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The Owl, Greenville, SC

Jeff C. Jul 14, 2012 12:19 PM

Thought we might try this place next weekend. Thoughts/suggestions, Greenville Hounds?

  1. Jeff C. Jul 23, 2012 11:14 AM

    I promised you guys a report, so here 'tis...

    First of all, The Owl has no sign out front, just a picture of an owl on the side of an old Pizza Hut with a weed-strewn parking lot. I'm glad we had the GPS, otherwise we might still be looking for it. Second, this restaurant has ZERO atmosphere--it makes Asheville's The Admiral seem like La Bernardin by comparison. Inside it appears the old Pizza Hut was gutted, the kitchen opened out, and a dozen or so tables purchased off of Craig's List placed at even intervals around the room. Lots of exposed electrical wires, and a P.A. System and pull-down movie screen at one end, I have no idea what for. The curtains at one end appeared to be made of a bedsheet someone had cut into three lengths with a dull pair of scissors. (Shabby chic sans the chic?)

    Alright, so enough with the negativity. The twentysomething staff was very friendly and helpful. The cocktails are creative and tasty--the best we've had in Greenville, though the bartenders, like the cooks, are rather too enamored of meringue-like foams. (So two thousand and late.) The menu is very limited and very pork-centric (their were four pork dishes out a dozen or so items offered). No red meat dishes were in evidence. We started with a cheese plate made with fresh ricotta, drizzled with basil creme and honey, and dotted, oddly, with fava beans. This was served with toast points. And it was quite good, even if $8.50 is a bit much to pay for ricotta, no matter how fresh. Next we had two small plate entrees, a pulled pork with savory slaw and a peach-based BBQ sauce made with fresh local peaches, and pomodoro-style linguini with shaved pecorino and fresh basil. Again both dishes were simple, straightforward fare, well-prepared if not particularly imaginative. We finished by sharing the only dessert on offer, a dry olive oil cake that cost $6.50 and was literally the size of a Dixie Cup. This supposedly had creme fraiche layered in it, but I never detected any. Total for all the above plus a beer: $52.68, pre-tip.

    Verdict: A good, not great, "pop-up" style restaurant offering a limited menu of well-prepared neuvo southern dishes at slightly inflated prices. Here's hoping they can stick it out long enough to spruce up the place and expand their food repertoire.

    41 Replies
    1. re: Jeff C.
      danna Jul 23, 2012 11:54 AM

      thanks for the detailed review! I'm glad you got a chance at the ricotta dish. Were the toast points still cinnamon-y? That was by far my favorite dish....well, that and the salad. Are you coming back next weekend to avoid Belle Chere? :-)

      1. re: danna
        Jeff C. Jul 23, 2012 12:47 PM

        The toast points were more garlicky than cinnamon-y. But good. As for Bele Chere, we're actually attending, believe it or not...though only for one afternoon/evening.

      2. re: Jeff C.
        danna Sep 24, 2012 01:36 PM

        Thought I'd tag my 2nd visit to the owl onto your thread, Jeff C.

        Saturday night, around 7:30, there were only 2 tables left open. We had-

        Salad - very nice...not as detailed as before, but very fresh and good, interesting dressings.

        Noodle Bowl - smokey tofu (reminds me of the Admiral's smokey fingerlings) in an intersting , slightly vinegar-y broth, with grapes, squash, and super thin, crispy noodles that had to be pushed into the broth to soften. Very interesting and enjoyable dish.

        Risotto - good risotto, cooked correctly with a bit of tooth left to the rice. good flavor, rich but not cloying, and super-crisp ..speck...i think (?). Very tasty.

        Squid - pressure cooked squid w/ crisp potatoes and powdered chorizo. The squid was tender...not always a given.

        Cauliflower - least succesful dish, I thought, although still good. Pureed caul. w/ some bits of roasted caul, bule cheese and some grapefruit. Didn't love the combo, but interesting.

        Champagne cocktail - Champagne + house made tonic water + elderflower. It was fairly tasty, although I'm still confused if I was supposed to stir up the tonic syrup in the bottom of the glass, or if it it were meant to be consumed layered like that. If the former, they should have supplied something to stir it with. If the latter...eh...

