Friday, May 26, 2017

Food on Friday – Craft & Barrel

It seems that there is a new restaurant opening in the Upstate every week, and while we enjoy trying out the trendy spots (which often become favorites), we also have our go-to restaurants. There are the ones that we visit when celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries, but we have a handful that are on regular rotation for occasions such as the fridge is empty, it’s too hot in the kitchen or mommy needs a break. These are the family-friendly places that have dishes suitable for the kids (but still have an interesting menu for the adults), have a fun atmosphere, include stress-free parking and reasonably priced meal options.


Don’t judge a book by its cover; just as a restaurant on Main St. isn’t guaranteed to be good just because it’s squeezed in among all the current bestsellers, being located in a strip mall shouldn’t disqualify a new author from consideration. I’ve recently become familiar with yet another dining option in Greenville that offers local craft beer and fresh, Southern-inspired menu offerings paired with a convenient location and plenty of parking – making it a sure bet for a weeknight.

Craft & Barrel gastropub specializes in local craft beer, hand-crafted bourbon & whiskey cocktails, and a fresh, Southern menu. The owners Ritch Matthews & Lauren Cramer have been in the food industry for more than 17 years and opened Craft & Barrel in the fall of 2016 where the old Cheers used to be. Be warned – this is a gastropub – meaning it’s more of a bar (but with great food!) than a restaurant, and although it’s a place I’ll take the boys, I will make sure it’s not a night when a live band is playing or karaoke night. We’ll bypass the bar and sit in the back room near the stage, or in the enclosed outdoor patio, and we might go a bit earlier to avoid the evening rush (Wednesdays are usually perfect!).

fried green tomatoes

The full menu features a wide range of options, with the entirety (other than a couple of exceptions) made on site, from scratch. With this in mind, here are a few of my favorites:
From the small plates – fried green tomatoes & housemade cheese sticks. The tomatoes are every bit as good as the ones made in Juliet, GA where the movie Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed, the remoulade probably better. The cheese sticks with fresh marinara sauce are light without being greasy.
From the snacks – bacon jalapeno deviled eggs. A spicy twist on a southern fave, the locally-sourced cheddar and bacon kicking it up a notch.

macaroni & cheese large plate

From the flatbreads – the pesto and heirloom tomato is a best-seller, and for good reason.
From the large plates – the buttermilk fried chicken, the fish and chips. My favorite menu item is the macaroni and cheese: jumbo shells blended with white cheddar cheese, chopped bacon, diced tomatoes and scallions, plus I add the grilled shrimp. Note, if you order mac&cheese as a side, you'll be getting the classic macaroni and cheese...
Sides – you can’t go wrong with the sweet potato chips, and a good test of a chef is his fried okra; ours was perfect.
Dessert – (Order it! Selections do change daily…)

pesto and heirloom tomato flatbread

The specialty drinks I’ve tasted have been excellent, interesting ingredient pairings with good presentation. The blackberry julep is a favorite: Bulleit bourbon, fresh blackberries, fresh mint & sugar. The St. Basil left me perplexed; what was supposed to be Basil Hayden’s bourbon, muddled basil, grapefruit bitters & St. Germain instead contained cilantro, however the combination was delicious and so I didn’t even attempt to clear up the misunderstanding.

Buttermilk fried chicken with sweet potato chips & fried okra

In addition to the live music that takes the stage most Friday and Saturday nights, there are plenty of TVs, a room for darts (that can have some serious competition certain nights), a weeknight happy hour and karaoke. Our service has always included good recommendations and a friendly stop-by from the owner, and the timing of food coming out is flawless. It doesn’t have to be downtown for it to be a Greenville favorite – Craft & Barrel is the perfect example.


Click here for Craft & Barrel's website.
They are also here on facebook, and are @craftbarrel on instagram.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Chester State Park

It can be hard to tear ourselves away from the spectacular State Parks of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, but the parks in the Midlands have their own allure. Especially this time of year (before it’s gotten too hot), a weekend at one of these parks is a great budget getaway, especially as at least eight of them are under a two-hour drive from Greenville. These include Landsford Canal (with its beautiful rocky shoal spider lilies), Dreher Island, and the Civilian Conservation Corps-constructed Chester State Park.

