When Tony comes to town: Greenville, SC

‘Deep dish is pizza like Olive Garden is Italian’ –Anthony Bourdain on Chicago pie

I don’t think I’ve made any secret about my admiration for Anthony Bourdain. His ability to mix snark with cerebral endears me to his writing both in print and on television. He does what I’d like to do, he does it well, and he does it without much apology. There’s a lot to admire there. The quote at the top is fairly classic Bourdain. He takes a staple of Chicago identity and reduces it to its essence. And again, he does it without pulling the punch.

So, as is my wont, I tossed the quote out to friends and Twitter followers. My buddy Chilly asked, “If you were hosting Anthony Bourdain for the day in G-Vegas, do you know where you’d take him?” And the meme was born.

The idea behind this is pretty simple. Bourdain won’t be going most places. They don’t interest him or don’t make for good TV. Still, we live in these towns and they are interesting to us. That’s why we stick around.

So, here’s…

When Tony comes to town: Greenville, SC

Segment 1: Henry’s Smokehouse

BBQ is like pizza. If you’re from one place, everybody from every other place else does it wrong. I’ve lived just about everywhere BBQ is a big thing. I never lived in Texas, but half my family is from there, so I consider myself qualified. Of all the places I’ve lived that value regional BBQ, I actually like Carolina BBQ the least. (Come on, I’ve lived in Missouri and Mississippi). Still, of all the BBQ shacks in the Carolinas, I’ve yet to find one I like better than Henry’s Smokehouse in Greenville.

When I had people from all over the country come visit me for Bradoween 5, I hired Henry’s to cater. People sat in my garage sweating their ass off, drinking real sweet tea and eating Henry’s. Some of those folks still talk fondly about that. I think Bourdain would, as well.

Segment 2: Karrie’s Kafe

Karrie’s Kafe is basically a deli. It’s moved since I started eating there, but the proprietor is still behind the counter and is still one of the best local cooks. Karrie may not have a fancy joint (she currently operates out of a strip mall) but her food is top notch. It’s hard to find better soups in town, and I don’t expect to ever find a better chicken salad–anywhere.

Karrie, who moved from her first location after a battle with the “neighbors” would also be a good person to talk about the changing culture in Greenville.

Segment 3: The Steak House Cafeteria

This place is actually well out of town, but the drive to Walhalla from Greenville would provide a good look at the Clemson campus. Now, I am normally suspicious of any place with “cafeteria” in the name. The Steak House is different, primarily because it has some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. My friend Nick Nygro introduced me to the place about ten years ago. It is a traditional “meat and three” joint on the main drag through Walhalla, SC up in Oconee County. Bourdain couldn’t get out of South Carolina without doing a Meat and Three segment, and the Steak House would be my first choice. Plus, it’s not too far from the Chattooga River (home to the movie Deliverance and some great white water).

Segment 4: Smiley’s Acoustic Cafe

Smiley’s Acoustic Cafe does not have a long history in Greenville, but you wouldn’t know it. The place is around a year old and is already establishing itself as the go-to place for acoustic music lover. Greenville has a great tradition in music from Piedmont Blues to Blue Ridge bluegrass. Smiley’s caters to that stuff, as well as folk, alt-country, and anything else that can be played on an acoustic guitar. Its chef, Smiley, is actually a foodie and serves up more than bar food. I go for the beer and music, but would show up even if the place went dry. I like the place for Bourdain because it represents a lot about how new Greenville and old Greenville are coexisting and even getting together. Once a thriving textile mill town, Greenville fell on hard times before establishing itself as a center for technology, the automotive industry, and even retirement. Smiley’s sits in old Greenville, but in a part that is on its way back up. The little arts district sits on the perimeter of a beautiful park (the waterfalls and landscaping would make for great b-roll). The hippie vibe at Smiley’s might be a bit much for the punk rock Bourdain, but I think he could get around it.

On warm nights, the owners, chef, and even customers sit on the back deck and play music. Enough music from the royalty free catalogs get played that TV crews could get by with some good sound without having to pay out the nose.

Back-ups: If any of the above places fall through or don’t fit into the production schedule, the following joints could fill out the time:

  • Portofino’s–Family style Italian that has the best garlic knots I’ve ever eaten.
  • McBee’s–Urban meat and three owned by Mary McBee. Some of the best fried okra in town.
  • Carolina Drive-In–One of, and the best, Greek owned diners in town. Owner is best talker and old-school diner man in town. No place better for a greasy hamburger and conversation.
  • Horizon Records/Bohemian Cafe followed by Handlebar–Both of these places would’ve been in the top list, the TV production team has real trouble with the cost of music licensing and all of the above three places are all about music. Horizon is a locally owned music store that attaches to the Bohemian Cafe. They bring in great acts for short afternoon gigs. The Handlebar is, by far, the best live music joint in town and its owner John Jeter would make for a good interview. Oh, and frankly, the food ain’t so bad there either.
  • ***

    Feel free to participate. I went the above route based on the people behind the businesses, the stories behind the businesses, and the fact Bourdain is less about eating fancy, and more about eating well in places that give a feel for the culture and people of the city.

