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Monday, March 26, 2012

Spartanburg: cupcakes. coffee. cool.

Last Thursday I had a date with Spartanburg. I was in town to interview Dorothy Chapman Josey, a local artist, and to have and dinner and a quick tour of the new Pocket Park with my friend Ximena. I've been to Spartanburg a tons of times since I was a kid.  I never really liked the place... but on Thursday, I got it and I fell in love with the city. 

First I drove out to a beautiful farm on the outskirts for an interview. This is Dorothy.  She's a rockstar in the Spartanburg art scene. Her portraits are hanging in homes and buildings all over the city.  She used to work for Time magazine and rubbed elbows with a few celebrities and crazy big artists in the 80's.  Her sister is Nasheville singer/songwriter Marshall Chapman. Interviews like this make every bad interview I've ever been through totally worth it.  The article comes out in Spartanburg Journal next week and her exhibit "Head Shots" opens at Chapman Cultural Center on April 1st.

When I'm anywhere near Spartanburg, I head downtown for a cupcake from Cakehead Bakeshop and an iced coffee from Little River Coffee Bar.  On Thursday, I parked myself in the coffee shop for three hours to finish an article and wait on Ximena to get off work.  People came in and out, said hello, stopped to talk to each other.  I sat down with an employee and one of the regulars at an outside table to chat for a bit. Years ago, I worked in a coffee shop every single day. The corner booth was my office and my home away from home.  Owners changed, atmosphere changed and it lost the vibe and I haven't found a suitable stomping ground since.  Until Thursday... but unfortunately, Little River is an hour away from home. (Sad.) 

Photographer Iain Curcio was playing occupy Pocket Park taking pics of coffee shop regulars for an upcoming project.  Ximena and I popped into Carriage House Wine and she introduced me to Tony Forest, the owner.  It's a great little casual wine bar.  A group of locals were having a little post-work vino and Ximena stopped to chat while I perused the retail selections reciting my wine store montra: must not buy. must not buy. 

Then dinner.

   This was the coolest dining experience I've had in a long time. Nineteen year old Tony Angelakis runs Cuzina Grill assisted by his very Greek Aunt Effie.  We met Ximena's husband Norberto here and sidled up to the bar. 

Tony served up some Saganaki (Pan-fried Kefalotiri cheese) for starters. Holy crap. Salty, lemony, cheesy goodness.   Ximena told him I was a visiting friend and asked him to hook us up with random grub, so he did!  Tony had just pulled a pan out of the oven of spinach, swish chard, tomato and rice.  It's common for him to whip up something random to offer.  Effie said when it's gone, it's gone! And she's quick to tell you they do not have a freezer or a microwave.  All of their food is fresh, fresh, fresh. 

Because we were sitting at the bar that surrounds their kitchen, we could see everything going on. Tony brought over a plate of meat: grilled pork, grilled steak and rotisserie lamb. And a mixed plate with hummus, hand-cut duck fat fries, tabouli, Tzatziki and pita and a bowl full of the fresh-from the oven veggie dish.  Oh, and a greek salad.  He served it all up family style, we ordered beer and Greek wine and we ate, and ate and ate.  It was incredible.  The kid is a Greek Food God. 

I joked with Ximena that she called all of her friends and told them I was in town because everyone she knew was there!  It was crazy. The place only seats about forty people and it was packed.   She introduced me all around.

I finally got Spartanburg.  Greenville is corporate land.  Spartanburg is the cool, hip, academic cousin.  The town is FULL of professors and academics: Converse, Spartanburg Methodist College, Wofford, USC Upstate...  and nine times out of ten, you are meeting either transplants from other parts of the country who now call Spartanburg home, or people who left for a long time and found out the place is now cool and came back.  There's always something going on here too: exhibits, movie festivals, concerts, food markets, art markets, etc. There's a biking trail, parks, seasonal festivals, a happening local coffee shop and the best cupcakes in the Upstate.  Sigh.  Greenville is home, but Spartanburg... I have a new crush. I wish I lived closer. 

*I have more pics, but blogger is malfunctioning.  I'll get them on here later, so check back!  
Happy day!

1 comment:

strugglinghomebrewer said...

I just stumbled across your blog and absolutely love it. Next time you are in the Spartanburg area, you have to check out Zarza Eclectic Cuisine. Cuzina Grill is amazing.