We are spoilt for choice for foodie destinations in the Carolinas. Hello Charlotte, Asheville, Charleston. Of course, our home base, Wilmington, is no slouch for exciting eateries. But, if you haven’t ventured to Greenville, South Carolina, lately, what may surprise you is the explosion of outstanding culinary options and the rebirth of this once-booming textile mecca.
Photos + Story By Colleen Thompson
There are 36 cities named Greenville in the US, so understandably the urban utopia that Greenville, South Carolina, has become uses the hashtag #yeahthatgreenville to differentiate itself. It's a city that now stands head and shoulders above most, and no surprise that it's ranked in many of the Top 10 places lists to live & eat across the country. Most of the derelict old brick warehouses have been repurposed and transformed into restaurants, luxury lofts, and boutique hotels. The Reedy River and waterfalls that flow through the downtown core and were once covered up by a highway have been revealed to give the city an urban oasis look & feel. The manicured landscaped gardens of Falls Park, wide sidewalks, and a 22 mile multi-purpose Swamp Rabbit trail demonstrates how thoughtful city planning and execution actually works. Greenville is the perfect blend of understated-chic with lashings of Southern charm. You will be hard-pressed to have more fun than in Greenville, SC, and if you have two days, here’s a great culinary itinerary.
A Culinary Walking Tour to Get Acquainted with Greenville
A great way to orientate yourself to any city’s food scene is to participate in a culinary walking tour. The idea is to walk to several restaurants downtown and try small plates, often curated by the chef and paired with a drink. We joined local historian and author John Nolan on a guided tour of 4 lively and popular spots belonging to the Table 301 group: The Lazy Goat (Mediterranean & tapas), Soby’s (New South Cuisine), Nose Dive (Gastropub), and Spill the Beans (coffee & ice cream). Nolan knows the city of Greenville better than most, and he’s a fountain of knowledge about its past and the present. And while the food was excellent, having Nolan as a guide was the perfect introduction to the city. The tour is 2.5 hours long, so you’re done by around 8.30 pm, which leaves more time to play, eat and drink.
End or Start the Evening at Foxcroft Wine Co.
I love the concept of Foxcroft Wine Co – essentially a wine bar within a wine store. All wines featured on the menu are available to purchase at retail cost (no restaurant markup), and if you see a wine on the shelf, you can drink it there and then (wines under $30 have a $10 corkage fee). If a full bottle isn’t what you want, there are several wine flights to choose from, which allows you 3 tastings of reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling varieties. I opted for the Somm’s choice, which consisted of a JM Barthez Bordeaux Blanc, Rosé Domaine Lafage Miraflors, and Alhambria Malbec. The wines were sipped alongside a charcuterie board of local cured meats, cheese, housemade pickles, cornichons and a slice of honeycomb, a small bowl of marinated olives with orange zest & herbs and the insanely delicious char-grilled octopus, served with crispy polenta, roasted veg, and smoked paprika & oregano vinaigrette. The night was capped with the fluffy mini doughnuts and salted caramel dipping sauce. Foxcroft is a big, beautiful, charming spot, and it’s exactly how every evening should start or finish.
631 S. Main Street
Put Some South in Your Mouth at Biscuit Head
Started by husband and wife Jason and Carolyn Roy, Biscuit Head originated in Asheville, NC. The couple wanted to share their love of all things Southern, particularly the perfect, cat-head-sized, pillowy Southern-style biscuit. Arrive hungry is the best advice I can give when breakfasting at Biscuit Head. As the name implies, biscuits are king at this retro-inspired, funky establishment. I opted for the Country ham biscuit with fried green tomato, cheesy egg, and a side of red-eye gravy. While I waited for my breakfast, I sipped a grapefruit mimosa and flipped through their book “Biscuit Head: New Southern Biscuits, Breakfasts and Brunch” while listening to the J. Geils band, “Freeze Frame,” in the background. Does it get more fun than this? For dessert – yes ma’am, there was dessert -- a portion of Biscuit Donuts, tossed in cinnamon sugar and served with lemon curd. Oh, and did I mention the Maple Bacon Latte with two shots of espresso, steamed milk, maple syrup, and a piece of crispy bacon for garnish? Fortunately, Greenville has a 22-mile walking path to accompany this wonderland of eateries.
