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Greenville, SC report


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Family stuff took me back home to Greenville last week, where I distracted myself with dinners at 33 Libery and Soby's - my third or fourth dinners at both, but, I believe, this is the first that I'm writing up either.

I'll preface by noting that having grown up in Greenville, I am certainly pleased with the improvements in the restaurant scene since I left the area fifteen years ago. The revitalization of downtown is also remarkable. While biased, I can certainly recommend Greenville as a nice weekend destination city. The Reedy River (Walking) Bridge is a stunning center to a vital Main Street, a hip West Main, the Peace Center, etc.

Second notable meal first... Leslie left Greenville earlier in the trip, so I had to dine solo at 33 Liberty. While John and Amy Malik's fine restaurant has been often mentioned in these pages, I want to add my two cents.

The Malik's are simply serving some of the finest contemporary Southern cuisine that can be found anywhere. Their unassuming restaurant is a genuine treasure that deserves any and all acclaim it receives, as well as a loyal following from the locals.

My meal started with an amuse bouche of cantelope with cane vinegar sauce - a nifty bright bite that readied the palate for more. It was followed by corn and scallion muffins with sliced country ham and green tomato jam. Both comforting and bright, the dish with true to its roots while also transcending them. I had a glass of Trevor Jones Chard with the appetizer.

I should add that the short but solid 33 Liberty wine list, includes some very good by-the-glass offerings. When you have a solid, interesting, wine list, you don't need a long one - if the interest is in serving appropriate (and good value) wines rather than trophy wines. And anyone especially noting Oregon offerings is after my heart. Corby Kummer has suggested that the winemakers of Oregon are America's garagistes - I think that is a very apt description - and as such, it reinforces how appropriate Oregon wine is with regional American cuisine - whether Northwestern, Southern, New England, or whatever.

This was followed by a second appetizer - 33's smoked salmon with croutons and egg and caper salad. Top notch and a nice reminder of my current home.

I opted for a main course of molasses marinated pork tenderloin with creamy grits, green beans, and mustard zinfandel sauce (and a glass of 03 Argyle PN). Indescribeably good. Pork was tender and perfect. Sauce was zippy but not obvious. Crunchy beans, the way I like them. Grits perfect for rumination.

I was also brought a country ham popover that was like a cloud that was the essence of country ham.

I wrapped-up my meal with the cheese place - roquefort and camembert, with peaches and honey, in lieu of dessert.

I can't say enough about the cuisine at 33 Liberty. Having eaten at Highlands Bar & Grill, I think the food here as as good. And while I have long obsessed on the cooking of Jimmy Sneed (oh where, oh where can he be?), I think that John's cooking is right there. Service is also solid and the low-key, casually elegant atmosphere is wonderful - as 33 Liberty is filled with staff and patrons who are there simply for the joys of food.

Finally, at $40 for three courses, $45 for four courses, and $50 for five courses, the price/quality ratio is hard to beat.

Soby's is an interesting place. I have to say that this meal (with Leslie) was as good of one as I have had there. Also contemporary Southern, the food is a little more, well, obvious, than at a place like 33 Liberty. And the menu (and wine list) is longer (and the restaurant a whole lot bigger), but they are certainly doing a very good job in Downtown Greenville. The building is great - kind of reminds me of a two floor Fore Street (Portland, ME).

I look forward to also trying Restaurant O - a Soby's spinoff at the Westin Poinsett. When I dropped into O for a business card (not immediately realizing the connection to Soby's), I was surprised (for Greenville) at the vibe that seemed like that of a restaurant at a W Hotel - I mean that neither as compliment or criticism, but simply as an observation. But back to Soby's...

First thought on Soby's (and this would seem to be the subject for another thread elsewhere on eGullet), it is time to mull over the concept of revealingly dressed hostesses at fine dining establishments. While quite lovely, our hostess was all but pouring out of her little black dress. Now, usually, Leslie the foodie gal would be glaring at me when confronted by such a welcome - as if I did something wrong! But even she was impressed with the physique of the hostess, which was something akin to the aforementioned Reedy River Bridge - a tribute to self-sustaining structural engineering by which one can only be impressed.

I'm not trying to be coarse - but while intriguing, it is a needless distraction in a fine restaurant, isn't it? If a hostess is being used as a "draw," is it really so bad of me to feel drawn? Ultimately, even the foodie gal could offer nothing but grudging admiration for our hostess's qualities, thankfully leaving me off the hook. But what's the point at a place like this? I was wondering if I was supposed to stick a tip somewhere.

GREAT waiter at Soby's - wish I could tell you who. Especially as the next section seemed to be staffed by someone who would both sit at tables and rather loudly sing to himself when going back and forth to the kitchen.

