Carolina Dine Around - January 14, 2022

Weeks of Restaurant Week, Rocking the Block, and more

Home Team BBQ's Rock the Block benefit will be back in February
Home Team BBQ's Rock the Block benefit will be back in February (Jonathan Boncek)

By Robert F. Moss

It’s time once again for the Carolina Dine Around, your digest of the latest food and beverage news from the Carolinas. And this time around we have a very special Restaurant Week edition.

Of course, here at the Dispatch every week is restaurant week, but in many cities in the Carolinas it comes just once a year. Or twice. Or several times. It’s complicated.

So, let’s dig in.

My Restaurant Week is Bigger Than Your Restaurant Week!

It’s January, and that can only mean one thing: it’s time for Restaurant Week!

This now-annual event arrives each winter as restaurateurs across the Carolinas collude to lure in reluctant diners who are broke from excessive holiday spending or still clinging to well-intentioned resolutions to “eat healthy” in the New Year.

In the Raleigh-Durham area, Triangle Restaurant Week (“a celebration of culinary excellence”) is organized by marketing and design firm Triangle Boulevard. This year some 40 restaurants will offer a special three-course lunch for $15 and a two- or three-course dinner for $25, $30, $35, or $40 (beverages are not included, and neither is the tip, so don’t be a cheapskate!)

Oddly, the organizers define a “week” as a period consisting of just seven days, for the Triangle Restaurant Week runs from Monday, January 24, through Sunday, January 30th. This is not how things work in more sophisticated parts of the Carolinas, like Charlotte.

The local Restaurant Week there—dubbed “Queen’s Feast”—doesn’t feel constrained by temporal conventions. We can argue over whether a normal week begins on Sunday or Monday, but Charlotte’s special week kicks off on a Friday (January 21st) and lasts ten days, running until Sunday, January 30th.

Organized by iHeartMedia, the Charlotte event took a hiatus in 2020 and came back last summer with a reduced number of restaurants (42) participating, but this January it’s back up to full steam with more than 70 participants, each of which will offer a special three-course prix fixe meal for whatever you call a ten day period.

Of course the Holy City has to one-up them all. Charleston’s Restaurant Week, organized by the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, just started yesterday (Thursday, January 13) and will run all the way until Sunday, January 23. That’s right. Here in Charleston, our Restaurant Week GOES UP TO ELEVEN!

There are just 62 restaurants participating in Charleston versus Charlotte’s 70, but I will point out that the Charleston metro area’s population of 800,000 is less than a third of Charlotte’s 2.6 million. Plus, Charlotte’s Queen’s Feast includes restaurants across the border in South Carolina (Rock Hill, Indian Land) and also in towns as far away as Hickory, a good hour’s drive from downtown—sorry, uptown.

I had intended at this point to make a wisecrack along the lines of, “Forget Texas! Everything is bigger in Charleston—especially our Restaurant Week!” But then I did a little searching and discovered that in the Lone Star State they have given up any pretense of actually having a single restaurant week, regardless of whether you define that as a paltry seven days or a generous eleven.

No, in Texas, they have Restaurant Weeks (plural). Houston’s 2021 Restaurant Weeks couldn’t even fit inside a single month, running from August 1 all the way until September 6, 2021. No word yet on the dates for 2022, but I can only imagine they will be similarly expansive.

Everything really is bigger in Texas.


Rock the Block

Rock the Block 2022 IG square-03 rs.png

VIP tickets just went on sale this week for the 4th annual Rock the Block, Home Team BBQ's annual block party. This year’s festivities will be held Saturday, February 26 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m in front of Home Team’s downtown Williman Street location. The event features three live bands—Southern Avenue, Travers Brothership, and the Pink Stones—along with beer, craft cocktails, and food from an array of guest chefs.

General admission is free, though a $10 donation at entry is suggested. All proceeds from admission and food and drink sales will go to support Hogs for the Cause, which raises funds and awareness for families affected by pediatric brain cancer. Participating chefs include Brandon Rushing (Ella & Ollies), Jonathan & Justin Fox (Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q), Kevin Johnson (The Grocery), John Haire (Martin’s Bar-B-Que), Jeremiah Bacon (Oak Steakhouse), Matt Niessner (Halls Chophouse), Eddie Hernández and Mike Klank (Taqueria Del Sol), and Aaron Siegel and Taylor Garrigan from Home Team.

There is also a VIP option available for purchase for $200, which includes an open bar and “all-you-can-enjoy” bites from even more chefs, including Jason Stanhope of FIG, Bob Cook of Edmund’s Oast, and Shannon Lee of Kiawah Island Resorts. No tickets are required for general admission, and VIP tickets can be purchased in advance at the Home Team website.

