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Sandwiches, wraps, soups make Garden Bistro a favorite Columbia lunch spot

Chicken salad on pumpernickel and roasted red pepper soup at Garden Bistro.
Chicken salad on pumpernickel and roasted red pepper soup at Garden Bistro. Special to Go Columbia

What’s good here?

This is a popular downtown spot for lunch.

The chicken salad, all white meat with dried seasoning, and pecans and raisins, is a favorite as a half-sandwich with soup or salad, in the Summer Chicken Wrap, with a salad meal, or purchased by the pound.

Another popular item is the Smashed Cuban, featuring honey pit ham, top round roast beef, Swiss, pickles, and sweet mustard on Texas Toast.

Apples add a touch of sweetness to several items, including the Upstate wrap with roasted turkey breast, feta, Royal Gala apples, and sweet mustard in a spinach tortilla.

Soups are sought after, especially during fall and winter months. Soups and specials are listed daily on the website.

Local and seasonal ingredients are used when possible. A recent salad special included locally grown and hand-harvested blueberries.

“We have an open kitchen, so all our customers can see what we are doing, what we are using to make their orders, and they are able to interact with us as was are preparing items,” said co-owner Mike Haddon.

How did Garden Bistro get its start?

Haddon and co-owner Matt Walker, who have worked in the restaurant industry since their teen years, also worked at the 1997-founded Garden Bistro, then under different ownership and at a different location in Columbia. When the restaurant became available for sale, they purchased it in 2013 and moved it to its current location on Assembly Street.

“We didn’t change a lot, but he created some specials – as did I – and some of those became menu items,” Haddon said.

Catering is big business at Garden Bistro, particularly boxed lunches for Columbia area offices. The owners’ desire is that their establishment be known as a catering business where patrons can eat, instead of as a restaurant that caters.

What does this place look like?

There is an open-air kitchen, order-up counter, and open eating area. Large floor-to-ceiling entrance windows provide a bird’s-eye view of the goings-on along Assembly Street downtown. Walls are camel-hued, and there is seating for close to 50.

Who eats here?

With 50 percent to 70 percent of customers identified as “regulars” – those who eat at Garden Bistro two to three times a week – it is imperative to Haddon and Walker that their restaurant be one of friendliness and interaction.

Haddon said all he has to do sometimes is make eye contact with a regular customer and observe a nod of the head to know to get to work on his usual order. Most customers work in nearby offices, while there are also University of South Carolina students and downtown residents who eat regularly at Garden Bistro. Those customers who cannot get out of their offices to eat often order in; Garden Bistro delivers with a $10 minimum order.

Garden Bistro

WHERE: 1303-B Assembly St., Columbia

WHEN: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday

COST: $7.29 and under

INFO: www.gardenbistrovista.com; (803) 933-9085

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