Gwen Fowler



Greenville culinary tour showcases great history and food

Posted 8/2/2012 5:44:00 AM

You can experience several of Greenville’s fine restaurants in one evening with the At the Chef’s Table Culinary Tour

The tour, one of several led by Greenville History Tours’ owner John Nolan, takes place on Tuesday nights and Saturday afternoons. You’re served food at each of the five stops, as well as wine, beer or a cocktail at most. It’s a great deal for $39, especially considering you get a lot of history along the way. All of the stops are restaurants in the Table 301 group.

On a recent Tuesday evening, our tour began at Overlook Grill, which Table 301 restaurant group took over on May 1. It’s a beautiful spot overlooking Falls Park

Here Rodney Freidank, the corporate chef for Table 301, served us one of the best crab cakes I’ve ever tasted. He explained how he had smoked the crab meat in a perforated pan. The cake was served atop a tomato and a roasted corn tartar sauce. A glass of One Hope Chardonnay was served with it.

Soby’s, our flagship restaurant, actually has a signature crab cake that is one of the best-selling items that’s ever been on their menu,” he said. “So each time we try to do a crab cake in one of our other restaurants, we either try to ignore it and skip it or we realize, like we did here, that it’s a very, very popular item, and it doesn’t make sense not to have one just because one of our restaurants has one of the best.”

Freidank said he had set out to create a different crab cake that people will still love. He definitely succeeded.

Table 301 in early July introduced its own menu for Overlook Grill, but Freidank said few changes have been made so far.

“We walked in right at the beginning of the season,” he said. “It would be silly for us to close it down and revamp it right when everyone is in the park, leaving the park with no venue for them to grab a bite to eat. Also of course, on the financial side it wouldn’t make sense at all, to close it now when people are knocking on the door. Our plan was just to move in, get to know the crew that is here, train them up in the way we like to do things, take the menu and tweak it in a way that we’re still doing similar food to what Overlook Grill was doing.”

Our next stop was The Lazy Goat, where we were served Harissa spiced hummus, garnished with zatar, with fresh vegetables and grilled pita.

Chef Vicky Moore said zatar is a traditional Middle Eastern spice blend of dried oregano, toasted sesame seeds and paprika. Those are the basics, she said, but other ingredients differ from household to household.

She also served crispy fried goat cheese, (“I have one little lady that comes in every day and rolls all those goat cheese balls by hand,” she said.) garnished with vanilla bean-infused honey, fresh pistachios and freshly cracked black pepper.

Everyone in our group of about 10 seemed to love both. We were seated at a long table under a wall of clocks, which goes along with one of The Lazy Goat’s promises, that time at the restaurant “is truly time well wasted.”

Next we stopped at the gastropub Nose Dive. Sous chef Aaron Franklin had prepared a tasty trio of sausages: one with mustard and tomato chow chow, a duck, chicken and truffle sausage with caramelized peach jam, and a Philly cheese steak sausage on top of a bed of peppers with a white cheddar cheese sauce.

Next, we were off to Devereaux’s, where chef/partner Spencer Thomson explained how he made the chicken confit we were served. The chicken legs were cooked in chicken fat, cooled, breaded and flash fried, and the result is “really, really delicate, really, really tender fried chicken.”

We finished the tour at Soby’s, the oldest of the Table 301 restaurants, where we actually sat near Table 301. The corporate name came from the popularity of a table for two (identified by the staff as table 301) on the second floor where guests can watch what’s going on in the kitchen.

We had an amazingly good banana cream pie. Chef Shaun Garcia said the pie, made with bananas, white chocolate, banana pastry crème banana liquer and fresh berries, has been a favorite on Soby’s menu since it opened in 1997.

“Time and time again, it outsells all the cool stuff my pastry chef Teryi (Youngblood) comes up with.”

The pie was served with a cocktail with St. Germain elderflower liquer and raspberry puree and a glass of Pedro Ximinez sherry. Both were delicious, but the sweet sherry was especially excellent with the pie.

Along the way between courses, Nolan gave us some history of the city. For example, Greenville was once a carriage-making city, before the invention of the car ended that business. Wyche Pavilion, next to the Peace Center on the Reedy River, was built in 1904 as a paint shop for a coach factory. In 1925, it became the factory where Duke's mayonnaise was made. (Duke’s mayonnaise was bought by a Virginia company, C.F. Sauer Co., in 1929, but all Duke’s mayo is still made in Greenville.)

Today the open-air brick Wyche Pavilion is a popular spot for weddings, parties and other types of social gatherings.

Nolan also pointed out a statue of Charles Townes, who was born in Greenville and graduated from Furman University. He is credited with the invention of the laser.

Some of the restaurants we visited also are rich in history. Devereaux’s was once the American Cigar Factory, where half a million cigars were made each week. The Soby’s building, built in the late 1800s, was a cotton exchange, a grocery store and a bicycle shop. For years before it became Soby’s, it was Cancellation Shoe Mart.

Nolan offers several other history tours, including walking tours of the South Main Street and the West End areas. He’s considering other culinary tours, such as a Southern foods tour, an ethnic food tour, a coffee and dessert tour, or a barbecue tour.