Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Two Events You Don't Want To Miss In Summerville For Charleston Beer Week And One In Charleston

The local craft beer industry has been growing like a Bull's Bay oyster bed over the past few years. New production breweries have been popping their bungs all over the Charleston area. In recognition of this surging craft beer wave, Craftbeer.com nominated Charleston one of the five "Beeriest Beach Towns" in America--another best added to the Holy City's list of acknowledgements.

To celebrate, Charleston's flourishing craft beer community has scheduled a wide variety of events for your beer pleasure and to highlight the breweries and diversity of brands available locally. It is the annual Charleston Beer Week and it runs from September 7th to the 13th.

Two of the events will take place in Summerville at the town's favorite sociable brewpub on Hutchinson Square, Homegrown Brewhouse. The first is scheduled for Monday, September 8th at 3:00 p.m. called "Even More Local"--Seven-Beer Collaboration Release and the second takes place Saturday, September 13th starting at 9:00 a.m. called Double Cask Breakfast.

Homegrown Brewhouse, determined to have every South Carolina brewery represented at its pub, has been busy these past months collaborating with seven different South Carolina breweries to produce seven different original brews for Beer Week. The collaborating breweries were Freehouse Brewery, Frothy Beard Brewing, River Dog Brewing, Thomas Creek Brewery, Tradesman Brewing, Holy City Brewing, and the new keg on the block, Revelry Brewing.

All seven will be released on September 8th at Homegrown Brewhouse and the respective breweries. One of the collaboration beers Caleb has been working on with Revelry Brewing is a Sweet Tea Alt. This may be your only opportunity to taste this "Birthplace of Sweet Tea" inspired brew. So, mark down the date and get in on the fun.

The Double Cask Breakfast will feature Homegrown's collaboration with River Dog; a brew infused with figs called Smoked Abbey Ale, and the collaboration with Frothy Beard; a brew floated on oranges called Bière de Champagne. Paired with the frothy smoked figs and oranges, Charleston Bagel Company will provide the rest of the breakfast menu guaranteed to satisfy your early morning cravings. A purchased $25 ticket will include a pour of each cask beer, lox and bagels, fresh fruit, and coffee from Summerville's own Coastal Coffee Roasters. Doors will open at 9:00 a.m. and the casks will be tapped at 9:30 a.m. Homegrown Brewhouse is located at 117 S Main Street.

A third event you may want to seriously consider is the Ghost Tour/Pub Crawl with Carolina Brewery. On this tour you will walk to three of Charleston's notoriously haunted sites and along the way stop at four of the downtown's top casual craft beer emporiums where you will indulge in beer samples from Carolina Brewery. The tour date is Tuesday, Sep 9, 8:45 to 11:45. Tickets are $25.

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is the starting point. A historic building with many personalities, it served as a military prison, barracks, custom house, mercantile exchange and strangely a brothel. In the dark of the night, the tour group will stroll on over to the oldest English burial ground in Charleston, the Circular Congregational Church Graveyard, and then the unearthly landmark where pirates and Lavinia Fisher were imprisoned, The Old City Jail.

To calm your jitters in between stops, your group will visit The Blind Tiger to savor a Black IPA, the bar at Husk to relish an Oatmeal Porter, the Leaf to slurp a Sky Blue Golden Ale, and finally the Craftsmen Kitchen and Tap House to toast a Super Saaz Imperial Pilsner in honor of the tour guide from Bulldog Tours and the crew from Carolina Brewery.

There are events scheduled every day of Charleston Beer Week. Join the celebration, visit the breweries. Experience why Charleston is fast becoming a port of call for craft brewing and now one of the "Beeriest Beach Towns" in America.

Summerville will soon have a brewery of its own. Oakroad Brewery will be located at the "C" in Summerville, also the home of Coastal Coffee Roasters.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Superbly Different, Tastefully Done--An East Bay Street Cocktail Mixing Treasure

Discreetly tucked away in a quaint alley just beyond a black wrought iron fence, I had passed its intimate, bricked courtyard many times while walking the Venue Range in the French Quarter. No more than a passing curiosity over the years, an outing a week earlier included a brief, probing peek into its windows.

Back again and on the prowl for an untried place to have dinner, I was surveying the East Bay streetscape when the unimposing black and white sign marking its location caught my attention and rekindled my interest to take another look-see. Its name invoked thoughts of white tuxedo jackets, spat covered shoes, and Humphrey Bogart clutching a gimlet exclaiming, "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine."

By definition, a joint is an unsavory place. Add gin to it, and you have an unsavory place serving alcoholic concoctions. The establishment in question on East Bay Street is anything but sleazy and even Bogie would be proud to be seen there as would any respectable local or tourist. It is a little piece of classy, French Quarter real estate lined with a liquor bottle menagerie of rainbow intoxicants served in varying sizes of glassware on a curved bar complimented by an assortment of unconventional dishes at surprisingly cheap prices. Ironically, it is called The Gin Joint.

