Lowest-Greenville has changed a lot in the years since we lived a block and a half away on Oram. The bar scene first shifted, then largely disappeared. Restaurants came and went. And a few--like Nora, Blind Butcher, and Truckyard--showed they were there to stay. But, over the past few years, old-guard holdouts--such as Daddy Jacks and Crown and Harp--finally gave up and moved out. In their place, a new breed of exciting concepts are popping up. I visited two of these this past weekend, with mixed results.
I decided to visit Laurel Tavern for a late brunch on Sunday. The drink and food menu looked good, and the build-out looked pretty appealing. I started out with a spicy pineapple margarita and the pork belly skewers. The margarita was great--not too sweet, nice and strong, and served over a single large ice cube that helped prevent dilution. Unfortunately, at $11, I expected a bit more volume. Even though it was tasty, it was served in an old fashioned glass that was mostly filled by the ice cube.
The pork belly skewers were a little less successful. Coated in a maple glaze, and served with a lime wedge, they looked delicious. While the lime helped cut the richness of the dish, they were pretty overdone and tough. The glaze was tasty, but one of the skewers had a long (3-4 inch) cloth fiber in it when it came to the table. Despite picking it out in full view of the waitress, nothing was really done about it. It didn't appear to be a hair, so I didn't send the dish back. But it was still kinda nasty.
After finishing the margarita and the pork belly skewers, I ordered an El Chapo cocktail, and the French Dip sandwich. Unfortunately, the El Chapo was served in the same old fashioned glass as the margarita. But, the drink--which was a spicy tequila-based concoction, with a hint of cucumber--was really tasty, even if a bit expensive. It added a bit of zing to the French Dip, which was everything you'd want out of a traditional French Dip sandwich. The bread was buttered and toasted well. The carmelized onions were dark brown and delicious. And the horseradish cream was tasty and just spicy enough. The dish could have used a bit more au jus for the size of the sandwich. But the au jus that came with was really tasty, with well-developed meaty flavors!
The biggest problem with Laurel Tavern is actually not the food or the drinks, but how they want you to order them. I sat at the bar, and that, consequently, is exactly where everyone in the restaurant has to order their food and drinks, and pay when they're done. So, while eating, I had a constant stream of people right next to me either ordering or paying. Luckily, the restaurant wasn't that busy, so I only had to contend with 15 or so people inches away from my food, interrupting my brunch. But, on a busy day, I can only imagine how miserable the experience would have been. Here's a word of advice--save your bar patrons, and invest in a couple of competent servers! It'll make everyone happier.
Leela's Wine Bar
Not particularly pleased with the experience at Laurel Tavern, I decided to meet up with Natalie and walk down the street to Leela's Wine Bar--the new spot that opened in the main floor of the old Crown and Harp building. Walking in the door, we were struck by the gorgeous, relaxing, light-bright buildout. It was a bit like walking in to a set piece from the Hamptons or somewhere in Napa. The entire restaurant is covered in non-marking bar/table materials that look like carrara marble, but won't actually stain (perfect for a wine bar).
While the bar serves cocktails and beer, the focus is definitely on the new trend--wine-on-tap. We've got to say, while their list wasn't quite as lengthy as 60 vines, the prices were outstanding. $44 for a carafe of any of their red or white wines. We tried their tempranillo (prior to ordering), and can't say we were that impressed. It was really green peppery and a bit tart. But, we followed that up with a taste of their cab-sauv blend. It was just what we were looking for. Two carafes later, we were even happier with our choice.
While we didn't get a chance to try any food on the menu--which is more tapas-based--the selection wasn't bad, and sounded tasty. We definitely plan to return ASAP. It's a great option just down the street from our house. And, at $44 / carafe, it's just a great deal. We're always a sucker for that. And wine, of course.