You know how you Greenville folks pile in the car and drive straight through Columbia when heading to Charleston, Edisto or Myrtle Beach? Well stop it! Seriously! Columbia’s food scene is hot, hot, hot! The “land of concrete” is not just a college town or drive through anymore, it’s a destination. They have some serious restaurants producing some serious eats. Enough teasing. Here’s a list of the places you should be eating (and drinking) in Columbia. Now make those reservations!
Yes, that’s the name of the place and when the waitress came to my table and asked what I wanted… well, I said Strudel. I’ve never eaten an authentic strudel. (No, Toaster Strudels don’t count.). What landed in front of me was a slice of cheesecake like deliciousness with berry filling, encased in a light crispy crust. Eye-rolling good. I think I left one tiny bite, but that was out of sheer fear I might burst. Our tour guide, Andrea, from the Columbia CVB ordered the Hangover Hashbrowns so I could have a bite, too. I highly recommend those if you’re more of a savory eater – shredded potatoes with onions, banana peppers, tomatoes and cheddar cheese plus two eggs your way. Fill your glass from the fresh squeezed orange juice machine or grab your mug of choice and fill-er up at the self-serve coffee wall. This is a definite stop for breakfast or lunch when you’re in town.
This was my second trip to Oak Table in the two years its been open. It’s an incredibly beautiful space macked out with reclaimed wood from a circa 1845 cabin from the Greenville area that belonged to one of the restaurant group’s investors. The bar, the tables, the walls are all absolutely gorgeous. Do we expect any less from Indigo Road frontman Steve Palmer and his crew? You can seriously sit at the bar at Oak Table and stare at the State House across the street. This also means that at lunch time, it’s brimming with men in suits and ties. (But who’s complaining!?!) The food is as classy as the surroundings. I’m serious about my truffle fries and their parmesan and truffle fries are divinely crunchy and savory and delicious. Perfection. When I sat down and looked around, I noticed there was a bowl on almost every table. I can imagine hitting up this place with my girlfriends and dining on fries and champagne. The Truffle Grilled Cheese sandwich is a little greasy from all the cheese, but so rich and luxuriously amazing. As a table, we noshed on the Fried Mushroom Po-Boy and a Grilled Peach Salad too. Roasted Red Pepper Pimento Cheese with Nueske’s bacon, chives and grilled bread also magically appeared on the table, couresty of Chef Howard Stevens. All brag worthy. I have yet to hit Oak Table at dinner, but it’s on my list. (Griets, you ready?)
These guys also have a monthly Supper club that you have to check out! See the Oak Table Facebook page for more info.
Columbia’s first craft cocktail bar is flat out sexy. The building itself dates back to 1869 and throughout history has been a dry goods store, pharmacy, pawn shop and even a brothel. Wood from the original hard pine sub floor lines the bar, private high back leather booths line the wall and bartenders shake and stir over a frosted lit bar that creates a beautiful uplighting (actually inspired by a picture in a magazine of Jack Nicholson standing over the bar in movie The Shining). There are 150 different labels of bourbon, special attention given to perfectly clear ice, and the best part? USB plugs under the bar. I’m in love. I sipped on The Knuckleball, inspired by the baseball park experience of coke and peanuts. Made with High West Double Rye, Mexican Coke Reduction, Orange Bitters and Pickled Peanuts. Craig Nelson from Proof in Charleston took home the top prize at the 2013 Great American Whiskey Fair Cocktail Challenge for this drink. A definite home run. I hear Bourbon serves up some tasty Cajun noshes but we were only in for drinks.