Big wine list at Soby's - full of trophy wines (which is kind of amazing in Greenville) but some interesting finds and some decent values. We opted for an 02 Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chard - I believe $68, which would be a lot higher in other places.

One special note of praise - the chard was brought to the table at an absolutely perfect temperature - an all to rare retaurant occurance, when you think about it. We poured, drank, and chilled the rest for fifteen, just because it was a bit of a warm evening. But (it's the little things in life, eh?) I was extremely pleased with that aspect of the wine service.

Anyway, we both started with salads - Leslie opting for the mixed field greens with spiced pecan vineagrette and grape tomatoes, while I had the "caesar" salad with tobacco onions and Clemson (the alma mater) blue cheese. Pretty good - though the onions were a little much like onion strings from wherever.

Leslie had a main course of seared sesame glazed yellowfin tuna with seaweed salad, which was very, very good. I had one of the evening's specials - roasted catfish stuffed with bacon and what was that cheese? I can't remember tasting the cheese. Served over rice with vegetables that have also escaped my memory - brocolini, I believe. Another very solid dish - not spectacular, but very good.

We split a dessert of coconut creme pie with shortbread crust. I could eat coconut just about every day, so have nothing but positives about the dessert. (As an aside, while he is a dear fellow, Les's father loathes coconut - something that I clearly will never grasp).

All in all, we were very pleased with the dinner. Great service at our table, great wine service, nice atmosphere, and eye candy. While the food might have been slightly pedestrian, it is a step up from my impression of prior meals there, and makes Soby's a very good downtown Greenville destination restaurant.

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It sounds like I need to visit Soby's for the, ahem, great view.

If you had to describe the current "vibe" of the Greenville restaurant scene, how would you? What about Spartanburg?

These restaurants sound great, and I'm fascinated by the value offered by 33 Liberty's value. Thanks a ton for the report.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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It's hard for me to judge, being so far from the scene, most of the time.

Back when, there were a couple of old fashioned, formal Southern restaurants like Porches, which topped out the scene. Nothing adventurous or creative, just serviceable and pretty good.

Heck, when I grew up there (thirty years ago), Greenville didn't even have a decent BBQ.

Around twenty years ago, places started opening downtown - but they were more "different" than good. And they'd open and close and open and close.

Stax's Peppermill was probably a step in the right direction re fine dining, but still wasn't offering anything in the way of creative cuisine.

What I love about 33 Liberty, and like about Soby's, is that they are the kind of restaurants that should help create a restaurant scene in Greenville - Southern, but not our grandmother's southern.

There is also simply way more ethnic fare in Greenville than in the past. I'm sure the influx of population of Michelin and BMW employees have called for an upgrade in the diversity of cuisine.

That said, when I'm back home in the South, I want to eat Southern food. I'm sure I'd think differently if I lived there year-round.

But back when, for perspective, when my family wanted to go out for a special occasion, we'd go to Steak & Ale. And we surely weren't alone.

A couple of oddball places gone by do pop into my head, now. The Old Mill Stream was a great fish camp over toward Greer - in the middle of nowhere, in its day. Far better than the big one (can't think of the name) on Haywood which is awful. As I recall, as the population moved that direction, they tried to move in the direction of being more of a suburban restaurant - and that was their downfall.

R. Thomas was a blast while it was here (about twenty years ago) - but the funky vibe was simply more "gettable" when it up and moved to Atlanta.

My sister lives in Spartanburg and says that they are a big step behind. She took me to an odd German cum multi-ethnic European restaurant over the weekend (name escapes me here, too). It was okay, but not special.

When I think Sparkle City, I think The Beacon and Carolina BBQ. But I'm not the one to ask!

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As the SE Forum will attest, several of us have been to 33 Liberty and concur on your conclusions of John and Amy Malik's culinary abilities! They are one of the very best things about Greenville dining .. and I thank you for your insightful review of their restaurant here at eGullet.

I have never been to Soby's but my friend, who does live in town, has been less than enthusiastic about the place .. he has often said that it is sometimes good, but, at other times, very disappointing.

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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33 Liberty is top notch - and a world class bargain. Simple as that.

I've also been hot and cold about Soby's, from prior visits. This time, the food was solid - not spectacular, but pretty darn good - and the service was terrific. A great waiter can make a huge difference in the quality of the evening. And the wine service was a nice plus.

Edited by fchrisgrimm (log)
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  • 1 month later...

Another trip down to Greenville, and another dinner at 33 Liberty - this time with my sister and brother-in-law. I can't say enough about the fantastic food coming from John and Amy.

The All American menu was featured for July. $35 for three courses - where else can you get that quality for this price? Could eat here five times for the price of French Laundry - and I've never been disappointed by anything here. But that's another story.

Great pre-ap of blackeyed pea hummus on toast. Perfect use of the traditional Southern ingredient in a new and different way. While just one bite, it both sybolized what is so special about 33 Liberty and, in an odd way, was my favorite thing of the evening.

