The best thing about Greenville's food scene? That it has Anthony Gray of High Cotton in it. That's just this Charleston food snob's not-so-humble opinion.
I spent the weekend wining and dining it up at Greenville's Euphoria, a wine, music, and food festival that just marked its fourth year, and discovered that Greenville's a cute little town with a small but ambitious food scene.
On Friday night, the Taste of the South event took over the riverside Peace Center, which features a fab little amphitheater right on the Reedy River in the heart of downtown. In tents arranged around the outer rim, restaurants dished out gourmet tastings from their menus, and in the center stage, bands played to the crowd.
Edwin McCain is a co-founder of this festival, and his influence adds a lively dash of music to the proceedings. The opening act on Friday night was Anders Osborne, a bad ass singer-songwriter from New Orleans whose guitar was joined by drums and tuba. The trio sounded pretty damn good. I missed the VIP party later that night, but heard reports of an ice bar and plenty of Van Gogh vodka. I also heard that former McCrady's chef Michael Kramer was having a swell time. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see many of the chefs with a Charleston connection, but I did stop by to say hi to Chef Anthony Gray and Beverage Director Patrick Emerson of Maverick Kitchens at their Taste of the South booth. Gray's food was hands down the best stuff on display that night. A pork belly taco — for real — slathered with a silky smooth avocado cream. So good. He also had some fine lamb sliders. Other highlights were the Lazy Goat's gazpacho and lamb stew. Both tasty. Greenville's Thomas Creek Brewery was pulling pints of their IPA and Oktoberfest Lager. It was nice to meet local brewers Tom and Bill Davis, and I thought their beers were delicious.
The next day, the Main @ Broad tents were the site of the grand tasting. I was selective with my sampling and went for sparkling California wines and as many Old World varietals as I could find. The Italian Gattinara from Travaglini was very good and so was the Faustino Spanish Rioja. I was hoping to soak up some of the alcohol with some nibbles, but the only food to be had were some chicken wings. Of course, these weren't just any chicken wings, these were wings from Native Meats, a Greer, S.C., a distributor that specializes in locally-raised poultry, lamb, and beef. Native Meats has buying clubs and delivers to N. Charleston farmers market every Thursday, if you're interested in getting your hands on fresh, local, eco-conscious meat. Check them out at nativemeats.com.
A quick nap at the posh Hyatt, and we were ready for a six-course wine dinner at the Lazy Goat. Chef de Cuisine Victoria Moore was joined by Chef Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun's and Krog Bar in Atlanta and his brother Kent from Abacus and Jasper's in Dallas for a big dinner that took far too long to get going. After a boring wait and a couple glasses of champagne, we were seated in the swanky downstairs dining room. On one side, we had some Gville natives and a couple visiting from Virginia, and on the other side more media types, including a gal from Charleston Mercury and her pal who works at the College of Charleston. Plenty of Fiji water kept us well hydrated throughout the night, and wine from King Estates in Oregon proved to be the highlight of the dinner.
Our wine host was nicknamed Speedy and he lives on James Island, and he was a fantastic representative of the wine. I wish I had taken notes so I could give him a proper shout-out, but, you know, it's a wine dinner and I was way too busy eating and drinking to be worried about accurately reporting details like names!
The food had some hits and some misses. I felt like I was in an episode of Top Chef, sitting there critiquing every mouthful with my dining companions, all of us expecting divine inspiration, perfect execution, and sublime flavors. Sheesh, these chefs have it tough nowadays. I'll hold off on our blow-by-blow deconstruction of the dinner and head for the highlights.
The potato-crusted white sea bass with chive parsnip puree and citrus fennel soup was my favorite, particularly because it paired so nicely with a dry Riesling (Next, 2007). The fellow from Virginia gave me a tip: the higher the alcohol content, the drier the Riesling. As for my least favorite course? It had to be the dessert. For the record, I'm lukewarm on goat cheese, and I'm a big believer in chocolate or fruit flavors for dessert, so the "Carrot Cake" Goat Style — made with rounds of goat cheese layered with carrot — was just not gonna do it for me. And I'd had so much wine at this point, that I couldn't even bear to sip the King Estate Vin Glace. So, the meal ended with a bit of a whimper, and we slouched off into the night, eschewing a couple of afterparties in favor of the cushy Hyatt Grand Bed™.
Sunday morning, we made a quick stop at the jazz brunch to load up on everything from paella and red beans and rice to bananas foster and beignets before heading out of town. Overall, Euphoria was a nice introduction to Greenville's respectable food scene.