Review of Greenville's The Owl Restaurant

A word that I have not used in a good long while is "twee". Twee bird. To-whit-to-woo-to-whee!

I stopped by The Owl restaurant on Wade Hampton in Greenville a few days ago, and it was enjoyable, if a bit precious. I went by myself, swinging by on a whim. Afterwards, when I described my experience to the wife, we agreed that we'd have to stop by together to see if the place can deliver on some of its great promise.

The restaurant opened recently, and as a place was not yet very comfortable. I popped in just after they opened that day, intending only to have a couple of beers. This put the place at a disadvantage, which I readily acknowledge. The scene at The Owl could very well be swinging at dinner time, but the lack of people there when I was in emphasized the spartan decor and overly precise layout. The space also felt half-finished, although to be fair Grumpy Kitty says that the location was an absolute sleazy wreck before The Owl took over. The building was clearly still a work in progress. The deck out back had holes in it, but one of the owners mentioned her plans to repair it, and when she does, it will be a sweet little hangout.

The best aspect of the layout is the Waffle House kitchen setup. By that I mean that you can see the kitchen. I love that. And not just see it through a glass darkly, the way you can through some big diner window. I mean face to face, Waffle House style. You see everything, en plein air, freeballing. Kudos to The Owl for doing that. Between the freeballing kitchen and the plenitude of windows, there's a lot of potential for the ambiance.

I took a seat at the bar, which was a little primitive (a good thing) and featured space-age collapsing hydraulic bar stools (a bad thing). My 300 pounds surely pushed through the weight limit for the stools, but I feel like any man of substance would have dropped uncomfortably low in those things. There were no taps, but the beer and liquor selection was excellent.

I didn't order any liquor or cocktails, but I could see that they fresh-squeeze their juice for individual drinks. They also had several fun and funky selections besides the tried-and-true standbys. Not least amongst those selections is stuff from Dark Corner Distillery, "South Carolina's first legal moonshine distillery".

There are a few little things they do that I thought very cool. The food menu had seven items, plus a chef's special. Water is served in big shareable glass bottles. The bill is paid instantaneously on the waiter's iPad (yes, I'm easily impressed here in the Upstate of South Kackalacky). So there's little paper, no plastic.

I enjoyed three beers and chatted up the bartender and one of the owners (the wife in a husband-wife team). I had planned on having only beers, but the menu interested me, so I ordered a root salad appetizer sort of thing that was up on the special board.

I was very disappointed.

The salad consisted of two baby carrots, a quarter of a turnip, and half a (very) small beet. It was dressed very lightly, as I had requested, and sprinkled with goat cheese and "soil", which I believe was ground brown bread (pumpernickel?) and seeds. It was very prettily arranged, and my photo does no justice to it, as I'd already begun to eat, and I have a terrible phone.I know saying "very disappointed" in a review is harsh, but I can't get around it. The salad straight up offended me. It was tasty, don't get me wrong. And I have no complaints about getting my money's worth. I payed $5.50 for a snack, which is about right. My problem was that the salad was so miniscule, it ought not to have even existed. Two baby carrots, a quarter of a turnip, and half a (very) small beet. I would have gladly payed double for double the food.

I had been eagerly awaiting the locally sourced salad, so my disappointment was magnified when the it arrived, delicious but offensively tiny. It was like being at a Subway where the girl thinks I ordered a salad because I'm on a diet when really I just like salad, but times one hundred.

One of the strengths of much of the locally sourced, slow food, organic, etcetera etcetera movement is the combination of sophistication with heartiness. I am strongly biased toward heartiness, as all who know me know. Alas that my experience was not hearty. Perhaps if I ordered a full-on dinner it would be.

Undeniably, though, both atmosphere and food have promise, and I'm interested to see where it goes.

And perhaps I'll come at dinner time, which would be more fair.


  1. You should really come down to Charleston some time, we have lots and lots of food!

    I do hate when a restaurant with tons of potential (or a good reputation) thoroughly lets you down. That's an even bigger deal around these parts, because there are so many other choices that you know will be good. It is a rare thing for me to give a restaurant a second opportunity after a disappointing first try.


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