TOWN Magazine January 2014
Underground supper club Renegade Vittles takes diners on a wild culinary ride
By M. Linda Lee
JANUARY 3, 2014
It all started with a pig. When Chef Joe Clarke of American Grocery Restaurant purchased a whole Berkshire pig from Roddy Pick at Greenbrier Farms in Easley last fall, it spurred his idea to feature a “Pigtober” menu at the restaurant. Clarke, his wife (and AGR co-owner) Darlene, and their friend Erin Gilreath-Hester (a wine rep for Ben Arnold Beverage Co.) had been kicking around the notion of an underground supper club for a couple of years. So, inspired by that Berkshire pig, they came up with a theme (Dia de los Puercos) and a venue (the covered barn at Greenbrier Farms), and decided to go for it.
“Once we had the chefs lined up, it just sort of steamrolled from there,” says Clarke. The supper club’s name comes from the fact that the founders consider themselves “like-minded renegades, fighting to improve the culinary landscape in Greenville.”
That inaugural dinner last November 4 was a chilly affair, warmed by a crackling fire pit in the barn and the conviviality of the guests who gathered around the long, farm tables. In addition to Clarke, a mix of chefs stirred in an all-star local lineup: Jason Scholz from Stella’s Southern Bistro, Anthony Gray from Bacon Bros. Public House, Michael Kramer from Table 301 group, and Aaron Manter from The Owl. Each chef was responsible for one pork course, which ranged from grilled, cider-braised ham over squash ravioli to Guinea hog pork belly with bacon jam. Guests brought their own beverages of choice.
Lack of rules defines any underground supper club, and the location is kept secret to ticketholders until the last minute (in the case of Renegade Vittles, the day before). This unorthodox dining experience sets talented chefs, from Greenville and beyond, loose to step outside the brick-and-mortar restaurant box for an evening of gastronomic free-wheeling.
Planners have complete freedom with the food, venue, and number of people. “You can strip away anything that gets in the way of a great meal,” says Darlene. “A supper club takes the paradigm of a traditional restaurant and turns it on its head.” The key is to keep it simple, the founders say, and to concentrate on the things that will make the dinner great.
Held at the Midtown Artery gallery in the Village, the second Renegade Vittles dinner borrowed its theme from the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian-American Christmas Eve tradition. Part of the ticket price for this meal was donated to Loaves & Fishes, a Greenville-based nonprofit dedicated to rescuing food that would otherwise go to waste, and distributing it to local charities in Greenville County.
Future dinners will all have their own personalities.
One might revolve around music; one might corral food trucks; another could celebrate local grains . . . the possibilities are endless. The goal for 2014 is to stage 18 events and to expand the appeal to different demographics.
No matter the menu, the chefs, the cost, or the venue, Darlene insists there will be one constant dished up at every Renegade Vittles dinner: “Expect the unexpected.”