Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tupelo Honey, Chuy's and Passerelle Bistro: Exploring New Eateries in Greenville

I had out-of-town company in over the weekend. I know I am supposed to be a better host, taking them to only the best, tried-and-true places; but I like to hit a few that I've never been to when company comes a'callin'. We usually eat most meals out, so it's the ideal opportunity to acquaint myself with a new joint or two.

Our two newbies were Chuy's and Tupelo Honey. Plus a shoutout to Passerelle.

We hit Chuy's for lunch on Thursday. It's located on Woodruff Road, Greenville's busiest street. I'm familiar with Chuy's; I've been to a couple of them, including the one on Lake Travis in Austin. It's where the Bush twins were arrested for underage drinking.

We walked into the place and it was slammed. A line of people poured out the front door. The lobby was crammed. I gave the smiling hostess my name and received a coaster-size, table-ready buzzer and the warning the wait would be about 20 minutes for my trouble. Visible from the vestibule, the bar area had 15 to 20 empty high tops and booths in addition to the 15-or-so-person bar that was about half full.

Working my way back through the swamp of people to the hostess, I asked if we had to be seated at one of the tables in the bar. "No, but you can only get drinks and appetizers at the tables," was the response. "But, you can get served from the menu at the bar."

Amazing. There are at least 20 people milling around the entry area waiting to be seated, but they can't get lunch at any of the empty tables in the bar. Whose bright idea was that?

We found a couple of stools at the end of the bar and sat. I ordered beer -- how the hell can anyone expect me to eat Mexican without a beer? My friend opted for water. Water! Do you know what fish do in that?

The bartenders -- two young women -- were friendly and helpful. As we perused the menu, I began regaling my friend with the story about the Bush twins getting busted at the Lake Travis Chuy's. About half-way through my tale one of the bartenders interrupted me to ask if I was telling the Bush-twin story. "Why yes I am," I said. To which she replied, "I've heard that story at least six times in the last three days."

My reply: Well, congratulations. And by the way, I was telling the story to my friend who had never heard it before, not to you. If you continue eavesdropping, you are going to hear some stuff you really don't want to hear. At least that's the way it sounded in my head. What I did say out loud was that I wasn't sure until we walked in if Greenville's Chuy's was part of that chain.

"Oh, we're not a chain; we're corporate," she said with a straight face. I guess she could tell by the look on my face that I was missing the distinction. As if attempting to clear things up, she continued beaming, "We're corporate store No. 43! Apparently you must have to have 44 stores to be a chain.

The food was good, if not remarkable. I remembered it being better in Austin, but I had a couple margaritas under my belt by the time the food arrived on my Texas adventure. I'll certainly go back. Looks like they offer a wicked happy hour.

Located on North Main Street in downtown Greenville, Tupelo Honey has only been open a few weeks. I ate at the one in Knoxville a few weeks ago and really enjoyed the experience. I'm not quite as enthusiastic about Greenville's edition.

Again, because this place is so new, it was slammed. We arrived a little after noon on Saturday. It was the front end of an afternoon pub crawl. I never got inside the store in Knoxville. It had been a beautiful day, so we sat outside. I was anxious to get inside Greenville's store to check out the bar.

I approached the hostess who stared blankly at me. She finally won the stare down and I asked if there was room in the bar area. She said she didn't know and I would have to go look. Okay, I said, put me on the list for a two top. A smile yet to crack her lips, she said simply, "An hour." "An hour wait?" I tried to clarify to which she just nodded. I told her to forget it and we headed toward the back of the house where we assumed the bar was located.

Not very large by any measure, the L-shaped bar seats perhaps 10 or 12. Not nearly large enough by my reckoning. We found two seats at the corner on the short side of the L.

They have a very cool -- literally -- setup where a trough of ice runs around the inside edge of the entire bar where you can set your drinks to keep them chilled. Ice continued up the draft beer taps. This must have been a theme because the air conditioning was turned so low, they could have performed autopsies in there.

We found the bar staff a little overwhelmed and not particularly friendly. It was lunch on Saturday and the joint was out of its signature beer -- some sort of honey-infused ale. I settled for a very nice Brown brewed by a microbrewery in Knoxville.

The food showed real potential. My friend had a salad and Monte Cristo sandwich that was delicious. I ordered a burger with mac 'n cheese. The mac 'n cheese was excellent. I was glad I ordered my burger medium or they probably would have sent a steer in and handed me a knife. The burger wasn't just under cooked, it was rare. My dad would have looked at it and said, "I've seen a cow hurt worse than that get up and walk away."

Glitches in the kitchen are to be expected when a joint is new. Everything else was very good. If I was running the place, though, I'd be more concerned about the surly staff than little issues in the kitchen. I had the feeling that maybe they had to open the place more quickly than expected and didn't take as much time with the hiring process as they should. I can't imagine the staff members I came in contact with being any manager's first choice to hire.

I like the food and the concept too much not to go back, but it will be a while -- after they've had time to rotate out some of the current staff for better hires.

As our Saturday pub crawl continued, we briefly ducked into Passerelle Bistro. This is the newest edition to Table 301 that manages Soby's, Lazy Goat, and Nose Dive among others. It's where Overlook used to be at the Reedy River Bridge. It's a postage stamp-sized place with as many tables outside as in.

We walked in as the lunch crowd was dispersing. It was like old home week. Several of Soby's servers work lunches at Passerelle. We sat at the bar, which is about as long as the vanity in my master bathroom. We occupied two-thirds of the bar stools. One thing about a pipsqueak-size bar, you have the full attention of the bartender, who in this case was chatty and friendly.

After glancing at the menu, I knew that I wouldn't be sampling the cuisine any time soon. The menu isn't engineered for a meat-and-potatoes guy; but if your tastes run to foo-foo food, you should give it a go. However, sometime when I'm accompanied by only one or two friends, I may drop in for a drink again.

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