Southern Charm Kitchen

Southern Charm Kitchen

Southern Charm Kitchen

We’ve been trying to get ourselves to Southern Charm since we heard about it months ago. How could you not want to try a place opened up by the folks that gave us Reggae Shack? And if you’ve never been to Reggae Shack, you can just slap yourself in your big, pasty white face.

Southern Charm Kitchen is out on the east side, where Hawthorne Road branches off of University. This may be crossing the tracks for a lot of you, but don’t act like it’s the ghetto. Spoiler alert: it’s worth the drive across town.

We popped in a little late (let’s face it, The Man and I always run about 15 minutes behind), and our dinner pals had scored a table and ordered wine. The wine turned out to be a Cremaschi Syrah from Chile, a label I loved since a nice bottle of carménère. Tasty without being knock-out sweet. It seemed an odd combination to have very elegant wine glasses rubbing elbows with mason jars of water on our table, both alongside the Tabasco and Sriracha.

Anyhow, the building was great and the interior was clean and trendy looking, so feel free to bring your cool friends. There’s not a lot of seating and I can see it can get crowded at times. A great bonus is that it’s not wall-to-wall white people and students. Here’s the real Gainesville, folks!

Anyhow, the food… where to start. SCK doesn’t have a website yet, but they are on Facebook and in their photos are a few pics of the menu, so you can get an idea of what’s there. Since we were at dinner, we got a few nibbles and then did entrée-plus-sides. They’ve got the menu clearly marked for vegetarian and/or vegan items.

I ordered the Country Fried Seitan with mac & cheese and cornbread. The Man opted for the Country Fried Tofu with pickled greens and the sweet-n-cajun fries. Our dinner pals went all out carnivore and seemed pleased with the sea of plates and food that arrived not too long later.

Southern Charm Kitchen

The Man was taken aback by the small portion of the tofu he received, but it was eclipsed by the ginormous size of my seitan. It took effort to tackle the seitan, even with the proper flatware we were provided. It was somehow fluffier than the traditional dense seitan, but the breaded crust added a challenge (and probably prevented The Man from stealing more off my plate than he did).

My mac & cheese felt very homemade, without even the slightest glimmer of orange cheese in most restaurant versions. The corn bread sat somewhat timidly next to the huge seitan steak. It was sweet and bready, almost like cake, rather than savory and mealy like I’m used to. But it was delish with the salty mac & cheese. Even though it was clssic southern style food, it never felt greasy or heavy.

Despite the small size of The Man’s tofu, he nommed it up (possibly a little more seasoning, please?). The sweet-n-cajun fries are basically a skinnier version of the dutty fries at Reggae Shack (which are awesome, topped with a sweet/spicy/salty sprinkle). And best for last, I am not normally crazy for greens, but these were fantastic. I did barter off some of my seitan for his greens, and then stole more off his plate while he was busy talking.

There’s all kinds of other things on the menu we want to try, so we’re definitely going back. The two servers we had were super nice and helpful. And on the way out, I drooled over the cake on display even though I was hugely full.

Even if it wasn’t delicious, I would still urge you to head out east and support local business. Skip the Archer Rd / Newberry Rd clusterfuck of chain restaurants. Push past the Main St boundary and try out something new on the other side of Gainesville. I get the feeling that Southern Charm hasn’t quite nailed down their menu (that’s not a bad thing), but they do have a strong sense of their food culture and the story they want to tell you with it.

After it was all said and done, and the wine was emptied, we paid less than $35, and our dinner pals paid about the same. Vegetarian note: they clearly state that all of their vegetarian food is cooked and served on designated dishes, so there’s no cross-over issues. (Considering the amount of ‘other’ material allowed on most processed food, I’m not sure that’s a comfort. And by ‘other’, I mean bugs, rodents, hair, dirt, and other traditionally non-food materials. But that’s another tangent.)

So, seriously, go there. Eat. I’m not kidding. You might actually enjoy yourself.

Buy local, spend local, support local. It’s your community. And your community is delicious!