Canned Bagels: The Latest Trend

Back in the December 3rd Dine Around, we noted that Erin Perkins of Eater Carolinas was banging the bagel drum and quoted her observation, “Charleston residents love to complain about the lack of ‘decent bagels.’” This was from her piece on the newly opened café Little Line Kitchens & Provisions on Line Street, which imports bagels baked by the long-revered H&H Bagels in New York City.

Perkins is back on the bagel beat again this week, asking, “Are Bagels Finally Trending in Charleston?” She reports that finally “it seems restaurateurs have heard the cries of ‘Where can I can a decent bagel around here?’” Yes, that’s what the Eater piece actually says. Apparently restaurateurs are now providing customers equipment for canning take-out bagels, which I guess keeps them from getting stale.

Whether you are looking for canned or fresh, Perkins offers five options for getting good bagels in the Holy City. I’m not sure that’s enough to qualify bagels as “trending”, but it seems one vocal Charleston resident, at least, can finally get her long-awaited bagel fix.

Just Hand Me the Pie, Jacques

Jacques Larson about to crush an Italian sausage and white bean hand pie
Jacques Larson about to crush an Italian sausage and white bean hand pie (Baxter Miller)

A few months ago we reported on the rebooted hand pie collaboration series that chef Vivian Howard of Handy & Hot has launched with various Charleston chefs. Up next in the rotation is a pie conceived by chef Jacques Larson of The Obstinate Daughter and Wild Olive. It’s filled with Italian sausage, white beans, fontina, and rapini.

I know this isn’t as newsworthy as canned bagels, but we get to run a cool picture of Larson about to bite into a pie.

Charleston’s Export Economy

Charleston-based Indigo Road restaurant group, which has restaurants in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., has now made its first inroads into Florida with the opening of the new O-ku Sushi in Jacksonville Beach,

Pecked Out

After 16 years in business, long-time West Ashley restaurant D. D. Pecker’s Wing Shack announced this week that it would be closing permanently. Mr. Pecker could not be reached for comment.

Charlotte (and Columbia)

The Strudel is Real

Who needs strudel when you can have a big, cheesy pizza instead? Axios Charlotte reports that Bird Pizzeria from husband-and-wife team Kerrel and Nkem Thompson has opened in the 125-year-old building in Optimist Park that formerly housed the Strudel Shop.

That latter business opened at the end of 2019 but closed in March 2021 after chef/owner Kevin Kelly was unable to renegotiate his lease. Kelly ended up heading south on I-77 to Columbia, where he will soon be opening a new version of The Strudel Shop in a downtown storefront on Washington Street.

One might reasonably conclude that Columbia would be a better market for strudel than the Queen City. After all,Café Strudel on State Street in West Columbia is celebrating its 25th year of serving made-to-order breakfast, lunch, and dinners. Here’s the catch, though. Despite its name and the fact that the menu includes a Strudel Burger and a Strudel Style Cuban, the restaurant does not actually serve strudel.

So Much for Drinking All Day

If you live in Charlotte and the the loss of your main strudel source makes you want to hit the bottle, check your watch before you head out to the liquor store. Starting this past Monday, the Charlotte Observer reports, all ABC stores in Mecklenburg County will be operating on reduced hours of 12:30 pm through 9:00 pm, Monday through Saturday. The adjusted hours will be in effect “until further notice,” the county ABC board announced, “​​due to the impact of COVID-19 exposures resulting in labor shortages.”

Greenville (SC)

Carl Sobocisnki of Greenville’s Table 301 restaurant group (Soby’s, The Lazy Goat, Nose Dive, and CAMP) was featured last Sunday on CBS’s 60 Minutes in a segment on “The Big Quit,” in which he weighed in on the labor shortages facing restaurants today.

The Triangle

You already knew that Yelp reviews are toxic and destructive, right? But if you’d like a lot of very specific and painful details about just how destructive they are, read Lena Geller’s latest feature for IndyWeek. The kicker comes in her closing:

Every restaurant owner quoted in this article noted that most of the feedback they receive is positive, constructive, and appreciated. But, across the board, these owners—all of whom, I should note, boast fairly high Yelp ratings—told me they would opt out of having a Yelp page if they could, despite its assistance in boosting their online visibility.

I would call that a one-star review for sure.

About the Author

Robert F. Moss

Robert F. Moss is the Contributing Barbecue Editor for Southern Living magazine, Restaurant Critic for the Post & Courier, and the author of numerous books on Southern food and drink, including The Lost Southern Chefs, Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, Southern Spirits: 400 Years of Drinking in the American South, and Barbecue Lovers: The Carolinas. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina.