Restaurants

Since we both work and have no kids, we eat out a lot.  I like trying new places, and am happy to pass along my opinions on these new restaurants.  For these reviews, I try to stay away from the obvious chains (Chili’s, Applebees, Wendy’s, and other things ending with a long ee sound.)  I’m also confining my reviews to the general Upstate area.  We’ve had lot’s of fantastic meals on our travels, but I’d rather pass along the cuisine of this area.

The Phantom of Genevieve’s

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Phantom of the Opera Program

Photo by Carin Perretta

Continuing the impossibly busy weekend…

Today we had friends drop by for a visit. We were happy to have Steve and Linda Serkiz come by for coffee. I hadn’t seen them in years. I was at Furman with both of them, and Steve was in one of Laura’s first classes that she taught there. Steve is now down at the Savannah River Site as a research scientist, doing some very cool things with carbon nano tubes and other nano technology. I may have to wrangle a visit so that I can get a closer look at Ellenton and some of the other SRS ghost town sites.

In the evening I was supposed to be two places at once. I was SUPPOSED to be singing the National Anthem at the Greenville Drive game with the Greenville Chorale. However, the opportunity to attend Phantom of the Opera at the Peace Center came up, and we opted for that instead. (more…)

Shinola and Java Fix

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Art, Antiques, Funk

I had been working around the house most of the day and needed to get out and about. I decided a cup of coffee was in order, but I didn’t just want Starbucks or Atlanta Bread Company, my usual haunts. Then I remembered Java Fix, a coffee shop in a tiny weird building on Wade Hampton Boulevard. That simple decision turned into an afternoon’s adventure.

I’m a sucker for weird angled buildings. These are usually built to take advantage of a limited footprint where roads intersect at a sharp angle. Often there will be an entrance at the narrow end, then the place widens out. There used to be a really cool building at the intersection of Poinsett and Highway 183, but it was torn down when the Pete Hollis Boulevard was build. That was a shame.

Located where Mohawk Drive veers off of Wade Hampton, Java Fix is in a tiny little angled building. I think it started as a car service place. For awhile it was a record store, and I remember stopping in to browse. It’s also been a hairstyle saloon and several other things before the Fix people took over.

Java Fix-009 (more…)

Bocca Pure Italian

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Bocca Pure Italian

I must have driven by it a thousand times – an old Pizza Hut with the distinctive architecture now converted into another restaurant.  However, this time it caught my eye.  Laura and I were on our way back from a paddling trip.  Later we would be back up this way for a play at Furman, and we needed a place for dinner.  The sign read “Lobster Stuff Shells” and my mind started pondering the meaning of “Lobster Stuff” and what that might entail.  From those musings we decided to give Bocca Pure Italian a try.  A grammatical error caught my attention and got our business.

Background

I really couldn’t find much substantial background online. The information on the restaurant’s website and Facebook page is rather sparse. Bocca has been here a number of years, but I don’t remember exactly when. Oddly enough, I don’t remember any of our friends or Furman colleagues mentioning the place as a dining destination. We had absolutely no point of reference.

Atmosphere

The folks at Bocca have done a fantastic job given the restrictions of old Pizza Hut architecture. The exterior has been redone in gold tones, and those same rich tones with wood accents grace the interior. The wall spaces between the unusually angled windows have been outfitted with shelving for the restaurant’s extensive wine collection. The dining area is relatively small, and the counter is in the same location as the old Pizza Hut cashier counter.

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However, the counter was radically different from PH days. I didn’t get a chance for a photo, but a split in the counter allowed access to a room with a larger collection of wine and what was apparently a small wine bar. I did spot a couple of patrons there during the course of the meal. The proprietors have added additional cooking and storage space to the original building. Apparently there is a studio kitchen which can be used for cooking demonstrations.

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As for clientele, it was definitely an older crowd, with ages averaging in the 60s. I guess the best description could be “relaxed affluence.” This was obviously not the spot for high schoolers and Furman kids to casually drop by for a pizza. Even so, as we dined, two young prom couples arrived.

When we arrived we were asked if we had reservations, which we didn’t. Apparently we got the last non-reservation table. We watched several others get turned away over the course of our meal. The place was packed the entire time.

Menu

Traditional Italian dishes dominate the menu. There are several antipasti selections, including Bruschetta, Ensalada Capresse, and some more unusual dishes such as Scallops au Gratin, Italian Rope Sausage, and Mussels Piccata. All of these are reasonably priced from $6-$9.

