famous cake pops? I have and I am never going back.

Unfortunately for me, I did not discover the professional (and television worthy) cake pops of Sweet Whimsy Shop until this year. I assure you, I have eaten my weight in cake balls to make up for lost time.

As a licensed cottage bakery, Sweet Whimsy Shop has been providing the Savannah area with unique and artful cake pops for some time and eventually made a star studded appearance on The Late Late Show. Impressively, Sweet Whimsy’s TV debut happened only three short years after opening shop doors.

Owner and master creator Becca Aronowitz quit her full time job as a middle school teacher in 2012 to begin her journey as a bakery owner. Her background in art has served her well.

“I’ve always loved creating, in any form, and I think I identify more as an artist or maker, than a baker specifically. I began taking after school art classes as a 7 year old. I have degrees in art education, and I was an art teacher for several years,” she explains.

The result is a bakery that focuses on ensuring each resulting product is a work of art. As far as cake pop art goes, she’s Andy Warhol.

Aronowitz takes the time to hand sculpt each and every cake popsicle before decorating them by hand. The attentive attention to detail is what sets her art on a stick aside from all other cake pop makers around the lowcountry. Each finished contoured, compact cake is worthy of the Louvre.

To create the luscious lollipops, Aronowitz mixes the perfect ratio of tender, moist cake with homemade frosting.

“I’ve always been committed to using scratch-baked cake & frosting for my cake pops. Many cake pop makers use boxed mixes and canned frosting, but I believe my creations should taste as good as they look, and if you’re going to make something as labor-intensive as a cake pop, shouldn’t it be worth consuming?” Aronowitz elaborates.

Using the correct amount of cake and frosting is extremely important. Too little frosting and the cake pop will be dry, crumbly, and difficult to shape; too much frosting and the resulting goodies will be overly sweet and taste only of icing.

Sweet Whimsy Shop has it down to a science. Every single lolli has a tender, slightly moist center that reveals itself upon chomping down on the crunchy outer shell of the treat. The cake itself melts in your mouth, allowing the flavoring of the pop to flood your palate.

After the cake and frosting is mixed, Aronowitz portions out each ball of cake. Then the cake ball is individually hand sculpted before being dipped into a chocolate shell.

I ask Aronowitz how she comes up with each inspired design, and she tells me, “Most of my ideas and designs are created in response to client requests. Sometimes a client will present a photo of a cake pop design she’d like reproduced. If that’s the case, and it’s not one of my designs, I try to customize it to avoid copying and I credit the original creator whenever they can be identified. Sometimes the client has a theme or general vision, and I try to create a cake pop collection that will coordinate with the theme, or realize the vision.”

For my set of cake pops, I asked that she make anything she felt like making. Aronowitz designed and delivered the cutest set of avocado, llama, taco, and cactus cake pops. The avocados are the newest addition to Sweet Whimsey’s portfolio.

Past designs have included anything from a thanksgiving turkey to taxi cab. I even found cake designed to look like a margarita glass on her website.
Inside each of my personal pops were the shop’s signature flavors, Yummy Vanilla Cake and Decadent Chocolate. Aronowitz told me that the vanilla and chocolate are the most popular flavors. The chocolate was my personal favorite.

Customers have the choice for a mix-in of sprinkles or candy into their design. Kiddie Party Mix is a vanilla cake with rainbow sprinkles layered in and the Chocolate Rainbow Explosion features chocolate cake with rainbow sprinkles.

Reese’s peanut butter cups fill the Vanilla Reese’s and the Double Chocolate Peanut Butter includes chocolate with peanut butter and mini chocolate chips. My next order will definitely test out one of the Reese’s inspired creations.

I ask Aronowitz if Sweet Whimsy offers any other special flavors. “I also offer seasonal flavors, like Green Velvet for St. Patrick’s Day. During September, October, and November, I offer Pumpkin Spice. It’s made with real pumpkin and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and it’s so good! Cozy Gingerbread was introduced this winter, after a test-taste vote during one of my pop-ups in November. I can also do custom flavors, like the Blonde Velvet I made for a friend’s wedding. It’s a red velvet recipe but made without the dye; I like it better that way!”

Sweet Whimsy Shop is constantly designing and creating, like any true committed artist. The success of the cottage shop has pushed Aronowitz to expand to other mediums.

“Cake pops are still the majority of what I make, but I am slowly expanding to include other small, very cute treats. The focus will always be on edible art that is whimsical, created with precision, and great-tasting. I have figured out how to do that very well with cake pops, but the vision extends further,” she says.
To be expected, just as much detail and finesse into all of her new treats and flavors.

If you take a peek at her instagram, @sweetwhimseyshop, you will find chocolate covered Oreos (with decorations of course), rice crispy pops, and many other brilliantly designed and decorated confections.

Original article is here.