        Bottom line...I think they have upped their game on food quality and consistency. My remaining complaint would be the service. We had to ask the runner to get us water after staring at empty glasses for a while, and the courses weren't brought out the way I asked the server to send them. my salad was delivered to me alone, and then our other 2 courses were all put on the table at once (4 hot dishes). I don't know if the kitchen intends that, but it seems odd to me. The Owl is Greenville's most interesting food by 10 times over, I'm very interesting to see how they continue to evolve.

        1. re: danna
          Jeff C. Sep 24, 2012 03:43 PM

          Good news, Danna. I'm already planning my second visit.

          Now if they would only do something about the decor...

          1. re: Jeff C.
            danna Sep 24, 2012 04:45 PM

            i don't hate the decor..but if they put some sort of fabric in the room it might help with the acoustics...it's loud.

        2. re: Jeff C.
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          Emilybh Nov 17, 2012 08:47 AM

          Thanks for the review. I won't bother trying that place either. Only in the upstate where most people, evidently, have never eaten at a "real" gourmet restaurant outside of the upstate could you get away with serving ricotta cheese with a little basil and get away with charging $8.50 for it. The next thing you know they'll be serving slices of American cheese and Swiss and calling that a cheese plate too and charging just as much.

          1. re: Emilybh
            Jeff C. Nov 17, 2012 01:08 PM

            Let me be clear that that app, ricotta included, was good, if a bit overpriced. I also agree with Danna that The Owl is doing more adventurous cooking than 95% of the restaurants in the upstate. It's not The Admiral, much less Alinea, but it's definitely worth a try.

            1. re: Jeff C.
              e
              Emilybh Nov 17, 2012 02:26 PM

              I'd prefer this kind of adventurism--- of Chef Colin Bedford . He is chef at the Fearrington Inn outside of Raleigh Durham and is ranked internationally as one of the top chefs in the world. In fact I think it sounds like the chefs at so called "best" Greenville restaurants could stand to go taste Chef Bedford's food so they can experience what really special food is. They could also benefit from cooking lessons he provides there. Check it out. http://wunc.org/tsot/archive/The_Grand_Chef.mp3/view

              I think all the restaurants here could stand tons of improvement. I'm sick of reading good or great reviews about restaurants in Greenville expecting an exquisite meal only to go there and be served bland gelatinous over cooked food.

              http://www.fearrington.com/house/rest...

              What I'm learning is that people have a wide range of expectations for food in Greenville. Many it seems are happy with chain restaurant food and if an independent place opens up and is commensurate with a chain place, that constitutes "great" food. However as compared to great food in Boston or New York or Raleigh Durham or Atlanta or even Charleston, it is miserable! It is just that the reviewers haven't eaten at the best restaurants in those other cities so they have nothing to compare it with.

              1. re: Emilybh
                carolinadawg Nov 17, 2012 02:52 PM

                Which "reviewers" are you referring to? You are new to CH...have you read through the threads discussing Greenville? Most of them lament the state of the food scene, it seems to me.

                1. re: carolinadawg
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                  Emilybh Nov 17, 2012 03:54 PM

                  Oh. I guess I was referring to another forum that is for the Greenville /Spartanburg area and they have a restaurant thread. Sorry. Yes I know most of the reviewers on Chowhound at least several months ago didn't think Greenville was anything to write home about.

                  I think I remember one reviewer saying that for every one good restaurant in Greenville, there are 12 good ones in Asheville. I'd like to know what they all are and why they are considered good before I head up there again. I don't want to have another Grove Park Inn experience there. Also I'd like to know about anything worthwhile in Hendersonville and again why it is good. I'd like to hear details of how items on the menus are prepared and taste. I hope some of you are up for the challenge.

                  1. re: Emilybh
                    carolinadawg Nov 17, 2012 04:01 PM

                    There are literally dozens of posts here about Asheville and H'ville. Do a search and you will find them. In Asheville, The Junction, Admiral, Zambra, Curate, Tupelo Honey, Chai Pani, 12 Bones, Early Girl, Laughing Seed just to name a few. Disclaimer: I am not a vegetarian.