There are quite a few specialties with seafood, chicken, veal, beef and Italian sausage. These include Rigatoni, Shrimp Carbonara, Cheese Tortolini, etc. These run from $16 – $24.

In addition to these specialties there were several classic veal and chicken dishes priced at $18.50, and several specialty pizzas for $14.50.

One innovative menu item is the “Personalized Pasta” selections. You pick the type of past, the type of sauce to go on it, and the meat (if any.) Prices vary according to selection.

And if that weren’t enough, there are the daily chef specials, of which the Lobster “Stuffed” (corrected on the display board inside) Shells and a Surf and Turf.

As mentioned, there was an extensive wine selection. Prices overall were more expensive than a casual dinner out, but are in line with a nice Italian meal.

Food

The menu was almost overwhelming. We were on a time limit with the the theater date, so we made choices quicker than we might. We both selected dishes from the veal and chicken selections. Laura ordered Chicken alla Piccata and I ordered Chicken alla Capresse.

Since we ordered chicken dishes, we ordered glasses of Pinot Grigio to go along with the meals. These came out first, and were quite good. However, I should have ordered something else. The lighter Pinot didn’t hold up well to my heavier dish. More on that later.

Salads arrived first. These were simple beds of Romana with a slice of tomato, some onion, and dressed with vinagrette. They were quite good.

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It took a bit of time, but our dishes arrived. Laura’s dish had a light lemon piccata sauce with capers, garlic chunks, green beans, and angel hair pasta. She let me have a bite, and it was fantastic – light and flavorful.

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My dish was heavier, but no less delicious. My chicken was covered with sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, spinach, and mozzarella. It was accompanied with linguini covered with a light marinara sauce. Mine also had the ever-present chunks of garlic. Again, my Pinot Grigio was a bit light for the dish and I would have been better off with something red.

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In places such as Olive Garden they grill up a bunch of chicken breasts and toss on whatever sauce is needed to create the dish. Not here. Even though we both had two thin (but large) slices of chicken breasts, each was prepared specifically for the dish.

The flavors were marvelous, and both of us cleaned our plates. Unfortunately, we had saved neither time nor space for dessert.

Service

There were just a few problems, but none that greatly upset the course of the meal. First off, two waitresses arrived for duty about a quarter after six. Apparently one of these was assigned to us. Also, as “non-reservationists” we seemed to fall in the cracks. Other tables were told about specials and brought bread, but not us. I might have tried the “Lobster Stuff” otherwise.

We never really knew who was supposed to be serving our table, and none of the serving staff seemed very friendly. It was if we were intruders. My feeling was that from the point we were seated we were customers just like any other patron in the place. Laura made mention that we were “taking up one of their tables”, to which I replied, “Well, they seated us, and they had the choice NOT to do that,” so I didn’t worry about it.

In fairness, the place was busy with a couple of larger groups. There were several servers for the small place, but it seemed to lack…friendly efficiency, I guess. We got our food in time, and we eventually got our bread, but timing was always beyond the point where we were starting to wonder. I would hope that isn’t the case on a less busy night or when the staff shows up when it should.

Conclusions

The quality of the food was excellent. The dishes seemed to have an innovative flair, but with a basis in traditional Italian cuisine. It made me want to come back and try one of their specialties. Service was so-so, but I’m hoping that’s not par for the course. Bocca Italian is a bit pricy, but not out of line for a nice evening out with food quality this good.

This was quite a surprise, and it’s nice to know that food of this quality is so close to Furman. I’m sure we will be back.

Taylors Renaissance and Textures

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Taylors Mill with Texture

As most readers by now know, I am fascinated with old ghost towns. However, what I like even more is when I find an area that was previously in decay now coming back to life. Such is the case with the old Taylors Mill in downtown Taylors.

The phrase “downtown Taylor’s may not have much meaning to Greenvillians. Most think of Taylors as a nebulous area somewhere on the Eastside of town before you get to Greer. There is actually a downtown area, just off of Wade Hampton Boulevard, beyond Taylors First Baptist Church. There are a few storefronts, but the most prominent features are the old Taylors High School, now converted into a Fine Arts Academy and Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and the old Taylors Textile Mill. (more…)

Lunch at Harold’s of Gaffney

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Tommy Thompson and I had been out on a photo trek across Cherokee County. We had reached the town of Gaffney and we were ready for lunch. We were looking for something quirky and local – not the chain places located out near the interstate. Gaffney is a college town, so I was hoping for something like what we found in Athens. However, Limestone College is no UGA, so pickin’s were slim. When we saw the sign on Harold’s Restaurant saying “Featured on the Food Network” we decided we had to check it out.

