Gone to Greenville: Pomegranate, Swamp Rabbit Cafe, Makin’ Moonshine, Fried Green Tomatoes, Henry’s Smokehouse, Brewery 85 and High Cotton

February 4, 2014 | By | COMMENTS

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In case you were driving from Columbia, South Carolina to Greenville last Tuesday, that was me blasting the original Broadway cast recording of RENT and singing along at the top of my lungs. It was really a mismatched pairing of sound and scenery–gospel churches, religious bumper stickers–but that juxtaposition was what made it so delightful. And turns out that juxtaposition made perfect sense for my first stop when I arrived in Greenville: a Persian restaurant–yes, a Persian restaurant–called Pomegranate.

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I met up with Taryn Scher, a Greenville tourism representative, who–like me–grew up in the northeast (Boston, to be exact) and found herself living in the South. I compared her to Reese Witherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama and she loved that.

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Taryn explained that she took me here because the restaurant reflects Greenville’s broad international community. Because BMW and Michelin both have big operations here, it brings in workers from all over the world and the needs of those workers have spurred along the restaurant scene. In fact, the Upstate region of South Carolina, anchored by Greenville, has the highest concentration per capita of US-based international headquarters in the entire country. Hence the Persian restaurant and this delightful spread of dips:

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They also gave us Feta, radishes, mint and butter to mix together (it’s apparently a custom).

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The salmon wasn’t particularly remarkable, but sprinkling some sumac on top helped things along:

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That night in Greenville it snowed:

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Despite the weather, I took a walking tour with John Nolan who recounted some Greenville history while taking us to a few of the city’s more popular restaurants to sample little bites.

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My favorite bite of the night came from Passerelle; a comforting bean stew with sautéed kale on top and crispy garlic bread:

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The driving was pretty treacherous the next morning because of the snow. Still I made my way to the Swamp Rabbit Cafe which opened up, despite the weather.

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It’s actually billed as a Cafe and Grocery and based on my experience, it’s way more of a grocery than a cafe. But what a great grocery!

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First, though, at the cafe I ordered a blueberry scone (warm from the oven) and some coffee.

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That hit the spot.

As for the store, there was a selection of local milk (something you don’t normally see even in super gourmet cities like New York or L.A.):

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A well-stocked produce room:

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But what really caught my eye were things you can’t easily get in Los Angeles. So I bought some sorghum (any idea what I should do with it?):

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I didn’t buy these (wouldn’t be allowed through security) but I loved the names of these jams; not even sure what they refer to:

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There were a lot of articles (from Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, Garden and Gun) pinned next to this peanut butter singing its praises. So I bought the Chai-flavored kind and somehow got it through security (I’m writing this from an airplane):

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Can’t wait to try it.

As I mentioned, it had been snowing the night before; and that morning, things were still very frozen:

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Luckily, I was able to warm myself up with a little moonshine. I headed over to Dark Corner Distillery:

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Paul, the head distiller, taught me all there is to know about moonshine. First, though, he offered me up a taste:

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It’s not as chest-hair producing as you think; it’s really just Bourbon that hasn’t been aged in a barrel. In fact, because it hasn’t been aged in a barrel, you can really taste the grain when you taste moonshine. The process involves adding yeast to cooked grain and water (this was gurgling with all the C02 being produced):

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Then it’s strained and the liquid is heated until the alcohol turns to steam and is funneled off and cooled using this nifty device.

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There’s a lot of science involved in all this and much of it went over my head, but, still, I enjoyed seeing the process in action. Gave me a new respect for how spirits are made. (And also made me a little tipsy: I tried their Bourbon as well.)

After that, I headed across the street to the Green Room:

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Where I ate their excellent fried green tomatoes topped with a red pepper relish and cream cheese (decadent, yes; welcome to the South):

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While eating these with Lesley Craddock, another Greenville ambassador, I told her I had a hankering for BBQ. She agreed to take me to her husband’s favorite BBQ spot, Henry’s Smokehouse and I was as giddy as an 8 year-old on his first trip to Disneyland.

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This was just what I was looking for: real Carolina BBQ. I knew it was real because I saw this as soon as we pulled into the parking lot:

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The man at the helm of that smoker is a man named Tiger, named after Clemson University’s mascot; here he is with his friend (I didn’t fully catch his name; might’ve been Moe?):

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They’re smiling because they had a half a pig in that smoker:

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Oh, and this is pretty cool: they make their own charcoal using this device.

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Wood goes in the top, charcoal comes out the bottom.

Tiger sent me inside…

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…and suggested I get the 3-meat plate (chicken, pulled pork, ribs) with sweet potato casserole as one of my sides (“we’re famous for our sweet potatoes”) and a side called hash which is cooked meat and pork in a sweet mustard sauce served over rice. That’s what you see here:

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Man, this was good. Especially with the South Carolina mustard BBQ sauce that they have on the table. I ate as much as I could and Lesley brought the rest home to her husband. I bet he was very happy.

Later that day, I met up with Taryn again at the headquarters of a new Greenville brewery near the highway (85) that’s aptly named Brewery 85. Here are the owners Will and his wife Meredith:

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They showed us the operation and then let us try the beer straight from the giant drum.

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It was good stuff.

Finally, I got a taste of Greenville’s fancier food at High Cotton.

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The chef, Adrian Carpenter, came out to say hello and said he wanted to make a few dishes that weren’t on the menu to try to impress me. I said, “Go for it.”

