Abel Brown Southern Kitchen & Oyster Bar

491 Highland Ave. • Surrey Center • abelbrownaugusta.com

“I’m a minimalist by nature, so I wanted to do something clean and fresh. Something more modern but still casual enough that you can come anytime,” chef–owner Todd Schafer explains. In May 2014, he closed his fine dining establishment, Bistro 491, to make way for Abel Brown, an oyster bar and seafood restaurant that lent itself to that fresh, contemporary feel.

Oyster bars aren’t a new concept, but a dedicated oyster bar was a new idea for the area. And oysters can be polarizing—they’re a gourmet delicacy, but to the uninitiated, they can be intimidating. Even chef Schafer wasn’t sure what to expect, but since the restaurant’s December 2014 opening, diner response has been overwhelmingly positive and some nights they sell 500 oysters. We say there’s no better time to consider the oyster than Valentine’s Day. They’re said to be an aphrodisiac—ultimate ladies man Cassanova supposedly ate 50 a day—and they lend themselves to sharing, especially when you’re cozied up in one of Abel Brown’s booths.

There’s an impressive rotating selection of five to six different East Coast oysters listed on the menu along with their provenance, tasting notes and salinity levels. The beauty of slurping oysters is learning to taste and appreciate their subtle nuances. There are buttery Grand Pearls from Chesapeake Bay, mild, sweet Beau Soleils from Canada’s Mirimachi Bay and mineral forward Wellfleets from Cape Cod Bay. “They really are like wines in a way because they’re completely at the hands of the ocean and the water that they’re in. The conditions in which they’re grown, how the silt moves, how the tide is coming in—there are an infinite number of things that affect it,” Schafer explains.

If you’ve never had an oyster, Schafer suggests first trying them cooked, either broiled with house-made jalapeño lime butter or in a classic oysters Rockefeller preparation, baked with Parmesan Reggiano, spinach, fennel and shallots. If you’re game for trying them raw, start with low-salinity varieties and eat them withmignonette, a vinegar-shallot condiment that adds a sharp contrast while balancing the salinity. 


Lagniappe

[A Little Something Extra]

As for what to sip while you slurp? Abel Brown’s sommelier Steven Tsoukalas, CS, gravitates toward regions close to the sea, like Skouras Moschofilero, a white wine hailing from the Peloponnese in Southern Greece that “explodes with aromas of orange blossoms that temper its bracing acidity,” or Albariño, a Portuguese white from the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula. “It’s famous for its white peach and salty sea air aromas that complement shellfish of any kind. We sell out of one made by Aveleda every single week.”


SIP!

Buona Caffe

Artisan coffee shop Buona Caffe is probably best known for their fresh, locally roasted beans and pour over coffees, but their loose leaf tea selection is just as well executed—and delicious.

Teas were always part of owners John and Pat Curry’s vision for Buona Caffe. Before they even opened up shop, they discovered Jasmine Pearl Tea Co. at a coffee convention in Portland, Ore. The company’s small batch approach and careful sourcing appealed to them and there was no denying the exceptional quality of their loose-leaf tea blends.

Loose-leaf tea offers several advantages over bagged tea, foremost of which are higher quality and concentrated flavor. “When you have tea in a tea bag, it’s almost remnants—or what we call “tea dust” in the industry,” explains Elisabeth Curry, Buona Caffe’s general manager and resident tea guru. “It’s like comparing freshly roasted, ground-in-front-of-you-coffee with instant coffee.” Because of its concentration, drinking loose-leaf tea can also be more cost effective as it lends itself to re-steeping, and since 50 percent of tasting tea is in the aroma, loose teas taste better too. 

Today, Buona Caffe’s “small but thoughtful” tea program offers 10 different Jasmine Pearl Tea Co. blends, ranging from classics like Earl Grey to herbal infusions. The teas are now available for purchase by the ounce (prices vary depending on the blend) and make excellent gifts for tea lovers and novices alike, or treating yourself. Ruby Nectar, an herbal, fruity-tart medley of green rooibos, cranberry, grapefruit and hibiscus, is a crowd-pleaser that is also excellent iced, while the Feel Better’s combination of soothing chamomile, eucalyptus and ginger is like a dose of Zen with every sip. Ginger Peach, an understated Indian black tea with dried ginger, cardamom and peach extract, is fruity without being overwhelming. 

Curry recommends a heaping teaspoon of loose tea per eight-ounce cup (one ounce of loose tea will yield approximately 10 cups of tea) and storing tea in dark or tinted canisters out of direct sunlight to preserve freshness. In the near future, she hopes to carry single origin teas (one type of tea) so that both the shop and customers can create custom blends.


Artisan

Malvi Marshmallow Confections

Malvi Marshmallow Confections is Georgia’s sweetest new enterprise—and not just because of their irresistible “amply fluffy” cubes of joy.’ Husband and wife team Laura and Paris Retana, who met at New York’s Culinary Institute of America, make up the heart and soul of the family-run business.

While working as a research and development chef, Laura created her now-signature confection, a raspberry hibiscus marshmallow sandwiched between two dark chocolate shortbread cookies. “I have a tremendous sweet tooth,” Laura admits. “I’d come back home from working on pizza, sandwich and soup recipes and wanted something light and sweet to end the day with. That’s why I went with marshmallows.” Paris, who she says is always her barometer, really liked the marshmallow and liked it even better when she sandwiched it between the chocolate cookies. “I knew we had something.”

After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013, they raised enough funding to outfit their baking operation and launch their e-commerce site, and relocated from New York City to Cumming, Ga., (near Paris’s family) to transform Laura’s creation into a business. Paris, who originally hails from Mexico City, suggested the name Malvi, a shortened version of the Spanish word for marshmallow, malvavisco.

Malvi’s handmade, square marshmallow-cookie sandwiches are reminiscent of s’mores (and even lend themselves to five seconds in microwave), but with a much more sophisticated flavor profile and presentation. All ingredients are thoughtfully sourced, from whole vanilla beans to dried hibiscus flowers to fair-trade chocolate. As for what makes the ‘mallows so fluffy? “We’re unique in that we don’t use eggs, which are typically used to make marshmallows light, almost foamy,” Laura explains. “Without eggs they’re a little firmer, which helps them stand up to the cookie. They’re still really soft but substantial. And we use tapioca syrup instead of corn syrup, which also helps with texture.” 

In addition to the fruity-tart Raspberry Hibiscus, there are four other core cookie sandwich combinations: the perennially popular Vanilla Salted Caramel, Spiked Espresso, Chocolate and Peppermint Chocolate, which Laura likens to a fluffy thin mint. The beautifully packaged confections make fabulous gifts, whether for Valentine’s Day or everyday celebrations. And if there are wedding bells in your future, Malvi also creates customized two-packs with personalized lettering and flavors. In the works are stand-alone marshmallows, including the recently released Cotton Candy, and a forthcoming peanut variety made with Georgia-grown peanuts.   

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a food writer, avid home cook and life-long professional eater. She has contributed toSaveur, Food Network, Mashable, Drinks International, CheeseRank and Clean Eating. Follow her culinary adventures on her blog, glassofrose.blogspot.com and on Instagram @theglassofrose and Twitter @glassofrose.

This article appears in the February-March 2016 issue of Augusta Magazine.