Savor Hub City
Our Eat & Burn series showcases destinations through their cuisine and inviting ways to burn calories.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Great restaurants and adventures abound in Spartanburg, South Carolina, so it’s easy to plan an itinerary where you can indulge in every tasty temptation and still go home in the same size pants that you arrived wearing.
From global culinary traditions to reinterpreted Southern classics to genuine surprises, a mouthwatering range of dishes is served at independent restaurants across Hub City, a nickname Spartanburg earned in the late 1800s for its role as a major transportation center.
Outdoor activities options are plentiful, too, whether you prefer to be on foot, in a kayak, on a bike, or on horseback. However you prefer to breathe fresh air, get your heart pumping and burn calories, there’s a great place to do it in Spartanburg.
Cribb’s Kitchen is at once a casual place to grab a burger and a beer as well as where to find chef-driven creations like pork belly confit alongside handcrafted cocktails. Vibrant energy warms this place best-known for its annual burger cook off, with the winning burgers landing on the menu. Chef William Cribb, who was named a South Carolina Chef Ambassador in 2017 (a program that recognizes four of the state’s leading chefs each year), showcases fresh, seasonal and sustainable ingredients in upscale dishes with South Carolina roots, from boiled peanuts to shrimp and crispy oysters with grits. Chef Cribb is also the creative spark behind the wildly popular Willy Taco, a cantina with a fiesta vibe, and The Kennedy, focused on refined plates and cocktails.
The Silo at RJ Rockers is the slick new eatery at the brewery best-known for fan favorites like Son of a Peach wheat ale and Brown Eyed Squirrel brown ale among others. Chef Clay McDonough’s menu leans Cajun while taking its lead from the brewery with beer-friendly snacks like pretzels & beer cheese, as well as dishes made using beer as an ingredient such as the Brown Eyed Squirrel-soaked beef tenderloin. Creations like the smoked Carolina trout, Jambalaya-stuffed peppers, and crawfish & collards encourage social dining of the “you have to try this!” share-a-bite variety. Plan to stay and linger over a beer or two.
Level 10 is the first rooftop restaurant in downtown Spartanburg. The swanky dining room occupies the tenth floor of the new AC Hotel Spartanburg and opens onto four terraces that offer 360-degree views of the city. Expect white tablecloths, candlelight, attentive service and mouthwatering small plates like crab beignets, gnocchi with duck confit, and Moroccan-spiced lamb. The idea is to order a variety of flavors for a shareable feast. Consider starting the evening at the bar, sipping your pick among the list of eclectic wines or handcrafted cocktails.
FR8 Yard is an innovative outdoor dining concept that feels part biergarten, part tailgate party. The kitchen and bar are housed inside re-purposed shipping containers while nearby picnic tables surround fire pits that double as cooking elements. This jovial spot shows sporting events on the jumbotron and stages performances by regional music acts. Inspired by street food, the menu presents upscale versions of beer-friendly bites like chargrilled marinated chicken on a stick, apple & sage veggie dog, and fries with brisket chili. It’s all so good you’ll want to lick every remnant off your fingers.
Renato In Centro is a date-night favorite, but its elegant ambiance, attentive service, and upscale Italian fare feel like a lunch or dinner reward any old day. Time-tested classic Italian recipes like spaghetti carbonara, veal saltimbocca, eggplant parmigiana, and margherita pizza earn consistent raves. Simple and delicious are Chef Renato Marmalino’s menu staples, not complicated and unpronounceable. The wine list includes an impressive selection of Italian labels. Save room for dessert like tiramisu.
The Farmer’s Table is a mecca for fans of eggs benedict since the breakfast menu at this homey eatery is served all day and features six variations of the dish, from classic to creative with scrumptious toppings like rainbow trout, crab cakes, sausage gravy, and more. Owners Joel and Lenora Sansbury favor local, organic and sustainable ingredients across their fresh flavorful menu, from the veggie omelet to seasonal dinner specials, from the breakfast burrito to the seafood tacos. Order whatever tempts most, it’s not like you can go wrong.
Growler Haus has 24 taps of different styles of beer, including multiple seasonal and micro-craft brews. Buy by the glass to sip on site alongside fellow beer lovers or by the growler to tote home. The food menu offers beer-friendly bites like boiled peanuts, soft pretzels, hummus with pita, plus sandwiches and flatbreads. The mood of the place shifts between serious introspection and upbeat camaraderie depending on the time of day and who happens to be occupying the space. Head to the “conference room” if conducting business or upstairs to flop on a sofa or play foosball.
Downtown Deli & Donuts is best known for its small-batch donuts, sweetly served with a smile from behind a sign that proclaims one of humanity’s fundamental truths: “my head says gym but my heart says donuts.” The sweet selection changes daily. Grab a donut with coffee to go or perhaps order one as dessert after a breakfast, brunch or lunch made of fresh ingredients that are preservative-free, non-GMO, organic, and local as much as possible. Salads and sandwiches tucked into bagels, biscuits and flavorful breads like rosemary focaccia run the gamut from healthy vegetarian to indulgent carnivore with abundant gluten-free options in the mix.
Hub City Bookshop & Press is a literary hotspot adjacent to two community magnets: Cakehead Bake Shop and Little River Coffee Bar, complementary treat shops that combine into what some folks see as a bookish hideout, others as a meeting space, and some as a laptop office. Chef Liz Blanchard’s pastry shop serves fresh-baked cakes, pies, cupcakes, cookies, bars and breakfast treats worth the calorie splurge. The coffee bar serves traditional espresso and pour-over coffee drinks made fresh to order, by the cup. Coffee beans are roasted in small batches and sourced with a “farmer friendly” approach that focuses on sustainability. Whatever you order, if you’re lost for how to put its ethereal yumminess into words, just head next-door for a tome by a Southern food writer for ideas.
