The Food Guy: Having a salty, savory, spicy good time

Talk about your well-seasoned week. From a salty celebration to a savory tailgate to a spicy chili cook-off, it's a great time to be a food fan in the Kanawha Valley.

This Saturday and Sunday, J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works hosts the second-annual BB&T Malden Salt Fest at its production facility just minutes from Charleston down U.S. 60.

Celebrating the Kanawha Valley's significance in the region's salt history, the festival kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday with a parade running from DuPont Middle School to J.Q.

Opening ceremonies begin at J.Q. at 11 a.m., featuring several dignitaries and the unveiling of new road signs directing visitors to the facility. Then the fun kicks in at noon with free salt tours, cultural demonstrations, dancing by FOOTMAD, train rides, cake walks, storytelling and re-enactors, a photo booth, retail and craft vendors, kids games and more.

Adult beverages and food from Dem 2 Brothers, Swift Level Farms, Ms. Groovy's Kitchen, Ellen's Ice Cream and J.Q. Dickinson also will be available for purchase throughout the day.

As part of this year's "Foodways" theme, a special tent will be set up offering culinary talks on topics covering the role of food in rust belt states, Appalachian food history and culture, preserving Appalachian food, ricotta cheese-making, and the history and use of drinking vinegars, as well as how to make paw-paw butter and ramp jelly.

At 5 p.m. Saturday evening, J.Q. will offer a beans and cornbread dinner for purchase and free live music from the "grass-stained mountain music" band Peddlers Glory. The festival concludes Sunday with a 10 a.m. service at African Zion Church followed by self-guided tours of Spring Hill Cemetery, where the graves of salt company owners are marked.

What an action-packed couple of days!

J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works is located at 4797 Midland Drive in Malden. For more information on attending this free festival, call 304-925-7918.

I'm also excited to be judging this coming Saturday's Hops & Heat, an Appalachian craft beer fest and chili cook-off taking place from 2 to 6 p.m. at the East End Bazaar on the corner of Washington Street East and Ruffner Avenue.Hosted by Charleston Main Streets as part of FestivALL Fall, the event features some 80 craft beers from 20 regional breweries, along with more than 10 chili cooks competing for top honors.

The event will also feature local food and artisan vendors, live music by Suga Grits from Washington, D.C., and a "Hopped & Heated" chili-themed beer competition featuring - you guessed it - chili-flavored craft beers.

It's a fantastic event I've attended and judged before, so I hope to see many of you there. Only 500 tickets will be sold, though, so you better snag yours quickly.

Drinker tickets cost $35 and include 5 ounce samples of beer, unlimited chili samples, three 12 ounce beer tickets and one branded tasting cup. Nondrinker tickets are $20 and include unlimited chili samples.

From spicy chili to hot wings, I was honored to once again be invited to join a roster of celebrity judges to pick this year's "Best Wings in the Valley" at the YWCA's 13th annual Guys Night Out tailgate party Saturday night at Oakes Field in South Charleston.After enjoying a few hours of beer, cigars, games, prizes, football and tons of tailgate food, I joined the likes of Mountaineer greats Major Harris, Avon Cobourne and former mascot Brady Campbell around a table where we dug into towering plates of chicken wings entered by nine restaurants from across the Kanawha Valley.

While Adelphia Bar & Grill has been a repeat winner through the years, there was a new king in town this year - and it wasn't even close.

After the votes were tabulated, Big Joe's Bar & Grill was a runaway first-place winner, with Sam's Uptown Café finishing second and Adelphia coming in third. Almost making the top three were Rollin' Smoke BBQ's super-smoky wings.

While the game's outcome left a lot to be desired, the YWCA once again threw a stellar bash to benefit its Sojourner's Shelter for homeless women and families.

In the past year alone, Sojourner's has offered a place to stay for 801 people (48 percent of whom received onsite substance abuse and/or mental health counseling) and has served more than 86,000 meals.

Impressive also are the results of that work.

Of those who stayed at the shelter, 87 percent eventually attained their own housing, 78 percent found employment and 86 percent of all schoolchildren maintained a C or above average while staying at the shelter.

As the operators of Soujourner's love to say, "we provide a hand up, not a hand out." I'm so glad to be a part of anything to help them accomplish that.

Steven Keith writes a weekly food column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and an occasional food blog at http://blogs.wvgazettemail.com/foodguy/. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or by e-mail at [email protected] You can also follow him on Facebook as "WV Food Guy" and on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest as "WVFoodGuy".