Through the centuries, Greenville, South Carolina has morphed through several identities; however, it now emerges as one of the South’s top culinary destinations. While the city may be overshadowed by the more well-known Charleston, these South Carolina restaurants are definitely on par with the culinary giants. Continue reading to learn where to find the best bites in the city and learn about Greenville’s distinctive revitalization story along the way.
Modern day Falls Park, Greenville. Photo courtesy of Angela Miller.
Land that began as Cherokee hunting grounds evolved into the “Textile Center of the World” in the early 20th century, but then struggled through the Great Depression. One of the efforts to revive the city involved cleaning up Falls Park, which had been called the birthplace of Greenville. The “Falls Park on the Reedy” project caused townspeople to cut through the kudzu, knock down the view-obstructing Camperdown Bridge and create a beautiful city oasis with gardens, several waterfalls and the pedestrian suspension Liberty Bridge.
Unlike this community project, cleaning up the downtown involved a singular vision of a motivated individual. Up until 1997, no one went downtown Greenville. It was a deserted, run down strip, abandoned by 5pm with the end of the workday. When Carl Sobocinski purchased an old shoe store on Main Street with the intentions of turning it into a world-class restaurant, people laughed. But Carl knew there were plans for Greenville’s downtown revitalization and he judged the situation correctly. Now Greenville is a rising star, most recently named one of Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Places to Visit for 2015 and Main Street has won countless honors. Here are four restaurants you won’t want to miss on your next visit to Greenville.
Bronze mouse at the foot of a statue of Greenville’s namesake, Nathaniel Greene. Photo courtesy of Katie Foote.
Insider Tip: As you explore Greenville, keep an eye out for ten, small bronze mice hidden around the Downtown, inspired by the Goodnight Moon children’s book. It creates a fun hunt for children and adults alike.
Soby’s New South Bar. Photo courtesy of Soby’s.
Soby’s New South Cuisine
It makes sense to start our culinary tour of Greenville where it all began and Soby’s New South Cuisine was Carl Sobocinski’s gutsy first purchase on Main Street. Partners Carl Sobocinski and David Williams completely refurbished this old southern shoe store to its original beauty. Today, the restaurant has a homey feel, with exposed brick, hardwood floors and a skylight highlighting the fishbowl kitchen against a hammered copper backdrop as the centerpiece of the restaurant.
Feel-good food in a warm environment is the mission at Soby’s New South Cuisine, which blends contemporary cuisine with traditional southern ingredients. Head Chef Shaun Garcia grew up in grandma’s restaurant and still talks about how she instilled a sense of southern hospitality in him from childhood. Signature dishes include Barbecue Shrimp and Grits, Fried Green Tomatoes with Jalapeño Pimento Cheese, and Crab Cakes Remoulade. Snag a seat on the mezzanine to look down at your meal being made in the kitchen.
A fraction of Soby’s wine cellar. Photo courtesy of Katie Foote.
Insider Tip: Soby’s love of wine is also notable, with an award-wining list featuring 550+ selections. Guests can use an iPad to search for the perfect bottle by a variety of criteria including country, varietal, tasting notes and ratings data. Waitstaff sometimes let guests search the 3000-bottle wine cellar to find their own bottle. The cellar can also be rented out for private parties and events.
The Lazy Goat Patio. Photo courtesy of the Lazy Goat.
The Lazy Goat, Mediterranean Restaurant
If you want to vicariously travel outside the southern United States, try The Lazy Goat, a Mediterranean-themed restaurant in Greenville’s West End. The menu features food and wine from Spain, Morocco, Italy, France, Greece, Africa and the Middle East with the goal of providing “simple international food that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.”
The Lazy Goat is designed to help visitors relax and linger over sharing food and stories, with a menu of sharable plates from the “graze and nibble” (small plates) to “Share or Not to Share” (larger portions). Even wine is served by the carafe to promote sharing. Sit on mismatched chairs in the downstairs dining room and watch pizzas being cooked in a stone oven, or grab a seat on the patio to enjoy a drink overlooking the Reedy River.
The culinary team prides themselves for their “made from scratch” approach to cooking, making everything from ice cream to pasta sauce in-house.
With an open kitchen, cozy platform bars, late night service and communal tables, The Lazy Goat invites guests to slow down, treat their taste buds, and take the time to truly enjoy the food, company and conversation.
Insider Tip: Make sure to stop by the Lazy Goat on Thursdays to enjoy their Mediterranean wine list for half price.
Passerelle Bistro exterior. Photo courtesy of Passerelle.
Passerelle, French Bistro
If the Lazy Goat’s Mediterranean meals has your craving more global dining, try Passerelle, French for “foot bridge”, a casual French bistro at the Liberty Bridge in Falls Park. On a nice day, you will find Passerelle’s front windows swinging open to welcome fresh air from the waterfalls, while a black and white mosaic floor and dark wood tables are reminiscent of a Parisian bistro. If the weather is not good for al fresco dining, sit at the chef’s bar, a couple feet away from all the action in the kitchen.
The French-influenced menu has an innovative take on traditional dishes, prepared with local, seasonal ingredients. Chef Teryi likes to mix up Ratatouille by serving it as a sandwich or combined with brie and crab bechamel for an incredible omelet. She also prides herself on the seasonally changing Cassoulet, which may include Duck confit, fresh shell beans, tomato, prosciutto and wilted arugula in the winter, but is lightened with local field peas and Swiss chard in summer. The chef also likes to create dishes around distinctly French ingredients. For example, her Mussels Passerelle contains a saffron broth spiked with tomatoes and espelette peppers, a variety of chili from the Basque region of France.
Insider Tip: Keep an eye out for special events. During the Fall and Winter, Chef Teryi conducts a “Tour d’ Europe” where she serves European specialties on select Wednesdays. You can travel the world with the Chef’s regional features and beverage pairings, offered at a special price.
Beef Curry Poutin with a fried egg and chives. Photo courtesy of Nose Dive.
Nose Dive, Gastro Pub
Get in touch with your US roots at Nose Dive, a casual Gastro Pub where modern culinary twists on American bar food take center stage. Chef Craig Kuhns knows people come to American restaurants looking for comforting staples, which he happily provides — with an unexpected surprise. For example, “tots” are a staple on the appetizer menu, but the dish constantly evolves. Maybe you’ll stop in and find a Grit Tots with pulled pork, cornmeal, chili and jam — perfect for people with gluten allergies. On another day, the tots will be smothered in an aged white cheddar with a refreshing topping of chives. When I visited, the chef served an exotic version of the French poutin — fries and gravy — where French fries were smothered in a delicious beef coconut curry. End your meal with the famous dark chocolate, candied bacon brownie.
Have you been to Greenville, South Carolina? What was the culinary highlight for you? Please share in the comment below.
By Katie Foote