Tuesday, April 05, 2016
As a fourth-generation South Carolina farmer, I’m always interested to see how chefs showcase our regional staples on their menus. While Spartanburg County is renowned for peaches, our unique corner of South Carolina is home to a number of seasonal delights. I talked to three local chefs about the ways they highlight our area’s artisanal foodstuffs and here’s what they had to say.
Spartanburg native Charlene Davis had one of the best culinary educations you could ask for: cooking lessons from her grandmother in the family kitchen. Truly cooking from the heart, the family’s beloved matriarch (Ma Bessie) taught three generations how to cook by feel– not with written recipes.
Wanting to share those same wholesome memories and meals with the whole community, Charlene and her husband Mike heard a call from God to open this casual eatery. Their doors opened in 2013 at 1136 E Blackstock Rd in Moore, SC where the restaurant continues to thrive today.
If you aren’t paying attention, Charlene’s storefront can be easy to miss with its understated decor. But step inside and the conversation and amazing aromas will make you feel like you’re back home for a Sunday dinner. What the building may lack in flash, Charlene and her team make up for in both flavor and hospitality.
“This is more than just a restaurant or business to us. It’s a ministry,” says Charlene. “You could come in with nothing, and we’d hope to do something to make your day better. If we’re able to do that, we’ve done what God has called us to do.”
The menu is updated every few days based on seasonality and availability of locally-sourced ingredients, but regardless of when you stop in you’ll be met with a chalkboard full of Southern staples to choose from.
Though deciding what to order is easier said than done when picking between fried chicken, hamburger steak, a seafood platter, collard greens, mac and cheese, and fried okra. Oh, and be sure to save room for a generous slice of freshly baked cake, too. And come back Saturday morning for breakfast.
It’s clear that their “from scratch, just like grandma” claim is no joke—the team is in the kitchen every day peeling potatoes, cracking eggs, and picking fresh vegetables from local gardens to serve their hungry customers an honest-to-goodness home cooked meal that Ma Bessie herself would be proud of.
Charlene and Mike agree, the fried ribs and fried chicken are must-tries. And customers agree as these are the two best sellers on the menu… beside cakes. “People will come in and buy 6-7 pieces of cake and no food,” laughs Charlene.
In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near the South Carolina/North Carolina border lies Stone Soup restaurant. Chef and owner Suzanne Strickland found the inspiration for the outpost’s name in a folktale of the same name, where a woman brings a community together by making a pot of soup for everyone to share in the midst of hard times.
The philosophy at the center of the story, the notion that if everybody comes together everybody benefits as a community, influenced the way Strickland approached the presentation of her eatery, located just off exit 1 on I-26 at 1522 East Rutherford Street near Landrum.
Stone Soup originally was a market and café, but Strickland found that her patrons wanted a place to gather and enjoy nourishing food, and the establishment evolved into a full-service restaurant. The décor in the renovated home presents diners with a refined but casual aura, where first-timers are greeted as warmly as weekly patrons.
Strickland emphasizes the importance of local artisans and their edible wares, and she makes a point to utilize a number of local farms and vendors. Strickland and her staff make everything from scratch, including salad dressings. The local produce rotates based on season but some featured items like beef from Brasstown Beef, and coffee from Little River Roasters are staples.
The chef gets the inspiration for her menu from a variety of sources: “I read a ton of food magazines. I just love food so I get inspired, and I take something and develop it for lunch and dinner to constantly create something new.”
She also prides herself on offering dishes with complex layered flavors. Key examples include the savory/sweet pairings highlighted in her rosemary shortbread in the café, and the roasted sweet potatoes with caper vinaigrette. The Chicken Pasitanto, showcased on locally-made focaccia with its accompanying black bean and corn salad, is a bestseller, and the Sunburst Trout is another standout: it comes butterflied and pan seared in brown butter and almonds.
Come here for the lighter, unexpected twist on comfort food and Southern staples.
Not far from the hustle and bustle of downtown Spartanburg sits Two Samuels. The restaurant, located at 351 East Henry Street, is a collaboration between Sammy B. Ridgeway and his son, Carter Samuel Ridgeway. Carter grew up in the restaurant business, watching his father run a popular local fish camp. With more than 40 years of restaurant and catering experience between them, the Ridgeways decided to enter a new era when the younger Ridgeway graduated college. In that way Two Samuels is a fusion of new-world techniques cemented on the foundation of an appreciation of great seafood.
Innovation and collaboration drive the pair to try new things, and that is exemplified in the way dishes are served in this American cuisine bistro-style setting.
The Ridgeways believe in working with local and regional vendors, and the dining establishment sources from local purveyors for fresh fruit, summer vegetables, and root veggies. There is an emphasis on serving domestic meat and fresh catch seafood from the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina. “We try week to week to keep a featured option, usually a seafood option that pays homage to the fresh local catch idea.”
The bone-in pork chop with sautéed mushrooms and Brussels sprouts is a customer favorite, and the Ahi tuna and basil-encrusted salmon dishes pay homage to the Ridgeways’ seafood loving past.
The full-service bar, climate-controlled wine room, and sound of instrumental jazz permeating the space create a light, elegant, but casual dining atmosphere. If there’s one thing that Casper Ridgeway wants you to know, it’s that you don’t have to dress up to eat at his establishment: “We’re perceived as a fine dining establishment that’s very upscale, but there’s no need for coat and tie. We serve everyone. If you’re wanting a good meal prepared by a chef, there’s a range of options.”
Latria Graham, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
Latria Graham is writer, editor and cultural critic currently living in Spartanburg. Her interests revolve around the dynamics of race, gender norms, class, nerd culture, and—yes, football. You can find out more about her here.