Southern Charm Kitchen
1714 SE Hawthorne Rd
Gainesville, FL 32641

On Facebook

Tues-Sat | 11:00AM-10:00PM


Authentic Red, Gnarly Head

Gnarly Head is kind of one of our standards at the house. It’s reliable, nicely priced, and tends to be gentle on the non-aficionado palate. It’s a favorite for my book club ladies, or a random dinner party. I usually grab an Old Vine Zin, or Merlot. Even a Pinot Noir.

We picked up a few bottles of wine last time we were mooching around Ward’s, including two different Gnarly Heads. At my most recent book club gathering, I accidentally pulled out the Authentic Red instead of the Merlot because I was in a hurry. But when we opened it and poured it around, I actually had a “Whoa, what is this?” moment in the madness of female discussion. (The Man often comments about how we all seem to talk at the same time, at the top of our voices, and he can’t understand how we call it a conversation.)

The Man was quite put out that we drank the Red before he got to it, so when we were at Ward’s today he grabbed two bottles. Just to be safe. While we waited for his tomatoes to roast down for a red sauce, we opened the Authentic Red. Which, can I say–if you are making red sauce that takes several hours, have something to eat in the mean time to offset the alcohol intake.

Anyhow, we opened the Authentic Red with some high expectations because of my “hold the phone” experience in the midst of female insanity. Honestly, we were not disappointed. Initially there’s this low, mellow rolling flavor that bursts out into this high, grassy sensation. There are lovely earthy notes of raisins and dates rooting it deeply in the caramel zone, but then you get these big, loopy, rolling spirals of flavor that open up delicious fruit and sunshine flavors.

The high alcohol content (14.5% ABV) gives it some phenomenally long legs (and again, not something for an empty stomach while cooking). It’s mostly a zinfandel, with some merlot and cabernet sauvignon blended in. Even on the bottle, Gnarly Head recommends the wine is paired with big flavor dishes. They’re not kidding. Big flavors. You know when you’re listening to a Maria Callas aria and she just opens up and lays into you with that voice. Huge rolling loops of intensity.

The nice thing was that as we drank this bottle (waiting for the red sauce to cook), the wine breathed out the sharp grassy flavors, leaving a rich, lush velvety flavor curve. Like a true redhead, it was big and bold and loud. Now I’m kind of glad we have a second bottle. I definitely want another taste of the Authentic Red.

Gnarly Head
Authentic Red
Vintage 2010
Lodi, California
About $6-8


Carménère, Cremaschi Vineyards, 2010

One of the perks of going to Fresh Market is the ladies at their wine tasting tables. If you go in the evening, they’ve been at it a while and are quite, um, cheerful from handing out samples. I’m absolutely positive these girls don’t have a little sip of the wine here and there throughout the day. They must be just naturally cheerful and talkative at the end of a day-long shift on their feet.

Dinner guests stopped at Fresh Market on the way over, and the lady giving out samples of wine actually talked so profusely, they were late to arrive at our place. Which is fine because in my opinion, the stated time of a dinner party or gathering is merely a suggestion. They eventually arrived bearing a bottle of carménère by Cremaschi Vineyards, a Chilean wine.

Carménère is a dark red varietal that originated in France but is now virtually extinct in its homeland. It was one of the original ‘six red grapes of Bordeaux‘, which sounds like the name of a good children’s song. A tremendous (vineyard) plague in the mid 1800s pretty much wiped the carménère vines out of existence. Once the growers had recovered from the loss, they couldn’t find many healthy vines, and were hesitant to commit to such a temperamental plant.

It was purely by accident that the carménère vines were preserved, having been taken to Chile and confused with the merlot varietal. Once they got it sorted out, they found that the carménère grapes thrived in Chile, and produced a remarkable wine. And because Chile isn’t wall-to-wall vineyards, the chance of another plague devastating this fragile grape is minimized. (There is also a small presence of this grape in California, Australia, and New Zealand, and a growing interest in France again.)