                2. re: Emilybh
                  w
                  winefuhrer Nov 17, 2012 02:57 PM

                  We enjoyed The Owl when we went. The food is a bit ambitious but I feel that is no crime. I had a wonderful beef tongue dish that was flavorful. My in-laws had a beautifully presented deconstructed salad. My wife, who is with child, ordered a smoked tofu & noodle dish...it was unpleasant at best. Someone would have to lop off my pinkie for me to complain in a restaurant...I just do not do it. She ate only a few bites b/c pregnancy, that day, did not agree with the dish. The server noticed this and immediately explained that many of the dishes were "experimental"...if someone is not happy, the charge is removed. Here's my point (at long last)...kudos to The Owl in Greenville, SC for being adventurous. I had a great cocktail and tried a couple great dishes. I understand it is not NYC. We just returned from NYC...hit the NoMad, Gramercy Tavern, Picholine, Danji, Marea, etc etc...too much. I do not expect NYC when I am here...and do not find it miserable...people much work within respective confines. If Danny Meyer opened The Owl I might expect different. I applaud those in Western, NC and the Upstate who go beyond safe, easy dishes.

                  1. re: winefuhrer
                    e
                    Emilybh Nov 17, 2012 03:58 PM

                    YIKES! You should NEVER experiment on PAYING customers. Instead they should just serve whatever they are experimenting with for FREE to the customers before the meal they ordered is served. Thanks for all the info on the Owl. I won't be going there anytime in the near future. That is for DARN sure.

                    1. re: winefuhrer
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                      Emilybh Nov 17, 2012 04:01 PM

                      When I go out I do NOT expect safe or easy. That is what you get at chain restaurants or Italian restaurants. I do expect someone who has a discriminating palate and knows herbs and seasonings and quality ingredients and which of them taste good together and has experience cooking with them and eating them. I don't want to be a guinea pig in a restaurant run by chefs who aren't confident what they served will be a hit with their paying guests.

                      1. re: Emilybh
                        w
                        winefuhrer Nov 17, 2012 04:24 PM

                        Emilybh,

                        I understand what you are saying. I feel differently and do not mind to be a bit of the "experiment" as long as I can have some open, honest communication with Pavlov, so to speak. Some of my more memorable meals have been where we have given a chef a blank palette. I think some of the restaurants in larger metros have the luxury of trying a lot of dishes over and over before something "goes to press".

                        1. re: winefuhrer
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                          Emilybh Nov 18, 2012 05:21 AM

                          If you cook at all you know a chef shouldn't have to try something over and over. If you make the recipe right the first time, and if it comes out bland or off tasting it isn't worth doing again without making modifications. Better yet move on to something more promising would be my approach as a chef.

                          1. re: Emilybh
                            carolinadawg Nov 18, 2012 05:42 AM

                            I think the point is, if a dish is "experimental", there isn't a recipe per se, therefore tweaking it and trying several times is inherent in the process. Plus, there is that whole individual taste and preference thing.

                      2. re: winefuhrer
                        e
                        Emilybh Nov 17, 2012 04:21 PM

                        I'm glad you liked it. It just doesn't sound like my cup of tea. I'm a little gun shy after having had repeated bad experiences at restaurants reviewed in other forums that were supposed to be good. I also very much, enjoyed your review. I wish others could give honest reviews like that describing the food that was served at the place they think is so wonderful.

                        1. re: Emilybh
                          w
                          winefuhrer Nov 17, 2012 06:00 PM

                          As a side note, I do love Fearrington as well...although the belted Galloways were away last time we visited. I have eaten there 2 or 3 times and it is always special. The cheese selection is one of the better I have experienced in the US.

                          1. re: winefuhrer
                            e
                            Emilybh Nov 18, 2012 05:30 AM

                            I would go to taste the creations of their world class chef. You can order the cheese on-line if you can't get it at Whole Foods (which is probably where they get it since there are many Whole Foods Markets in the Raleigh Durham area).