823 S Church St
Wine tasting at Eagle Mountain Vineyards & Winery
Head out on highway 11, about 30 mins outside of Greenville, to the community of Travelers Rest, to Eagle Mountain Winery, a scenic 54 acres situated against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Russ Gardiner, an ex-adman and Californian transplant has teamed up with renowned master winemaker George Bursick to create an exceptional lineup of California-style wines in South Carolina. Currently, the estate has vineyards planted of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, but for now, all grapes are sourced from vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Monterey wine regions. The newly designed state-of-the-art winery includes a barrel room and lab for visitors to take classes in wine blending and a wine tasting area to gather for food and wine pairing. It’s easy to spend a few hours in the relaxed atmosphere of the tasting room chatting to Gardiner about his past life in advertising, his mission to make the best wines in the South and future plans for Eagle Mountain. The guided tasting of six wines includes Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma Alexander Valley), Chardonnay (Central Coast Cienega Valley), Rose (Temecula Valley), Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast), Zinfandel (Lodi Mokelumne River) and Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Every wine Eagle Mountain Winery is producing is worthy of your attention, but the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, with its big, bold, spicy notes, is without question a standout wine.
2330 Highway 11, Travelers Rest
Oak Hill Café Taking Farm-to-Table Dining to Elevated Heights
Once in a while, you experience a restaurant that excites you from the moment you step inside. Do not be fooled by the unassuming outer appearance of a 50s style residential house on the Poinsett Highway. You will be in for a treat. In every single plate that comes out of the kitchen of David Porras and Lori Nelsen, the attention to detail is faultless. Surrounded by 2.5 acres of organic gardens, Oak Hill Café has established its place as one of the finest restaurants and innovative kitchens in the country. And no surprise that they were James Beard semi-finalist’s in 2020 for Best New Restaurant. As always, and when done correctly, a charcuterie board is a great way to taste local produce, and Oak Hill doesn’t disappoint with their house-smoked trout, sourdough crackers, candied pecans, housemade pickles, alongside a selection of meats & cheeses. To accompany the charcuterie board, Siano burrata, drizzled with a red bell pepper and chili oil. The mushroom pâté incorporated an assortment of mushrooms grown on the farm, vegan cream, sage, and sunflower seeds. Chef Porras has trained under some of the most renowned chefs globally, having earned a master’s degree at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian, Spain. He brings creativity and craft to every dish, evidenced by my entrée of delicately shredded groupa, served over Hurricane Creek grits, garnished with finely dried fennel fronds, and drizzled with herb oil. Nelsen, a former analytical chemist and manager at Furman University’s biogeochemistry lab in the earth and environmental sciences department, still gets to experiment in the lab above the restaurant, as showcased in the banana layer cake. Nelsen’s experimentation of aged banana, banana gel, freeze-dried banana, drizzled with a Bourbon maple syrup, is simply sublime.
2510 Poinsett Hwy
Pastries & Coffee at Old Europe to take in the energy of South Main Street.
Start the day at the Austrian-style patisserie by ordering the house-roasted coffee and a selection of pastries or the flaky spinach and cheese quiche. Owner Bobby Daugherty is a gracious and friendly host who greets his clientele like they are lifelong friends. The former football player for South Carolina’s Furman University tells me he really doesn’t have a sweet tooth, which is fortunate for him being surrounded by an abundance of deliciousness. Choose from Coconut Cream Cake to Black Forest and Chocolate gateaux to Lemon Bavarian. The tables on the sidewalk allow you to soak up the bustling South Main Street and positively-palpable energy of Greenville.
716 S Main St
A Righteous BBQ Lunch at Henry’s Smokehouse
No visit to South Carolina is complete without a meal at a traditional smokehouse, and co-owner Tigger O’Rourke serves up some very fine BBQ. All meat is cooked the old-fashioned Southern way, in open BBQ pits over hickory logs. The pork butts are slow-cooked for 12 hours and the ribs for over 8 hours until the fall-off-the-bone tenderness is achieved and the distinctive hickory coal smoke infuses the meat. Very little else is needed with the melt-in-the-mouth meat, but Henry’s serves tangy mustard and tomato-based BBQ sauce. Brunswick stew, hash & rice, a thick slice of Texas toast bread, you begin to understand why Henry’s Smokehouse is legendary in Greenville. Sitting outside, under the Carolina sunshine, with a BBQ feast and ice cold sweet tea, it’s pretty perfect way to spend a lunch hour or two or three. Tiger made sure we did not leave empty handed and sent us packing with two portions of the best banana pudding I’ve tasted in quite some time for the road trip back home. Just in case we got hungry.
240 Wade Hampton Blvd
An Easy Breezy Place to Stay
With over 80 hotels, inns & B&B’s to choose from, and many more in the works, finding a place to stay in Greenville is not tricky. The Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Greenville offers the perfect location to explore the downtown restaurants on foot and easy access to the walking trails, Falls Park, the Liberty Bridge, Fluor Field, and the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Book a room with a balcony that overlooks the Reedy River. The service is excellent and friendly, and hot breakfast and free wi-fi are all part of your stay.
171 River Place
For more information, VisitGreenvilleSC has an excellent website and provides you with everything you need to plan your foodie getaway.