On the Road

Columbia, SC: A Southern Hot Spot

By: The Local Palate

See a side of the South
you haven’t before

Tradition and tomorrow pair perfectly in this modern city. It’s a place where stately buildings buzz with new businesses and centuries-old sites give rise to fresh perspectives. As a mash-up of a capital city and a college town, and become an epicenter for chefs, artists, and craftspeople (like craft brewers) of all stripes. With evidence of renewal everywhere, Columbia, South Carolina, will leave you looking forward to what’s next.

The Pâté of the South

Columbia has a diverse mix of restaurant offerings with everything from a funky barbecue joint serving up pulled pork-stuffed french toast, to upscale classics like Motor Supply Co. Bistro., which has been doing farm-to-table and farm-to-glass stylings since before it was trendy. A staple across the board? Pimento cheese. Columbia has claim to one of the oldest recorded pimento cheese recipes and the first pimento cheeseburger—an invention you won’t regret trying. The list of dishes in the region can be overwhelming, so we suggest using the Pimento Cheese Passport to get you started. Dig into the dishes of participating restaurants, get your passport stamped, and enter to win a prize from the folks at Experience Columbia SC (but everyone who eats pimento cheese is a winner in our book). Here are some of the mouth-watering dishes—just to name a few:

  1. One of the originals: the pimento cheeseburger from Rockaway Athletic Club. This watering hole of the eclectic Rosewood neighborhood is a local hidden gem and can be tough to find if you don’t know where to look. But the burger is worth the adventure.
  2. Known for its fancier dishes, like the lamb mac and cheese, Terra may be a bit unexpected for this list. But trust us, their pimento cheeseburger pie is one for the books. Pro tip: Get it on Pizza & Pinot Night for a glass of vino with your pie.
  3. If you follow a vegan lifestyle, fear not. Among other animal product-free options, the smoky pimento-less cheese wrap from Good Life Cafe on Columbia’s revitalized Main Street is every bit as good as the real deal.
  4. A local staple, Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering sits on the edge of the Historic House and Garden District. If the charming patio doesn’t have you swooning, the hearty pulled brisket pimento cheese sandwich will.
  5. Get back to your homegrown roots at the War Mouth, where the menu consists of Southern staples like chicken bog and smoked catfish. Grab a side of smashed and fried Yukon Gold potatoes with pimento cheese and wash it all down with one of their specialty cocktails.
  6. Cafe Strudel is serving up some of the best hash browns in the South—hangover hash browns, to be exact. But if you’re there for lunch or dinner, try the fried green tomatoes, hand-breaded and smothered in horseradish pimento cheese and bacon. Need we say more?
A pimento cheese-inspired vegan wrap from Good Life Cafe.

Soda City Market

Come Saturday mornings (9 am-1 pm), you’ll find locals and visitors alike at Soda City Market, where a closed-down Main Street plays host to food trucks, live music, and artisan makers.

Soda City Market on a sunny Saturday.

It’s an experience that’s equal parts eating, shopping, and people watching, but what’s most unexpected about this market is the energy. With buskers ranging from a seven-year-old break dancer to a seventy-year-old accordion player, there’s no shortage of entertainment here. It’s a place where you’re as likely to see a group of artsy young professionals strolling to brunch as you are to see a family of four grabbing coffee after an early morning soccer game.

Local food trucks and coffee stands are ready to fuel up for your day. Curiosity Coffee Bar is known for taking cold brew to another level with add-ins like chocolate sauce, banana simple syrup, and even CBD oil. If you miss them at the market, fear not: They have their own brick-and-mortar space in the nearby North Main district, affectionately called NOMA by the locals.

Many will flock to the Avocado Toast SC tent for some fresh bread topped with avocado, boiled eggs, fresh veggies, and all the spices. Or there’s Rambo’s Fat Cat Biscuits for fluffy, gourmet biscuit sandwiches like the herbed goat cheese and egg.

Artisans of all kinds fill the street. Give the gift of homemade apple and pumpkin butter from Adams Apple Mercantile or, customize a bouquet of flowers for someone special (or yourself) at Petite Fleur, operating out of a vintage Chevy truck. Look closely and you’ll see locals walking around with Nana by Sally bags, made from end bolts of fabrics and leather “seconds,” each produced with its own identity. At the market, there’s a place for everyone.

Shoppers at Soda City Market.

Crafted Columbia

With more than twelve breweries in the Columbia area and more on the horizon, craft beer is taking over this city. Firmly rooted in a homegrown spirit, each brewery has its own character and its own ideas on what makes a good brew.

A spring concert at Steel Hands Brewing. Photo by Sean Rayford.
  1. Steel Hands Brewing sits at 10,000 square feet as Columbia’s largest brewery, equipped with an expansive taproom, yard, and an outdoor stage made from a shipping container that sees live music acts every Saturday. If you go, you have to try the Coffee Lager, one of their flagship beers made with local grounds from Loveland Coffee.
  2. As one of Columbia’s first breweries, River Rat Brewery holds a special place in locals’ hearts. You can find their brews across the Southeast in restaurants and grocery stores, but we recommend visiting the brewery itself. With a lawn and patio, rooftop bar, and cozy taproom, it’s one of the go-to hangouts for Cola residents, especially those with kids and dogs. Cool off with a Luminescent Lager, which was created in partnership with Columbia’s minor league baseball team, the Columbia Fireflies.
  3. Hunter-Gatherer has been brewing in Columbia for more than twenty years. Their brewery and alehouse on Main Street is a local mainstay for beer and food, but they recently opened a second brewery operation in a historic airplane hangar, Hunter-Gatherer at Curtiss Wright Hangar. It features an observation deck where you can watch planes take off and land at Owens Field airport.
  4. With no taproom as a home base, Bierkeller Columbia uses pop-up beer gardens to showcase its German styles. During the spring and fall, you can sip from one of their large beer steins at Riverfront Park. Outside of that, you’re left with the rest of us anxiously awaiting the announcement of the next beer garden to see where to get your fix.
  5. At Columbia Craft Brewing Company, you’re likely to find the taproom packed with local beer connoisseurs trying flights from their rotating draft board. A pup-friendly patio, open tasting room, and local art make this brewery picturesque. These brewmasters are known for sour beers that even the pickiest of drinkers will like.
Beer drinkers enjoying riverfront views during Bierkeller’s spring pop-up. Photo by Sean Rayford.

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