Restaurant Renaissance: Six must-try dishes

07/05/2014 8:06 PM

07/05/2014 8:07 PM

Columbia’s culinary scene is on the rise with an influx of new restaurants in the past few years. Here’s a small sampling of some must-try dishes from a fluffy breakfast omelet to a fresh twist on a bananas foster:


Le Peep in the Vista creates what it calls “The Best Breakfast Food in the World” by offering fresh, simple and healthy options to start a day off right. Aside from a combination of American and mozzarella cheeses, fresh onion, green pepper, broccoli and tomatoes, Chef Justin Blount seems to have cracked the code to the perfect veggie omelet. “We make sure we bleed the omelets to make them very fluffy,” he says. “While the omelet is cooking, lift the front and let the juices go to the bottom.”

Chef-driven restaurant

The Cajun-Creole-influenced restaurant Bourbon mixes a hearty dose of “N’awlins” sass into the bananas foster. Sous chef Blythe Kelly takes her homemade vanilla pudding – made from fresh vanilla beans soaked in vanilla extract – and adds caramelized bananas, brown sugar, a touch of cinnamon and, of course, Maker’s Mark. Kelly is more influenced by the bourbon-centric theme of the restaurant than the Cajun-Creole theme, “Like my mom says: if you want Southern people to eat it, either deep fry it or put booze in it,” she said.

Ethnic cuisine

Get a taste of the World Cup at Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse, where the TVs are always on and the skewered meats are always on the way. The all-you-can-eat steakhouse serves its customers in classic Brazilian “rodizio” style, which roughly translates to “waiters stuff your face full of food until you tell them to stop.” The beef in particular stays a cut above the rest. “We only use the highest grades of beef,” says general manager Marie Rich. “Our House Picanha (house special) is taken from a top calf of a sirloin portion, cooked on rotisserie and sliced into thin slices.” Score.

The fresh basil rolls at Basil Thai deliver what the restaurant calls a “refined Thai experience.” Shrimp, noodle, lettuce, bean sprouts and basil are tucked in a bite-size rice wrap and given an added kick with chef Suntorn’s house sauce, which is made up of three components: a sweet and sour sauce foundation, thick and sugary hoisin glaze and spicy garlic chili. “It has a wonderful flavor with the garlic and the chili,” says owner Chai Eang. “The thing that makes the house sauce so special is the combination of the three flavors.”

Fast casual fare

Black Bean Co., Charleston’s “Energy Food Restaurant,” set up shop in Columbia in late June. Head chef and owner Ellis Grossman says he hopes to redefine the fast-food business with healthy wraps like the Beach Burrito, which adds fresh mango to the classic burrito formula. “Every wrap has a story,” Grossman says. “It reminded me of when I was a kid and we’d all go to the beach and it was all about chips and salsa and fresh guacamole. It was something so simple and so good.”

Healthy eating

The Good Life Cafe is a rare breed in the Columbia-area food scene: all vegan, all raw, all the time. The tacos are loaded with cashew nacho cheese, salsa, cashew sour cream, lettuce and, instead of beef or chicken – nut meat – a substitute that head chef Christina Brockington says would please even the most devout of carnivores. “We get people in with familiar textures and flavors,” she said. “We have a lot of non-vegetarian-vegans come in, and 10 out of 10 times they’re satisfied.”

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