JThomas Kitchen

JThomas Kitchen

DURING MY four year college tenure, my course load required completion of a marketing class.

One of the important principles of marketing is to never rely on word of mouth, instead opt for instituting a marketing plan. And while as a business owner that very well may be true, as a food writer nothing can be further than the truth.

Word of mouth is something that I follow and trust (especially in Savannah where most news worth hearing travels fastest that way). If you do not have the love of your town and locals are not talking about your food, then you shouldn’t be reading about it.

When I have multiple people go out of their way to tell me about a place that they love to frequent, I instantly add that restaurant to my list of places to share.

JThomas Kitchen is one of those stores that locals kept bringing up, so I decided to head down to the location myself and find out what all the fuss was about. Owner and Chef Joshua Thomas was kind enough to tell me his story and of how JThomas came to grace our Southern town.

His culinary journey began in Savannah, where he was born and raised, working with his dad at a local restaurant. He spent a lot of time in many Savannah restaurants before receiving his own classical training through culinary school.

Chef Thomas plating chicken and waffles

“I said this is what I want to do, so I went to Johnson & Wales and got a bachelors degree. I hopped around and worked for some really great chefs that have taught me alot,” Chef Thomas gladly told me.

When he returned to Savannah, Chef Thomas furthered his career and opened his highly successful catering business—JThomas Catering & Events. Eventually, as space become available, Chef Thomas decided to expand his business to include a lunch counter with soups, salads, and sandwiches.

It was no surprise that lunch service was a huge success, so Chef Thomas expanded again, and now his business includes a restaurant with dinner service.

So how does a Chef approach his dinner menu after running a successful catering business for so long? Chef Thomas explained it to me without hesitation:

“Our menu is kinda fun, what we have done is taken simple food and made it really good.”

Everything I ate during my visit was just that, extremely well executed dishes by an expert hand. Chef Thomas wasn’t wrong either—the menu is really fun.

Although Chef Thomas’ approach is simple, his menu has something for everyone. He elaborated, “You can come in for dinner and get anything from bolognese to a hamburger, but we are doing it the old school way by grinding the meat, seasoning it and patting it. We make the pasta, make the sauce, and using the classical french techniques that we were taught in school.”

chicken and waffles with cream

I insist that you go straight for the Chicken ‘In’ Waffles. Chef Thomas offers guests his take on classic Chicken and Waffles dish by putting the chicken inside of the waffle.

Brined and sous-vide chicken is flash fried in waffle batter then served floating on a cloud of whipped maple syrup that has the consistency of marshmallow fluff. To round out the flavor, the dish is finished with a smoked paprika oil.

You will be satisfied with any main course that you pick, so try one and come back another day to try something different.

The Braised Beef Shoulder is slow roasted for two full days before arriving at your table. You could look at the tender hunk of meat and it would fall apart.

The beef tastes of nostalgia from your mother’s slow cooker, yet is refined with a slathering of sticky sweet root beer syrup and foundation of silky whipped potatoes. Scattered about, your fork will find an array of roasted vegetables like green beans, carrots, and potatoes, just like you would find at the bottom of any home cooked roast.

Red Snapper was the Fresh Catch the day I stopped in for my meal. To ensure the filet of fresh fish is served with an extra crispy skin the kitchen removes its skin then hard sears the filet at a very high heat, which creates its crunchy outside.

Red Snapper ontop of a corn rissotto

Inside, the giant steak of red snapper remains juicy and delicate. The generous portion of fish is served resting on top of a hill of creamy risotto that is peppered with roasted corn. To finish the dish, a heaping pat of scampi butter is added to balance the lean fish on your palate with a little fat.

Chef Thomas recognized the desire of Savannah locals to find a good steak on the menu. He has include three essential cuts, a filet, new york strip, and a ribeye.

The USDA Prime Beef Filet is served steak house style, sizzling hot with just the right amount of butter resting on top. Unlike many steak houses, Chef Thomas takes the time to well season his steak which adds to the steak’s crust which is created through proper cooking techniques. My favorite part of the dish was his use of an extremely unique black cherry demi-glace that was deeply rich.

You get a choice of Chop House sides with each steak. Every single option includes the same finesse used for all of Chef Thomas’ creations including Gouda Mac and Cheese. Need I say more?

Dessert may be the hardest thing to choose. The rows of baked goods behind the store’s glass display cabinet that sits in the dining room is staggering. Cookies, cakes, and bars are just a fraction of the items you will find on JThomas Kitchen’s overflowing bakery counter.

Beyond the food, the most impressive aspect of my visit was watching Chef Thomas interact with the influx of patrons that called him by name, all while he was cooking in a busy kitchen.

Watching Chef Thomas greet so many patrons as if they are old friends confirmed that everything I had heard was true, and it screamed Southern hospitality. I promise my confirmation had nothing to do with the enormous amount of food I devoured.

