While bustling cities like Charleston, Columbia and Greenville are known hotspots for fine dining, there’s plenty of magic being expertly whipped up in small-town kitchens across South Carolina. Don’t discount the contributions of these restaurants nor their creative, inspired chefs. These hidden gems might not enjoy widespread notoriety, but that’s okay with locals who are happy to keep their best-kept secrets under wraps.
Here is a sampling of small-town restaurants with a local reputation for memorable, elegant dining. Nearly all of them regularly vary their menus to match local, seasonal offerings. Ready to add one or more treasures to your list of favorite dining spots? Make your reservations now.
There’s a definitive European touch at Black Creek Bistro, a cozy little restaurant tucked away a few blocks from downtown Hartsville. Chef Josh Shumate trained at the International Culinary Center in New York and does an admirable job of bringing classic French techniques and Southern farm-to-table aesthetics together to create a menu that’s delectable. Don’t skip the calamari—Chef Shumate’s preparation is impeccable.
Seen on the menu: Grilled or blackened tile fish over sauteed sun-dried tomato, spinach and zucchini orzo finished with a Parmesan cream sauce
No. 1—that’s the spot Lake City snagged in USA Today’s 2018 list of Best Small Town Cultural Scenes. The dining experience at Crossroads on Main impressively reflects the “top-notch” vibe that’s infusing this once-sleepy farming community and transforming it into a bustling hub of hip expression. The restaurant, which operates inside the boutique hotel, Inn at the Crossroads, has interesting artwork, a relaxed, chic feel and a gorgeously landscaped outdoor courtyard. But it’s the menu that pulls it all together to achieve new heights in what restaurant director John Masters called “Southern elegance.” Chef Chris Carpenter works a culinary spinning wheel, turning humble products and traditional local dishes into gastronomic gold. His passion for weaving Lake City’s agricultural history with threads of gourmet inventiveness is generating buzz. Consider this recently featured dessert: tobacco-infused maple rum ice cream with a warm benne seed cookie. Crazy, right? Crazy good.
Seen on the menu: Backwards Bog (a take on the regional dish, chicken bog) featuring a sweet tea-brined chicken breast wrapped around Gullah-style dirty rice served over a mix of black-eyed and sea island red peas and finished with a tangy-sweet dollop of bacon tomato jam
Inside an old Main Street hardware store in Saluda County, the nuts and bolts of new Southern cuisine are being fitted together in surprising ways to build some of the state’s best cuisine. Chef Brandon Velie selected this agricultural community intentionally, opting for a close proximity to local farms over crowds and big city hubbub. He routinely haunts the area’s produce markets and consults local farmers, seeking simple, locally sourced ingredients for his imaginative dishes. It’s that kind of philosophy that led him to being named a South Carolina Chef Ambassador in 2015.
Seen on the menu: Manchester Farms Quail Country Captain with basmati rice, topped with a nest of shaved, flash-fried W.P. Rawl collards
Farm to table with Italian flair defines Lily’s Bistro, a small, white-tablecloth establishment tucked away in the community of Lake Wylie. Chef Jerry Simonetti is a veteran fine-dining restaurateur who brings his love of Italian dishes to the table using ingredients from local farms. Angus meatballs, mushroom ragu over risotto, braised beef short ribs and Gorgonzola gnocchi are rave-worthy. The same holds true for the hand-cut steaks, fresh salmon and house-made crab cakes.
Seen on the menu: Braised pork cheeks with shitake mushrooms and pancetta parmesan risotto
When it comes to South Carolina fine dining, there’s perhaps no more unique setting than the Mill Pond. Housed in a series of rustic structures—formerly the post office and general store for the still-operational neighboring mill—this restaurant defies its humble facade. Inside, you’ll find a warm, intimate atmosphere and a menu that compares to any of the state’s finest. Dine on aged steaks while enjoying sweeping views of Boykin Pond and its many wildlife inhabitants. History buffs will also be delighted to learn they are dining on the site of a Civil War confrontation between Union and Confederate troops. All the way around, this is an unforgettable dining experience.
Seen on the menu: Signature steaks as well as shrimp and grits with white wine cream sauce, tasso ham, tomatoes, basil, peppers and onions over stone-ground Boykin Mill grits.
The quaint downtown of Sumter not only lays claim to one of the best restaurants in the area, but to a professionally trained Italian chef as well. Hampton’s is the canvas on which Chef Raffaele Dall'Erta expresses his culinary artistry. The Milan-born chef has put Hampton’s on the map, drawing a loyal following of locals as well as diners from the Midlands and Pee Dee. The dining room is elegant, an apt environment for a menu featuring dishes executed with European skill and plenty of Southern finesse. Sunday brunch is just as popular as dinner, with crepes, fresh fish dishes, melt-in-your-mouth red wine-braised pot roast, and a hearty, habit-forming huevos rancheros.
Seen on the menu: Grilled Carolina grouper with soba noodles, red pepper, sugar snap peas and shitake mushrooms
This stately 1906 Victorian home-turned-restaurant makes an impressive setting for an equally impressive menu. The rural community of Edgefield more than deserves bragging rights for offering this caliber of elegant, Southern dining. Classic dishes like fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits (featured once in Southern Living) do their storied reputation proud.
Think classic steakhouse meets something a little, er, sexy. Yes, there’s a real stripper pole and, yes, the menu is broken down into racy components like “Fore Play” and “Sassy Sides.” But you’ll forget about all that once you take a seat at this classy little eatery and allow yourself to be seduced by the tantalizing menu and stellar waitstaff. Chef and owner Jason Clark has a way with beef—prime 1855 house-aged black Angus, that is. Among the many rousing menu favorites are the Redneck Delicacy, a filet mignon served with lobster sherry gravy; warm pimento cheese; boom, boom, bang shrimp; smoked bacon collard greens and garlic mashed potatoes; and Lamb Bone, Lamb Bone—seasoned grilled lamb racks served over garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus, and finished with a pepper and South Carolina pecan wood-smoked bacon sauce. If you really want to be naughty, order the blue cheese and applewood bacon mussels for the table or the Flaming Saganaki, a sinfully good Greek cheese flambé. On your way out, express your satisfaction with a twirl on the stripper pole.
Seen on the menu: Sexy Steak, a filet mignon grilled and served with asparagus, smoked gouda mac and cheese and maple cracked black pepper bacon.