The saga of the 2020 James Beard Awards comes to its un-triumphant conclusion today with a Twitter ceremony for the nominees... or something like that. At this point, even if the Beards aren’t abolished, they’re already a relic of the past. The Charleston, South Carolina, Post and Courier has established a new award, one that speaks most urgently to the times that we live in: the Dr. Leon Banov Banner of Distinction for independent restaurants that have paid exceptional attention to the health and safety of their customers and workers. (It was named for the city’s longtime public health officer.)
The awards were administered and awarded by the Post and Courier’s food critic, Hanna Raskin. Raskin made an initial appeal to readers for nominees and was, she writes, disturbed to find that restaurants were being praised for requiring employees to wear masks (state law) or sanitizing silverware (long a part of the state food code). She wanted to see restaurants that actually went above and beyond the most basic requirements to make sure that diners were able to enjoy their meals in safety and comfort.
In the end, nine Charleston restaurants received Banovs, and three of them were designated with highest honors. They range from a Korean barbecue that moved its tabletop grills to an outdoor dining room to a food court that set up remote ordering to restaurants that set up a handwashing station at the host stand and has employees patrol the dining room, ready to apprehend diners who aren’t wearing masks.
The Banov Banners are an excellent idea, one which I hope other city papers or websites will adopt. Not only do they give consumers an idea of where they can dine out safely, more importantly they recognize restaurants that are trying really, really hard to do the right thing.