Tag Archive: Restaurants

The Phantom of Genevieve’s

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…)

Bocca Pure Italian


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Lone Star Barbecue, Mercantile, and Ghost Town

Lone Star, South Carolina

Lone Star, South Carolina

We have a tradition of looking for a good barbecue place after our paddling trips. This was no different. Our target for this outing was Lone Star Barbecue and Mercantile. However, this was a two-fer – lots of good food and a chance to explore one of South Carolina’s ghost towns.

Lone Star, the Ghost Town

It started with a bit of miscommunication. The rest of the guys had never been to the town of Lone Star, and thought that the barbecue place was in the town proper. So, once we loaded up the boats, they set off, with me following, toward the town. What they found was the ghost town that I knew. All that is left of Lone Star is the old freight depot, moved from its original location, the large brick Masonic building, and two dilapidated stores. Across the tracks was a small convenience store that may or may not have been open. No barbecue anywhere in sight.

Lone Star Freight Depot
Lone Star


The Curse of the Review



While driving down Wade Hampton Boulevard on my way home from work I noticed that one of the restaurants I had reviewed, Campobello Italian, had closed. When that happens, I usually add the phrase, “NOTE: This restaurant has closed.” to the first line of the review. So, I added it to that review, then I started looking through the rest of my reviews to see if any others needed to be update. I was a bit shocked at what I found.

Over the years I’ve reviewed about 115 different restaurants. Some of these were on trips, and were places I’d never get back to. However, most are local. If I kick out the vacation reviews, then we’re looking at about 100 local restaurant reviews. Of those, 30 had closed. (Well, 31, but Haus Edelweiss did re-open.)

So, 30% of the local restaurants I’ve reviewed have closed. Hmmmm. Does that mean a review on RandomConnections is a curse? Perhaps not. Laura reminded me that 90% of restaurants fail in the first year, so the numbers are actually not that bad. However, if you look at another recent study by Dr. H. G. Parsa at Ohio State

A 1991 study by hospitality professors at Michigan State and Cornell universities found a failure rate of 57 percent over three years and 70 percent after 10 years. Other studies have not shown restaurant failure rates any higher, Parsa said.

So, in the 10 years that I’ve been doing restaurant reviews, I should have 70 notes, rather than 30. I’ll assume that my reviews AREN’T a curse. I like to see businesses succeed (except perhaps when they shouldn’t.)

LCU vs Manchester


LCU Swamp Stomp 2013

It sounds like a collegiate soccer game. We had about enough people with us to field a team. However, in truth it was Lowcountry Unfiltered’s Second Saturday outing. This being January, it was time for our annual Swamp Stomp, and we were off to tackle a section of the Wateree Passage of the Palmetto Trail through Manchester State Park.

Our outing would take us through ghost towns, cemeteries, and the site of Civil War destruction at the hands of Colonel Edward Potter. This was truly and epic outing, and the only way to do it justice is to break it into sections, so consider this Part 1.

Keith met me at the house far too early for a Saturday. Along the way down we picked up Alan and Dwight, so I had a car full. The Upstate would be well-represented on this trip.

LCU Swamp Stomp 2013

We had a fairly loose agenda, but our plan was to meet for breakfast then explore the area. Here’s a quick rundown of the trip… (more…)

Oktoberfest at Haus Heidelberg


Haus Heidelberg Sign

Of all the ethnic holidays, I think I like Oktoberfest the best. It brings with it hints of cooler weather, fall colors, and one of my favorite cuisines – German food. However, fellow kayaker and chef Darren M. recently pointed out that authentic Oktoberfest has a very specific date range – two weeks running from late September through the first week of October. Any restaurants or festivals advertising Oktoberfest this late in the year (such as Walhalla this weekend, but I guess a fake Norse town can have a fake Bavarian celebration any time it wants) is doing so purely for advertising promotion. I guess it’s not that different from seeing Halloween ads all October, or promoting Christmas just as soon as the after school sales end. That being said, when my friend Keith Dover proposed heading up to Haus Heidelberg in Hendersonville to take advantage of their Oktoberfest specials, I jumped at the chance, cultural authenticity be damned.

I have long complained about the dearth of German restaurants in the area, especially with BMW and all the other German industry in town. But, I guess that number is increasing. Joining Haus Edelweiss and Schwaben Haus are Hans und Franz and The Bavarian Pretzel Factory. Even Strossner’s Bakery is now on the list of places offering German food. German restaurants seem to be more prevalent on up in the mountains, I guess hearkening back to the Alpine nature of Bavaria. Both The Black Forest in Ardin and Haus Heidelberg have been long-time staples of German food in our region. However, I don’t get up that way often enough to take advantage of them. This was the first time I’d been to Haus Heidelberg in ages.

The drive up early Wednesday evening was spectacular. The October sky was brilliantly lit with the setting sun, and the leaves are just shy of being at peak. Keith and I drove on up through Flat Rock, enjoying the ride. (more…)

Rolled Pita



UPDATE: This restaurant is now closed.

I love Eastern Mediterranean food. There’s nothing like pita and hummus for a snack, and kabobs, olives, rice, and falafel make a perfect meal, especially when rounded out with baklava. So, I was thrilled to see that a Lebanese restaurant had opened on Wade Hampton Boulevard in Greer, within striking distance for lunch.

