EAT – El Borikuazo
By Griffin Nelson | Photo by John Antaki
More than anything else this year, I’ve missed traveling. Puerto Rico has been on my list for a while, but I’ve yet to get there in person. In the meantime, a short drive to Aiken to eat at El Borikuazo Restaurant, at 156 University Pkwy., is like being transported across the water to an island full of flavor. The simple brick building belies the beautifully plated, perfectly seasoned dishes that come out of the kitchen. Owner Coral Del Mar Lopez Rosario and head chef Ramon Arzola have created a menu where, from appetizers to desserts, there is a little something for everyone, and each item has authentic spices and flavoring.
The name El Borikuazo comes from the word “Boricua,” a term Puerto Ricans proudly use to identify themselves as natives of the island. I learned as much about the culture and food from the restaurant’s employees as I did from its patrons, who proudly told me of their own Puerto Rican heritage, the traditional food and why they love El Borikuazo so much. In addition to the food being absolutely amazing, the staff is friendly and welcoming, and Arzola, who has over a decade of experience working in high-end restaurants in his home country and places including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, presents everything beautifully. He clearly takes pride in creating the best dish possible for every single person who walks through the door.
My personal favorite dish, the one that makes me want to hop on a plane to Puerto Rico immediately, is the Mofongo. Probably the most famous traditional Puerto Rican dish, Mofongo is made with seasoned, mashed plantains that are topped with meat and sauce. There are several different ways to order it, from the traditional single Mofongo to the Trifongo, which has both plantains and cassava. Meat options include chicken, shrimp and skirt steak. The sauce options are unique as well, including the signature “The Borikuazo” sauce and a fantastic guava sauce.
The icing on this Puerto Rican cake is the sweets. The cocktails are made with fresh juices, Puerto Rican rum and other liquors. There are nonalcoholic sweet drinks as well, and I highly recommend saving room for the Flan of the Day. If you don’t have time to sit down, you can pick up your order to go and enjoy being transported across the water from the comfort of your home.
Lagniappe – “A little something extra”
Sheila’s Baking Company, which was previouly featured, has officially opened a storefront! Get amazing doughnuts and cinnamon rolls, in addition to yummy coffee made with the shop’s signature roast from Stone Roastery (also a previous feature!), at 434 Georgia Ave. in North Augusta.
ARTISAN – Julie Voegtlen
Julie Voegtlen could have never anticipated that what started as a fun side project would turn into a creative business. With all of the hiking and adventures her family went on, Voegtlen started using a wood-burning tool to carve logos and designs into a unique walking stick for her son. She has spent over a decade working as an event manager for Vera Stewart, local caterer, event planner, TV host, author and Augusta Magazine contriutor, who loved the idea and suggested in 2016 that Voegtlen use the same technique to create a charcuterie board, specifically one for Stewart. The board is gorgeous, with her logo beautifully carved into the wood and the heat from the tool creating a dark contrast against the wood’s natural grain.
When Voegtlen got started on her first board, she wanted to use a special wood, something unique to the CSRA. Luckily, she has connections to the beautiful Wade Plantation, which had a few downed trees after the 2014 ice storm. A large cedar perfectly suited her needs. At over 150 years old, it was fit for wide planks, and it had a beautifully weathered exterior and unique character from top to bottom.
Today, every single board Voegtlen makes is custom; clients can even choose their own size and section of board if they’re so inclined. She’s created designs that range from stylized family names in elegant script to intricate fish and birds, and even a board with the entire outline of Lake Hartwell and a “pin” in the map for the family who commissioned it. The designs are so beautiful that some customers display the board as a piece of art instead of actually using it.
Voegtlen prefers to use hers, though. The cedar has been rubbed with a food-safe mineral oil, and each piece builds its own character over time, depending on how the owner chooses to use it. Charcuterie boards are very versatile and can include anything from meats and cheeses to fruits, jams, nuts, pickles, and on and on. Voegtlen says she loves the way the boards look and change with each use. Easy to maintain with a little hand-washing and a new layer of mineral oil, the boards can be used over and over again, and their custom designs are a perfect conversation starter when gathering with friends.
SIP – Solo Vino
For many people, wine can be intimidating — there is a huge range of varieties, flavor profiles and prices — so to walk into a wine shop without any direction can be daunting. With the help of a sommelier, however, the process is much more approachable; they get to be the experts, allowing others to learn with direction and ease. Aiken’s newest wine shop, Solo Vino, actually has two sommeliers, and the entire staff is educated and prepared to assist customers in finding a wine that they will love.
Solo Vino is more than just a wine shop, though. Over 750 bottles of wine line the walls of the family-owned wine parlor at 200 Park Ave. SW. Lou Giusto, his wife, Stephanie Sheridan, and his son, Nick Giusto, each work in a different capacity within the space to provide the ultimate customer experience. Lou Giusto is a certified sommelier but has also worked in restaurants around the country and taught in cooking schools, and he is an expert on both the front-of-house and back-of-house duties. At Solo Vino, he uses his expertise and wine knowledge to design a fresh, new menu weekly with as many local ingredients as possible to pair with the many wines available in the front. He works closely with Christine Hoffman, a sommelier from South Africa via Los Angeles, who works with anyone and everyone who walks in the door to find their perfect wine, whether they’re just looking for a glass to sip on its own or one to pair with their food. Hoffman even creates rotating flights each week to allow customers the opportunity to try three wines instead of having to commit to just one.
Solo Vino’s staff works hard to make wine approachable and accessible. The sitting area at the front is a comfortable spot to sit down with a glass and read a book or chat with friends without the pressure and clamor of a bar. Having two sommeliers on staff means there’s always someone to answer questions and educate customers. The beautiful interior and quality food make it an easy place to frequent. During the short year it has been open, Solo Vino has established a wine club, hosted wine tastings, curated a selection of wines that can’t be found anywhere else in the area at affordable prices, added takeout options and built a following of loyal customers, whether they’ve been drinking wine for 20 years or two months.
Appears in the August/September 2020 issue of Augusta Magazine.