Carménère wine tends to have noticeably softer tanins, which gives it a lovely velvet mouth-feel and a creaminess that is remarkable. We sure remarked upon it a few times while quickly draining the bottle and smacking out lips appreciatively. This wine also had smoky, dry grass, peppery notes typical of a Chilean wine, but on top of this was a very distinct honey flavor that supported the creamy texture well. There were a few hints of dark fruits, and a touch of a dark chocolate, but major notes of honey and earth remind me of what I wish mead tasted like.

It is on the sweet side, so it makes a delicious after dinner wine. It’s best served with foods that have distinct but subdued flavors like many traditional Chilean ingredients: corn, beans, peppers, potatoes, rice, and chocolate. Although it is a typical trick at wine tastings to have people eat chocolate while drinking to improve the taste of a mediocre wine, the carménère wine actually makes a wonderful pairing with a dark chocolate.

As for Cremaschi Vineyards, I couldn’t find a whole lot of info about them. With the globe riddled with vineyards, Google can only help me so much. And buying at a big box store further muddies the origin once a big import/export company gets their mittens on it (usually a small vineyard will focus on landing a big exporter rather than creating their own website to draw interest). Cremaschi Vineyards exports seven varieties of wine, and has been growing grapes for over a century. Apparently Cremaschi is a common name in Chile, and there are several other vineyards that use the name in some way, so it can probably get confusing.

We’re quite interested in trying another bottle of carménère. I’ve not been particularly interested in Chilean wine in general because they tend to be overly peppery and earthy for my taste, but this was nice for a once-in-a-while treat. And I’d love to get my hands on an Australian and a Californian bottle. Purely for research purposes of course. It’s amazing how a grape can make its way to a different part of the world and take on a new life.

On a side note, I have to wonder about the secret lives of the wine tasting women. How do you get that job? And why? Is it a great dating tool? How many people try to give you their phone numbers? How many other propositions do you get? Just how drunk do you get? And do you do this every day? Do you have giant bottles of aspirin and cases of coconut water at home to combat the perpetual hangovers? How do you manage this on a daily basis without seeming to know all that much about wine?

Cremaschi Vineyards
Carménère, 2010


Terra Summa, Red Blend

Terra Summa, Red BlendThanks to all of our nouveau hippie friends, I’ve been keeping my eye out for organic wine that’s actually good to drink. Like regular wine, there’s a vast array of organic wine, and it’s growing. So when I find an organic wine that’s actually good, I pounce like a cat on a lizard sitting in the sun.

The first time I had a bottle of the Terra Summa (red label, I think it was a merlot), the price was somewhere above $10. And I thought it was just about worth that. Not striking, but drinkable and consistent in flavor. And then I saw it on sale 2-for-1 at our local Publix. What the heck. Two extra bottles of a decent wine for the rack would be nice. I noticed the price had dropped other places as well. It seemed like over night, the average price went from about $11 to $6.

Not to be dramatic, but this is a very nice bottle of wine for that price range. Especially if it’s organic.

Not that price determines how good it is. I’d put this on our wine rack next to Our Daily Red as a good weekday dinner wine because it’s tasty, affordable, and fairly mellow. And it’s consistently good. As opposed to some of the wines you buy knowing that every few bottles, you’re going to get one that’s a bit funky.

Another measure for a weekday dinner wine is how long it stays drinkable. The simple truth is that The Man and I are not the roaring young drinkers we once were. Age and responsibility have crept up (oh don’t get me started!). It’s no longer an option to drink a bottle of wine with dinner and another one after dinner. Don’t even try to broach the subject of liquor on a “school night”. Not that I personally ever tried to get as drunk as humanly possible. But there were times in my youth that I had a drink too many and was still able to get up the next day for class or work, and function. Not so much anymore.

So it’s nice to open a bottle of wine while we’re starting to cook dinner, and sip on it through the night until we start falling asleep in front of the TV… oh, I mean, until we decide it’s time for bed. We never fall asleep in front of the TV. Never.

A good bottle of wine for this kind of slow sipping is one that will be drinkable right away instead of requiring decanting to breathe first. And it will tolerate being open for a while without oxidizing badly (that taste it gets that’s like licking a rusty tin can). Terra Summa seems to hold up well to these expectations.

