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Table Talk: Food column ends with tasteful farewell

Julie Robinson
Hailed as the South's best shrimp and grits, this version from a restaurant outside of Charleston S.C., could have used a bit more flavor.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The sign read "Named Best Shrimp and Grits by Southern Living," so of course we had to try it. If that publication, the diviner of all things Southern, deemed the Mount Pleasant, S.C. restaurant's version worthy of the top honor, it had to be good.

So we ordered the popular Lowcountry dish, and it was good.

Not great, but good.

We preferred a little more spice in the gravy and this one seemed bland. The grits were formed into a wedge and fried until crisp on all sides, polenta style. We liked that translation of the traditionally creamy dish, but other people might have balked.

Taste is subjective.

Which is why this column doesn't hold my opinions on restaurants. As I've told people who ask why we don't do reviews, they should try restaurants and form their own opinions. I've often left a restaurant satisfied with my meal, but then hear somebody else blast the same establishment. Or the food was good, but the service terrible.

So, I've used this space to let readers know what is out there. Although I've looked at a wide variety of restaurants -- everything from pizza joints to fine dining establishments, both local and elsewhere in the state -- I've missed many. I relied upon tips and suggestions from readers and friends for leads, which are much appreciated. There have been a few must-do assignments, but features editor Rosalie Earle has given me a generous berth.

And after five years of writing a weekly food column and eight years as a feature writer, I'm leaving the Gazette to take a position with a professional horticulture association, a job I will relish as a lifelong gardener with a strong interest in the industry.

In that job, as in my position at the Gazette, I'm fortunate to pursue topics and experiences that interest me. For that, I am most grateful.

My gratitude also extends to the Gazette's talented photographers and copy editors who give the stories so much visual appeal. Photographers Kenny Kemp, Chip Ellis, Chris Dorst and Larry Pierce have answered many last-minute calls to dash up to my house and work their photogenic magic on a dish to be featured on the next food page.

The Robinson family will no doubt appreciate meals served while they're still warm, instead of lukewarm after a delay for food styling and photographs, occasionally taken by my supportive husband, Reed. He'd gamely step in when busy staff photographers were tied up.

I often hear people lament the lack of good, local restaurants, but I think the Charleston and West Virginia food scene is changing. Chefs are stretching their creative culinary skills and more brave souls are taking the formidable risk of opening their own restaurants. They work hard to use organic and locally grown and sourced produce and meats, encouraging the growth of small family farms, which is a heritage well worth reviving and preserving.

Check out some of the restaurants presented in "101 Unique Places to Dine in West Virginia" as presented at www.wvcommerce.org through a partnership of the West Virginia Division of Tourism and the Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia. An updated version is coming soon based on the recommendations of food professionals throughout the state.

So get out there and try something new. A new restaurant or locally grown fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat or poultry. Grow some yourself and savor the fresh, seasonal flavor.

Eat well, my friends.

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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