After gleaning the menu, it quickly became apparent this was not the place for a full dinner. The drink portion of the menu was sizably longer than the food portion, but it was an attention grabber, especially the section called the Bartender's Choice. The bar was full and the leather booths against the walls looked comfortable, but the outdoor courtyard furnished with three sets of black wrought iron tables and chairs under the lights and the trees was the perfect choice on this beautiful Charleston early evening.

The menu was divided into two sections: drinks and food. The drink section was divided into alcohol categories: Gin, Agave, Whiskey, Brandy, and Rum but no Vodka--it is a pre-Prohibition menu. Under the alcohols were house names of mixes containing that particular alcohol--the mixes change with the seasons and inspiration.

While all the listed drinks were seductively tempting, the Bartender's Choice was the perfect match for my "throw caution to the wind" mood. From a list of 15 flavors and taste sensations, I was instructed to pick two of my favorite passions. Based on my choices of strong and savory, the bartender skillfully created my surprise cocktail using local sources of bitters and citruses blended with a shot of spirited imagination. When my highly anticipated libation finally arrived, the server detailed the ingredients and the alcohols used. It was the proper drink and exactly what I was looking for. An added striking feature of my Bartender's Choice was the single chunk of ice submerged in my cocktail cut to the shape of the glass--a chip off the 300-pound ice blocks whittled down by Joe Raya and company. All drinks are $10 each.

As to the food, the categories were Provisions, Cheese, and Desserts. My food selection came from the Provisions. The Duck Meatball Sliders with Fennel, Apple Slaw, and a San Marzano tomato sauce for $12 were very Mediterranean and delightfully exquisite.

Other choices were a Chicken N Waffle Sandwich with a Red Pepper Jelly for $12, a Benton's Country Ham wrapped in a Grilled Cheese and Wow Wow sauce for $9, Pickled Shrimp with Lemon, Capers, Onions and Sour Dough for $8, and a Pad Thai Popcorn for $6. Informed popular house favorites included a Soft Pretzel covered with Sriracha Cheese Sauce and Bull's Bay Salt for $7 and Pork Buns for $12. Dessert choices included a Coca-Cola Cake for $10 and a Peanut Butter Chocolate bar for $8.

The Gin Joint has been selected as one of "the 21 Hottest Cocktail Bars Across the US" by Eater and Garden and Gun rated it as one of the "50 Best Southern bars." From my experience, I see no reason to question their knowledgeable evaluation. With its idyllic location on East Bay Street right in the heart of the French Quarter surrounded on all sides by the best of the best, its contribution to Charleston's sizzling bar scene in my estimates is second to none and its drink offerings top shelf. Because the food menu consists mainly of small dishes, you would be more likely to choose it as a place to share a quiet cocktail with a special someone before a dinner outing or a drop in for a comforting drink and dessert diversion from an afternoon of sightseeing. Superbly different, tastefully done. For me, it is no longer just a passing interest. It is a on going interest.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Number One Destination In America--My Top Eight Most Read Articles About Charleston, SC

Over five years ago, I began writing about things to see and do in the Charleston Lowcountry. During those years, the city known for its friendliness, resilience and the oldest cuisine in the United States, has soared to the honorary distinction of being chosen by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler as the number one destination in America, not just once, but for the past three years. After having spent some time here, why is undeniably clear.

Sitting on a peninsula reaching into a bay with the deepest water in the southeast, the city is surrounded by barrier islands wrapped in pristine, sandy beaches lined with beautiful vacation homes. A short, ten minute drive takes you into the heart of the one of the most walkable downtown districts in the country with more fine dining establishments per capita than any other city in the South. And if you don't want to walk, you can employ the services of one of the many bicycle rickshaws strategically located throughout. Waterfront parks, cobblestoned alleyways, historic hotels, and the friendliest people are all a part of the reasons Charleston has been selected the choice of destination for the discerning vacationer. In 2012, 4.83 million people visited Charleston.

In those five plus years, I have written 265 articles to acquaint friends, visitors and residents with the Charleston Lowcountry--its history, tours, festivals, hotels, landmarks, and restaurants. In doing so, I have only perused the book that declares the story of Charleston from Bull's Island to Edisto Island. Surprisingly, my most popular article, at 18705 reads, is a suppositional circumstance dealing with Charleston, as you will see. My blog is nearing 100,000 reads. Perhaps, you can assist me in reaching that milestone by becoming a subscriber or just a frequent visitor.

The following list, beginning with the aforementioned article, are the top eight, most read articles of Vacation Rick of Charleston.

