Banana pudding for bad days

Your mid-week dose of Southern food news

If you haven’t yet opened Monday’s edition of The Food Section, it’s chockful of reflections on the latest iteration of The James Beard Awards and what it might mean for the South. In today’s issue, you’ll find tired Kiwanis (St Marys, Georgia); vegan ramen (Charleston, West Virginia) and family biscuit battles (Lexington, South Carolina).

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As recently as August, The Kiwanis Club of Saint Marys, Georgia intended to host its 48th annual Rock Shrimp Festival on Oct. 9. But the event has since been rebranded as the St Marys Seafood Festival in deference to the local disappearance of rock shrimp and Kiwanis energetic enough to prepare them.

Rock shrimp are getting very expensive, approaching $15 a pound if you can find them,” event organizer Chris Thurner says. “Last I heard, one has to go to the West Palm Beach area to catch rock shrimp.”

A St Marys shrimper years ago invented a machine to free rock shrimp from their shells, which Thurner likens to a lobster’s exoskeleton. Still, breading and frying shrimp for 20,000 people, along with the requisite hushpuppies, is a chore that’s lost its charm for the aging members of the Kiwanis Club.

According to Thurner, the heat and grease of pavilion cooking seem even sultrier and slicker in the face of a short-tempered crowd anxious for its plates. The St Marys chapter tried creating a young professionals’ group in hopes of diversifying its ranks, but Thurner says the dozen recruits didn’t show much loyalty to the club.

“We’re fixing to drop about half of them because they haven’t paid dues,” he says.

For as long as Thurner has coordinated the festival, he’s reminded vendors to strike seafood from their menus, since the Kiwanis didn’t want on-site competition. This year, though, he’s encouraging concessionaires to serve white shrimp, fish, and other seafood to keep the event true to its theme.

“Initially, the club members used to go out and catch the fish and what you ate was what the club caught,” recalls Thurner, whose father in 1962 became a charter member of the Kiwanis group. Before rock shrimp earned top billing, speckled trout and redfish were festival favorites.

Now “the big draw is the fireworks,” although there’s also a parade and footraces on the schedule.

The festival features live bands, but Thurner says St Marys doesn’t bring in big national acts: A catfish festival in a nearby town has the lock on that attraction.

For more information, visit the St Marys Seafood Festival’s Facebook page.

Despite the South’s devotion to banana pudding, there is only one restaurant across the Carolinas with nothing else on its menu.

“We’re the only banana pudding business,” says Rene Nero, who offers 20 different kinds of banana pudding at her Myrtle Beach shop, including pistachio, Oreo cookie and pecan praline with caramel.

“Mine wasn’t an old family recipe,” Nero says of the star dessert at Pass the Pudding, which just opened a permanent location at the Myrtle Beach Mall. “I started making it in Italy when we were stationed there: People didn’t think it could be an actual business.”

But based on the feedback she received at church functions and baby showers, Nero pressed ahead with her plans, four years ago launching a banana pudding catering service and concession truck.

At the shop, Nero sells pudding by the cup, bowl and panful. She’s also planning to maintain curbside service.

“If someone’s having a bad day; if you don’t want to run in to get pudding, we will bring pudding to you,” she vows.

A smoothie shop with limited hours was long the only vegan venue in Charleston, West Virginia, which meant local eaters shunning meat made do with chips and salsa; French fries or a side salad when dining out.

Sondra Kelly is hoping to help quell that predicament with The Loopy Leaf, slated to open on Oct. 13. The menu at the restaurant, Kelly’s second property, runs 70 items long.

“We’ll have burgers; fried chicken; chili bowls; several different kinds of ramen and breakfast all day,” Kelly says. “You definitely do not have to be vegan to love this food.”

With an open kitchen and craft beer list complementing the 50-seat dining room, Kelly predicts, “This place is going to be rocking.”

As for the name, Kelly says she was inspired by local nomenclature conventions.

“Everything in town here is doubled named: Pies & Pints; Books and Brews,” she says. “I wanted to fit in with the city.”

Still, she confirms Charleston’s vegan community is thrilled she’s going her own way within it.

Zoya Rizvi, a sophomore at the University of South Carolina, is studying to be a doctor. “Like her momma,” her proud father says.

In the meantime, though, she’s baking biscuits.

“I started it, but she’s sort of the creator,” Arif Ashfaq Rizvi says of Bubba’s Biscuit, which he two years ago opened in Lexington, South Carolina, about a decade after his family relocated to the area from New York.

Rizvi credits his daughter with dreaming up sandwiches such as The Sweet Heat, topped with sriracha fried chicken; pickles; honey and pimento cheese, and The New Yorker, featuring homemade bang bang sauce, as well as weekend specials.

Despite Rizvi’s pride in his daughter’s culinary accomplishments, he admits he doesn’t agree with all her decisions. Their at-work relationship is so feisty that Zoya doesn’t use the word “Dad” at the restaurant.

“My daughter and I have our love-hate relationship,” Rizvi says. “And we don’t hold our arguments back: I think that’s part of the aroma we’re serving. It’s a nice show for our guests. Although my son is always like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t deal with this.’”

Rizvi’s 14-year-old son, Zain, has graduated from washing dishes to making biscuits alongside his sister. Rizvi is responsible for the grits and gravies: When he gets to Bubba’s at 6 a.m., Zoya Rizva always has a pot of boiling water ready for him.

“I don’t have a measuring cup,” Rizvi says of the gravy he makes from Caughman’s onion sausage. “Every time, it does have a lot of herbs; it has butter; it has half-and-half; a lot of black pepper and garlic powder, too. I was raised in Pakistan, so I learned gravy has to sit low and simmer, and you have to let the butter sheen rise to the top.”

While the gravy recipe isn’t written down, Rizvi says he and his daughter developed it together.

Bubba’s Biscuits opens at 7:30 a.m., Friday-Sunday. For more information, visit their Facebook page.

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