Thankfully, we all ordered different things, so really got to bang through the menu. Wines were a Kiwi Sauv Blanc that I can no longer recall and a terrif 2003 Torii Mor Oregon Pinot noir.

Appetizers:

Me - South Carolina cantaloupe with country ham and cane vinegar. Lovely canteloupe, great flavor combo. I'd had as a pre-ap before, so was glad to get a full serving this time.

Martha - Corn Bisque with Shrimp. Thin, brothy soup, with crunchy veg. Really bright, for soup. Loved it.

John - I believe he had the baked cheese grits, but didn't share, so I don't completely recall.

Post-Ap:

BBQ Shrimp with Corn Pudding and a beer shot (was that Highlands, NC Gaelic Ale?). Nifty shrimp - right at the edge of too hot - hot, but not palate killing. Like ginger beer.

Mains:

Me - Blackened Catfish with black eyed peas and lemon butter. Loved the fish, loved the peas. It's the South - but the contemporary South.

M - Meat Loaf with thyme and Vidalia onion gravy. Looked good, smelled good, but couldn't get my fork within range before it was gone.

J - Roasted Chicken with garlic, parsley, thyme, and mac and cheese. Verged on a family squabble, as John suggested that it may be better than Martha's own herb roasted chicken.

Desserts:

J - Molten Chocolate Cake. Terrific - though, as much as I love the dish, I see it everywhere! Of course, maybe M&J don't, so I should be nice about it.

M & Me - both got the Carolina Peach Crisp with Strawberry ice cream. Wonderful with everything from the orchard/garden fresh.

On the surface, some of these may seem sort of regular - but keep in mind the July menu theme. The prep is amazing, flavor combinations are always a bit left of center. You can't ask for much more.

In 30 years of either living in or visiting Greenville, plainly said, nowhere else has come close in quality or inspiration to 33 Liberty.

Few other quick dining hits from the trip:

Fine Mex lunch at Rosalinda's - per John's rec.

BBQ at Brushy Creek in Powdersville - still the best in the area, IMHO.

Also, picked up grits and cornmeal, milled that day, at Suber Mill in Greer. Great place to take the young'ns who think grits just come from a box at the grocery.

Nice trip to Greenville Farmer's Market. I always stop there, but never before in peak season. Grabbed okra and blackberries, that I carefully carried on to my flight back to Connecticut. Okra was wonderful - stewed with tomatoes - and the blackberries were flavorful, even though they were HUGE. Some the size of ferrets. Ate 'em with peaches I mail-ordered from Frog Hollow Farm, as I just didn't think peaches could survive the trip back home.

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  • 2 years later...

I had a very successful meal at 33 Liberty this week (I wished that I could have eaten there twice, but it was not to be - I also had a nice meat-and-three meal at OJ's and an OK dinner at Pomegranate, a Persian restaurant downtown).

33 Liberty is not yet a "destination restaurant," but the food was always well-cooked, and some was really excellent. Greenville has come a long way with the influx of non-locals through their BMW and Michelin plants. The downtown is really quite "spiffy."

33 Liberty is, however, not downtown, but in a rather unprepossessing area on the east side of the city (the Spartanburg side), if my sense of direction is correct (about ten minutes from the airport). The restaurant itself is quite informal, given Chef Malik's culinary efforts (the menu changes on a weekly basis). I don't mean this in a negative way, but the mismatched (and sunny) decor will either be pleasing or off-putting. This doesn't have the feel of a high-end Atlanta restaurant - again, either a positive or not. The service (our waitress was Christina) was very pleasant and charming, but also informal. And in the dining room chef John Malik's wife Amy was dining with her children (she also runs the restaurant). 33 Liberty has almost a family restaurant vibe (and is quite different from, say, Hugh Atcheson's Five & Ten restaurant in Athens).

The dishes were generally excellent, although perhaps not as pretty as, say, Five & Ten. I particularly enjoyed a terrific amuse of White Bean soup with truffle oil. An evocative start, simple, properly made, and classical. I also throughly treasured the smoked sea bass spring rolls with green salad and buttermilk dressing, my favorite dish of the evening. The spring rolls were crispy and not at all greasy, and the seabass was nicely smoky without being overwhelmed. The salad, simple, complimented the plate. I also enjoyed the rabbit rillettes with croutons, homemade mustard, and cornichons. Not an A-ha kind of dish, but straightforward. The roasted beets with goat cheese, sherry vinaigrette, and pound cake croutons were most notable for the surprisingly wonderful and sweet croutons. Otherwise the dish was well-made and honest.