Downtown Spartanburg has so many art galleries, music venues, museums, culinary arts, and literary arts venues within walking distance of one another that it’s been designated a cultural district by the state’s arts commission. Stroll the wide sidewalks in any direction to see some of the more than 75 public art installations that dot the city, ranging from abstract to whimsical. Meander Downtown Spartanburg on a themed trail using your smartphone to guide the route and tap into detailed information. Learn about the city’s 200-year music-making history on the Music Trail, listening to music that honors 18 local musicians who made a national or international impact on your phone as you go. Find 14 significant sites related to architecture, war, transportation, entertainment and more on the Historic Downtown Walking Tour, referencing facts and historic photos on your phone along the way.
Spartanburg was voted the first bicycle-friendly community in the state of South Carolina by the League of American Bicyclists. Roads and trails for cyclists abound. Bring your own bike or rent one of the readily-available B-Cycles to pedal around Spartanburg for the day. The Hub City had the first set-up of B-Cycles in the Southeast and now boasts five stations with a total of 39 bikes. Contact the Spartanburg Convention & Visitors Bureau for maps and information.
Explore beyond Downtown for even more adventurous opportunities.
Croft State Park sprawls 7,054 acres, making it one of South Carolina’s largest state parks. Once a World War II Army training base, it’s just five miles from downtown Spartanburg. Explore its wooded rolling hillsides on foot, bike or horseback. Hikers are welcome on any trail, though one 2.5-mile trail is exclusive to foot traffic. There are more than 20 miles of mountain biking trails, including the park’s longest trail. Bring your own horse to explore the more than 20 miles of equestrian trails; horse stalls and a show ring are available for rent. Fish or paddle Lake Johnson and Lake Craig; canoes, kayaks and Jon boats can be rented. A playground, three picnic shelters, and 50 campsites for RVs or tents are also on site. A shooting range supervised by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is located just outside the park gate; it offers 100- and 200-yard rifle ranges, a 25-yard pistol range, and two archery stands.
Duncan Park sits in the midst of one of Spartanburg’s oldest neighborhoods and is home to Duncan Park Baseball Stadium, the oldest ballpark in South Carolina and one of the oldest wooden grandstand baseball stadiums in the U.S. The 102.5-acre community park also houses two Little League ball fields, tennis courts, a playground, a lake, picnic areas, and amphitheater for special events throughout the year including a concert series showcasing local musicians. A paved walking trail and non-paved trails are open to bikers, runners and hikers. The six-mile off-road mountain bike trail system of short loops was designed to leverage the benefits of gravity to help bikers maintain momentum.
Edwin M. Griffin Nature Preserve is just minutes from downtown on the city’s east side and is one of Spartanburg’s most popular greenspaces. Meandering through 115-acres along the banks of Lawson’s Fork Creek is the five-mile Cottonwood Trail, the first project of the Spartanburg Area Conservancy, a non-profit that helps protect and preserve natural areas throughout Spartanburg. A 550-foot long boardwalk and observation deck overlook 20 acres of wetlands—perfect if your goal is to watch birds, photograph nature, or simply escape the hustle. More than 50 different species of trees create a canopy that helps protect walkers, runners, hikers and bikers from the sun along the trail.
Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve feels like the Hub City’s ten-acre secret garden, bursting with flowers, shrubs and trees. A respite for birds and the people who love them, this free public garden was founded in 1969 and is open during daylight hours. Walk along a series of trails as well as paved quarter- and half-mile paths that are both wheelchair accessible. Bring a picnic. Sniff blooms. Sketch the reflective pond or photograph the 10-foot waterfall. Explore at your own pace.
Mary Black Rail Trail currently measures about two miles, but will eventually become the 12-mile Hub City Connector that will be part of the 425-mile Palmetto Trail across South Carolina. Flat and smooth, the paved Rail Trail repurposes tracks formerly used by the first train that came through Spartanburg in 1859, known as the Norfolk Southern rail line and originally called the Spartanburg-Union Railroad. It passes through an industrial area with restaurants, shops, a YMCA, and a skate park. Walk, jog, skate, bike, or walk your dog. The Rail Tail Dog Park, the city’s first dog park, welcomes large and small dogs with benches for people nearby.
Tyger River Park, located in historic Reidville, is the state’s premier baseball and softball tournament facility with 13 youth baseball/softball fields. It’s also home to batting cages, a clubhouse, large playground, a splash pad, a 1.25-mile walking trail with outdoor fitness challenges along the way, and an 18-hole disc golf course with open and wooded holes. Play ball or just play.
Where To Stay…
AC Hotel Spartanburg is brand new, yet the building’s historic exterior design makes it look like it has long been standing in the heart of Spartanburg. It feels that way, too, because it’s already luring out-of-town guests to luxuriate in its chic guestrooms and mingle with the throngs of locals who can’t resist the lobby-level bar and fine-dining restaurant Level 10—the first rooftop restaurant in downtown Spartanburg. The hotel’s sleek and contemporary interiors seem to underscore that Spartanburg is of the moment and trending now.
– Photo credits: Adventures courtesy Spartanburg CVB; food © HSP Media LLC
This text was written by Hope S. Philbrick for Spartanburg CVB under contract with MediaOne North America and previously published in a slightly different form. It is reprinted on this website with some changes with permission.
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion. Thanks to Spartanburg CVB for hosting my visit.