As Columbia’s restaurant scene rises, the Midlands has drawn more international fare in recent years.
“When you think about Columbia, we have a wide variety of people who are very sophisticated,” from politicians to educators, said Marianne Bickle, department chair of retailing for the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management at the University of South Carolina.
And, lately, the area has been getting a taste of different cuisines to satisfy a range of tastes.
“Now, we’re really getting an international spice of life,” Bickle said.
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A sampling of what’s being offered:
Brazilian style steakhouses
In a true Brazilian churrascaria, diners don’t order the T-bone or rib eye. Instead, they are invited to experience a range of meat offerings by waiters who walk around with a variety of cuts. That experience came to Columbia’s rebounding Main Street in 2011 when Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse opened. Last year, it hit the suburbs when a Charleston restaurant group opened Rioz on Columbiana Drive in the Harbison area.
The opening of Columbia’s first Whole Foods Market on Jackson Boulevard near Devine Street opened the door for brothers Chai and Henry Eang to bring their popular Basil Thai Cuisine to Columbia last year. The Charleston-based chain opened a location in the upscale Cross Hill Market, serving dishes based on the family recipes of executive chef Suntom Cherdchoogarm, or Chef Sunny. Though less spicy than traditional Thai food, the dishes are rich and flavorful, featuring traditional fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.
Authentic Italian-style pizza
More than a year ago, Rick Marzan followed his passion back to the Midlands after 25 years working as an actor and producer in Los Angeles. The man you might remember as “Jose” from the baseball movie classic “Bull Durham” opened Noah’s Antica Pizzeria, a Neapolitan pizza restaurant, in Irmo. It serves authentic thin crust pizza made with fine Caputo flour and tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil at the base of Italy’s Mount Vesuvius and baked in a Pompeii oven. This year, Marzan hopes to bring a second location to the downtown area.
Meanwhile, George Kessler opened Il Giorgione, featuring authentic Italian-style pizza, on Devine Street last year after spending a year in Florence, Italy, studying the art of Italian pastry making. Some of the herbs used in the crust are grown in the restaurant’s courtyard herb garden. Kessler and his wife, Monica, also serve fresh gelatos, sorbettos, cannelloni and Italian apple cake.
Laurent Prescelti, a native of France, opened Crepes and Croissants downtown on Sumter Street two years ago, bringing a specialty from his home country to the plates of Midlands residents. The crepes – like very thin pancakes – are offered in sweet and savory varieties, and can be topped with anything from chili and cheese and to strawberries or eggs for main dishes and desserts.