Free Times Writers Share Their Best Meals of 2021 |  Gastronomic news and features

Free Times Writers Share Their Best Meals of 2021 | Gastronomic news and features

This year, the Free Times writers ate a lot of good food.

So we put our heads together and, after what was surely a lot of internal debate, came up with a list of the best things we ate this year. In the style of Columbia and Free Times, it’s an eclectic list, ranging from barbecue, corn sorbet to a sub-sandwich. The foods on the list also come from a wide range of prices and origins, originating in Vietnam and Peru.

With each dish, we’ve broken down why it was on our list and offered locations for each. So give them a try and let us know if you agree; We will give you the whole year for us to contact you. And let us know if we’re missing out on what your entrée is, too, by emailing us at editor@free-times.com. DAVID CLAREY

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Ratio Purple Corn Sorbet

566 Spears Creek Church Rd, Elgin. ratiorestaurant.com






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Ratio Purple Corn Sorbet. Photo by April Blake


Visit Peru and you will likely be handed a chicha morada (purple corn drink) to cool off, but visit Ratio in Elgin and you will likely try the drink inspired purple corn sorbet. This unusual sherbet option is incredibly memorable in a year when so many things weren’t worth remembering.

The sorbet is composed of indigenous purple corn from Peru, which chef Javier Uriarte obtains from a Latin American grocery store in Maryland, plus caramelised pineapple and a sprinkle of mint leaves for the best palate cooling experience at any time of year. .

“I’m always curious to see what I can turn things into,” said Uriarte. “It’s a great way to present a Peruvian dish that is not in its original form.”

The base for the purple corn sorbet begins by boiling the corn for several hours to distill its essence into the liquid, which is so deeply purple that it is almost black, Uriarte said. Serve several small scoops of the finished sorbet nestled between the caramelised pineapple chunks. It’s easy to imagine a corn ice dish being overwhelmingly saccharine, but it’s surprisingly sweet and barely has a hint of corn flavor. The light and airy ice makes this dessert option a memorable way to end an exquisite meal at Ratio. APRIL BLAKE

Railroad BBQ’s The Conductor and The Hobo

2001 Hampton St. railroadbbqsc.com

Once upon a time I was a vegetarian. Nothing makes me happier to fall off the veggie wagon than when I visit Railroad BBQ. Anything on the menu is pretty good. Still, if you want to chill, The Conductor is a Texas-style smoked brisket that pairs perfectly with their mac and cheese (the kind your legendary aunt makes and wins at every Christmas gathering).

A bonus is The Hobo, an old-school bologna sandwich that takes comfort food to the next level (I get mine with cheese). Railroad BBQ is owned by blacks, and the inside is a museum of black excellence on the walls with local heroes and national figures alike. Honestly, nowhere is like this in town, and it’s worth every penny for lunch during the workweek. PREACH JACOBS

Pho Viet Beef Pho

2011 Devine St.

Any Pho Viet pho in Five Points set a standard for fine dining in Columbia. This noodle broth soup is the best I’ve ever had and hands down the best in the area. Tasteful, quality pho is difficult to find, so it is a unique privilege, and perhaps a wallet disgrace, that it lives minutes from Pho Viet. The hearty broth is enjoyable for both beginners and longtime fans of the dish. There’s an intangible comfort that comes from hot, healthy foods with soothing broth and filling ingredients. Without a doubt it is the best bite of the year that I have had. STEPHEN PASTIS

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Gong Cha waffle in a cup

701B Santee Ave. gongchatea.com






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Waffle in a Gong Cha cone. Photo by Mike Dojc


Gong Cha, the phenomenon born in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, has more than 1,500 locations around the world with a growing presence in Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and the United Kingdom. It has been in the United States since 2014, when it opened the first franchise in Flushing, Queens. and quickly fanned out to the northeast before generating exits to the south. Gong Cha is on the fast track to becoming the Starbucks of bubble tea, but keep up your thoughtful snobbery against chains.

The easiest decision to make on this tea slinger is to get your waffle in a mug.

