This past Sunday, we had the pleasure of attending Eater Eve--Eater.com’s precursor to the invite-only Eater Awards--and we had an absolute ball. As soon as we walked into the gorgeous, neon-lit Angel Orensanz Center, we were greeted with a buzzing crowd of interesting people enjoying themselves in style, not to mention a delightful Tanqueray, champagne, and absinthe welcome cocktail. What really impressed us, though, was how well the evening’s Southern theme was brought home. It was the unifying thread among the 11 excellent epicureans, which included Southern Chefs representing their home cuisine, as well as local Chefs riffing on Southern classics. The Southern aesthetic was really brought together with touches like the specially crafted cocktails (more on those later), and the featured band, Houndmouth. In addition to providing a down-home, roots-rock soundtrack to the night's Southern fare, the Louisville band has also been in touch with Eater about their best food experiences along the southern leg of their tour, making the connection between the music and the food that epitomize and celebrate Southern culture.
The event took place on the anticipation-heavy evening before the winners of the Eater awards were announced. The winners are now public knowledge, (and you should definitely check them out here), but we felt like we wanted in on some of that award-giving action when it came to the preview evening itself.
Of course, everything at Eater Eve (and, seriously, we mean everything) was delicious and truly top-notch, but we noticed that some dishes definitely stood to levels of categorical distinction. So, without further ado, here is our Joonbug Eater Eve awards.
BEST SWEET TREAT
Peanut Macaroons with Peanut-Fed Ham.
Though there wasn't much in the way of dessert at Eater Eve (which, to be honest, we were fine with), this dish brought sweetness to the table in a uniquely Southern way. It was the perfect medley of sweet and savory, pairing the mouth-watering, fresh-carved, peanut-fed ham leg with a buttery but airy peanut macaroon (which was more like a meringue in consistency). It was a complex but delicious combination that had all the sweet we needed.
BEST USE OF ORDINARY SNACK FOOD
Isaac Toups, of Toups Meatery, New Orleans, LA
Cracklins Choudin (Pig Stomach with Boudin, served with a Pickled Jalapeño on a Saltine Cracker)
Southern cooking has traditionally utilized the basic available ingredients at hand, and though those basically available ingredients have changed in the modern urban landscape (as you’re more likely to find a box of Mac and Cheese than a bundle of collard greens in the average bodega), the theme remains important. That’s why we wanted to point out this homage to traditional offal meat cuts and common modern pantry staples alike. The dish combines expertly prepared pig stomach and boudin (a shout-out to Creole cooking) with the spice of house-pickled Jalapeño, all finished off with the familiarly satisfying crunch of a Saltine.
Ashley Christensen, of Poole's, Raleigh, NC
Rappahannock River Oysters "Rock-A-Billy",with Creamed Turnips, Bacon-Fat Poached Oysters, Roasted Tomato, and Carolina Cheddar-Cornbread Crumbs.
The dish came served on the Rappahannock River half-shell, each one long, irregularly shaped but still uniquely aesthetically pleasing. The oysters themselves were each shucked and poached on-site, imbuing the dish with the smell of wafting bacon fat. Within the shell, they were rested on the bed of creamy-off-white turnips beside the deep red roasted tomato, speckled with the cheddar-cornbred crumbs. The Rock-A-Billy Oysters were simple and down-home but still elegant, and looked as good as they tasted.
Kyle Knall, of Maysville, New York, NY
Charcoal Roasted Sweet Potato with Poached Quince and Country Ham Crumble.
Though Andrea Reusing (of Lantern, Chapel Hill, NC) gave Chef Knall a run for his money with her Carrot Chaat (served with crispy black lentils, pickled red onion and basil), we think Knall ultimately had the better veggie dish. The Sweet Potato, one of the staples of Southern produce, was given a unique and uniquely southern treatment, charcoal-grilled until the natural sugars carmelized into an almost candied glaze. The quince complimented that cooked caramelized sweetness, while the country ham crumbles rounded the whole thing out.
BEST TAKE ON TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DISHES
Michael Shemtov, of Butcher and Bee, Charleston, SC
Grilled Cheese with Pimento, Okra, and Candied Pecans; Ham Hock Broth-Based Soup with Beans and Winter Greens.
Steven Satterfield, of Miller Union, Atlanta, GA:
Cornmeal Johnny Cakes, Pulled Pork, Kale and Fennel Slaw.
We really had a hard time picking the best take on traditional southern dishes (and even this tie had a close runner up in Robert Newton of Seersucker's take on Chicken and Dumplings), but we decided that these two dishes were equally excellent in their interpretation of classic southern recipes. Shemtov's grilled cheese was jazzed up, but with traditionally southern ingredients: Pimento, Okra, and Candied Pecans. The classic grilled cheese-and-soup combo was made even more interesting by the homage to improvised, broth-based seasonal soups, hailing the almighty ham hock in the pantheon of the Southern pantry. Satterfield's Johnny Cake was among the most to-the-letter traditional dishes at Eater Eve, presenting the simple but heary cornmeal cakes with (what else?) pulled pork. The traditional recipe, though, was executed so well that we had to take notice, and still managed some innovation in the use of kale and fennel in the slaw.
Edward Lee and Nick Sullivan, of 610 Magnolia, Louisville, KY
Black BBQ beef short ribs, pickled tongue, cilantro pudding and edamame hummus.
Though, as we've said before, we loved everything at Eater Eve, this dish had something special. The rich array of flavors and textures were both inspired by the Southern palate and by the fusion of global tastes and ingredients into traditional Southern cuisine. We were particularly taken with the complexity of the bite: the smoky-sweet savory BBQ short ribs against the smooth, melt-in-your-mouth but still slightly tangy cut of tongue, harmonizing with the piquant taste and the thick texture of the cilantro pudding and the earthy edamame hummus. This dish is seriously inspired, and was definitely the best thing we ate all night.
Of course, though there's a lot to say about the food, we wouldn’t be doing Eater Eve justice if we didn’t mention the out of this world drink offerings. Alongside an unlimited supply of Negra Modelo, Eaters Eve featured cocktails that showed off the best of Southern-inspired mixology. Eater Award Winner Yana Volfson of Peels and Freeman's was the star of the evening, creating and serving up six signature cocktails. We were particularly taken with her Voodoo that You Do, made with Jalapeno-infused Tanqueray, Lemon Juice, Sugar Cane, and Smoked Salt Cucumber. While this sort of drink would generally (by the average palate) call for Tequila, the use of Jalapeno-infused gin (and, specifically, the botanical, coriander-liquorice noted Tanqueray) was inspired. It resulted in a flavor that was the embodied taste of spiciness, rather than the sensation.
In all, a great night full of great food and drink. Happy eating, y'all!