1) Charleston, SC-Where The Sky Is The Limit in conjunction with A "Dinner In The Sky" Charleston Style-Imagine It, Dream It, Live It
Charleston is an awesome city for sightseeing. There is history at every turn of the corner and a tour dedicated to assisting you in reliving that history for a brief moment. Now, imagine yourself looking down from 165 ft in the air at all of this real estate having dinner.

2) Take A Visual Walk Into Summerville's Enchanting Past-The Landmarks And The Stories
I invite you to take an imaginative, visual walking tour by way of images from the past and present for a glance at treasured landmarks of Summerville separated only by the passing of time.

3) A Piece of Charleston History Pulled From The Ocean Dating Back To The Civil War
Its final resting place was discovered and in 2000 the Hunley was carefully and meticulously raised, still in tack, from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. There are theories as to what happened to the Hunley, but no one really knows for sure what caused its demise. Scientists have been puzzling over the remains of the Hunley since its recovery, searching for clues that will assist them with providing a feasible hypothesis.

4) Summerville's Rich Theater History-From Silent Movies To Live Theater
I entered the unpretentious James F. Dean Theatre door and was more than pleasantly surprised by what I found. Summerville's theater history dates back to the early 1900's with the beginning of the silent movie era - 1894 to 1929.

5) The Husk Restaurant In Charleston-Great Southern Gourmet Experience And Beautiful Location
What is better than spending a day with a special someone? Beginning that great day with a fantastic meal at a downtown Charleston restaurant. The restaurant was the Husk on Queens Street.

6) SUPing With Coastal Expeditions On Hectic Shem Creek-A Fun Way To Spend A Day
Shem Creek was alive with watersports enthusiast and boaters. It was a typical Sunday crowd. For me, it was another suntastic day SUPing on the water. It was hot, it was humid and a nice breeze was blowing in from Charleston Bay.

7) Charleston's Barrier Islands-Beautiful Beaches, Abundant Wildlife, Great Stays, And Pleasure Packed
Visit the city of Charleston and you will be surrounded by elegance and charm at every turn of the corner, but the historic downtown district is only the cake of the Lowcountry. Step outside of Charleston and you will be covered in the frosting.

8) The Mysterious Side Of Charleston-Uncommon Things You Don't See Everyday
Charleston is charming, but also mysterious. It is renowned for its old homes and church graveyards, many with bizarre tales of ghostly encounters and things that go bump in the night.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Firefly Friday Aboard The Palmetto Breeze--Intoxicating

Thunderstorms were scattered about the Charleston area but the Harbor around Mt. Pleasant's popular waterside mecca of watering holes at Shem Creek was luckily spared and was basking in a moisture-rich late afternoon sun. Departure time had arrived.

With a full compliment of passengers, the catamaran's crew loosened the moorings and it eased away from the dock into the gentle out-going current. The age-diverse crowd of passengers gave out cheers of approval. We waved to the patrons lining the weatherworn rails along the waters edge of Red's Ice House as they gave us a Titanic send off. The party was now officially underway.

While navigating the narrow waters around recreational crafts of all sizes, the captain introduced himself and shouted out some pertinent instructions. It was Firefly Friday. Complimentary glasses of a Firefly Vodka laced drink were passed out. We crossed glasses and caught a glimpse of a shrimper dancing to some island music as our vessel passed-by. The bird sanctuary called Crab Bank Island came into view and the open waters of Charleston Harbor spread before us like a sparkling glass of Firefly Vodka. The sails were unfurled and the stimulating harbor breeze softly embraced our host, the Palmetto Breeze.

The Palmetto Breeze was built in Charleston and is the largest capacity catamaran north of Ft. Lauderdale accommodating 100 passengers plus crew. It featured a spacious wooden deck and covered seating by the bar with elevated seating across the back. In the front of the catamaran under the jib sail, three rows of eight leg-less chairs each were set up across the deck. If you were among the first to board, you had the ideal option of choosing one of these chairs. They were actually very comfortable and afforded a great view.

There was by far more passengers than there was seating. Most of the passengers, which consisted of families, couples, and one bachelorette party, sat wherever it was convenient or stood along the roped edges.

With the Ravenel Bridge towering over Patriots Point and the Yorktown in the near distance, the Breeze crossed the harbor waters passed Castle Pinckney toward White Point Gardens and sailed along the waterfront from the Battery to the South Carolina Aquarium.

The earlier storms had moved out of the area and through breaks in the slow moving marine blue clouds, the descending sun afforded some beautiful shots. Passing the port docks, next was the Ravenel Bridge where the Breeze briefly lingered under the soaring cabled-spires and then made the turn towards the Yorktown and Patriots Point. By then, the near-full moon had made its appearance, adding to the splendor of the darkening azure skies.

Finally, after four glasses of Firefly and one glass of wine, it was time to head back to port. The sun had disappeared below the clouds and the fading Charleston horizon. There was no mistaking Shem Creek. It was colorfully lit like a theater marquee--resplendent.

