Summertime meals are as much about enjoying the pleasures of eating as they are about the food itself. What other time of year can you let watermelon juice drip down your chin or get ice cream sticky between your fingers? The sunny skies and bounty of fresh produce entice you out of the supermarket and into the farmers’ market, where the fruits are fleshier and the colors more vibrant. Many local chefs celebrate the sensuality of summer all year. They work closely with local farmers and purveyors to select the freshest, plumpest, juiciest seasonal ingredients. The dishes they create are a study in simplicity and plain, good flavor. And it’s a guilt-free goodness, because every bite is seasoned with a little sustainability, a little community, and a whole lot of love.
Romanesca Zucchini Salad
Downtown. 232 Meeting St. 805-5900
Chef Mike Lata’s FIG has been at the vanguard of the Charleston Slow Food movement. Lata focuses on “individual ingredients with a fresh perspective,” transforming locally-grown fare into exquisite plates. On the menu he credits food producers with dishes like the Braised Jamison Farm Lamb Shoulder, the Harris Ranch Hanger Steak, and the Sweet Bay Acres Roasted Suckling Pig. Local farmer Celeste Albers, of Wadmalaw Island, grows many of the seasonal vegetables that Chef Lata features prominently. In the Romanesca Zucchini Salad, Albers’ zucchini is layered with fava beans and pecorino cheese for a buttery, nutty saltiness and tossed with mint for a contrasting crisp, fresh, sweetness.
Tasting of Local Tomatoes
The Dining Room at Woodlands Resort & Inn
$69 — first course in the four-course tasting menu
Summerville. 125 Parsons Road. 875-2600
The tomato is the epitome of juicy summer fruit. Or is it a vegetable? Chef Tarver King uses eight varieties of tomatoes grown by Summerville farmer Mike Parker — black heirloom, lemon boys, green zebras, red heirlooms, orange cherries, black cherries, yellow romas, and yellow plums. The colorful dish presents the tomatoes sliced, diced, blanched, or deseeded, each to its own most taste-enhancing specifications. They are then plated alongside a basil coulis made from the kitchen’s herb garden, garlic chips, and mozzarella prepared “a la minute,” just prior to serving.
$6 to $10
Various locations. Check evopizza.com for schedule. 568-8338
Who knew that pizza — previously the exclusive territory of pepperoni, sausage, and cardiac arrhythmias — could be light, fresh, and heart-warming rather than heart-harming? The EVO (short for “extra virgin oven”) approach to pizza-making incorporates old world traditions and locally-grown ingredients to make guilt-free gourmet pizza. EVO owners Matt McIntosh and Ricky Hacker help organize and support Charleston’s local Slow Food Convivium and the Sustainable Seafood chapter (read Matt’s essay on p. 74). They take their stainless steel, wood-fired pizza cart to the Charleston, Kiawah, and Mount Pleasant farmers’ markets and peddle their pies the old-fashioned street cart way. The Local is a summertime specialty topped with shrimp, potatoes, caramelized onions, garlic confit, and skillet corn, all grown locally at Celeste Albers’ farm.
Seared Beef Tenderloin Salad
Downtown. 10 Exchange St. 724-3800
Carolina’s has served Lowcountry favorites since before it was Carolina’s. In 1953, the 10 Exchange St. location opened as Perdita’s, the first “gourmet” restaurant in Charleston. Chef Tin Dizdarevic remains loyal to Carolina’s legacy while incorporating his own culinary personality into the menu. The Seared Beef Tenderloin salad provides a perfect example. Offered seasonally, Dizdarevic tosses crisp green beans with local dates and a chili vinaigrette that is both sweet and hot. A few almonds for texture and juicy slices of beef tenderloin have your mouth watering before your fork hits the plate.
Daniel Island. 901 Island Park Dr. 881-8820
A truly satisfying meal isn’t just about the food. Chef Ken Vedrinski knows this well. In Sienna he has created a restaurant that plays to all the senses — smells waft from the open kitchen, Vedrinski greets guests with warm smiles and handshakes, and simple, colorful plates are presented with dishes concocted right out of the kitchen garden. In a Secondi dish worthy of seconds, Vedrinski prepares locally-caught grouper surrounded by flecks of blue crab and tiny cubes of guanciale (pig’s cheeks). The grouper is flavored with the citrusy sweetness of a warm white balsamic and tangerine vinaigrette made all the more delicious due to the smoky flavor of the guanciale.
Middleton Place Restaurant
West Ashley. 4300 Ashley River Road. 556-6020
Middleton Place preserves the past, not only in physical form, but in spirit. Middleton began as a farm, and while it is no longer the expansive working plantation it once was, newly-appointed Chef Brandon Buck is determined to use what produce is still grown in Middleton’s famous gardens. The revamped menu reflects his dedication to sustainable, local food. This month, mahi-mahi from Lowcountry Lobster is served alongside a squash and zucchini gratin made with produce from the plantation garden. The gratin binds the summer vegetables together with an aged Gouda and the entire dish is topped with a grain mustard butter and lightly fried onions.