Tucked in the northwest corner of South Carolina, Greenville is a great little city with a big culinary scene. It’s an easy weekend getaway from Charleston, so last week we packed the car and headed to the upstate for three days of eating and exploring. While Greenville has outposts of several Charleston restaurants (like Halls Chophouse, Caviar & Bananas and soon Husk), we opted for spots we don’t have here at home – and whether new (or new-to-us) hot spots or old favorites, they were mostly very satisfying. Let’s dig in!
We’ll confess that we chose Biscuit Head for our first breakfast in Greenville based largely on its name, but we’ll be back on subsequent trips for the food, too. A short drive from downtown, Biscuit Head offers a variety of (you guessed it) biscuit-based sandwiches and biscuit-and-gravy combos. There’s also a jam bar (genius!) where you can fancy up a plain biscuit with everything from traditional blueberry jam to more exotic offerings like raspberry chocolate, apple pie and funfetti cake.
We were starving and knew we’d be skipping lunch, so we both opted for fairly substantial sandwiches. The fried catfish biscuit – served with spicy slaw, tomato, a poached egg and creole gravy – looked amazing. Unfortunately, we found that the creole gravy didn’t really work with the dish – its flavor clashed with that of the catfish, and it made the biscuit soggy and crumbly. The mimosa-fried chicken biscuit, however, was outrageously good. Served with sweet potato butter, sriracha slaw and a poached egg, the sandwich had the perfect balance of crunch, sweetness and heat.
Since Friday was Bastille Day, we chose the charming Passerelle Bistro for dinner that evening. Passerelle offers classic French fare (including a kids’ menu) at the entrance to Falls Park. We’d been walking around in the heat all day (and had gorged ourselves on biscuits in the morning), so we opted for a simple dinner of crusty bread, butter and radishes, two Niçoise salads and a carafe of cold, crisp Muscadet.
The crusty bread came out exactly as promised: four long slices of a hearty baguette, paired with a ramekin of quality salted butter. The radish portion of the dish was sadly rather lacking: we received 6 small slices, probably totaling one raw radish. We don’t normally equate quantity to quality, but in this case one radish per order does not an appetizer make. Radishes and butter are a classic French bistro appetizer, and these delivered on flavor – we just wish there were more of them.
For our main course, we both chose the Niçoise salad, which was a delicious choice on a boiling hot day. Seared rare tuna came alongside hard boiled eggs, juicy cherry tomatoes and crisp green beans, all atop a mesclun mix. We’ve ordered this each time we’ve been to Passerelle, and will probably continue that tradition on our next visit. Though Passerelle’s prime location makes it a bit touristy, we’d definitely come back for a glass of wine and a bite to eat on the outdoor terrace on a cooler day!
Greenville Saturday Market
Saturday morning, we decided to forego a traditional breakfast in favor of a trip to Greenville’s incredible farmers market. Every Saturday morning from May through October, several blocks of Main Street close to traffic and open to pedestrians and a plethora of local farmers, food stands and artisans. After grabbing coffee from Methodical Coffee (which also supplies the coffee for The Harbinger here in Chucktown), we strolled through the market, enjoying the (relatively) cool temperatures and grabbing a few bites from several of the vendors. The local peaches were out of this world, and the bread and pastries from the Swamp Rabbit Café were delicious. We fought over the last few bites of a blueberry scone and had to restrain ourselves from devouring an entire loaf of stecca (an incredible Italian bread brushed with sea salt and olive oil) on the spot. We haven’t yet made it to the brick-and-mortar Swamp Rabbit Café, but it’s at the top of our list for our next trip.
Vault & Vator
On Saturday night, we got a babysitter and headed out on the town for a few hours. Our first stop was Vault & Vator, a new speakeasy-style cocktail bar hidden in the West End. This was our kind of place: great drinks, knowledgeable bartenders, no TVs and no standing allowed! They also had a no-cell phone policy that we respected, so we don’t have any photos of our drinks – but our expertly-drafted rosé negroni and Hemingway daiquiri tasted as good as they looked (which is to say absolutely incredible!). V&V is a little too pricey to be an everyday spot, but it was the perfect starting point for our adults-only evening.
The Lazy Goat
Our absolute favorite restaurant in Greenville closed about ten days before our trip (RIP, American Grocery!), so we decided to try The Lazy Goat, another of the city’s classic spots. We were lucky enough to get a window table overlooking the Reedy River, but unfortunately we were underwhelmed by our dining experience. We decided against the appetizer-entrée-dessert approach and instead ordered six share plates from the Mediterranean-themed menu: serrano ham, fried goat cheese, crispy Brussels sprouts, toasted garlic shrimp, Moroccan lamb, and goat cheese-stuffed piquillo peppers ($9-10 each).
Perhaps we should have been more specific with our server, but we assumed the dishes would come out one or two at a time. Instead, three of the six appeared at our table five minutes after we ordered (and before our wine arrived), with the other three following only a few minutes later. Not only did this result in us eating a lot of lukewarm food, it made us wonder how much of the food was pre-made versus cooked to order. While several of the plates were quite tasty (the piquillo peppers and Brussels sprouts were particular favorites), the lack of pacing made it hard to truly enjoy them. Maybe we hit The Lazy Goat on an off night or our expectations were too high, but we won’t be back the next time we are in town.
Tupelo Honey Café
For Sunday brunch, we considered braving the lines at Biscuit Head for another fried chicken biscuit but decided on a sit-down brunch instead. Happily, Tupelo Honey Café offered the best of both worlds: complimentary biscuits and blueberry jam, plus a full menu of (mostly) Southern favorites.
The “red flannel” hash, with salt-roasted beets, herbed potato cracklins, two fried eggs, horseradish crema and onions was an interesting but tasty take on a hash. The potatoes were cooked to perfection, with a great crunchy exterior yielding to a meltingly soft interior. The eggs were perfectly over easy, but we quickly destroyed them to allow the runny yolk to mix into the entire dish. The horseradish crema was a nice touch, but we would have appreciated a lighter hand when it was being applied; several bites had an unpleasant amount of kick and tasted of little beside the dressing.
We also enjoyed the avocado toast & eggs. Under a heaping portion of avocado, farmer’s cheese, Aleppo pepper and a red chili honey drizzle, the toast was hardy enough to withstand its toppings but not so dense that it overpowered the other flavors.
We left Greenville very sweaty, very full and very satisfied. We’ll be back soon to taste more of what this beautiful upstate city has to offer!
Biscuit Head website
823 South Church Street, Greenville, SC
Open daily for breakfast and lunch
Passerelle Bistro website
601 South Main Street, Greenville, SC
Open daily for lunch and dinner (brunch weekends)
Greenville Saturday Market website
Main Street at McBeen Avenue
2017 Season: Saturdays 8am-12pm until October 28
Vault & Vator website
655 South Main Street, Greenville, SC
Open Tuesday-Saturday from 5pm; closed Sunday & Monday
The Lazy Goat website
170 River Street, Greenville, SC
Open Monday-Saturday for lunch & dinner; closed Sunday
Tupelo Honey Café website
1 North Main Street, Greenville, SC
Open daily for lunch and dinner (brunch weekends)