“Under sell and over deliver.” It’s a maxim I enjoy, and try to abide by myself, though admittedly modesty isn’t my strongest attribute.
It’s terrific when encountered in the wild – when an experience is greater than hype, the marketing burden of many a contemporary restaurant. Everyone seems to have a PR agency, gossip and speculation sites like Eater are proliferating, and yes, bloggers such as yours truly are stampeding through dining doors, camera in hand, before the ink on the food and beverage permit has dried.
What many of the blobbers are looking for is the scoop, the early look that will drive traffic to their fancy WordPress website, earning them untold dollars1.
I often have other motives. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun discovering new places and sharing them with the masses. That’s part of the reason six thousand people2 read this site every day. But the big thing I’m looking for is somewhere cool or exciting, something simple done well, or maybe a new dining thrill. Hopefully a cheap one. The PR orchestrated establishments are no surprise. We’ve read about the construction for months, we’ve memorized the menu full of $32 entrees, and the chef has done four interviews about where they will source the fish. I think I know exactly what they will be like before they ever open.
The Owl in Greenville is not that restaurant [Facebook | Website]. Recently opened by chef Aaron Manter and his wife Justi (along with chef Joey Fazio), The Owl is the most unexpected restaurant I’ve encountered in a while. I was dining at Baan Sawan in Columbia, and overhead a gentleman at the bar describing a restaurant which sounded very interesting, and I thought I heard him say Greenville, though I couldn’t be sure from where I was sitting. I happened to be going to Greenville the next day, so I looked them up, and sure enough I see their website, with a menu littered with interesting offerings, a Facebook feed filled with creative and visually vibrant dishes, and price tags that don’t make sense for this Atlanta boy.
1 – $47.56 to be exact
2 – Correction, six hundred
Situated in a nondescript building on Wade Hampton Boulevard, it’s easy to miss the sign on the restaurant, which I think used to be a Pizza Inn or something like that – not the fanciest digs. But the small and comfortable space will certainly do. It’s open, with probably a dozen tables, a bar with maybe six or eight desirable seats, and a clear look at the pass where chef torches, foams, and blends the final touches of each dish.
But one doesn’t go to the Owl to be pampered or curtsied by wait staff, though I did find the service to be friendly and responsive, despite other online reports. To me, this place is about the food and having fun (not just the clientele) at a reasonable price, and I must say they nailed the latter two. The food had some ups and downs, but I love what they are trying to do! It’s playful, sometimes daring, often delicious, and priced so you want to try everything, which is actually possible with a four top.
I like that it feels like a work in progress. Like a band that hasn’t quite made it yet, but you remember going to see them at The Earl, back before anyone heard of them, including you, and you were super pumped to hear someone with a recognizable talent and energy, even though the guitarist fucked up the solo a few times. Yeah…
Enough hyperbole. How about this, here are some photos with brief descriptions. Go check out the Owl, and visit their new Kickstarter page – they are trying to raise money to improve their bar, while keeping their food prices low.
Cocktails – house aged Negroni, blueberry caiprinha
the bar (notice the special – $6 for saffron risotto with pork cheeks, licorice root, chorizo powder – it was sold out by the time we ordered)
compressed melon, speck, star anise
cheese plate – fig “mushroom”, apple, cheese
Cuban sandwich “rilletes”
salad with mushroom, watermelon radish, olive oil powder, rhubarb, misc
Interesting drink list too – including a few 750ml French ciders, such as this unfiltered, unpastuerized version from Etienne Dupont
Chef at the pass
daikon radish “steaks”, mushroom puree, sous vide 63 degree egg, kale Caesar – $6
trout, polenta, kale, salmon roe, horseradish foam – $9