Original article is here.

Savannah’s First Farm to Truck Food Truck: Strangebird

Savannah’s First Farm to Truck Food Truck: Strangebird

AIRSTREAMS are super cool, but an Airstream that sells seasonally inspired food all around Savannah gives this one quite a leg up on the rest that I’ve seen.

The 26-foot 1967 Airstream Ambassador I refer to is the newest food truck to take our town by storm. Strangebird, the sister food truck to Bluffton, S.C., restaurant FARM Bluffton, has quickly become a grub mobile that I seek out anytime it comes over the bridge.

I think it’s fair to call Strangebird Savannah’s first farm-to-truck establishment.

Strangebird Chef and partner Brandon Carter told me the story of how the truck came about.

“We’re an extension of FARM Bluffton. We purchased the Airstream as a way to test out new concepts, do off-site catering and as a way to do community outreach events. Strange Bird is our new baby and we’re super excited about the possibilities,” Carter says.

How exciting is it for Savannah to get its own taste of one of Bluffton’s most popular food destinations?

The Strangebird truck is the first Airstream I have encountered in our port city, naturally making me curious as to why the team settled on a tin trailer.

“We bought one to fix up and then came across this one, which was already converted. We couldn’t pass up the offer. We wanted to have greater mobility so we could bring our experience to different venues. We like the airstream because of the aesthetic,” explains Chef Carter.

The foodies who seek out our new local restaurant on wheels can expect a constantly rotating menu that uses only the freshest farm ingredients.

According to Chef Carter, “We have an extensive network of farmers and artisan producers that we use at Farm. It made sense to continue supporting the people who support us with Strange Bird.”

A guest being served from the truck
Some of the purveyors include well known and loved local farms like Canewater Farm, Georgia Olive Farms, and Rainwater Mushrooms.

Because the ingredients used are locally sourced, the root of each menu always has a southern side. The use of butter beans in lieu of pinto beans as the base of their refried beans demonstrates just that.

A past menu even had a fried bologna sandwich, which is something I always relate to the truly Southern, and handmade tater tots.

Bringing on extreme nostalgia, the inner child in me almost cried upon discovering I had missed the fried bologna sandwich, a treat that is so often prepared for family by Southern grandmothers.

The ingredients themselves are not the only consideration put into the creation of each menu by Chef Carter.
As he puts it, “We create menus based on what’s growing and where we’re popping up.”

As more vibrant and readily available produce becomes available with the warmer months, it will be thrilling to see the new dishes that are created.

Another important question I wanted answered was how the title Strangebird came about.
The answer is simpler than you think.

“Our chef de cuisine Burns Sullivan has been experimenting with a marinade for our grilled chicken. It combines flavors from Sichuan Guaiwei seasoning [this translates to ‘strange taste’ so you can see the connection] and jerk. It is unbelievably good grilled on charcoal,” says Carter.

Past menus have included a Strange Chicken Taco, a Green Chorizo Taco, and a Cauliflower Macha Taco.

Their chicken taco is plated with cool cabbage, tender beans, punchy onions, and a creamy white barbecue sauce.

The spicy chorizo taco is cooled by the addition of pineapple and cotija, and finished with onion and avocado. And as for the cauliflower taco, peanuts are added for crunch along with cabbage, onion, and avocado.

One of the trucks latest pop ups was at Service Brewery for the brewery’s release party of their Old Guard beer. I was not lucky enough to taste their signature Strangbird chicken when I caught the truck at one of its latest stops, but everything I was able to try was stellar.

As I sat sipping my beer, I kept hearing other patrons rave about the Crispy Beet Taco that was available on their menu that night. Although I am a self-admitted beet basher, I figured it was worth a try.

A close up of the beet taco
I quickly jumped up and order some tacos. Because the price was so reasonable, two tacos for twelve bucks, I figured even if I did not love the beet version I would not be out much.

Well, it was a penny well spent. The vibrant purple beets that sat on top of the fresh corn tortilla were crunchy and roasted to the point of sweetness.

Sprinkled over the top were deep fried corn kernels, fennel, cilantro, and a smear of avocado. This was as balanced as a taco could ever be, crunchy, creamy, salty, and sweet.

My second taco choice was the Carnitas Taco, because I wanted to opt for a bit more tradition. Cotija and a sofrito adorned this little round treat. The non-traditional portion, the use of sliced rounds of carrots and a sauce that is dubbed “your mom sauce.”

For my side I was immediately drawn to Grilled Street Carrots, Strangebird’s take on street corn which is also known as Elote. Colorful rustic carrots are chargrilled until fork tender then served smothered in a white barbecue sauce and cotija cheese.

The overall effect is a treat that reminds you of an earthier version of the classically decadent dish.

I expect that a brand new menu will roll out at their next stop, which shouldn’t be too far into the future.

Original article can be found here