                            The fact that you have to go so far out of your way just to taste an imaginitive cheese plate just goes to show how far Greenville needs to advance before they'll ever be put on the "food" map. You probably could find a comparable cheese selection at The Woodlands in Summerville. Then again, maybe not since they lost their Relais designation.

                            1. re: Emilybh
                              Jeff C. Nov 18, 2012 08:46 AM

                              I don't have a proverbial dog in this fight, so I'll be brief. I've eaten all over the south (except for NOLA, oddly), and there are culinary dead spots like Greenville and my hometown of Knoxville in every state, but then there are other cities like Nashville, Athens, Asheville, Richmond, and especially Charleston where you can "world class" cuisine the equal of that in any major northeastern city at roughly half the cost. That's something that actually justifies "southern pride," don't you think?

                              1. re: Jeff C.
                                e
                                Emilybh Nov 18, 2012 12:10 PM

                                In my opinion only a few if any of Charleston Restaurants are 'world class"I lived there for three years and I know the restaurant scene. The vast majority of "world class" restaurants of the South are in New Orleans where I've also lived.(If Charleston was such a world class food destination it would have been able to at least retain a Johnson & Wales culinary school campus.) I'd say a few of Charleston restaurants probably make it on the national restaurant scene. However people don't travel to Charleston (except for those of us in SC) just for the food. They go for the history and enjoy the food while there. Whereas they do travel to New Orleans, San Francisco and New York and Chicago for the food.

                                Asheville, Richmond, Athens and anywhere in TN are regional destinations -- not even close to national destinations in my book. Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and Raleigh/Durham, would rank as national food destinations before any of those would for sure, not to mention Portland, Oregon, Tacoma, Washington and other West Coast cities.

                                1. re: Emilybh
                                  Jeff C. Nov 18, 2012 12:20 PM

                                  Emily: Not trying to pick a fight, just curious...Have you ever eaten at FIG, McGrady's, Macintosh, Grocery, and/or Two Boughs Larder in Charleston? Bistronomy fad or no, if they aren't world class, I guess I don't know what the term means. And, of course, Raleigh/Durham belongs on the list. I was just trying to point out less obvious foodie meccas.

                                  1. re: Emilybh
                                    carolinadawg Nov 18, 2012 12:23 PM

                                    Absolutely no way the Raleigh/Durham food scene (although very good) is better than Charleston. No way.

                                    1. re: carolinadawg
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                                      Emilybh Nov 18, 2012 01:06 PM

                                      Well Chapel Hill has Chef Colin Bedford an Internationally reknown chef and Charleston doesn't.

                                      1. re: Emilybh
                                        carolinadawg Nov 18, 2012 01:10 PM

                                        One chef doesn't a food scene make. What particular dishes of Chef Bedford have you personally enjoyed?

                                        Chucktown has one or two pretty well respected chef's, too.

                                        1. re: carolinadawg
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                                          Emilybh Nov 18, 2012 03:53 PM

                                          I know I guess your may be right FOR NOW but with chefs and culinary schools LEAVING Charleston and with a Relais losing its designation near Charleston and BETTER chefs CHOOSING Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area ADDED to that you have two top notch universities there (Duke and UNC Chapel Hill), not to mention it has 3 or more times the population Charleston does, it won't be long before this area surpasses Charleston as a food destination.

                                          1. re: Emilybh
                                            j
                                            JayL Nov 20, 2012 06:01 AM

                                            Besides JWU leaving CHS and moving to CLT, what other culinary schools have left?

                                            What better chefs are choosing the areas you mention...besides the one you mentioned?

                                            What Relais designation was lost...other than a business that was being sold and obviously had no use of retaining the hoity toity title? You do know the Woodlands is now a private residence, don't you?

                                            1. re: JayL
                                              e
                                              Emilybh Nov 20, 2012 06:59 AM

                                              Yes. I know it is a private residence. They obviously couldn't make a go of it there as the food scene wouldn't support a 5 star Relais restaurant/ inn a half hour away from Charleston in Summerville.