Located between Columbia and Charlotte, Chester SP is in the South Carolina’s Piedmont region; gentle hills covered with hardwoods, the 160-acre Park Lake in the center. With 523 acres of trails, campgrounds, fishing and a disc golf course, there is plenty to keep you busy for the weekend. Or if you’re looking to do very little of anything, the lakeside scenery is the perfect backdrop for enjoying the latest novel and taking a nap in a hammock enjoying the breeze coming off the lake.

Chester State Park Lake spillway

In the 1930s the Park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the same program that allowed for the formation of Paris Mountain State Park. A number of structures built by the CCC are still in operation today, one unique feature being the stone spillway at the west end of Chester State Park Lake. Water pours into a trough and out, creating a waterfall effect. A short distance farther there is an actual waterfall, and both are easily reached via the 1.3-mile Caney Fork Falls Trail. The trailhead is at the main parking area, and the hike winds past the boathouse and the camping area, hugging the shore of the lake and providing ample opportunities for wildlife viewing or fishing. For more on the Civilian Conservation and how they built Chester State Park, consider attending the program The Way We Worked - The CCC at Chester State Park on July 15.

Caney Fork Falls

The park is a popular place to fish for bass, bream, catfish and crappie. There is a bridge near the playground, a fishing pier located in the camping area, and a pier area around the boathouse that all may be used for fishing. Well-worn trails on the shores are a testament to foot traffic from those fishing from the banks. A valid South Carolina fishing license is required.

Chester State Park Lake bridge

The boathouse houses multiple johnboats that can be rented ($10/day), and a boat ramp allows visitors to launch their own boats. Kayaks and canoes are a popular way to tour the lake, and Chester SP hosts unique monthly Twilight Paddling excursions, ranger-guided twilight boat tours taking paddlers on an outdoor adventure from the historical boathouse to the new bridge. See the website for dates, or inquire at the park office. The office has a small store, handles boat rentals, and the info kiosk in front is where those of you participating in the Ultimate Outsider program will find the park stamp.

The boathouse and fishing area

The 25-site campground is just adjacent to the office, the sites capable of accommodating tents to 40-ft RVs. There is also a primitive group camping area available for rental, which is where we camped. The large, grassy area was previously a horse showing arena, and the old structure that at one point housed the judges still sits to one side. The stars viewed from this part of the park were absolutely incredible, with only minimal light pollution disrupting the view.

Primitive camping area

The 18-hole and 9-hole tournament grade disc golf courses are located near the primitive camping area. The first SC State Park tournament sanctioned Disc Golf Course, 3 loops are suitable for tournament play, and 18 holes have alternative tees for beginner/amateur level players.

The Park is also a great spot for birdwatching, and we saw plenty of wildlife on our visit including a bald eagle, black rat snake, evidence of a beaver and one of the largest lizards I’ve seen in SC. The wildflowers were also bountiful – just keep one eye out for poison ivy!

Clockwise from top left: bluebonnets?, a red-headed woodpecker, fire pink, Indian pink, a broad-headed skink & blue-eyed grass

Our stay in Chester State Park was a relaxing change of pace. The environs are highly different from the Upstate state parks, and it was interesting to observe the differences in wildlife and plant life. Spring is a beautiful time to visit, although I hope to return in the fall to see the park in its autumn colors. For more information on Chester State Park, visit the SC state park website. Admission  to the park is $2/adults, $1.25/seniors and age 15 & younger free. The park is open daily from 9am-6pm, and 9am-9pm during Daylight Saving Time.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Starry Nights at the newly-renovated Hooper Planetarium

The T.C. Hooper planetarium at Greenville’s Roper Mountain Science Center (RMSC) reopened early this year with more than $1 million in improvements. The 1989 planetarium was forced to close last year due to mold, but is back and better than ever this spring. The three shows currently running have been selling out in advance, and with the solar eclipse at the end of the summer approaching, the planetarium’s popularity is only going to increase.

The renovations are obvious as soon as the show starts; the old planetarium projector was replaced with a new 4K digital system, and a 360° full immersion dome with dynamic 5.1 surround sound and state-of-the-art cove lighting has been installed. Simple cosmetic work was also done, including painting the theater and lobby, and replacing the chairs and carpeting.

My boys loved the new arcade-style games in the lobby, especially piloting the moon lander. At one table they can build their own spaceship, and cool posters line the walls. RMSC advises ticketholders to arrive 20 minutes before the start of the program to facilitate parking, seating and a timely start, but a line will sometimes form in the lobby even before then. Don’t want to show up 30 minutes early just to guarantee a spot in the front of the line? Although the seats in the rear of the planetarium are considered the best, the comfortable chairs and 360° full immersion dome mean that even those visitors seated in the front row will still have an excellent experience.

