Wednesday, March 28, 2018
By Hope S. Philbrick
The Hub City’s dining scene heats up (plus: Nearby Landrum is tasty, too.)
Authenticity. Enthusiasm. Creativity. You may not be able to order these qualities off a menu, but they’re at the root of what’s going on in restaurants across Spartanburg, South Carolina. From global culinary traditions to reinterpreted Southern classics to genuine surprises, a mouthwatering range of flavors is being dished up at these independent restaurants that are hottest right now. The best news: Spartanburg’s burgeoning dining scene shows no signs of slowing down. Ready your taste buds.
Cribb’s Kitchen is at once a casual place to grab a burger and a beer as well as where to find chef-driven creations like pork belly confit alongside handcrafted cocktails. Vibrant energy warms this hotspot best-known for its annual burger cook off, with the winning burgers landing on the menu. Chef William Cribb, who was named a South Carolina Chef Ambassador in 2017 (a program that recognizes four of the state’s leading chefs each year), showcases fresh, seasonal and sustainable ingredients in upscale dishes with South Carolina roots, from boiled peanuts to shrimp and crispy oysters with grits. Chef Cribb is on fire! He’s also the creative spark behind the wildly popular Willy Taco, a cantina with a fiesta vibe, and the highly-anticipated The Kennedy, which will offer refined plates and cocktails and is set to open this summer.
The Silo at RJ Rockers is the slick new eatery at the brewery best-known for fan favorites like Son of a Peach wheat ale and Brown Eyed Squirrel brown ale among others. Chef Clay McDonough’s menu leans Cajun while taking its lead from the brewery with beer-friendly snacks like pretzels & beer cheese, as well as dishes made using beer as an ingredient such as the Brown Eyed Squirrel-soaked beef tenderloin. Creations like the smoked Carolina trout, Jambalaya-stuffed peppers, and crawfish & collards encourage social dining of the “you have to try this!” share-a-bite variety. Plan to stay and linger over a beer or two. Trailblazers! Chefs Max Garrison and Lexie Martinez closed their popular HenHouse Brunch restaurant to operate inside The Silo; they’ll serve breakfast and brunch inside this larger space, news that lit up faces across Spartanburg.
Level 10 is the first rooftop restaurant in downtown Spartanburg. The swanky dining room occupies the tenth floor of the new AC Hotel Spartanburg and opens onto four terraces that offer 360-degree views of the city. Expect white tablecloths, candlelight, attentive service and mouthwatering small plates like crab beignets, gnocchi with duck confit, and Moroccan-spiced lamb. The idea is to order a variety of flavors for a shareable feast. Consider starting the evening at the bar, sipping your pick among the list of eclectic wines or handcrafted cocktails.
FR8 Yard is an innovative outdoor dining concept that feels part biergarten, part tailgate party. The kitchen and bar are housed inside re-purposed shipping containers while nearby picnic tables surround fire pits that double as cooking elements. The same owners that started Willy Taco opened this jovial spot last winter that shows sporting events on the jumbotron and stages performances by regional music acts. Inspired by street food, the menu presents upscale versions of beer-friendly bites like chargrilled marinated chicken on a stick, apple & sage veggie dog, and fries with brisket chili. It’s all so good you’ll want to lick every remnant off your fingers.
Renato In Centro is a date-night favorite, but its elegant ambiance, attentive service, and upscale Italian fare feel like a lunch or dinner reward any old day. Time-tested classic Italian recipes like spaghetti carbonara, veal saltimbocca, eggplant parmigiana, and margherita pizza earn consistent raves. Simple and delicious are Chef Renato Marmalino’s menu staples, not complicated and unpronounceable. The wine list includes an impressive selection of Italian labels. Save room for dessert like tiramisu.