                                              The Peninsula Grill is a Relais and is going strong downtown.

                                              I had brunch at The Woodlands in 2008 and the food was exquisite. When I arrived though, there were no guests anywhere. The place seemed completely empty of customers. A friend I was meeting there hadn't arrived yet either. I guess I had gotten there a little early. It still seemed odd not to see any guests staying there in any of the living areas or on the grounds.They were probably having a tough time keeping it going even back then. The lady at the desk said more people would be arriving -- which they did eventually. The dining room eventually became about half full. Maybe the later seatings were more popular after people had gotten out of church. Before leaving I checked out.
                                              the accommodations and the grounds and the pool which were all really lovely.

                                              1. re: Emilybh
                                                The Chowhound Team Nov 20, 2012 04:45 PM

                                                We've moved a discussion about whether Relais & Chateaux designation is an indicator of quality restaurants to the General Topics board at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8786...

                                            2. re: Emilybh
                                              carolinadawg Nov 21, 2012 06:37 AM

                                              Johnson and Wales closed 6 years ago, but Charlestons food scene has only grown and thrived in that time. And I don't think population is a very good indicator of the quality of a city's restaurant scene...compare Detroit to Charleston, for example.

                                              1. re: carolinadawg
                                                b
                                                brentk Nov 21, 2012 07:50 AM

                                                Johnson and Wales has been open in Charlotte since that time and, while the Charlotte restaurant scene has improved, if I were choosing a desitination based solely on the restaurant choices, I would still choose Charleston over Charlotte.

                                                By the way, this has been an interesting discussion, though it has gotten a bit snarky for my tastebuds. The crux of it is should you measure a city by the quality of its finest chefs (Emilybh) or by a broader range of dining options (the others). I can see the merits to both sides but I don't think they are mutually exclusive.

                                                1. re: carolinadawg
                                                  e
                                                  Emilybh Nov 21, 2012 04:27 PM

                                                  Gotta give you that one. Charleston is a lot nicer than Detroit -- especially these days.

                                                  I think it comes down to demographics and the market. I think the number of Whole Foods stores in a given area or state is a good indicator of the food scene.
                                                  In the whole state of SC you only have 3. Just in the Raleigh/Durham/ Chapel Hill there are 5 . THAT shows the type of food and quality people in the area (the locals) want and expect. Around here (SC) you have too many people thinking that Publix is the be-all-end-all of upscale grocery stores. In fact when Whole Foods opened in Charleston, the market couldn't even support having both Earth Fare and Whole Foods in Mt. Pleasant and Earth Fare shut down.

                                                  1. re: Emilybh
                                                    carolinadawg Nov 21, 2012 06:58 PM

                                                    We're not talking about grocery stores, we're lacking about restaurants. Totally different things.

                                                    1. re: carolinadawg
                                                      e
                                                      Emilybh Nov 21, 2012 07:24 PM

                                                      With all due respect, don't they both have a lot to do with FOOD and the food scene? I just merely suggested that the more natural/gourmet stores an area has the more vibrant the food scene and the better the restaurants are apt to be.

                                                      But I'm sure you don't agree with that so let's just say YOU WIN. Ok? No need to respond. You are right and I am wrong.

                                                      .

                                                      1. re: Emilybh
                                                        t
                                                        tennreb Dec 1, 2012 02:04 PM

                                                        You really don't have any idea of what you are talking about. Whole Foods locates stores based on demographics and population. All national chains do this. New Orleans has two Whole Foods. Does this mean Raleigh is a better food destination since it has three? How many James Beard chefs does Raleigh have? Do they have a nationally ranked farmer's market or well-known food festival? Has anyone ever seen a feature about a Raleigh restaurant in a national publication or TV show? Charleston's food reputation is well known. I visit New York all the time. While Charleston doesn't match the breadth of ethnic cuisine of New York (who can?), its restaurants are every bit as good (excepting maybe the likes of Per Se). I prefer Trattoria Lucca to any Italian trattoria in New York. And the service in Charleston is far superior to New York. I love New York and the variety offered, but the quality does not beat Charleston. The only city in the South that could possibly be a bigger food destination than Charleston is New Orleans.

