Back in Columbia, S.C., it seemed someone’s Aunt Patti had a gig one night at a place called Hampton Street Vineyard. I would love it. Okay, so we went.
Turned out Aunt Patti (Ficken) played guitar in an outfit called Total Denial, with Liz Cameron, Jody Creel, and Mike Cameron, which just happened to be a very fine four-piece bluegrass band. The all-acoustic group was set to play on the sidewalk out front near the restaurant’s umbrella tables. But we decided to walk down to the entrance, slightly below street level, to have a drink before moving outside.
It seems we were a bit early, but the house mojito special was a welcome relief from the sweltering heat on the street above. The drink was served from a large jug and was perfect. Most of the patrons at the bar seemed to know each other but were very friendly to strangers nonetheless.
To fortify us against the mojitos that fortified us against the heat, we also opted to get some appetizers. I went with the steamed mussels special. Though most of the mussels were very good, I was disturbed to find a few in broken shells or in shells with holes in them.
A companion also pointed out the one he tried tasted “fishy” (not a good thing) and some appeared browned and rather dry on the surface. I’m not sure but suppose the strange appearance of some and any slightly fishy taste may have been a function of too little steaming liquid. The crostini were perfectly black-brown however, and delicious dipped in the rich broth.
Soon it was time to move outside with the band. Unfortunately, after a few numbers, the wind began to pick up; then the rain came. So we decided to move the whole event under the cantilevered roof over the entrance of the Kreel building next door, which we did. That bought us another hour or so of rain falling around us while we continued listening from patio chairs we dragged over.
Then the wind blew through with a force strong enough to send us into a small corner of the entrance. That was the end of the gig—at least for a while. So we went in to eat instead.
For an entrée, I ordered the Crispy Breast of Duck with warm red bliss potato salad, glazed baby carrotsn and a blackberry brandy glazed, which I asked for on the side. Dessert was a Ginger Pear Cobbler with French vanilla bean ice cream.
The duck was a breast that was seared “crispy” and served perfectly medium-rare, cut into medallions, and strewn along the edge of the plate around the potato salad and carrots. The potato salad was a simple one in, what I call, the “German style.” Accordingly, it was slightly vinegary and redolent of bacon. The carrots were glazed but no offensively so. Just enough to give them some spice and to highlight their flavor. A very successful course!
The Ginger Pear Cobbler did not appear as I would have expected—i.e., in a shallow dish with fruit on the bottom and something like pastry or crisp on top. Instead, it was rather like a pear fritter with chunks of fruit enrobed in an oblong pancake-like breading with a scoop of ice cream on the side. But the scent and the taste were amazing.
The ginger accented the pear perfectly. There also seemed to be complements of cinnamon and allspice. The pear came through the exotic spice notes, nonetheless, and with the vanilla bean ice cream made for a fabulous summer dessert.
All in all, Hampton Street Vineyard was a perfect setting for a laid-back but enriching culinary experience. The wine, friendly patrons, and musicians playing bluegrass on our way out made for a memorable evening in Columbia.