Friday, October 14, 2022
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.
Initial Q Smokehouse, which shares a space with boutique bowling alley UnderPin Lanes N’ Lounge, puts an upscale twist on classic barbecue favorites, including offering ingredients and meats you don’t typically find on the menus of barbecue joints. Initial Q’s menu offers things like rabbit, Brussels sprouts fired in duck fat and more. They also offer something called the Triple Pig Nachos, which are nachos but traditional tortilla chips are substituted for house-made pork rinds, and topped with smoked pulled pork, crispy pork belly and all the nacho favorites.
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 Kennedy, with its small plates, craft cocktails and Art-Deco inspired restaurant.
The Kennedy — owned and operated by former SC Chef Ambassador William Cribb —showcases photo-worthy decor in the form of a black, white, and gold-adorned, Art Deco interior. But just as impressive as the atmosphere is the menu. The Kennedy’s food and drinks feature ingredients, thoughtfully-treated, from around the region. Simple dishes like grilled carrots, served with an herbaceous fennel honey and pesto, are elevated to a new level. And entrees like the duck and dumplings offer succulent, tenderly-prepared tastes in every bite. The Kennedy is a perfect date night or celebratory dinner option.
Dray: Bar & Grill, inside the historic Drayton Mills complex, started as a pop-up restaurant in partnership with neighboring Holliday Brewing has grown into a welcoming space of Dray’s own. Gastropub-inspired takes on popular favorites and Southern classics can be found at Dray, all served indoors and at a comfortable outdoor patio area with traditional table-and-chair seating, along with lounge seating around heaters and a fire pit for those chillier nights. Dray Bar + Grill prides itself in innovative comfort food and craft cocktails, but the welcoming environment has definitely played a role in the growth of this Spartanburg gem.
FR8yard 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.
Sophia’s Restaurant is the newest addition to Spartanburg’s growing culinary scene. Dishing out Italian favorites such as the Penne alla Vodka and Chicken Parmigiana, this spot in the heart of Downtown is a perfect place for a date-night, celebration dinner, or just treating yourself to something delicious. While only opened in September 2020, Sophia’s is becoming one of the best places to enjoy authentic Italian cuisine during your visit to Spartanburg. Be sure to save room for the house favorite, tiramisu, or our pick, the cannoli.
Heirloom: A Milltown Eatery is a southern restaurant with a menu featuring a modern twist on classic mill town dishes. Start your meal off with the Hoppin John Hushpuppies before enjoying the biscuits with sorghum butter and jam. Supporting area farmers, Heirloom’s menu features local ingredients so you can enjoy a taste of Spartanburg during your visit. Located in the former Spartan Mills headquarters, this eatery is inspired by mill town families gathering around the dinner table each night.
RJ Rockers is not only home to Spartanburg’s oldest craft brewery, but thanks to a new partnership, home to some incredible German and Austrian-style cuisine. In 2021, RJ Rockers announced a collaboration with The Deli Korner, a popular Spartanburg staple serving up German food for lunch and dinner. Appetizers including truly scrumptious pretzel bites, hand-cut fries and onion rings can be found on the menu along with Deli Korner favorites like the chef salad, Reuben sandwiches and schnitzel varieties. New to the menu for the RJ Rockers collaboration are schnitzel-fried chicken fingers, sure to up the ante on the crunch factor of any chicken tender you’ve ever had. With a new menu comes a new look dining room and exterior, as local artists Jeremy Kemp and Stephen Long (part of the team behind the famous Love Where You Live mural downtown) painted Bavarian blue-and-white checkered flags on the inside and outside of the restaurant to celebrate the collaboration.
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.