In addition to programs for the 50,000 students that visit the planetarium annually, RMSC offers public programs each Friday on “Starry Nights.” Tickets cost $6 for adults and teens, and $5 for children, senior citizens, and military. Admission is free for RMSC members and children under the age of three. Currently showing are programs appropriate for a wide range of ages.

The ceiling in the lobby

In One World: Big Bird’s Adventure children can join Big Bird and Elmo on an unforgettable journey to the Moon and back. “When Elmo’s friend Hu Hu Zhu stops by Sesame Street for a visit, he notices that Sesame Street is a little bit different from his home in China. But when he looks up at the sky, he feels right at home. Elmo and Hu Hu Zhu may live in different cities, but they share the same sky! With a little help from Big Bird, the two friends learn about the Sun, the Moon, and the Big Dipper, then blast off in an imaginary rocket to the Moon! Along the way, they invite the audience to sing along to songs about space and celebrate the sky that belongs to everyone.”

In Magic Tree House: Space Mission travel with Jack and Annie in their Magic Tree House as they proceed to answer questions left for them in a mysterious note. “With the help of the astronomer, the Internet, an astronaut, books, and the note's author, Jack and Annie are… taken on a wondrous journey of adventure and learning.” Space Mission was produced by Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, and features Mary Pope Osborne, author of the Magic Tree House book series and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Finally, in Eclipse: The Sun Revealed, viewers are taken on a journey through the historical and cultural view of eclipses, exploring the geometry behind an eclipse while covering how to safely view an eclipse. With a first-hand account of one eclipse chaser's experience during a total solar eclipse, the audience will be ready for the solar eclipse this August. RMSC even has viewing glasses available for purchase in the lobby.

The Big Dipper and Ursa Major in the Upstate's Sky Tonight

Each program kicks off with Upstate’s Sky Tonight, a 15 minute pre-show where you’ll learn what’s visible in tonight’s sky with a view of the planets and constellations as visible in Greenville. Then after the feature program comes the Mars rollercoaster, although this aspect may not be as popular with viewers who tend to get motion sickness…  

After each show, viewers are invited to observe the stars through the 23-inch refractor telescope at the Charles E. Daniel Observatory. For tickets and more on Roper Mountain Science Center, T. C. Hooper Planetarium and Starry Nights, please visit the RMSC website

Friday, May 19, 2017

Food on Friday - ASADA

It seems that there is a new restaurant opening in the Upstate every week, and while we enjoy trying out the trendy spots (which often become favorites), we also have our go-to restaurants. There are the ones that we visit when celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries, but we have a handful that are on regular rotation for occasions such as the fridge is empty, it’s too hot in the kitchen or mommy needs a break. These are the family-friendly places that have dishes suitable for the kids (but still have an interesting menu for the adults), have a fun atmosphere, include stress-free parking and reasonably priced meal options.


The first time I tried Asada, it was from the food truck – the very first of its kind in Greenville. Five years later I finally made it in to their brick-and-mortar, and we’ve been fans ever since. Asada is a neighborhood restaurant; on any given night it will be full of couples and families that have walked over from their Vista Hills and Stone Lake homes.

Enjoy a drink on the patio

Inspired by Latin American cuisine, Roberto Cortez and his partner Gina Petti offer menu options using seasonal and local produce. Global meets familiar, the menu features new twists on popular favorites. Tacos, burritos and quesadillas take their place on the menu next to options such as Nicaraguan-style churrasco and grilled chimichurri wings w/crispy rosemary potatoes.

The chimichurri wings

In addition to the wings and churrasco, I like the chicken karaage taco and the Korean burrito. You can’t go wrong with a side of the Bolitas De Yuca Con Queso – fried yuca balls stuffed with cheese – a scrumptious appetizer only made better with the tangy but creamy side of mild spicy Peruvian Huancaína sauce (made with Ají Amarillo peppers).

Made fresh, in-house, including the insanely addictive pico de gallo

This time of year it’s all washed down nicely with sangria, and on our most recent visit there were two on the menu: a white and a red. I opted for the white, complimented nicely with citrus and apple. There’s a perfectly respectable beer menu for those going the less-fruity route.

