#TBT: 10 of Columbia’s longest-standing restaurants

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Villa Tronco | Photo provided by Mike Wine-guy

By: Mike Wine-guy, a representative of fine wines and a lover of great local foods.

Good morning, COLAtoday! Earlier this year, Anne Postic wrote some #TBT pieces reminiscing great restaurants from days gone by: Who remembers Hennessy’s? and Remember Hannah Janes?.

A few months ago, I began interviewing local restaurant and bar owners to tell their stories on my Facebook and Instagram, in a series of posts I call #yourcolumbia. After reading a few of these, the fine folks at COLAtoday asked me to write a piece about some Cola classics that are still around.

Villa Tronco | est. 1940 | 1213 Blanding St.  

I’m not sure there is any way to start a list of Columbia classics other than the oldest restaurant in South Carolina. In addition to opening the oldest restaurant, Sadie Tronco is also credited with bringing pizza to Columbia. Today, Villa Tronco is owned by Sadie’s granddaughter, Carmella Roche, and the making of the famous ‘Mama Tronco Cheesecakes’ is now tasked to Carmellina Nieto (great-granddaughter). While you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, the Villa Tronco Chicken is legendary.

Villa Tronco | Photo provided by Mike Wine-guy

Yesterday’s | est. 1976 | 2030 Devine St.

Ah, the man in the tub.  A Five Points staple that is actually located on one of the “five points.” In 1976, Duncan MacRae, Scottie MacRae, and Darrell Barnes wanted to open a restaurant with a concept that was really not that common at the time: an all-American scratch kitchen, with regional classics from all over this great nation. Opened in the Five Points Flat Iron, previously home to Lombardi’s, Yesterday’s has been a pivotal part of the Soda City experience for decades – and continues today.

The Gourmet Shop | est. 1979 | 724 Saluda Ave.

This place has it all. Wine shop, cafe, cooking store, and (my favorite) amazing purveyor of fine cheeses.  Dennis and Linda Hiltner owned and operated this gem in the heart of Five Points for 40 years – until selling to current owner Amy Beth Franks in 2019. And you can’t call yourself a Soda Citizen unless you’ve at least tried their famous chicken salad. (Although my not-so-guilty Sunday afternoon pleasure is to grab a few cheeses, maybe some prosciutto or serrano ham, a bottle of wine, and go home to play board games: Cambozola & Catan – does life get any better?)  

The Gourmet Shop | Photo provided by Mike Wine-guy

Al’s Upstairs | est. 1979 | 300 Meeting St.

Opened in the old Thompson’s Grocery building, Owner Al Loftis has spent his life in restaurants – and has proudly been bringing fine dining to Cola for nearly 40 years. Although the menu has evolved over those many years, at least one thing has remained the same: a quality scratch kitchen. Chef Mike Wright (chef for the last 20 years) gets his proteins in whole, and his ingredients in fresh. So wander just over the Gervais Street bridge, and enjoy some delicious Italian Cuisine with a unique and amazing view of our city.

Motor Supply Co. | est. 1989 | 920 Gervais St.

Named for the auto repair shop located in that building from the 30’s to the 70’s, Motor Supply is definitely a gem in the Vista. Owner Eddie Wales started as one of the first servers at Motor 30 years ago, and through an interesting series of events he was able to buy it in 2000. They’re consistently recognized not only for their great food and service, but the Motor Supply bar program. Mixologist Josh Streetman is known well beyond the borders of Soda City. P.S. All meals at Motor are an experience, but if you haven’t tried a brunch there, you are missing out big time.

Bar None | est. 1994 | 620 Harden St.

Bar None is going on 25 years of flying below the radar. Marty Dreesen, Nebraska native turned Colatown citizen after his time at USC, has provided a casual, late night haven for generations. From happy hour to the early hours, Bar None is a great spot for drinks, food, and friends (if you do not bring your own, they will be provided for you – guaranteed).

Mr. Friendly’s | est. 1995 (as the current Mr. Friendly’s) | 2001-A Greene St.

In the early 80’s you may remember Mr. Friendly’s as a sandwich shop, but in 1995 it was revamped into the awesome restaurant it is today. Lunch or dinner, Tuesday-Saturday, you can enjoy new Southern cuisine with fresh ingredients and simple preparations. There is always fresh seafood featured to be enjoyed in the casual (but fancy) dining room (as well as meat, poultry, etc. features). And, of course, the wine: owner Ricky Mollohan, (who also opened of Cellar on Greene and Solstice Kitchen), constantly strives to always have delicious wine offerings, as well as fantastic wine by the glass features.

Saluda’s | est. 1996 | 751 Saluda Ave.

So many great things to say about Saluda’s, but one of the biggies has to be that view. I don’t want to hastily mention any spot as being the best view in the city, but it sure is tempting.  And, of course, the food is amazing. Owner Steve Cook definitely is passionate about what he does, and keeps an ever-evolving menu with superb steaks/chops and a strong emphasis on fresh seafood.

Hampton Street Vineyard | est. 1996 | 1201 Hampton St.

Speaking of awesome views, the outdoor seating at The Hampton Street Vineyard is pretty unmatched. This aptly named spot proudly features one of the biggest wine lists in Columbia and is a many time recipient of the Wine Spectator Wine list award. Owner Leigh Talmadge’s past is one of working the chef life in great restaurants coast to coast. His philosophy is one of local products with classic techniques, an extensive wine list, and a very knowledgeable staff.  And he’s open for lunch.

Hampton Street Vineyard | Photo provided by Mike Wine-guy

Baan Sawan Thai Bistro | est. 1999 | 2135 Devine St.

This is the epitome of a family-owned restaurant. Every night as you enter, you will immediately see Sam Suaudom – likely having a conversation with a lucky patron about the importance of balance, with respect to wine and his family’s food. If you were to peek in the kitchen, you’d see his father, Sam (also), working the wok; his mother, Nancy, working the curries/sauces; and his brother, Alex, on the grill and quality control. For years, Sam has been working with his wife and sons to bring Columbia a little of the savory, Northern Thai cuisine that he grew up with (and we’re so lucky he has). Before Baan Sawan, his family’s first restaurant was Pattaya on Assembly St. in 1995.

 

Columbia has an amazing dining scene, and has for quite a long time. If you have never visited these spots, now is the time. Supporting local has never tasted so good.

Mike Wine-guy

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