    I like the idea of filling out an entire hour-long show on your own blog, but you can drop one or two ideas for your town in the comments here or, if you are a Twitter person, put one there with the #bourdainmeme tag and When Tony comes to town: City name.

    Brad Willis

    Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

    You may also like...

    7 Responses

    1. Darren says:

      The Olive Tree at I-385 and Pleasantburg would make my list. Best calzones and pizza I’ve found here.

    2. flopped da joint says:

      im not so sure about taking a guy from nyc to an italian and or greek place tho. stick to the basics

    3. Da Goddess says:

      I love Bourdain. He’s a horribly sick addiction of mine. I’ve thought of this very query long and hard, too — Where would I recommend Tony go for good food?

      First stop: Estrada’s Mexican Food. It’s slightly bigger than it was back in the 70s, when it held all of ten customers, but it’s still delicious and authentic. They make THE best gorditas. No, not that crap sold by Taco Bell, but the real deal. Their food is extraordinarily simple and filling and delicious.

      Second stop: Szechuan House. My mouth is already watering. I’d have picked the old Chinese place up in Alpine (Greek owned, but full of Chinese customers), but the owner died 15 years ago and it’s a thing of the past.

      Third stop: Domenic’s. Their gorgonzola salad would make you cry. Their gnocchi melts in your mouth. Back in the day, it was fun to go in for dinner on a Friday or Saturday and end up singing along with the waiters.

      Fourth stop: And this is where I get all indecisive and draw a blank. I can’t break it down further than that, but I would bet, given a driver and a film crew for a day, I could quickly pick one of a dozen places I love.

    4. I would have to take him to your parent’s house for your mom’s tri-tip dinner.

    5. FiberDeviant says:

      I found this idea intriguing… I love food… good food, that is!

      (Since moving here a few years ago, I have found that there are alot of restaurants in Greenville… but not too many that I am fond of! no offense intended!)

      I have 2 ideas:

      #1. Focusing on the Diversity of Greenville’s Foodscene
      (he might have to pick & choose from the following)

      a. the taco truck (Mexican) on Cedar Lane Road (only Fri, Sat & Sun nights)
      b. Saffron (Indian) @ intersection of Woodruff Road & Miller Road
      c. Korean BBQ (Korean) @ intersection of Woodruff Road & Miller Road also
      d. Saigon Fast Food (Vietnamese) on Pleasantburg Road
      e. Pita House (Middle Eastern\Lebanese) on Pleasantburg Road
      f. Zamorah’s (Southern\Soul\Meat &3) on Whitehorse Road
      g. El Carretero (Colombian) on Laurens Road
      h. Cositas Ricas (Colombian) on West Parker Road
      i. Pomegranate On Main (Persian) on Main Street
      j. Thai Restaurant (Thai) on Augusta Road

      I really love the diversity in this town!

      #2. “Greenville” spots

      a. Tanners Big Orange (serving Greenville over 70 years)
      b. Charlie’s Steakhouse (serving Greenville over 80 years)
      c. Handlebar (unique Greenville eatery)
      d. Soby’s (unique Greenville eatery)
      e. brief overview Greenville’s Main Street (restaurants & events)

      so that is what I would suggest if Anthony Bourdain were to ask me where to go in Greenville!

      (posted on my blog: http://fiberdeviant.blogspot.com/2009/02/hmmmm-if-anthony-bourdain-came-to.html)

    6. Uncle Ted says:

      There are lots of days when I miss Grenville. This is one of ’em.

    7. Drizztdj says:

      If its in-town (which sucks because of all the commericalization that’s happened lately)….

      The first stop would be breakfast at Hudy’s Cafe. A little hokey with the northern Minnesota cabin motif, but they knock it out of the park with the stuffed omeletes, huge pancakes, and very friendly service.

      Lunch at Mama G’s for appetizer staples and cheap beer/drinks while watching weekend volleyball tournaments (during the summer) or broomball (during the winter)

      Dinner at The Lookout with the best full-sized Wings and BBQ sauce in town. Bonus as most weekend nights are filled with local rock bands that don’t suck.