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Small Towns, Big Eats

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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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.

Black Creek Bistro, Hartsville

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

Lake City Bistro, Lake City

Walk through Lake City's stylish Inn at the Crossroads boutique hotel and you will discover a hidden treat: Lake City Bistro. The attractive dining room is complemented by an intimate bar and gorgeous courtyard appointed with local art and beautiful gardens. Dishes feature fresh ingredients with a focus on local Pee Dee products. Pasta, steaks, fish and seafood and plenty of fresh vegetables sides is a draw to locals as well as those attending ArtFields, visiting art galleries or taking in the serenity of Moore Farms Botanical Gardens.

Seen on the Menu: Roasted Beef Tenderloin drizzled with a red wine sauce and served with rice and fresh green beans

juniper restaurant in ridge spring south carolina
Juniper in Ridge Spring ,SC with Chef Brandon Veile. (Perry Baker)

Juniper, Ridge Springs 

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 at Juniper. 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

Lily's Bistro, Lake Wylie

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

Mill Pond Steakhouse, Boykin

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.

hamptons sumter restaurant sc
Red wine-braised pot roast is makes for elegant comfort food at Hampton’s in Sumter.

Hampton's, Sumter

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 2020-2021 South Carolina Chef Ambassador 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

Old Edgefield Grille, Edgefield 

A stately 1906 Victorian home-turned-restaurant, Old Edgefield Grille 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.

Seen on the menu: Maple Leaf Farms duck breast

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.