The Rolled Pita is located in the corner of a small strip mall near the old Allen-Bennett Hospital. For a long time it went unnoticed, with only a small sign proclaiming “Lebanese Restaurant.” I didn’t even spot it until they renamed the place and put up a larger sign. That was last Friday, so Wednesday I decided to give it a try.


If it were a Greek place, I probably would have described it as “spartan” just to be witty. This goes beyond spartan. There are just a few tables in a surprisingly large area. The restaurant actually takes up two spaces at the mall, with the second space serving as a fish market. Unfortunately, the place reeks of fish, and I almost turn around and walk out.




Table 301


…or, “I watch way too much food television…”

Laura and I had delayed our anniversary dinner. Our actual anniversary is right after Christmas, and this year we were traveling. So, this year we decided to go out for a nice meal at a more convenient time. We had been to The Lazy Goat several times recently, so we wanted to try something different. It had been awhile since we had gone to Soby’s, so that was our target.

Carl Sobocenski’s Soby’s was the original restaurant in the Table 301 group, which includes The Lazy Goat, Devereaux’s, and The Nose Dive. Table 301 is the “chef’s table” at these establishments, the table with the best view, etc. When we got to the restaurant we found that we were to be seated at…you got it…Table 301 in Soby’s.

Table 301 at Soby’s is on the upper level with a great view of the kitchen. For better or worse, you can watch everything that happens. We watched as our soup was dished up, and as our entree’s were plated.


…and here’s where food TV comes in…

Apparently I’ve watched too many episodes of Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares.” I kept waiting for something disastrous to happen. It was kind of like those guys that go to NASCAR expecting to see a crash. Unfortunately (or fortunately as far as our dining experience was concerned) the kitchen ran with precision. The only near calamity was when the table behind us knocked a water glass over the edge into the cooking area.

It was fun to watch the plates coming out, and we got to where we could predict which entree was which by the color of plate and side items. Laura and I had both ordered pork tenderloin, and had laughed about getting the same thing. It turns out that we were not alone. Several sets of duplicate entrees came out.


Over the holidays we also watched far too many episodes of Chopped. I couldn’t help looking at the dishes as they came out from the perspective of one of the judges. For the dessert I kept thinking things like, “The bread puddling was wonderfully realized, especially with the chestnut vanilla ice cream. However, the sugar cookie and cranberries seem a bit out of place.”

Even so, everything tasted great, and we ate far too much. Unfortunately, we were both rather ill overnight. I don’t know if it was that we had too much rich food, or if something was, in fact, a bit amiss. It was a nice dinner and the table was great. I just may take it a bit easier next time.

Wine Tasting 101


Wine Glass Tilt Shift

Laura and I were ready for a date night. We had both been so busy that we needed an evening off to ourselves. Unfortunately, this was also the weekend of Artisphere, so we were pretty certain that most of our favorite downtown restaurants would be inaccessible.

I got home at my usual time Friday afternoon, and we still didn’t have a plan. Laura had noted that Northampton Wines was having their “How to Taste” wine tasting this evening, and that would have been fun if we’d had reservations. We’ve tried going to that tasting before, but even calling early in the week we would find that it was full. I didn’t hold out much hope for a spur-of-the-moment trip, but I called anyway.

Turns out that our timing was perfect. Everyone was at Artisphere, so there was room for us. They had already set the table for the tasting, but said that they could re-arrange to add to more.

The Tasting

We knew that dinner wasn’t included with the tasting – only wine and cheese. We had a few appetizers at home so that we wouldn’t be drinking on empty stomachs, then headed over for our 6:30 tasting. We were the first to arrive, and were ushered into the back tasting room, which was lined with bins and bottles. As we waited, six glasses were filled with enough to taste the sample vintages for the evening.

Wine TastingWine Tasting

The rest of the guests arrived, bringing the total to 17. Our speaker was Richard deBondt, and this evening would focus on the wines of France. He began by talking about sparkling wines and the proper way to open a bottle. We were then served a taste, and were instructed on the proper way to toast. (more…)

Port Wentworth Friday Nights


For these lowcountry kayaking trips I often come down on Friday night so that I don’t have to get up so early on Saturday.  Wherever I am I like to find some place quirky and local for dinner, and this trip was no exception.

I checked at the front desk of the motel on I-95, and was informed that there were two good restaurants just up the street.  I scooted round the corner to the first, Silverado’s.


The van, radio station banner, and balloons should have alerted me to trouble.  I walked in the door and was greeted by a plume of smoke, and a boozy greeting from a woman with stringy hair and fewer teeth than I have.

Well, howdy, you sharp-dressed man, and welcome to Silverado’s!  Have a seat on this here bar stool and buy me a drink!

No, thank you.  I had just driven all the way down straight from the office, and my slacks and white shirt stood out from the jeans and cowboy boots.  I glanced around.  Even if I had wanted to stay, none of the sparse tables between the pool tables and dance floor were available.

I guess the sign advertising Lingerie Lunch today should have also tipped me off.  I’d already missed it, and the smoke was more than I could bear, so I left.  I was after quirky, not hazardous. (more…)

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