Background

Harold Tindall opened the restaurant in 1932 with a unique recipe for a chili burger. The place gained a local following, and sometime in the last couple of decades (time unknown) Tony and Holly Lipscombe purchased the restaurant. They retained all of the original recipes, and pretty much all of the same furnishings and decor.

Atmosphere

It’s a dive. Period. One walks into a narrow space lined with booths on one side and a lunch counter on the other. First up is a massive menu board with instructions to order at the counter. Several other diners were seated either in booths or at the bar. The place is decked out in yellow for Gaffney’s high school football team.

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Automatic for the People

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Weaver D's

Automatic for the People

Glynda had some business with my brother Houston, in Athens, so I offered to drive her down in exchange for a leisurely day taking photographs. Turned out to be a good road trip through Georgia, stopping at several interesting points and a couple of landmarks in the university town. The highlight, though, was a stop at Weaver D’s Automatic for the People, a culinary and rock and roll landmark in Athens.

Background

Dexter Weaver, a Georgia Native, moved to Baltimore early in life, where his classmates gave him the nickname “Weaver D 43″, from his high school football jersey number. Weaver D found himself in a variety of retail and fast food settings. Through these endeavors Weaver crafted his catch phrase, “Automatic for the People,” to indicate efficiency, caring and quality. A co-worker suggested that if he ever went into business for himself, that should become his motto.

Fate eventually brought him back to Athens, where he used his business and culinary sense to establish a catering business in the late 70′s, early 80s. His business flourished, and he made a name for himself catering events for frat houses and other university events. In 1986 the old Riverside Cafe closed down, opening an opportunity for Weaver D. He leased the building and opened his soul food restaurant.

Weaver D's

Because he had catered so many university events, the place was immediately popular with students as a restaurant where they could get good home-cooked food. One of the patrons was none other than Michael Stipe of REM. In 1992 Stipe approached Weaver about using his catchphrase for the title of an upcoming Album, and Weaver agreed. Released in 1992, Automatic for the People was the eighth album by REM, and received a Grammy nomination. The album has the hits “Man in the Moon” and “Everybody Hurts.” It was also used as the title for a Sarah Connor Chronicles TV episode. (more…)

Breakfast in Monck’s Corner

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This is Part One of a three part post…

It was a second Saturday, and time for another Lowcountry Unfiltered outing, the first of 2014. Traditionally this has been our “Swamp Stomp” outing, dating back to when we trod through Congaree National Park in flood conditions looking for Championship Trees. We had several options, but decided upon a biking/hiking trek to Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area.

Originally, I had planned to head down Friday and do some more photography and exploration in Berkeley County. However, the weather was not cooperating. The forecast was for a front to come through, with severe thunderstorms tracking across the coastal areas.

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I decided not to drive down on Friday, but did head out early Saturday. When I awoke the sky was lit up with lightening. I was beginning to question the wisdom of this trek. I already had my bike loaded up, so I went ahead and loaded my cameras and rain gear into the car and headed south.

Even on the road I was second-guessing my decision. Strong lightening strikes hit close to the car, almost blindingly so. Rain poured down. As I headed south the rain let up little by little, and on the other side of Columbia the sun even started to peek through for brief moments. Home would be drenched, but we might be OK. (more…)

Cabana Bar and Grill

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Cabana Bar and Grill

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a restaurant review. I hadn’t really planned to do one today, but I kind of stumbled into one. For lunch today I visited the Cabana Bar and Grill, located in the former Haus Edelweiss on Wade Hampton. I had actually pulled in just to get a shot of the new sign and picture of the business that had replaced Haus Edelweiss. I saw several cars in the parking lot, and there was a sign that said “Open”, so I decided to check it out.

Background

As mentioned, this was once Haus Edelweiss. I had a chance to speak to the owner, who told me that they had been friends with the owners of Haus Edelweiss. Her mother had been catering in the area, so when the restaurant came available, they took the opportunity to establish their own place. I was told that they hope to feature lots of Latin American dishes, but for now they are focusing on Colombian cuisine.

