Gwen Fowler



Lee Brothers brunch a tasty end for Coastal Uncorked

Posted 5/15/2011 7:26:00 PM

Heidi Vukov and her friends came up with the perfect centerpieces to grace the tables at the Lee Brothers Brunch of the Coastal Uncorked Wine and Food Festival, so perfect that she was surprised to hear them say it was a first.

Sunflowers, stuck in vases half-filled with boiled peanuts, were spaced along the long tables outside Croissants Bistro and Bakery in Myrtle Beach.

What could be more appropriate for an appearance by cookbook authors Matt and Ted Lee?

“This is how Matt and I got our start,” said Ted, referring to their early business effort to make boiled peanuts famous around the country.

The Lee Brothers were charming and friendly, the weather was beautiful, and a local band played great music.

More importantly, Vukov, the owner of Croissants, Chef Brad Daniels and general manager Will Gravely outdid themselves with an amazing spread of food. Some of the foods were prepared with Lee Brothers’ recipes.

This was the first year for the event, and it was a great addition for the second year of Coastal Uncorked.

Watching the Lee Brothers speak is a little like talking to a couple who has been married many years. One of them starts a story, the other one takes over for a while, and then the other talks again. They are so known as the Lee Brothers that it is hard to remember which is Matt and which is Ted. (Ted is the one who wears glasses. That tip was passed on to me by Matt’s wife, Gia Lee, who was at the brunch with their 20-month-old son, Arthur.)

Ted Lee started by mentioning how much they were enjoying their visit to Myrtle Beach and how different it is from their hometown of Charleston.

The hotel signs along the oceanfront in Myrtle Beach say things like “Welcome students” and “Welcome bikers,” he said. In Charleston, those signs might read: “Welcome, persons in blazers. No students allowed.”

They talked about the food served at the brunch, including a number of dishes prepared from their latest cookbook, “Simple Fresh Southern.”

Matt Lee said the pimento-cheese potato salad was a perfect example of the fresher outlook the cookbook title refers to.

A couple of times while Matt Lee was talking, Arthur yelled, “Hey Daddy.” And Matt replied, “Hi, Arthur.”

He said that while they still love to tackle a “knock-down, drag-out gumbo recipe with 16 ingredients, each of which has to be prepared separately,” that’s not possible in their lives or most people’s lives these days. Their cookbook has tried to give ways to prepare Southern classics with fewer ingredients and simple preparation.

“We didn’t set out to sell cookbooks,” Ted Lee said. “We set out to sell the whole nation on
boiled peanuts.”

After high school, they moved to the Northeast, where, they were horrified to learn, you can’t get boiled peanuts.

In 1994, feeling homesick and sick of the blizzard conditions, they thought it would be really good to have some boiled peanuts. They ordered peanuts and boiled them and decided it would be a great bar snack.

There was one problem.

“Nobody in New York wanted boiled peanuts,” Matt Lee said.

But they were able to sell them to other displaced Southerners, who also longed for other Southern foods such as Duke’s Mayonnaise and whole fig preserves.

That was the beginning of The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanut Catalogue, their mail-order business of Southern specialties.

They also write about food for a number of magazines, including Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, GQ and The New York Times.

Last year, a story in Garden and Gun magazine told of a wave of restaurants in New York City now serving boiled peanuts, Ted Lee said.

“We were only 16 years ahead of our time.”

The brunch included three types of deviled eggs – shrimp, traditional and Benton’s bacon; French toast; house-made pickled okra and carrots; chicken bog; Green Goddess potato salad; etouffee salad; oatmeal casserole; grits with toppings; shrimp salad; eggs benedict; and five-hour kale. BBQ sundaes, layers of barbecue, beans and cole slaw, were served in small canning jars.

Among the desserts were banana pudding parfaits, pudding cakes with strawberries and something incredible called chocolate soup. It was like drinking really good chocolate.

I hope the brunch becomes a permanent addition to the Coastal Uncorked lineup, especially if the Lee Brothers can return.