Last weekend (25 July to be precise) I took a family of first time Greenville visitors to Soby's. They were impressed by downtown - it really is nice, and very well looked after - but they were even more impressed with the feast we had at Soby's.
I have lived here for a bit over two years now and have sampled several downtown restaurants, many of which were quite good. I asked my brother and his wife (who have lived here nearly 20 years) what downtown eatery they'd suggest, particularly as one of the family really likes a good wine with dinner. For those of you who have not been, Greenville's Main Street has any number of establishments that serve a wide variety of beer and ale, on tap and in bottles, not nearly so many with extensive wine lists.
Soby's wine "list" may as well be called an encyclopedia - page after page of all sorts of wines, almost too many to choose from unless you've looked on line before arrival. It's pricey. I couldn't find a bottle under $30, and you can order wines that cost about $1,000 if you're so disposed and filthy rich. I'm a retired professor and certainly not rich - neither am I disposed. I love a good wine, but I refuse to pay more than x-amount for a bottle (x = the best available at the lowest price).
We were helped in our choice of a bottle by the excellent staff, who did not push, only gently prodded us to wines more expensive than we could afford - I should say that one of the two sons in the family is underage, the other son and his father generally prefer beer with dinner, so that the bottle was shared by me and my dear old friend and former colleague, the mother.
I mentioned the servers, but I want to write more about them, as they were among the best-informed, friendly and accommodating I have encountered in the restaurant trade. A very sharp woman was our primary server, but she had help from a man - each of them had excellent suggestions, and when I asked what they thought was the better choice, the crab cakes (one of three main courses that have been featured at Soby's ever since it opened, I believe about 20 years ago) or the salmon, instead of pushing the more expensive of the two the woman (sorry that I'm forgetting her name, as you might want to request her) suggested that I order the salmon and that she would include a crab cake on the side. I seldom hear so generous a suggestion when dining out! I took her up on her offer and both fish and shellfish were delicious.
Without going into as much detail on the others in my party, I can assure you that our primary server accommodated others in a similar fashion. We were all delighted by the service in general and her in particular - a real "pro"!
I before I write a bit more about food, another word about service. It started at the front door. I had reserved a table for 4, and it turned out that our party, which I'd thought would be three, turned into five. It was a busy Friday evening in Greenville, so I was a bit sheepish when I asked if they could accommodate this size party, knowing that the table would need to be larger than the one prepared for us. After only the slightest pause the host assured me that they could, if we could wait only a few minutes. And a few minutes later we were seated at a fine round table easily able to accommodate five. The table, by the way, was in the upstairs section, an expansive area - Greenville had been a mill town until about 50 years ago and many of the old buildings now used as restaurants are gigantic, upstairs as well as downstairs. There are also about ten to twelve tables outside in a very pleasant patio just far enough away so that the Main Street crowds do not prove a distraction.
I DO go on (I tend to, in these reviews, as if I'm going to bother to write them I want the reader to have a detailed sense of the venue) but before I conclude I want to say a word or five about the food. The restaurant had just unveiled its summer menu, which in addition to its three staples (in addition to the crab cakes those are shrimp and grits and pork medallions), there were a number of starters as well as entrees to choose from, as many as possible locally sourced, some of them suited especially to the season.
The father of the family had a dual order similar to my own mentioned above, due to the excellence of the server. Torn between the pork and the shrimp and grits (a dish he'd not had before) she gave him the full order of pork as well as a small bowl of the shrimp and grits. I was very pleased by this, as I was able to taste the latter, as excellent here as it had been mediocre when I et it in Charleston a few years ago. For his starter "dad" ordered a seasonal selection, the watermelon salad (not listed in the on-line menu) which he pronounced delicious, and he is a man of good taste. The younger son ordered deviled eggs for his starter and, brave lad, the most expensive entree on the menu, filet mignon. He loved both. The elder son and his mother each ordered the grouper as their main course, to which he added the bacon mac and cheese starter (a dauntingly filling combo, but the lad managed) and she the fried green tomatoes, which I was also allowed a taste of - delicious!
If that feast wasn't enough, both sons (just fyi the younger will begin college this fall, the other graduated NYU a year ago) wanted dessert - chose the white chocolate banana cream pie, the other the chocolate peanut butter layer cake, with caramel heirloom popcorn (!) and chocolate sauce - both decadent delights, the latter outrageous!
The bill was hefty, but we'd eaten like royalty and had been similarly served. When I say hefty I was pleasantly surprised that unlike the wine list only one entree was priced at $31 dollars, most of the rest in the mid-to-low $20s - in other words as reasonable as many of the less fine menu items I'd eaten in other establishments on Main. These people are used to eating well, and on the way out my old friend pronounced it one of the finest meals she'd eaten in a restaurant!
So I highly recommend that when in Greenville, dine at Soby's!
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