The restaurant has only been open for two weeks. (more…)

Bavarian Pretzel Factory

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Bavarian Pretzel Factory's New Home

Bavarian Pretzel Factory in the former Italian Market location

I have a problem with Oktoberfest. I love German beer and German food. What bothers me is misuse of the term. The Munich Oktoberfest actually runs the last couple of weeks of September up until the first of October. In America it’s become a marketing ploy with little relation to the original festival, where “Oktober” = any day in October. Even so, my sister Glynda and I usually share an Oktoberfest at least once a year, and this time our scheduling just didn’t work out. So, we headed out to the Bavarian Pretzel Factory for a late October feast.

I had visited before, with mixed results. The first time I arrived at 6:30, just as they were closing. I had no clue that in their original location they weren’t open for dinner. 6:30 was just…odd. I finally did have lunch there with my friend Keith a couple of months ago and had prepared to do a write-up then. However, as we were finishing up I overheard our waitress telling another customer that they would soon move to a new location. I decided to hold off until I could visit the new place, since anything I wrote would soon be outdated.

Background

Linda Sue Gschnitzer opened the restaurant on Woodruff Road several years ago, after moving to South Carolina from Bavaria in 2007. The original restaurant was a small storefront in an out-parcel row of stores in front of the Target on Woodruff Road. There were a few long tables, trying to evoke the spirit of the beer halls of Munich, but there really wasn’t much space for a restaurant.

When Haus Edelweiss closed for good this left an opportunity for BPF to expand. In fact, our waitress on that first visit had originally been at Haus Edelweiss, and I recognized her from there. The empty Italian Market location behind the Barnes and Noble on Congaree Road was available, so last month BPF moved into that space, easily quadrupling the size of the original restaurant. Along with the expanded space came expanded hours, and a large space for a retail outlet. From the looks of their website, it appears that Bavarian Pretzel Factory has plans to expand to more location. (more…)

Upcountry Provisions Bakery and Bistro

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Upcountry Provisions

Upcountry Provisions Bakery and Bistro

While constructing our kayak condo, Laura and I had to head out to Lowes for a few more parts. This put us up on Poinsett Highway around lunch time, so she suggested that we try a new sandwich place in Travelers Rest. Even though it was a bit early, we found ourselves at Upcountry Provisions Bakery and Bistro, just off of Main Street.

Background

The bistro is part of the burgeoning commerce made possible by development of the Swamp Rabbit Trail and revitalization of Traveler’s Rest downtown. According to their logos and signs, the place was established in 2011, and seeks to use locally sourced ingredients for their breads and other recipes. The restaurant even has a vegetable and herb garden out front on the edge of their parking lot.

Upcountry Provisions Herb Garden

Atmosphere

The place is fairly small. There are a few tables outside, and most of these were occupied when we arrived. The interior is cozy, with rustic decorative touches throughout. Half of the building is the bakery with a counter out front, and the other half is a dining area with several tables. The tables are made from old boards, doors, etc., and this is the type of place where no chairs match. One orders from the counter, then finds a seat either outside or in.

Upcountry Provisions
Upcountry Provisions

Even though we were a bit earlier than the noon hour, there were quite a few patrons already there. These were mainly families and couples. Laura said that on weekdays the place is packed with the working lunch crowd.

Upcountry Provisions

Menu

There is a breakfast menu that consists mainly of bread-related items filled with various ingredients. Even as I typed that last sentence, it occurred to me that that’s just a convoluted way of saying “sandwiches.” There are croissants, cinnamon rolls, bagels, muffins, and other standard bakery fare. These are mostly under the $5 mark.

As for lunch, one can order from several selections, and have these prepare either as a sandwich, a flat bread wrap, or a salad. These are fairly creative sandwich/deli combinations, and range from $6.50 to $9.00. These include turkey, chicken, roast beef, and a vegetarian option.

Food

Laura and I both ordered “The Upcountry”, as sandwiches. This was turkey, havarti, and a cranberry chutney on a pumpernickel roll. The bread was wonderful, and the sandwich had an excellent combination of flavors. If I had one complaint, it was that the sandwich was a bit too sweet with the cranberry chutney. I was craving pepper or something savory to tone it down a bit. However, that was just a minor flaw in an overall great meal.

The Upcountry

Service

The place is mostly self-serve from the counter, but our food did come out quickly and efficiently.

Conclusions

This is a great discovery, and is well within range of folks from Furman who want a good lunch. I enjoyed our lunch here, and want to come back to try one of the other combinations.

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