Friends, chefs, and countrymen, lend me your ear. 2019 was a year of change, transition, and more change in Greenville’s restaurant scene. New faces appeared, familiar faces said goodbye and some newcomers solidified their positions in the chess game of hospitality. So, as an homage to the newly departed year I’ve asked some friends, mostly folks in the hospitality business, to name their favorite Greenville food highlight of 2019. A bite, a sip, a dessert, an appetizer, what was their most surprising, most memorable bite of food they enjoyed in our fair city in the last year.
Ed Buffington, Proprietor, The Community Tap
Croque Madame from Methodical Coffee. Easily the best I’ve had outside France and so wonderful with a nice glass of dry rose.
Christian Hansen, Proprietor, Blue Ridge Creamery Cheese
Pappardelle pasta with shortrib ragout from Rocket Surgery in TR. I’m generally underwhelmed by pasta yet this was on par with the pasta I’ve had at Wild Olive in Charleston.
Sherman Walters, Broker, National Restaurant Properties
The collard greens from Fork & Plough. Man…so delicious.
Chris Arnold, Chef de Cuisine at Soby’s Restaurant
The beef belly sandwich at Stella’s Southern Brasserie. That takes a lot of labor to make beef belly delicious and succulent. A lot of work.
Ariel Turner, Greenville’s favorite food writer
The octopus from The Anchorage. It was perfectly balanced with the yogurt, grapefruit and smokey octopus.
Wes Pollock, famous traveling salesman
The Bourbon Liver Mousse from the Anchorage. So dang delicious.
Anthony Gray, Chef/Owner of Bacon Brothers Public House
The pink snapper ceviche with paper thin shaved watermelon from The Kennedy.
Where is The Kennedy? It’s in Spartanburg, about a 40-minute drive from downtown Greenville. I took pity on Anthony and let him keep his answer because I’ve heard great things about the Kennedy and really want to go.
Will Keown, Internationally renown photographer and cinematographer
The meatball appetizer at Jianna. Best meatballs I’ve ever had.
Jennifer Rogers, Chef/Owner, Passerelle Bistro
Have you ever been to the Greenville Family Restaurant on Rutherford Road? It’s kind of a meat and three and on Saturdays, when the chicken plant is open, they serve nothing but tacos and burritos and they are so delicious.
Robin M Dunn, medical professional
Butter poached lobster with broccolini and pea shoots from Fork & Plough.
Joe Gagnon, TV personality
Soft organic egg yolk “raviolio” from L’incanto in Greer. Spinach, ricotta, parmesan reggiano and nutmeg, fresh black truffle with brown truffle butter. It was unlike anything I’ve had in Greenville.
Will McCameron, Proprietor, Brewery 85
The Caesar Salad at Larkin’s. Easily the best salad I’ve ever had in my life.
Dan Eastland, Proprietor, Dogwood Custom Knives
Oh that’s easy. The dealer’s choice cocktail at Vault & Vator. It’s always an intriguing proposition.
Alright enough of them, this is my column so here’s some of my best bites of 2019, Greenville edition.
Moroccan Coconut Rice Pudding from The Lazy Goat. Sesame and almond shortbread cookie, caramelized pineapple, candied pecans, basil crystals. Seriously, rice pudding. Look I married my favorite pastry chef and I get all the amazing desserts a guy could ask for. And chocolate, not the sweet sticky cheap kind found on the shelf in a brown bottle, but the pricey Swiss/German/Hawaiian/Ecuadorian kind is one of my favorite things. I love the intense earthiness of dark chocolates. And yet it’s also an easy out when coming up with a workable dessert. Cakes, brownies, cookies, and pies dipped in or doused with chocolate will always sell themselves. What’s tough is creating something wonderful and unexpected from pedestrian ingredients, such as rice. And the rice pudding from Pastry Chef Tania Harris is so wonderful, so clever, and so challenging to create. It’s a memorable combination of flavors and textures unlike any dessert I’ve had in this town. And it’s made from rice.
The braised shortrib French Dip sandwich from Ken Frazier at Woodside Bistro.
When I was a young man, diners came in two flavors, bad and worse. They were dirty places you never ventured into sober. Their simple food, most of which came right out of a frozen box, was served by cranky folks with one foot in rehab and the other in anger management classes. Woodside Bistro is a diner for the new decade. They offer simple, unpretentious and sublime food in a welcoming environment from an authentic part of Greenville that reminds you we were once a textile town. My favorite is Ken Frazier’s braised shortrib sandwich, an homage to a French Dip, and I usually get it with a side of hand cut fries or a cup of tomato soup.
The Horchata from La Cabana
The rice and almond beverage is now so ubiquitous that beverage companies make a horchata base, just add water. However, at the tiny La Cabana (6243 White Horse Road) they make it from scratch, daily. If you’ve never had fresh horchata, stop in and grab a tall glass and enjoy.
And now for a little lagniappe which we say in New Orleans when we give a little something extra as a surprise.
As a Soby’s chef I’m surrounded by great food. And occasionally I get to try some of that food. Like these cinnamon sweet rolls by our assistant pastry chef, Adrian Cangro. It’s just something she made one day when she wanted to treat us. And they were easily the best cinnamon roll I’ve had in Greenville. She made a brioche dough, rolled it out thin, filled the interior with a cinnamon, sugar and egg whites, sliced individual rolls, proofed then baked and topped with a simple glaze. And this is what greeted me one morning about 10 am when I walked into the kitchen. If you’re in the cinnamon roll business these are the rolls yours should aspire to.
After seven years of self-employment as a hospitality consultant, I returned to work as a full-time chef with Soby’s. And I have days that I’m greeted with something amazing, like these cinnamon rolls. I’m looking forward to the new year with anticipation for more cinnamon rolls. And if there’s a subject you’d like me to tackle, preferably in Greenville’s restaurant scene, drop me a comment and I’ll see what I can do.
This installment is part of a new series of essays from our friend John Malik. View more of John’s series here.
Extremely accomplished, John is a James Beard Society nominee for Best Chef in the Southeast, has published a novel Doughnuts for Amy and you can find his essays on Food, Travel, and the culinary scene of the Southeast in the Huffington Post. John is currently Chef of the Loft at Soby’s.