You don’t normally think of dinner at the hotel as a fine dining experience, but Midlands Restaurant blew me away. The hotel was nice enough to host me and Laura while we were in town meeting and greeting for Columbia Small Plate Crawl 2015, and offered to give us a tour of their restaurant menu. I’m so glad we took them up on it. We tasted our way through Fried Green Tomato Pimento Cheese, a take on the classic BLT, Chicken and Waffles with Maple Bourbon Pecan Glaze, Scallop with cilantro and corn salsa, slow smoked BBQ ribs with Midlands Mustard BBQ sauce, Smoked Mac and Cheese and Collard Greens and Ham hocks. The shrimp and grits were beautiful, as well, made with local Adluh grits, sauteed shrimp, sweet corn and tomatoes, Taso Cream Sauce, and topped with shaved parmesan and green onions. The recipe won Jeckle Island’s Shrimp and Grits Fest in 2012. Talk about a heavy breakfast! But based on the restaurants we’ve visited so far, some of the best food in Columbia. This is not your average hotel restaurant. I can’t forget the last bite, a Bourbon Peach Cobbler served in a little cast iron pan, topped with a scoop of house made ice cream. The hotel sells their house made ice cream flavors in the gift shop and it’s in high demand. Not staying in the hotel? No worries! Meet some friends at their bar, Rocks at Midlands, then stay for dinner. The food will sweep you off your feet.
I have been chomping at the bit to get to Terra and meet Mike Davis. Though I missed Mike this trip, the food made up for any disappointment. We dined on Shrimp Remoulade on Fried Green Tomatoes with Benton Ham, “Quack” Madame (duck confit with caramelized onions on toasted brioche, topped with a fried quail egg, all on an arugula salad), and Lamb Mac and Cheese. No one should ever again make lobster mac and cheese. Lamb is it. This dish was perfection and I’ll dream of it often until I can get back. When I saw the Duck Confit Wood Oven Pizza with caramelized onions and port soaked cherries I insisted we order. I’m obsessed with soaked cherries at the moment. In drinks, dishes or on the tip of a fork straight out of the jar, I’m all in. The pizza didn’t disappoint and I was told Terra has Pizza and Pinot Wednesdays. Wine and Pizza for $12! Sounds like a girls night to me! We all enjoyed a board of charcuterie, the specialty of Sous Chef Joby Wetzle, as well. We passed bites of our main courses of Steak with blue cheese butter, Seared Flounder with corn and butter bean succotash, and Pork Chop around the table savoring every bite. I’m headed back for a meet with Chef Mike soon. I gotta shake this guy’s hand. Freaking amazing eats. A little fun fact: Chef Mike Davis is the son-in-law of the owner of Lizard’s Thicket, a Columbia dining tradition. Who knew?! Talk about a nice touch, beautiful meringues arrive with your check.
One afternoon we needed a sweet pick-me-up so we popped into Silver Spoon Bake Shop. Beautiful cakes, cookies, macaroons, house made granola and other delicious treats line the counter. Sugar cookie topped with icing? Sold. Folks, the cookie was as big as my hand. This was one of those situations where you negotiate with yourself not to eat the whole thing at once and you fail miserably. I ate every single crumb. Locals rave about Erin’s cakes and line up for Croissant Day on Friday. Check out their menu of offerings next time you’re swinging through. If you can’t sit down for a treat, order something to pick up on the go!i Miyo’s restaurants in Columbia comes M Grille.
Restaurant owner Michelle Wang is known around Columbia for her Miyo’s restaurants. She actually owns 9 different restaurants around Columbia including Miyo’s, M Kitchen, M Grille and M Fresh. I’ve been to Miyo’s several times and the sushi there is AMAZING. M Grille is her most recent endeavor and I’ve been there twice for lunch already. This is not all you can eat sushi, folks. It’s light, fresh and satisfying. It’s beautiful food meant to enjoy with all of your senses. Her motto? Eat Small. Eat Slow. Eat Smart. And it works! My favorite? The Strawberry Honey Sushi Roll. Seriously devine. She also has a “Build Your Own Sushi” menu that you’ll love. A great place for a light lunch.
A quick shoutout to the Columbia CVB. When they found out we were bringing Small Plate Crawl to Cola in 2015, they immediately jumped onboard to offer their support. Andrea and Dayna are the bomb diggity and they gave us one heck of a tour of Columbia!