Undercover Foodie serves up the local dish: Griffin Market
By Author Unknown | There are some things in life that are an absolute necessity. We all know that water is pretty high on that list, as is shelter. While the rest of the bullet points on that list would vary from person to person, my list includes things like love, family, great food (as if you couldn’t tell), a good beer, and my favorite book. Oh, and coffee; lots and lots of coffee. But for me the one necessity that is almost as important as water is a rare thing to behold: Girls Night Out.
Girls Night Out. Free of husbands and kids and the need to bend under the table every 5 seconds to retrieve lost Crayons. Or, finally a chance to sit throughout a meal and actually be engaged in captive conversation without being interrupted by the house phone, or your husband making eyes at you for making him eat broccoli, yet again. Or even, a chance to avoid the spaghetti that’s been thrown into your hair by your super cute and super messy toddler (true story, by the way).
For this particular Girls Night Out, my friend, aka “Foodie Friend,” and I head into downtown Beaufort and arrive at the Griffin Market, a charming and seriously authentic Italian restaurant along Carteret Street. With a menu that promises exquisite food and an atmosphere that invites you to enjoy a special evening out, even if there isn’t anything special to celebrate, we know immediately that we have picked the perfect place to take an evening off and simply enjoy. After ordering our courses and receiving an absolutely beautiful glass of wine, we get down to enjoying our evening.
In between the varying topics of conversation (absent of kids, a rule) our first course, Antipasti, arrives and I dig in mid-sentence. Cantaloupe melon, beautifully ripe and richly juicy, wrapped by paper thin, salty prosciutto, a dry-cured and uncooked Italian ham. The contrast between sweet and salty plays harmoniously upon my tongue and, as Foodie Friend points out, works because the prosciutto is paper thin. Any thicker, and not only would consuming such a contrasting dish turn from delightful to work, it would overrun the sweetness with salt. While I must, albeit reluctantly, stop myself from finishing, I already know that this is one leftover dish that I will not be sharing with Mr. Foodie. Sorry, dear.
I look up from my dish to see Foodie Friend delighting in her Crostini, consisting of Crusty Ciabatta bread rubbed with olive oil and garlic, and a regionally-specific Italian Antipasto (Piedmont, I believe) of garden veggies simmered in a tomato sauce. And as I take a bite of the heavenly bread topped with the antipasto my friend offers, the contrast of crispy bread and cool, rich antipasto is intriguing and satisfying. The depth of flavor provided by the vegetables and contrasting textures from the bread help to set the tone for the rest of the meal.
Next up is the Primi course, which typically features pasta in all its carby, starchy glory. Placed in my eager hands is Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, a classic dish named for its originating Italian city of Bologna. On the other side of the table, Foodie Friend has Penne alla Norma, which is hugely popular in Sicily and mainly features eggplant, ricotta salata and basil. Or, in other words, a trifecta of deliciousness. However, I remind myself that Emily Post wouldn’t approve of my leering stare over my friends food. As I dive into my dish, I wonder why I wasted a second in doing so.
The Bolognese, which is a slow cooked meat sauce, is not too sweet, not too salty from overreduction, nor too acidic, but the depth of savory flavor from something that, at first glance, seems so simple, is both completely satisfying and completely and utterly puts my half-Italian mothers’ homemade meat sauce to shame. Varying tastes of meat, blended vegetables, spices, hints of garlic , all serve in a wonderful supportive role to the homemade Tagliatella pasta noodles (which are long, flat noodles similar to fettuccine.) If you have never had homemade pasta before, I will say that after you do, it’ll take all your self control to not go out and by a pasta maker as soon as you leave the tip and sign your check. The noodles are thin and delicate and exquisite; the star in this dish. As I said, it may be simple but it is often in simplicity that the ingredients, themselves are able to shine and show you how good food should taste. Balanced and beautiful. Perfecto!
Foodie Friend’s pasta dish wafts over to my side of the table and I must ask forgiveness from her as I stab my fork into her dish. While the pasta was the star in my dish, the sauce in hers is front and center, the headliner. Exquisite basil hits your tongue and forces a quite audible “mmmm” from deep inside your stomach. Rich and sweet with basil, creamy but not overpowering from the ricotta, and a swift but fleeting kick of spice at the back of your throat. The traces of eggplant, devoid of any original bitterness, pleasantly absorb the full-bodied sauce like a succulent sponge. Between the two reasonably-sized portions of pasta, it is only fitting that fresh, house-made bread lay in waiting for us to sop up the trace amounts of sauce left on the bottom of the plate.
As the Secondi course arrives, which typically features meats and seafood, I cannot contain my excitement when my dish, Gamberi, arrives. In addition to my love for shrimp (which is an anytime-anyway-always-and-forever sort of love) my love for polenta runs deep, probably due to the fact that polenta is basically the Italian version of grits (or, perhaps, the other way around). This particular polenta is some of the best stuff out there. Creamy and rich with flavor, with hints of cheese and the nice zing from the capers and lemon antes up a counter flavor. As Foodie Friend observes upon sampling, the smallest, ever so slight sweet finish from the cream. The shrimp on top are lump, luscious and perfectly cooked, proudly displaying the best that the Carolina Coast has to offer. While the menu changes often at the Griffin Market, in an effort to use the seasons’ best, I hope that this dish has a permanent spot on the menu.
To round-out the evening, the one thing that is an absolute on any girls night finally arrives…dessert!
Tonight we treat ourselves to Bunet; a Chocolate and Amaretti Cookies Custard with a Whipped Crème. Chocolate lovers will be delighted by the custardy and rich chocolate, but relieved that the portion size is small enough as to not completely annihilate your diet. But the decadence is in what lies atop; the crème is quiet obviously made in house and, with hints of vanilla among the sweet silkiness, is so delightful and delicious it is enough to make you want to throw out your diet all together and get a big tub of it to-go. The perfect sweet treat to round out a night of both wonderful conversation and delectable delights.
With a, quite literally, ever changing menu, Griffin Market aims to highlight what is fresh, local and seasonal, and display with smart pairings (of both food and wine) and rich, deep multidimensional flavors, all the while maintaining the integrity of the ingredients at hand and, ultimately, keeping it simple. One may think that there is nothing exceptionally pleasing in ‘simple’, but it can often be the simple dishes that resonate, speak, and satisfy the most of all.
I urge you Beaufortonians both permanent and temporary, go to The Griffin Market and eat, drink and be merry. Go hungry and go often. While the atmosphere and the vast variety of flavor may suggest to you that you should only go for some sort of celebratory special occasion, trust me when I say that the environment itself will make any evening a special occasion.
I mean, there is always something to celebrate, right?
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