The Farmer’s Table is a mecca for fans of eggs benedict since the breakfast menu at this homey eatery is served all day and features six variations of the dish, from classic to creative with scrumptious toppings like rainbow trout, crab cakes, sausage gravy, and more. Owners Joel and Lenora Sansbury favor local, organic and sustainable ingredients across their fresh flavorful menu, from the veggie omelet to seasonal dinner specials, from the breakfast burrito to the seafood tacos. Order whatever tempts most, it’s not like you can go wrong.
Growler Haus has 24 taps of different styles of beer, including multiple seasonal and micro-craft brews. Buy by the glass to sip on site alongside fellow beer lovers or by the growler to tote home. The food menu offers beer-friendly bites like boiled peanuts, soft pretzels, hummus with pita, plus sandwiches and flatbreads. The mood of the place shifts between serious introspection and upbeat camaraderie depending on the time of day and who happens to be occupying the space. Head to the “conference room” if conducting business or upstairs to flop on a sofa or play foosball.
Downtown Deli & Donuts is best known for its small-batch artisanal donuts, sweetly served with a smile from behind a sign that proclaims one of humanity’s fundamental truths: “my head says gym but my heart says donuts.” The sweet selection changes daily. Grab a donut with coffee to go or perhaps order one as dessert after a breakfast, brunch or lunch made of fresh ingredients that are preservative-free, non-GMO, organic, and local as much as possible. Salads and sandwiches tucked into bagels, biscuits and flavorful breads like rosemary focaccia run the gamut from healthy vegetarian to indulgent carnivore with abundant gluten-free options in the mix.
Hub City Bookshop & Press is a literary hotspot adjacent to two community magnets: Cakehead Bake Shop and Little River Coffee Bar, complementary treat shops that combine into what some folks see as a bookish hideout, others as a meeting space, and some as a laptop office. Chef Liz Blanchard’s pastry shop serves fresh-baked cakes, pies, cupcakes, cookies, bars and breakfast treats worth the calorie splurge. The coffee bar serves traditional espresso and pour-over coffee drinks made fresh to order, by the cup. Coffee beans are roasted in small batches and sourced with a “farmer friendly” approach that focuses on sustainability. Whatever you order, if you’re lost for how to put its ethereal yumminess into words, just head next-door for a tome by a Southern food writer for ideas.
Dozens more restaurants, breweries, distilleries, farmers markets, and specialty food shops are heating up across the city. Come taste all Spartanburg is serving.
Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, Landrum is a short drive from downtown Spartanburg and makes for an ideal, scenic day-trip. Landrum’s quaint, walkable, historic downtown boasts several antique and specialty shops plus an impressive number of restaurants for a town with fewer than 2,500 residents. Two eateries are hottest right now in this emerging dining destination:
Southside Smokehouse & Grille is like two restaurants in one with abundant options to satisfy nearly any craving. Chef Sarah McClure, one of four South Carolina Chef Ambassadors in 2018, offers an ingredient-driven, seasonally-inspired menu alongside her dad’s barbecue and Cajun menu. While McClure’s creative menu changes daily, popular favorites like fried okra and pork pappardelle are repeated. The bar features over 30 tequilas and more than 120 bourbons—the largest selection in the Upstate!—collected over the past five years.
Stone Soup Market & Caf is more than a restaurant; it’s a community hub with a specialty food market in the lobby and a dog park out back. Chef Suzanne Strickland is as passionate about the Carolina Foothills region as she is about transforming local ingredients into specialties like shrimp & grits and tomato pie. Her new brick pizza oven, making its debut in February 2018, will surely lead to new popular favorites.
A new cookbook, “A Taste of Spartanburg: Local Chefs. Local Farmers. Local Recipes.” is helping fuel the buzz behind Spartanburg’s growing food scene. A celebration of genuine farm-to-table relationships, the book features 15 farmers and 15 chefs—including seven who are mentioned in this article—along with recipes to savor. Pick up a copy at Hub City Bookshop while you’re visiting downtown Spartanburg or, if you want it in your hot hands ASAP, order from an online retailer.