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Food Talk: Food for thought, literarily

By Kathleen Parramore

Russell Holiday and the author with Mena Mark Hanna, Spoleto’s new general director, and Sara Moriarty, his wife. Images courtesy of the author.

The Charleston Literary Festival took place November 5-14 at various locations both in town and through virtual events. Activities included parties introducing authors by fostering individual conversations at beautiful homes on the peninsula such as 2 South Battery (which also operates as a hotel). Dr. Jack Schaeffer has done an amazing restoration job of a grand dame. Leigh and John McNairy, who are sponsors of the event, also opened up their beautiful home on Elliot Street to mingle with authors. Since the festival joined with the College of Charleston as an academic partnership, some events were held in the beautifully redone Sottile Theatre.

I attended most of the events and could not pick one that was the “best.” Amazing books and authors! Hearing James Ivory talk about his movies and his partnership with Ismail Merchant was thoughtful and enchanting. One could not forget the movie “Room with a View” and Miss Charlotte Bartlett’s room overlooking the Arno. At 93, Ivory was a delightful guest and remarked that he is still seeing movies — the latest being “Dune.” For history buffs, The Charleston Gambit event was a fascinating glimpse into the revolutionary war in South Carolina (and Sophie Heinsohn did a wonderful review of this book in last month’s Mercury).

And as the tour de force, we all got to meet and hear Mena Mark Hanna, the new director of Spoleto. Hanna, his wife, Sarah Moriarty, and their young son, Hugo, recently moved here from Berlin. Hanna’s background is extraordinary: he is an administrator, musicologist, educator and composer. He talked about books that influenced his life; Ministry of the Future, Heart of Darkness, Moby Dick and American Martyrs (one of my favorites) are but a few.

The Charleston Literary Festival knows that good food always goes well with good literature. Above are delicious offerings from the Marsh Hen Mill Grits Bar at the Gospel Brunch.

You may ask, what does this have to do with food? I reflected on the books I wanted to read and where I like reading, both in a solitary fashion and by slipping into a coffee shop for conversation, a good cappuccino and a pastry. Having lived in New York City for 15 years, I am familiar with seeking coffee shops as an extension of the living room. Maybe Charleston doesn't have the renowned likes of Café Tortoni in Buenos Aires or Housing Works Bookstore café in New York City or even Les Deux Magots in Paris but we do have excellent choices of our own — choices that include great coffee and amazing pastries plus an atmosphere in which to relax and read.

Harken Café tucked into a cozy spot on Queen Street could make an anti-breakfast person into a believer. “Charming is the only word,” as one reviewer stated on Yelp. They serve Methodical brand of coffee, and there are also cold and hot teas, lattes and beer and wine if breakfast runs into lunch. The smell that welcomes you as you walk in the door brings you right to the pastry case featuring amazing scones, and for something a little heavier the Butter Me Up featuring an egg soufflé with herb butter on a ricotta biscuit is close to perfect. If you just want the ricotta biscuit don’t pass up the compote. I am looking forward to my next visit because those honey buns looked terrific. All of Harken’s pastries are made in house and there are gluten-free options as well.

Stop by Harken Cafe on Queen Street (above) for a selection of house-made breakfast and lunch options.

Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer, a longstanding Charleston establishment, has a relaxed atmosphere and a beautiful courtyard garden to enjoy a book and coffee. Kudu offers much more than coffee, serving more than 20 taps of craft beer (mostly from local breweries). There is also a large selection of teas and fruit juices. Sandwiches and pastries are from Wild Flour, Normandy Farms and Saffron Bakery. I am very partial to their French press coffee and ham-and-cheese croissant. There is no WiFi here, which makes for a relaxed seating in the garden enjoying a book or conversation with a friend.

Bitty and Beau’s, which was named after the owners’ children, is run by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The coffee shop is one family’s way to change the way we see people with disabilities. The experience lit up my day from the moment I was greeted by an enthusiastic server who joyfully reviewed the menu with me. As the website states, “If you want to join a human rights movement disguised as a coffee shop” then visit this Church Street spot and leave with a good cup of coffee and a smile.

I have to mention The Daily, although it might not be so easy to read a book (though I have read a paper sitting here) but the cold-brewed coffee shaken with cream and sugar is outstanding and the breakfast burrito with pickled onions, salsa verde and cilantro would highlight any morning. I saw some Autumn Harvest Hash leaving the kitchen with romesco sauce and eggs and it smelled delicious. The pastries here are crafted by the baking team at Butcher & Bee, and there is bar seating and outdoor seating for reading on a nice day.

Second State Coffee has two locations, one on Beaufain Street and another in Mount Pleasant off Shelmore. Both are “minimalist chic” and serve a wonderful cappuccino. I did try the black julep — honey, mint and coffee shaken — and it was a taste treat. The light coming through the windows at the Beaufain location is wonderful and conducive to relaxed reading.

Another Mount Pleasant favorite is the Vintage Coffee Café, a wonderful place to sit inside or outside. Yes, you can bring a book, but you can also bring kids and dogs. Vintage serves both breakfast and lunch. From mains all day to light bites, greens, acai bowls, toast and bagels, the menu has something for everyone. I love the farm egg sandwich with cheese, bacon and house-made smashed sausage. For lox and bagels fans, this one is served on an everything bagel with just enough shaved red onion. I like the coffee but I steer toward their large loose-leaf tea selection and particularly like the Scarlet with hibiscus, rose hips and cherries.

I have only listed a few of the many places we have in our beautiful city. Take your latest novel and head out to any of these places and enjoy the fall weather.

Harken Cafe: 62 Queen St., Charleston

Kudu Coffee: 4 Vanderhorst St., Charleston

Bitty and Beau’s Coffee: 159 Church St., Charleston

The Daily: 652 King St., Charleston

Second State: 70.5 Beaufain St., Charleston

766 South Shelmore, Mt. Pleasan

Vintage Coffee Cafe: 219 Simmons St., Mt. Pleasant

After 25 years in the technology field, Kathleen Parramore earned an MSc in nutrition from University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and then a degree in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of Charleston at Trident Tech. She is a writer, consultant and dinner party caterer in the Charleston area.


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