I’ve googled this wine in an attempt to learn more about its origin, but can’t find much about it beyond other people blogging about it and their own suggestions about where it’s from. These tend to conflict. The Terra Summa website is a single page that just lists the red and blue label varieties. Some people say Tree of Life brought this line to the market. The label says it’s imported by Natural Merchants LLC, who admit to Trantas and Air but not Terra Summa. That, combined with the price drop are suspicious to me.

It’s still a good wine at a very comfortable price. The one we had the other night was the Classic Spanish Red Blend, 2008. And I have a merlot on the rack. In the Classic red label line, there is also a chard, a white blend, and a cab. The blue label Premium line has an Italian red blend, a pinot, and a tempranillo. There’s a rumor on the wind about a third line that is “no sulfites added”.

This 2008 Red Blend was nice and mellow, with an even balance of fruit and chocolate notes. There is more complexity to the finish of the wine than the rest of the flavor curve. The chocolate ends as a nice coffee flavor, and the fruity notes fade out to a low, dark berry blend. It goes very well with Mediterranean cooking as well as some of the more mild Mexican dishes, but it probably wouldn’t hold up well against something too spicy. It’s definitely not the most talkative person at the table, but it’s intriguing enough that people would stop to listen when it had something to say.

Terra Summa
Classic Spanish Red Blend, 2008
Organic, 75% Spanish Tempranillo / 25% Cabernet Savingon
$5-7 per bottle (red label varieties)


Almagre Crianza Rioja 2001

Almagre Crianza Rioja 2001It’s clear that this wine was aged for a significant time in oak barrels. It is not shy about that. There is an undeniably masculine forwardness to the strength and depth of this flavor throughout this wine.

Alamgre produces this tempranillo in the infamous La Rioja region of Spain. It is a red crianza, meaning it is aged at least two years, one of them in oak barrels. This one tastes like it was born into the primordial soup in oak barrels and left to age since. Considering they’ve been making wine in this region since at least 873 A.D., it’s quite possible.

There’s a lot of emotion and effort being put into world foods these days, preserving a region’s food heritage by legally protecting the name. ‘Protected Geographical Status‘ means you can only buy Stilton in that name if it was made in one of three counties in England, and ouzo has to have been made in Greece or Cyprus. Rioja wine has to come from the La Rioja region of Spain. There’s a fancy label and authentication sticker on this bottle to verify this.

Alongside being of authentic origin, this Almagre is also certified organic. Not that I look for this specifically, but I like to have a bottle or two of organic wine on hand for those of my friends who feel very deeply about this topic. I would prefer to have organic food as a serious option in my life as well, but reality is much more stingy with me on time and money.

This 2001 Almagre was about $8 locally. The label looks like something designed in MS Word by someone who still uses a dial-up modem. But I don’t judge by the label, and neither should you. I take that back. I tend to shy away from the overly slick or kitschy labels for fear that money had been spent on marketing instead of wine-making.

If this wine was a cat, it would be an un-fixed male Tom cat. I find tempranillos tend to be mild, so this one threw me for a loop with its bold oak, dust, and leather flavors. A sparse but intense mood. It reminded me of when I lived in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas (that’s Cal-i-for-ni-ay or you Easterners). There was no rainfall in these hills through the summer, so by August everything had been dried and bleached the color of straw. Even the air. Outside at midday all you could smell was the dry grasses, the oak trees and the dusty earth. It permeated you until you felt like you were a dense, stoic, silent manzanita tree. This wine absolutely brought me back there, and this is what I imagine it would feel like to stand in the vineyard in Spain as well.

I enjoyed this wine on its own, over conversation with a friend. I did bring out some lovely green grapes that had been chilling in the fridge, and they seemed to balance out the masculinity of the wine. After a few grapes, a sip of wine tasted almost like frankincense–rich and dark and old. Next time I buy a bottle of this (yes there will be a next time), I will consider paring it with an equally bold dinner. Maybe even after dinner with a cigar.