                                                        1. re: tennreb
                                                          JB BANNISTER Dec 3, 2012 06:19 AM

                                                          Thank you. I wish chow had a "like" button.

                                                    2. re: Emilybh
                                                      Sue in Mt P Nov 23, 2012 12:55 PM

                                                      The reason the Earth Fare closed in Mt P (not Charleston), according to people that know, is because the location was too hard to reach. It opened right at the same time Whole Foods did, but if you look at the locations and demographics, the location was terrible. Those grocery stores have absolutely nothing to do with the restaurants in Charleston. If you check websites of the ones we often recommend, you'll see that they partner with local farms, not a chain grocery store.

                                                      1. re: Sue in Mt P
                                                        e
                                                        Emilybh Dec 1, 2012 03:22 PM

                                                        The types of grocery stores that exist in an area is very telling about what the over all market wants and expects. In South Carolina it seems 98% of people are more than satisfied with Publix which doesn't indicate a big demand for fancy gourmet food.

                                                        I recently met a neighbor who's been living here in the Upstate for 6 years and still hadn't been into Whole Foods until I dragged her there a few weeks ago. She's a realtor. She's happy with the chain restaurants here. The same thing happened when I moved to Charleston. A neighbor who'd lived here all her life had only been into Whole Foods in Mount Pleasant once before. She did all her shopping at Piggly Wiggly or Publix.

                                                        I think in other states you have more people who are at least curious about food and are willing to at least check out Whole Foods when it opens in their area.... and therefore there is more demand for the upscale food stores there.... and more year round people going to restaurants. I bet without the tourists, Charleston's restaurant scene wouldn't be nearly as busy. In Raleigh-Durham, Providence, Boston you have year round residents keeping it going.

                                                        Also if the reason that Earth Fare shut down was due to location in Mt. Pleasant, why didn 't they re-open in a better location there? I think it's because the market wouldn't support it.

                                                        In SC , every town with 20,000 or more residents should be able to support a good local natural food/ grocery/health food store if not an Earth Fare or both but it doesn't seem to work out that way.

                                      2. re: Emilybh
                                        n
                                        NANCY Nov 18, 2012 11:52 AM

                                        I do not believe Woodlands 'lost' their Relais & Chateaux designation, but decided to no longer participate in the affiliate marketing of R&C due to the cost. Regardless, I have see no change in quality of lodging or dining with or without that designation.

                                        Issue is moot ~ Woodlands closed several months ago.

                                        1. re: NANCY
                                          e
                                          Emilybh Dec 2, 2012 06:09 PM

                                          They did in fact lose it before they sold the property to someone who turned it into a private residence. I remember checking on it a year after I'd been there to eat and they no longer were a Relais then. That was as early as 2009. After applying and being accepted "deciding not to participate" is generally not the logical next step UNLESS you knew you were going out of business. It is an HONOR to be approved as few establishments are. SC now only has ONE in the entire state!

                        2. b
                          brentk Jul 14, 2012 05:32 PM

                          There was a recent thread on this restaurant your should check out. My wife and I went there a few nights ago when we were in town and can report that it is among the more interesting culinary adventures you will experience in the southeast. Aaron (the chef) is filled with creativity and energy, plating the dishes and running from table to table to explain the content.

                          Each dish is presented attractively, with interesting ingrendient combinations and cooking techniques. The menu varies frequently, so it may not be worth discussing particular dishes, but if you are more interested in creative food than plush decor (which this restaurant lacks), by all means this is a place where you should dine.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: brentk
                            Jeff C. Jul 14, 2012 06:54 PM

                            Thanks for the reminder. I also seem to recall a bit of a kerfluffle re The Owl on here at one point. (Guess I'd better go see what all the fuss was about.)

                            1. re: Jeff C.
                              JB BANNISTER Jul 16, 2012 04:42 PM

                              It is a place for the middle class people to go and enjoy this type of food without dropping $300-$400 per person. Go there have fun, enjoy, laugh and have fun. Keep an open mind.

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