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Cru Cafe Serves Gourmet Comfort Food in a Lowcountry Setting

By S. Mathur

For anyone wondering what gourmet comfort food might be, here's a list of starters: fried calamari, white wine mussels, panko fried Brie, fried green tomatoes, house smoked salmon. Cru Cafe Chef and Owner John Zucker was top of his class at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and brought the style of cooking with him to the Low Country. Located in a small side street in downtown Charleston, the Cru Cafe is prized by locals and visitors alike.

Zucker says that his cooking philosophy was shaped by his training and experience: "I was classically French trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris so French technique is a big part of how we prepare our food. My philosophy is Fresh, Fresh, Fresh!" He cooked for Wolfgang Puck at Spago Las Vegas and learned his style of California cuisine, with everything made in house.

Zucker's personal favorite item on the menu is the Thai Seafood Risotto, as well as anything that uses local fish, such as the Turmeric Spiced fish. These are also big hits with customers, along with the Four Cheese Macaroni, Chinese Chicken Salad and Duck Confit Salad. Staples include fried chicken, duck breast, sea scallops, pork chops, and NY steak. All meats are smoked in house.

There's also outdoor porch seating, a specially chosen wine list to complement the food, and desserts like chocolate torte, bread pudding and cheesecake. Daily specials use seasonal ingredients and are decided by the chefs for each shift. The Cafe has a private dining room that can seat up to 15 people. Larger parties are referred to the Catering Division. Reservations are always a good idea.

From the beginning, the Cafe has focused on upscale comfort food, served in a comfortable, homely atmosphere, says Zucker: "We're always trying to give our guest an approachable space that had a home feel to it. We have four seats at the counter over looking the kitchen that we call our "Chef's Table". At first the guests where very intimidated by those seats but once they got up there they where and are captured by the action in the kitchen. Those seats are very much requested now."

The Cru Cafe in fact started out as a catering business and the catering division remains an important part of the Cafe. It has been voted Charleston's #1 Caterer for 16 years in a row by the Charleston City Paper. Both the Cafe and Catering Division partner with local affiliates such as event venues, breweries, farms and even an abbey, to bring the best food and drink to customers.

In the midst of plenty, Zucker takes the time to remember those in need, and is active in the nonprofit community. He was recently chosen as Vice President of Charleston Chefs Feed the Need.

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