Almagre Crianza Tempranillo
Rioja DOC 2001
12.5% ABV
About $7-8


Beso de Vino, Seleccion 2007

Beso de Vino, Seleccion 2007How can you turn down a wine with a bull and his dangling testicles on the label? Antonio the Bull, to be precise.

The very-cute label and marketing of the wine makes it a great gift for non-wine-aficionados. Antonio the Bull is a cute doodle and there’s a cute story first thing you read on the front of the bottle. It’s a screw-top cap so there’s no messing about with cork screws or gadgets. And it’s very mild, so as not to shock or offend the palette of someone who likes to mix their jug-wine with a little ginger ale or carbonated water to jazz it up.

Despite the overflowing cuteness (yes, I am a cute aficionado as well but prefer to keep that separate from my wine), this is a nice little bottle of wine. We had the Selección 2007 which is a syrah. It seems like later years are mostly syrah with a 15% garnacha blend, so I’d be interested in trying one of these to see what the motivation for altering it was.

I generally lean towards Spanish wines for every-day occasions like week-day dinners, book club meetings, and parties where I know non-wine people will want to be adventurous and sniff the wine. This Beso de Vino is ideal because it’s a $6-9 bottle of decent wine that is mild with an underlying complexity of flavors. You’re not going to shock anyone with it, but you’ll probably not get bored of it quickly either.

It comes out of Aguaron, Spain, an area that is scattered with little towns of 300 people or less. This is in the province of Zaragoza, which has one of those histories where every other week someone else was conquering the place and swaggering around like they invented shoes. The locals generally went about their agricultural business, creating amazing foods and wines, and making up Jota.

The wine itself is deeply colored, almost purple, with an unremarkable fragrance. At first blush, the flavors are very subtle. You almost put the glass down and ask for something else. But like the quiet girl at work who wears glassed and hardly talks, if you give the wine a moment to relax, you start to feel these lovely hints of personality creep up. There are touches of cocoa and dried fruit, and then sweet olives, and maybe a jumble of spices. For just a moment you feel like you’ve been chewing honeysuckle blossoms. And then it’s gone and you want more.

Although the vineyard is well established, the brand is fairly new, and came to the US only a few years ago. A growing number of distributors are carrying this wine, probably because it has great eye-appeal for displays. But don’t let that put you off. The Selección is the highest rated of their offerings, but you might also find Old Vine Garnacha, Macabeo (a white varietal typically used in many Spanish blends), and Garnacha Rosé (um, Valentine’s Day hint hint).

Beso de Vino, Selección 2007
Spanish Syrah, 13.5% ABV
Usually about $6.00-$9.00


Mano a Mano La Mancha, 2007

Mano a Mano 2007

Our door is always open to a bottle of tempranillo, especially when brought by a friend. We knew nothing about this wine when it arrived and promptly pulled the cork. After a first sniff and sip at the inky dark wine, we decided to decant it and let it rest for an hour because of its heavy, grating nose.

It’s always interesting going blind into a bottle since you never know what to expect. Sometimes knowing about the wine taints your impressions of it between your face and your brain. The smells, textures, flavors of the wine are free to be themselves without your waiting for them to perform.

Decanting much improved the experience of this intense tempranillo. It had gorgeous, strong flavors of oak and dry earth, and a finish like the heat of a setting sun fading into the deceptively chilly deep red evening. This was not a refinement of subtle tones, or a fun, flirty blend. There was a wildness to the flavor arc. No smooth curve. More of a flexing and wrestling of similar flavors fighting for dominance. And then cleanly disappearing.

This wine would go well with seared, grilled, dark foods, and a hard, salty cheese. It’s something you drink as a second bottle, fit nicely between two more amicable tempranillos. In research, I’ve found the Mano a Mano is from the La Mancha area of Spain, and is slowly aged in French oak barrels. La Mancha is one of the largest wine-growing areas of the world if you measure in acreage. And tempranillos are quickly gaining huge popularity because they’re great table wine at completely affordable prices.