His first dish was perfect for the cold weather: a celeriac soup with truffle foam on top.

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Comforting with just a hint of decadence.

Then there was this beautifully plated scallop dish:

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And best of all rabbit on risotto with carrots and pomegranate:

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If Chef Carpenter was setting out to prove that Greenville does high-end food as well as any city in America, he certainly made a compelling case. It was all very impressive.

Thursday I was supposed to head over to Bacon Brothers, but I got a call telling me my flight to Charlotte was delayed which was going to make me miss my flight to L.A. So, I had to skip Bacon Brothers in order to get to the airport early (good thing I did: I got booked on a much better flight, this one to Dallas, and–get this–scored a free first class ticket from Dallas to L.A.).

And so my time in South Carolina came to an end. It’s a multifaceted state with some of the best food going, right now, in the country. I highly recommend that you visit and if you do, bring me back some of that Scuppernong Jam. I’ve gotta know what Scuppernong tastes like.

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Brought to you by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism. South Carolina is Just Right

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Categories: Travel

  • Jessica

    Scuppernong is a kind of grape.

  • Meredith Perlman

    Muscadine and Scuppernong are both grapes. One is the red version and one the white. They can be kind of sweet and some people make wine of them. In Georgia, they are called “heritage” wines.

  • Jim H

    Heh, funny, I was in the Florida panhandle (aka- Alabama) a few months ago, and we stopped at a small fruit stand. I saw a bunch of cups filled will yellow globes, and asked the guy what they were…. “Scupperdongs”, he replied. I pretended I had a clue what he said, and replied “I’ll take one of those scrappydog cups” (later other folks told me how to say it properly).

    The family loved them (they were a grape), and whenever things got quiet in the car, I would break the silence by pulling one out, handing it to someone and make sure to loudly say “Scupperdong?”

  • Jim H

    Heh, funny, I was in the Florida panhandle (aka- Alabama) a few months ago, and we stopped at a small fruit stand. I saw a bunch of cups filled will yellow globes, and asked the guy what they were…. “Scupperdongs”, he replied. I pretended I had a clue what he said, and replied “I’ll take one of those scrappydog cups” (later other folks told me how to say it properly).

    The family loved them (they were a grape), and whenever things got quiet in the car, I would break the silence by pulling one out, handing it to someone and make sure to loudly say “Scupperdong?”

  • Nichole Livengood

    I am SO bummed I was iced in on my road and couldn’t make it to breakfast with you at Swamp Rabbit! And am even more bummed that you missed your dinner at Bacon Bros.! It’s my fave restaurant in town. Please come back to Gvl. So much more to taste and see. Oh, and you’ll get to meet me!

  • Brian Whitright

    The sorgham is for biscuits or really can be used for anything you would normally put honey or syrup on.

  • Brian Whitright

    The sorgham is for biscuits or really can be used for anything you would normally put honey or syrup on.

  • Terry

    Put some sorghum in a deep saucer and warm both a little and then stir in some sweet churned butter until its smooth….use this as a dip for some fresh drop bisquits.

  • Babs

    Grew up eating sorghum mashed up with soft butter, spread on toast or biscuits. Nothing like it! Also sorghum cake….a stack cake. Oh man. Now I have to order it online but I always keep it in my pantry. Yum!

  • Babs

    Grew up eating sorghum mashed up with soft butter, spread on toast or biscuits. Nothing like it! Also sorghum cake….a stack cake. Oh man. Now I have to order it online but I always keep it in my pantry. Yum!

  • Babs

    Grew up eating sorghum mashed up with soft butter, spread on toast or biscuits. Nothing like it! Also sorghum cake….a stack cake. Oh man. Now I have to order it online but I always keep it in my pantry. Yum!

  • Babs

    Grew up eating sorghum mashed up with soft butter, spread on toast or biscuits. Nothing like it! Also sorghum cake….a stack cake. Oh man. Now I have to order it online but I always keep it in my pantry. Yum!

  • Maggie Downing
  • http://www.eatingplaces.wordpress.com/ Liz

    I had no idea Greenville was home to the headquarters of so many international companies. Thanks for sharing your stops. I’m glad you made it through the storm!

  • John Doe

    It’s a shame you didn’t get a chance to stop by Thomas Creek Brewery. They are Greenville’s oldest and most reputable brewery! If you have never tried a Thomas Creek beer, do so, your taste buds will thank you! Second, TCB is the best place to buy all of your home brewing supplies. The staff is very helpful and will gladly take the time to answer any questions you may have. Thirdly, and CERTAINLY not least, everyone there is friendly, and all of them truly enjoy what they do. I would definitely recommend stopping by the next time you are in town.

    Also, be sure to say hello to Nugget and Porter(the brew dogs). Top notch brewery!!

  • Laura @ The Reedy Review

    I’m so glad that you had such a wonderful culinary experience in Greenville, although it may have been cut short by the bad weather. I hope you get to come back soon! The city is growing so rapidly, there may even be several new spots to try out on your next trip.

    Laura
    http://www.thereedyreview.com

  • cloverleaf

    Recommend you watch PBS’s “A Chef’s Life” which follows chef Vivian Howard’s return from NYC back home to South Carolina where she and her husband open a farm to-table restaurant. Some episodes feature sorghum, muscadine and other local foodstuffs.