Persimmon Café cleans house with more than just great coffee
By Patrick Graham
Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, the indoctrination about the feats of the illustrious Wright Brothers began essentially as soon as we five-year-olds walked into our kindergarten classes. Fascinating stories about how a wondrous flying machine evolved in the minds of Orville and Wilbur in their little bike shop in 1903 permeated our little minds, and Dayton has been on the map forever since that blustery day at Kitty Hawk.
Not as well-known, at least around here anyway, was another Daytonian named Charles Kettering. Kettering set out to save tens of thousands of automobile owners in the 1910s the trouble of having to walk in front of their horseless carriages and crank-start the engine, a tedious (if not dangerous) undertaking. Imagine if such an improvement was not recognized as an absolutely necessary innovation.
It is such innovation that drives continuing interest in culinary experimentation. In my mind, thy name is Persimmon Café.
Located in the familiar College Laundry on the corner of Calhoun and Smith Streets in downtown Charleston, this innovation manifests itself in taking simple conceptual dishes and beverages and giving them little creative nudges, if not outright shoves, onto a different plane of existence.
Allow me to rattle off a few selections from the menu: basil infused limeade, butternut squash and cream cheese bisque with candied ginger, or a jalapeño popper with queso blanco, goat cheese and jalapeño jam. Do I have your attention?
Robert Cassi and his wife Kristen are the masterminds of this operation, with Johnson and Wales-educated Robert handling the food side, and Kristen using her frontline bartending skills to create the various libations found in the café. Of particular interest in this establishment is the creation of various soups created for your consumption. In fact, there’s so much interest regarding this portion of the menu that there’s actually a soup Happy Hour from 4-6pm daily.
How about a Kobe beef hot dog with Dijon mustard, red onion jam and diced jalapeños on a lanky bun? That alone is worth the price of admission. Kobe beef is starting to pop up with some regularity around town, but in a hot dog? No need for any other condiments here, it’s a culinary jewel on its own. This probably should be called something other than a hot dog, it’s so good.
The next selection was a caprese salad sandwich. Well, “sort of”, according to the blackboard menu. It’s a panini with speck ham, marinated tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and date balsamic jam. If you’ve never experienced a caprese salad, then maybe a panini with essentially the same ingredients will help get you involved. For me, it’s another innovative vehicle to bring all of the segments together in a wonderful Gestalt-like experiment.
Then they did something I thought was impossible: they made me eat my vegetables. The "Spanish Fly" consisted of broccolini, fennel, manchego cheese and romanesco sauce. If you're unfamiliar with romanesco, it's a Spanish red sauce made with bell peppers and olive oil. Innovation aside, if a chef can make me eat broccolini, that is impressive. The manchego cheese kept me in the game, but I got my vitamin A and folic acid dose from the broccolini.
A butterscotch macchiato? Black bean and smoked ancho pepper soup? It’s this kind of turning familiar selections on their figurative ears that got my attention the most. It’s my kind of innovation, and if you “like” them on Facebook, the daily menu appears before your eyes with striking regularity.
Bring a curious palate, and leave your laundry at home.
226 Calhoun Street