This bottle of Mano a Mano was quite forward with flavors, and after the rough start, it oxidized deeply near the end of the night. We had switched to a very mellow Our Daily Red wine, and having a sip of the long-settled Mano brought a tear to my eye, I confess.

I would try Mano a Mano again, now that I’m prepared. But it’s not for the weak and inexperienced.

Mano a Mano
2007 Tempranillo
La Mancha, Spain
About $10/bottle


Cupcake Merlot, 2007

Cupcake Merlot, 2007

A few people had suggested trying Cupcake wine, so I thought I’d pick up a bottle for my next book club. They are my wine guinea pigs and a name like Cupcake wouldn’t embarrass them too badly. Getting a bunch of busy women together sometimes fails and book club was canceled that week. So out of sheer curiosity later in the week, The Man and I opened this bottle after dinner.

The wine lived up to the name. Not that I’m saying it was bad. It was on the timid side though. Very mild for such a dark red, with dried fruit flavors and barely a hint of cocoa. And it had a slightly rusty finish.

It also oxidized pretty quickly, so after an hour of being open, it was getting hard to drink. A wine with a stronger flavor might have carried this a little longer, but it was so mild, this became the dominant flavor too quickly.

This hasn’t put us off the Cupcake wines though. There was absolutely a potential there. I want to try a white. Looks like they also have some interesting specialty bottles, including a riesling from Germany. I’m giving Cupcake another chance.

2007 Merlot
Central Coast, California
About $8/bottle


Gladius Tempranillo, 2009

Gladius Tempranillo 2009A bottle of this was given to us at the holidays and since it was unfamiliar, we didn’t jump at opening it right away. But our wine rack was looking kind of sparse the other night and a tempranillo seemed like the right sort of thing to celebrate the close of a long week.

Personally, I was put off by the label because it seemed like more thought might have been put into the design than the wine itself. And there’s just no personality in a grey and black color scheme. But I keep reminding myself not to judge a wine by the label.

So I popped the synthetic cork and chucked that into the blue cork vase. An initial sniff around the rim of the glass had me thinking I’d rather wait or The Man to have a go at it first. It was hugely floral and girly (a big statement from a girl who owns far too much pink in her wardrobe). But The Man handed it back and insisted I have a sip before I wandered off to finish cooking dinner.

It had a lovely, delicate fruit flavor initially, which balanced the flowery fragrance. But that girliness quickly matured into a rush of cedar and oak with solid earthy undertones. It finished pretty clean, leaving only a dry, peppery tingle on the tongue.

This is not something you want to decant or leave sitting open as it oxidizes fairly quickly. The last glass was kind of rough. It was a pretty deep purple wine, definitely leaning towards the blue-purple rather than wine red. I say this because this is not a first date kind of drink. You’l be awkwardly looking at each other’s purple tinted teeth and lips. I was not amused by my tongue being as dark as a chow chow dog’s.

My best friend, Google, had a hard time finding anything about this wine, so I couldn’t begin to tell you a price range except ‘somewhere between $7 and $15’. It’s a Spanish red wine. It’s not half bad. I wouldn’t pay more than $9 for this. I’d probably pair it with something Italian or Mediterranean for dinner and serve it to people without vast wine vocabularies. But yes, I would drink it again.


Flock, Smoking Loon

The old adage “you get what you pay for” doesn’t always apply to wine. In fact you pay for what you’re willing to pay for. So drink what you like, not what’s on the price tag.

Case in point, this nice little line from Smoking Loon. Flock? So many jokes, so little time. Right?

We’re always on the look out for a decent bottle of dinner wine for under $10. So we picked this up on a random trip to the grocery store one evening. If anything, we wasted a whole $7.99 on a corporate marketing ploy. Anyone who’s bought tickets to Disney World knows a sting much harsher than that.

It was very nice. An interesting collection of fresh flavors. A beautifully balanced flavor curve from start to finish. Lovely little fruity notes. It certainly made us sit back and go “huh, should have gotten another few bottles”.

2007 Dry Creek Valley Old Vine Zinfandel
$8-10 | Flock