The harbor tour aboard the Palmetto Breeze is well worth the $35 ticket. It was comfortable, it was relaxing, and it was enjoyably fun. There is no narrative. History is not on the agenda. It is all about soaking in the romance of the Charleston Harbor ambiance--salt water, ocean breezes, and the unrivaled, beautiful waterfront of Charleston. Firefly Vodka was complimentary. Water and soft drinks were provided along with a cash bar as refreshments.

April-October, Charleston Harbor cruises aboard Palmetto Breeze include:

Margarita Monday
Pirate Sailing Adventure
2 for Tuesday Sunset Sail
“Windsday” Sail from Red’s Ice House on Shem Creek
FIREFLY Friday (sponsored by Firefly Vodka and benefitting Susan G. Komen Lowcountry)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"Hairspray" Immerses You Into An Energized Blast Into The Past--Now Playing in Summerville

Without splitting the hairs of Penny's bouffant hairdo, the Sixties have been perceived as a decade of change. Some denounced it as a time of irresponsible excesses, flamboyance and social upheaval while others celebrated it as an era of cultural and social revolution inspiring changes in clothing, music, dress and forcing the relaxing of taboos related to race and sex.

Well, good morning Summerville, the Sixties inspired musical, Hairspray, is bringing it all back for a two week romp and on opening night sprayed its feel-good stickiness all over the stage of the James F. Dean Theater.

On Friday night, the community theater on Hutchinson Square was the place to be. Upon entering the modest entryway at the top of the steps and rounding the corner into the auditorium to claim my seat, I sensed something huge was about to be unleashed. From the moment Tracy Turnblad descended the stairs of the darkened theater bathed in the rays of a spotlight singing "Good Morning Baltimore" to the final triumphant, standing ovation chorus, the sold out crowd was immersed into a energized blast into the past.

Director David McLaughlin uncannily assembled a cast eerily reminiscent of the 2007 musical film of the same name starring wildly versatile John Travolta(Edna Turnblad), Queen Latifah(Motormouth Mayebelle), Nikki Blonsky(Tracy Turnblad), Zac Ephron(Link Larkin) and beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer(Velma Von Tussle) in his selection of Chris Williams, Denetra King, Alex Shanko, Christopher Berry, and Sarah Farra for corresponding roles.

Chris Williams as shy, plus-sized Edna Turnblad was a stand out--comically convincing in every respect from his pantyhose to his curlers. His rendition of "Timeless To Me" with Robert Venne as goofy, madly in love with his wife Wilbur Turnblad was heartwarming.

Denetra Williams as Motormouth Mayebelle was vocally superb. This was Denetra's first production for the Flowertown Players and said, "I am loving it." She rocked the house with "Big, Blonde and Beautiful" but brought the house down with her inspirational performance of "I Know Where I've Been."

Tracy Turnblad is the lead character the play revolves around. She is a "pleasantly plump" teenager, who dreams of fame and Link Larkin, and ultimately fights to racially integrate The Corny Collins Show. It was unmistakably obvious Alex Shanko owned her part and loved every minute of it. Her opening execution of "Good Morning Baltimore" was performed well and set the tone for the rest of the play..

Christopher Berry fit the bill as the Corny Collins Show teenage heartthrob, Link Larkin. He had the Sixties rock n' roll thing going on with the "do" and the gyrating moves akin to hipster Elvis Presley. Even more impressive was his acrobatic body flip during a sequel in the first act.

Which now brings me to the malevolent and beautiful, but scheming mother of Amber Von Tussle and producer of The Corny Collins Show, Velma Von Tussle, played by Sarah Farra. Crowned Mrs. South Carolina in 2011 and thrilled to be part of the cast, Sarah's moves on stage were captivatingly chic. You will end up hating to love the cheeky ways of her character.

Finally, Kelly McDavid's portrayal of slightly flaky but pert Penny Pingleton was amusingly entertaining, at times reminding me of the crazy antics of Carol Burnett. Kelly's past achievements include being nominated for "lead actress in a musical" at the 2013 Theatre Charleston Awards as Velma Kelly in "Chicago" where I described her as "unshakably confident and her dance routines were executed with audacious swag." Two characters on the opposite end of the spectrum, Kelly demonstrated her resourcefulness once again.

Other notables were Melissa Frierson(Amber Von Tussle), J.D. Lewis(Corny Collins), and Treshawn Ford(Seaweed J. Stubbs). The set was bright and colorful. The record album painted on the floor genius. Costumes all 60's appropriate and well done.

Congratulations to the entire cast and crew for their successful, near perfect execution of Hairspray with just a couple of hiccups in the dialogue. Hey, they are only human. Opening night exceeded all expectations. With 10 shows to go, it will be a tough act to follow, but I know they will be up to the task.

Purchase tickets for Hairspray.