Local products become divine dishes at the American Grocery
By M. Linda Lee
NOVEMBER 29, 2011
Chef Joe Clarke and Darlene Mann-Clarke are proof that you can go home again. Having cut their culinary teeth in New York City and Los Angeles, this chef/sommelier duo returned to their roots in Greenville in 2007 to open the American Grocery Restaurant.
The farm-to-table concept wasn’t even a glimmer in Greenville’s eye when the couple birthed this low-key place in the West End, quietly sophisticated with a small bar in front and original artwork lauding food and wine on the walls. Their relationships with local farmers now pepper the menu with homegrown products such as Blue Chip Farms rabbit, Red Fern Farm Tunis lamb, and an abundance of local seafood, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and bread.
Like the menu, the cocktail list changes frequently and always entices with sips of the season. Take the Pig on the Porch, for example: this blend of house, bacon-infused bourbon and Blenheim ginger ale was showcased in the recently published book The American Cocktail.
Tonight, an “Indian summer squash” soup yields a silky blend of butternut, acorn, and pattypan squash from Izzy’s Heirlooms, bound with potato and a little cream and swirled with sage and pistachio oil. Mussels come in a bowl of vermillion, smoked-paprika cream dotted with crunchy bits of bacon. Ignoring our vow to go light on bread, we ask for more so we can sop up the rest of the aromatic broth.
Crusted with paper-thin, crispy potatoes, my North Carolina trout rests on a bed of field peas scattered with frizzled onions. A spoonful of tart, pickled chow-chow perks up the peas. My husband’s hanger steak is cooked a perfect medium-rare. Coloring the plate are a pumpkin-hued squash purée, roasted red grapes, and a tangle of spectacular braised collards. Chef Joe’s Southern heritage shines through in the latter; his tender collards sing with just the right balance of salt, smoke, and vinegar.
Sommelier Darlene is the person to ask about wine pairings. She handpicks the thoughtful selection of boutique wines, and will regale guests who are interested with the story behind each winery. For our entrées she suggests an Oregon Pinot Gris and a Malbec from Argentina, and, as always, she’s right on the money.
At meal’s end, we have enough room for only one dessert, and it’s a toss-up between the salted caramel brownie with bacon ice cream and the old-fashioned pound cake. I tip the scales in favor of the cake, which embodies a fall evening in its accompaniments of cinnamon-laced pumpkin ice cream and toasted pecans.
My advice? If you’re home for the holidays, give yourself the scrumptious gift of a meal to remember at the American Grocery.