The main courses were likewise pretty straight-forward, but always well-cooked. Lamb shank with whipped potatoes and peas was as advertised, as was a tender, juicy pan-fried veal liver with whipped potatoes and Vidalia onion sauce. How often can one order properly cooked veal liver.

Dessert was a high point: a buttermilk chess pie with grapefruit marmalade. I was impressed by how the bitter-tartness of the marmalade matched the pure sweetness of the pie.

If I am near the Greenville area, I will certainly return to John Malik's 33 Liberty with great pleasure. The visual and taste profiles of the dishes are not now so dramatic as to make 33 Liberty worth a drive from Atlanta or from Charlotte, but chefs must be attendant to the preference of potential diners. With entrees priced at about $20, there are limits to the magic of the kitchen, but such pricing also means that 33 Liberty is not only for special occasions.

33 Liberty

33 Liberty Lane

Greenville, SC

864-370-4888

http://www.33liberty.com

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33 Liberty is top notch - and a world class bargain.  Simple as that.

I've also been hot and cold about Soby's, from prior visits.  This time, the food was solid - not spectacular, but pretty darn good - and the service was terrific.  A great waiter can make a huge difference in the quality of the evening.  And the wine service was a nice plus.

Had a meal at Soby's about 16 months ago when we stayed in downtown Greenville for the weekend of a Clemson football game.

My assessment is pretty much the same as the one here, solid food, good service. I was surprised by the happening vibe on Main street. Hadn't been to Greenville in years. It's not your granddad's Greenville! Soby's was jumping on Friday night.

Want to get back and hit 33 Liberty.

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  • 8 months later...
33 Liberty is top notch - and a world class bargain.  Simple as that.

I've also been hot and cold about Soby's, from prior visits.  This time, the food was solid - not spectacular, but pretty darn good - and the service was terrific.  A great waiter can make a huge difference in the quality of the evening.  And the wine service was a nice plus.

Had a meal at Soby's about 16 months ago when we stayed in downtown Greenville for the weekend of a Clemson football game.

My assessment is pretty much the same as the one here, solid food, good service. I was surprised by the happening vibe on Main street. Hadn't been to Greenville in years. It's not your granddad's Greenville! Soby's was jumping on Friday night.

Want to get back and hit 33 Liberty.

is 33 Liberty still open? I tried to pull up their web site and it is no longer working and their telephone has been dis-connected. Now (having a kolluj edjumakashum I figured this out on my own) that means they are "asta la bye bye" but any information would be appreciated.

in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--

the best cat ever.

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Yes, they closed in October.  Malik has gone into the restaurant consulting business - not sure why they closed.

thx for the info. I tried to send a message to John via this forum but have not heard back fr/ him. He had a pretty decent run so he might have just gotten tired of the whole thing and decided to take it easy for a while.

in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--

the best cat ever.

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Not exactly a consultant yet. Amy & I closed 33 in early October after suffering through the worst 5 months I have ever seen in the restaurant business, and I have been cooking for 25 years. We knew back in December of 2007 that 2008 would be off but no one predicted that the bottom would drop out. Our sales in the spring and summer were off 40% or more. Unfortunately when the economy went south the first ones hurt are those of us in the luxury business. The folks with restaurants in the mid range did not get hurt as bad as us with the high dollar price tag (and the funky locations!) No restaurant is safe in this environment so support your local guys!!!

As of now I am the chef at a retirement community and very happy to be there, good pay, great benefits and good hours. Writing a book about running the restaurant, sort of a Marley & Me with the love interest being a small restaurant and not a dog...not that the dog was a love interest...the love interest was Jennifer Anniston, right...or was it the dog?

God Bless Country Ham & Grits!!! :laugh:

If you want an experience similar to 33 Liberty try Stella Bistro in Simpsonville, SC.

John Malik

Chef/Owner

33 Liberty Restaurant

Greenville, SC

www.33liberty.com

Customer at the carving station: "Pardon me but is that roast beef rare?"

Apprentice Cook Malik: "No sir! There's plenty more in the kitchen!"

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Thx John and good luck. I do miss the side items on the web site of the favorite places of yours and Amy's in other cities.

I will have to check out Stella when in Simpsonville.

btw, Jennifer Anniston was in love w/ the dog? That was different fr/ the book......

in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--

the best cat ever.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Amy & I closed 33 in early October after suffering through the worst 5 months I have ever seen in the restaurant business, and I have been cooking for 25 years. 

John - sorry to belatedly hear of the closing. Was only briefly in the upstate in the Fall - didn't hear the news until now (as I graze on eRobertParker more than eGullet now). Best of luck to both of you.

I've had the fortune of eating the food of Robuchon, Keller, Ramsay, and Vongerichten, but my two favorite chefs are you and Racha Bassoul (from Montreal), who also closed Anise last year. I could just cry.

Please send me the manuscript when you finish - I'll help any way that I can.

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