Rio Bertolini Pasta

Good Eats: Charleston’s Best Ravioli & Cinnamon Rolls

The topic of pizza and pasta is near and dear to Martin’s heart so, for the record, we are putting this one in his voice. Bon appetit!

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Pizza and pasta are uniformly liked and, thus, everywhere to be had. No matter where you stand on the gluten/carb pendulum, you have to admit that good pasta is one of the most decadent and satisfying consumables imaginable. Like most things that are ubiquitous and easily obtained, the product of pasta can quickly regress toward the mean. Most pizza and pasta available in restaurants barely passes for average…and average just doesn’t cut it. If you’ve read our blog posts about the scrutiny we put pizza under, you already know who gets our votes for the most stellar Neapolitan pies… (See our reviews of Una Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco, Antico Pizza Napoletana in Atlanta, or definitely check out Pyro Pizza‘s food truck in Portland.)


But what about pasta? Because of its ubiquity, the search for the best pasta — specifically, ravioli — is even more challenging. Years ago, when I would sail up and down the coast, I would always stop in Charleston for a couple of weeks. At one of the local restaurants, I had the most delicious ravioli of my life and, knowing that the restaurant didn’t make it themselves, I vowed to track down their origin. I called restaurant after restaurant in hopes of finding their secret source. I was rewarded for my homework when one of the restaurants finally directed me to a booth at the Charleston Farmers Market (which, by the way, is the 3rd largest farmers market in America and one not to be missed.)

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There, I learned who this genius pasta purveyor was and how I could purchase fresh and frozen pasta directly. Keep in mind…. I’m visiting on a sixty-five foot sailboat….So, needless to say, my pasta run necessitated the emptying of my ship’s refrigerator and freezer. What others would call culinary necessities, I hurriedly discarded in favor of fresh pasta.

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That sequence continued for a number of years until the sailboat became VANdal and trips to Charleston are now done one by land and not two by sea.

Hundreds of dozens of ravioli later, I finally had the pleasure of meeting the proprietor and reigning ravioli royal himself, Brian Bertolini. Now, VANdal pulls up to the secret and well-disguised pasta factory where we load up every YETI cooler we have with pound after pound of frozen ravioli. (After trying these babies you’ll quickly understand why he has to keep the factory location a secret… By far the best way to get your hands on any of their 50 varieties of raviolis, 20 styles of cut pasta, 10 varieties of fresh gnocchi (including an awesome gluten-free version!), and various things like tortellini, etc. that all change with the seasons, is to pick some up at Farmers Markets across the Carolinas. (View their market calendar or visit their Facebook page).

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Fortunately, a well-packed 50-quart YETI cooler with a couple pounds of dry ice will easily keep pasta solidly frozen for three days. Do not attempt this with a standard cooler. By the time you get home, your pasta will be partially thawed and you’ll be sad you did.

Why are Bertolini’s the finest raviolis we’ve ever eaten? Great taste is not just a matter of combining ingredients in the right proportions. Rio Bertolini’s world class flavor comes from painstakingly sourcing the very best organic local and specifically sourced ingredients of the highest quality. The eggs are farm-fresh from chickens raised in pastures, milk from happy roaming cows eating the lush Carolina grass. Brian knows that the sum is the total of its parts — and if the parts aren’t perfect, the result rarely is. Over the years, he has chosen his suppliers carefully for their quality and consistency and the result is evident in every identical, mouthwatering bite.

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On the technical side, Bertolini’s ravioli is firm enough to hold in the filling without rupture during the cooking process, yet it retains a light, delightful texture and flavor. When cut open, each of his dozens of flavors imparts a wonderful aroma as though he has managed to insert an entire meal’s worth of flavor into one perfect bite. The porcini-filled ravioli, my personal favorite, releases the most wonderful redolence of woodland mushroom. Veritable porcini mushroom chunks surround the cheesy ricotta filling in a pillow of sheer goodness. When topped with brown butter and sage or olive oil, garlic and a touch of pecorino romano, a gastronomical miracle occurs.

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So it was that after competing in the Cold Stroke Classic in Wrightsville Beach this weekend, we made the pilgrimage to Charleston to stock up.
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Paddlers, Coastal Urge puts on an amazing event here and this race ranks highly on our list of destination races. It was a perfect middle-of-the-off-season race to test your grit, catch up with paddlers from around the country, get a “lay of the land” for the Carolina Cup race in April (this year purported to be the largest and best-run race in America with over 1200 paddlers projected), and have an awesome time.IMG_0047
The race organizers are wonderful, generous, and know how to put on a solid event. Though cold, as the race title would suggest, we can’t help but rub it in that with VANdal, we were able to park directly at the race site, stay there the night before, and run into hot showers to dethaw immediately following the race. Ahhhhh….

WildFlour Cinnamon Roll

After our ravioli run and a post-race treat stop at Charleston’s WildFlour Pastryshop for the absolute BEST cinnamon rolls you can possibly imagine (no exaggeration…they’re gooey with a cream cheese frosting, and totally worth every indulgent calorie), we hightailed it south with our dry-ice-encased loot.

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Jacksonville was our destination for the night, giving us the chance to break up the drive home, get in a trail run at the beautiful, coastal Hanna Park, and paddle with the lovely and talented Christina Hebert of The Knitty Triathlete. (Christina is knitting hats to raise funds for her participation in the charitable 100 Mile Paddle for Autism this year — she knits the most amazing hats and has a damn fine logo you’ll be proud to sport on your noggin — go check her out).

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At Hanna Park, we were quickly reminded of why VANlife and formal campgrounds do not mix…. Rules, rules, rules! But alas, in Florida it’s necessary to sacrifice freedom for location. RV-Land is usually the only means to a great campsite within walking distance of both trail and beach.

Though absolutely stunning and an ideal location for multi-sport athletes, families, and beach-goers, it’s a county park where regulations rule and the Barney Fife look-alike rule enforcers take their jobs VERY seriously….. Still, it’s far and away one of the best places in Florida to explore miles of mountain bike and hiking trails within exquisite North Florida coastal forests surrounded by oaks shaped by the salt wind.IMG_0008
The lovely, hard-packed sand here at Atlantic Beach is perfect for beach cruisers, SUP surfing or, as the case may be, shark tooth collecting, all within a few hundred yards of your campsite. But…as VAN-dwellers, we’d welcome a trip back to Oregon’s more laid-back beaches any day.

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Back at home base in Sarasota, we put VANdal away until the next adventure and make haste back at the training grind so we can earn all those fabulous raviolis :).

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