A life-affirming scent with strong hints of honey and the sky of caramelizing waffle batter envelops your olfactory system when you walk through the door. Tear off the bubble texture and it will only take a second for you to realize that those thin, flabby discs of the Waffle House hawks aren’t even in the same galaxy. Served plain, with tapioca pearls (pictured), or flavored with matcha, this hot snack is pretty sweet with no fudge sauce or syrup. MIKE DOJC

Hampton Street Vineyard Beet Salad

1207 Hampton Street. hamptonstreetvineyard.com

Sometimes the idea of ​​hitting all the tasting notes on a plate can be an over-the-top goal or poorly executed. You get sweet, sour, earthy, salty, a little variation in texture, etc, but somehow it doesn’t blend like it’s supposed to. Instead, the disparate parts resonate with each other in stark contrasts. In the relatively new Hampton Street Vineyard, under new ownership since 2020, your beet salad finds harmony in its parts.

It’s a beet dish, served with a green salad garnished with a sour vinaigrette, walnuts, and neatly sliced ​​oranges. It’s also a visually stunning dish, with the deep hues of golden and purple beets standing out against a neat puddle of honey-whipped goat cheese. I’ve never been a strong advocate for beets in my diet, but this dish has made me rethink.

The firm but tender beets impart an earthy touch softened by the paired cheese. Meanwhile, the salad offers a tart, lively taste on the palate. Overall, it makes for a wonderfully composed and complex dish that is worth looking for. DAVID CLAREY

Los Chicanos Quesa Tacos

Food truck. facebook.com/ChicanosComida






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Los Chicano’s Quesa Tacos. Photo by Bach Pham


The name “Quesa Tacos” is not satisfied with how tremendously good this Los Chicanos Food Truck dish is. Buried deep in the taco menu, they describe it as “three corn tortillas stuffed with melted cheese, barbecue, onion, and cilantro, with a side of broth for dipping.” What the menu doesn’t mention is that these are stuffed and grilled to make the tortillas crisp and greasy.

When served, you get a crackling grilled corn tortilla with hot, oozing cheesy cheese, luxurious tender barbocoa, fresh onion, cilantro, and lime to complete. Healthy Dipping Pork Broth gives you the perfect crunchy, soggy bite that puts it on top. I love that this dish comes with so many different textures. Each bite can be a little different depending on what you want and it doesn’t really matter how you make it because all the components combine so well. BACH PHAM

Nicky’s Pizzeria Italian sub combo

102 E Main St, Lexington. facebook.com/NickysPizzeriaLexington.






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Nicky’s Pizzeria Italian sub combo. Photo by August Krickel.


Hands down, the best thing I ate in 2021, as in 2020, 2019, 2018 and several years before was Nicky’s Pizzeria’s Combo Italian sub sandwich. What makes it so special? Perhaps authenticity, courtesy of the family owners, welcomes New York transplants.

The ingredients are deceptively simple, but traditional: ham, pepperoni, Genoa salami, capicola (Tony Soprano’s famous “gabbagool”) and provolone cheese, with lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise, mustard, oil and vinegar. I usually leave the mustard. Lots of servings of all of the above available on a 6 ”or 12” roll, toasted if desired. The 6 ”is a meal unto itself, and I often save the second half for lunch the next day. The Five Points location that I frequented sadly closed in June, but the tradition lives on at 102 E. Main Street in downtown Lexington. AUGUST KRICKEL

Green cabbages from vegan cuisine A Peace of Soul

2338 Main St. apeaceofsoul.com

Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can’t go home. I don’t know if that is true. I just think there is a cost: a necessary acceptance that what you left will not be what you will return.

Sure, the paths may be the same, and the routes etched into your muscle memory may still take you from point A to point B. But your old home will no longer be yours. Your old places will have new pursuers. Your old friends may not be around, they may have died, moved away, or just moved on with their lives in the same way as you. You will wonder why you cannot go back to the old patterns and then you will realize that it is because time has erased them and replaced them with new ones.

One day, you will tell a friend that you will pick up lunch on the way home, which used to belong to another friend, now deceased. You’ll go to Lamb’s Bread, you’ll say, but then remember that the name changed while you were gone. What used to be, in your memory, anyway, as reliable as it may be, beige is now a gleaming white. New items are placed alongside old favorites in a menu you hardly recognize. The same team is still cooking, but you may wonder: What was your favorite food yet?

So there’s a little relief, perhaps, when the first bite of those cabbage leaves, better than any barbecue grill, tastes exactly how you remember it. How the tender, earthy leaves melt in your mouth. That spark of pepper and vinegar, electric on the tongue. That little bit of heat that burns so nicely on the way down.

Maybe you can’t go home, not really. But there will always be a bit of that past hanging around, always a small but sustainable connection to the way things were, and maybe they always will be. PATRICK WALL

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