Executive chef Fulvio Valsecchi discovered cooking at a young age. The prodigy was born and raised in Lake Como, Italy, and began culinary school in Milan at the ripe age of 16. After immigrating to America in 1969, he opened the incredibly successful Ristorante Divino, a mecca for Northern Italian cuisine that won a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence eight years in a row.
On his way to and from Divino, Fulvio used to pass by a little building on Fort Jackson Boulevard. He began daydreaming about a departure from his upscale Italian roots—something more family-centric and homey. After one too many passes, Fulvio decided to let that idea stretch its legs, buy the building, and open The Diner as a hub for modern southern comfort food.
The 4,000-square-foot restaurant hosts three dining areas and a separate bar stocked with beer and wine, all of which sport a 1950s-diner theme. Vibrant wall paintings by Columbia's own Chicken Man transport diners back in time with images of cherry-red convertibles, revving motorcycles, and forlorn bicyclists. As guests admire the nostalgic decor, chefs busy themselves by assembling ingredients from local markets and crafting European-style rémoulades to accent their southern staples of fried green tomatoes, meatloaf, and Cajun shrimp.
While its menu is a nostalgic throwback to simpler times, American Roadside’s physical locations are a nod to a sustainable American future. They boast ecologically amenable fixtures such as reclaimed barn siding on walls and chairs made from recycled materials. The kitchen team, however, flame-grills each premium beef burger anew, before piling them with a variety of toppings, such as housemade chili, pepper jack cheese, and bacon. Sandwiches pack everything from Carolina-style barbecued pork to grilled chicken, while all-white-meat chicken tenders present a breadless option and Roadside wings tossed in barbecue, Mild Fire, chipotle, or Blazin’ Hot sauce present a flammable option. Fries, onions rings, and mac 'n' cheese accompany meals, which can be washed down with one of the eatery's handmade milkshakes. Beer and wine also make an appearance on the menu.
When Rich LaVecchia first started the American Roadside franchise in North Carolina, he appointed his 8- and 13-year-old children as chief taste-testers. Today, he pays them—and kids across the country—back by donating a portion of all burger sales to American Roadside charities, such as Classroom Central and the Autism Foundaton of the Carolinas.
In 1937, Vernon Rudolph founded Krispy Kreme in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with the first location on South Main Street in Old Salem. Seventy-seven years later, his secret doughnut recipe lives on within hundreds of Krispy Kreme locations, serving premium sweet treats across the globe.
The entire doughnut-making process, which customers can view up close and personal at many of Krispy Kreme?s outposts, begins with fresh ingredients and ends with the click of a fluorescent sign bearing the words, "Hot Doughnuts Now." From the original, mold-breaking glazed doughnut to newer doughnut varieties, such as Chocolate Iced with Kreme Filling, Glazed Raspberry Filled, and Glazed Chocolate Cake, each round dainty pairs with piping-hot coffee for a compact snack.
J. Gumbo's of SC embraces the spirit of Cajun food and culture, serving up gumbo and sweet tea to the tune of creole and Cajun beats. Slow-cooked gumbo simmers for more than four hours, before piling into bowls over tender chicken, smoked sausage, and rice. The authenticity of the eating experience is furthered by Louisiana-born products such as Abita root beer, Zapp's chips, and the kind of flat-screen TV preferred by most gators. The eatery also offers less traditional options such as NOLA nachos, which feature an amalgam of drunken chicken, white chili, cheddar cheese, jalapeños, and sour cream.
There are people who love cooking from scratch and people who shudder at the thought of assembling a turkey club sandwich. Rosewood Market and Deli caters to both. Aisles of grocery items help list-makers check off boxes for gluten-free food, pasture-raised meats and eggs, and local raw milks. The produce section harvests organic choices from local farms, and the cheese case displays sticks and slices from around the region and the globe. In the deli, soups, salads, desserts, baked goods, and other items satisfy tastes from vegan to carnivore. Quick meals in the grab-n-go case include sandwiches and salads that can be topped with homemade dressings and spreads, such as tamari gravy dill vinaigrette and a spicy chipotle spread.
Rosewood Market and Deli has matured from its beginnings as the Basil Pot restaurant in 1973. It’s grown while adhering to the idea that “people can take an active, hands-on approach to their own wellness through delicious food,” as it proclaims on its website. A commitment to sustainability permeates the market, from its cardboard-recycling dumpster and reusable produce boxes to its compostable utensils and ability to accept biodegradable credit cards.
For three years running—2011, 2012, and 2013—Columbia Metropolitan magazine has declared Gervais & Vine's wine list the city's best. What earned it the distinction is simple: globe-spanning variety. Its menu hosts everything from California's 2011 J. Lohr pinot noir to South Africa's Spice Route “Chakalaka” and Germany's Dr. L Riesling, which completed medical school during its fermentation. All told, more than 40 wines by the glass fill the list, complementing the Mediterranean-inspired tapas of head chef Jason Holowacz.
When crafting his entrees, Holowacz focuses on pairing. Dishes range from the Spanish flavors of grilled shrimp to Italian favorites such as pizza with goat cheese and herb-infused olive oil, allowing guests to experiment with their white or red selections. For pointers, periodic winemaker dinners and wine tastings cover different varietals and their best edible matches. And while guests sip and sup, inside or on the outdoor patio, Gervais & Vine entertains their ears every Wednesday and Thursday night with live jazz.