A post shared by ASADA (@asada_restaurant) on

And if you’ve still got room after the huge portions Asada dishes up (and even if you don’t), you’ll need to sample the tres leches cake to guarantee only the sweetest dreams. Trust me, you won’t regret it – and you’ll be back soon for more.


Find ASADA on facebook, instagram and on their webpage,

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Brooklyn Bridge Park - Pier 6

My last visit to Brooklyn Bridge Park was some time ago: Mikus was still flying for free and One World Trade still stood unfinished across in Manhattan. We explored DUMBO, saw Jane’s Carousel, stopped in at Jacques Torres Chocolates for hot chocolate, and even spotted a piece by Banksy in a construction site. As far as the Brooklyn Bridge Park goes, we didn’t make it past Pier 1, and I’m not sure if they had started work on 3 yet, much less 5 and 6.

See related post: Mikus and the Big Apple 

Brooklyn Bridge Park is an 85-acre post-industrial waterfront park that stretches 1.3 miles along Brooklyn’s East River edge, affording great views of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. Spanning from Jay Street (north of the Manhattan Bridge) to Pier 6 & Atlantic Avenue, it includes the reclaimed piers (1-6), Empire Fulton Ferry, John Street, Main Street, Civil war-era Empire Stores and the Tobacco Warehouse. Sports fields, playgrounds, boat launches and greenways today fill piers that at one point were slated to be sold for commercial development.

New works of art are introduced to the park every year, and as part of the Public Art Fund’s 40th Anniversary season Pier 1 has welcomed Anish Kapoor’s Descension. Kapoor is known for sculptures like Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millennium Park. We had caught a glimpse of Tom Fruin’s Watertower 3 from the interstate our first morning in NYC, but had a much better view of the piece from the park. On display at 334 Furman, the 1,000 salvaged scraps of acrylic are illuminated by the sun during the day and by solar-power at night.

For our last adventure in New York City we set our sights on Pier 6. With a dog park, 3 sand volleyball courts, Fornino’s wood fired oven pizza and the Governors Island Ferry, Pier 6 is a popular destination for families – and did I mention the playgrounds? Five destination playgrounds kept the boys busy exploring for hours, and the hideaway-style play spaces were geared for all ages, so I can imagine coming back again and again and never tiring of it.

Our first stop was Slide Mountain, with 2-story slides and jungle gyms on a dynamic playground with plenty of seating for caretakers. Vilis slept through this one…

Once he woke up we headed for Sandbox Village, the largest sandbox in New York City. Lauris and Mikus loved the little houses on stilts!

The Water Lab is considered the park’s most popular playground, but it was closed for the season. Despite the spring temperatures there was still a chill in the air, and while the kids would have had a ton of fun, I’m sure they would have gotten soaked as it appeared super hands-on. I want to build something like it in our backyard.

Ten swing sets of all sizes in Swing Valley are set in little hidden spaces. It was a race against time to try each and every swing in the park…

The final park is Marsh Garden, an opportunity for children to immerse themselves in the natural environment. But the fun isn’t over, because back behind Fornino’s and the volleyball courts are large grassy areas, perfect for picnics and games of Frisbee. We walked through the flower field to reach the end of the pier where we encountered the grandiose finale of our visit.

The view of the Manhattan skyline and all the ship traffic was breathtaking. The boys caught a glimpse of the Staten Island ferry, and behind Governors Island we could see the Statue of Liberty, torch raised high. Even after snapping dozens of photos we still lingered, the scenery not allowing us to leave.

The chill that accompanied the sunset finally urged us on. All the playing and the boys had worked up an appetite, and so we headed over to Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain, my favorite dining experience of the whole trip. The old-school soda shop has a full menu, but the sundaes, shakes and ice cream can’t be beat. The waffle was the size of the entire plate, buried under ice cream, whip cream, caramel and who-knows-what other toppings. This might just be the friendliest spot in Brooklyn to boot, with treats handed out to the boys for being on their best behavior on the way out the door. Brooklyn Farmacy is worth a trip, and whether you sit at the counter or one of the old-fashioned booths, you’ll love the experience.

The vacation in NYC had come to an end, and only a long car ride stood between us and a return to daily life. We’re so lucky to have family in the city, to show us the best spots and to put us up. What an incredible spring break, and how nice to spend it with the fam! Paldies A² for a memorable trip – your turn, see you in Greenville!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...