Due to the drag of this quarantine, I’ve found myself missing some of my favorite dining spots. There is only so much Netflix and cooking I can do before I start missing my fellow cook's contributions to the delicious science of food. I love cooking a great deal, but I fear my love for eating is equally essential. During the past couple months, a lot of our favorite places have closed, at least temporarily, which has caused a serious dining vacuum in our lives. Or at least it has mine. Since I can't walk down and enjoy a bite, I figured I’d reminisce about the days when the cocktails flowed aplenty, the food was hot and ready, and edible discoveries were waiting to be made. To be a review, this will sound more like an advertisement. That’s just how it is going to be this time around. Husk Greenville is less a restaurant and more the expansion of a philosophy. The original Husk, in Charleston, SC, captivated me as a cook and inspired me as a chef. I originally happened upon the Husk philosophy when I was at a breaking point with southern cuisine. I just wasn’t interested in the food of my region. I had eaten it all my life and the same handful of heavy, greasy, over cooked dishes had turned me off the idea of cooking southern food. I dove into Caribbean cuisine, Creole cuisine, and Southwestern cuisine. I loved the colors, freshness, and the explosions of flavor that I just didn’t experience in typical Appalachian Foothills cuisine. That was before I ever dreamed of taking the trip to Charleston to try Husk for myself. Like most people that have found this particular treasure, I first discovered the Husk philosophy from Netflix. You’ve got to love Netflix. The show was “Mind of a Chef.” It is no longer available on Netflix, but it can be viewed with amazon. If you’ve never watched it and you love cooking or just eating food, it’s definitely worth checking out. Anyway, part of that series featured a southern chef, Sean Brock. I almost skipped over him and moved on to the next chef, because as I’ve stated, I didn’t exactly have a love affair with southern food. But, I was particularly bored that night, and watched Mr. Brock anyway. I didn’t turn away from the TV for about 4-5 hours. I watched every single episode in one sitting. I had scribbled half legible notes in my notebook and brainstormed until my head was numb. I had never seen someone with such passion for southern ingredients and it was infectious. Those few episodes taught me the most valuable lesson I’ve ever gotten about southern food. And that's, “a southern dish isn’t defined by a handbook of played out southern classics, but rather a southern dish is simply a dish made with southern ingredients.” As silly as it sounds, it took 25 years to have the epiphany that techniques don’t necessarily define what type of food you're eating, but rather the locality of the ingredients. For instance, who says Spanish Gazpacho isn’t a southern dish if it contains fresh Carolina strawberries or locally grown squash, tomatoes, or peppers? This was a revelation to me. Southern food didn’t HAVE to be anything. The only limit was my own creativity and the treasure trove of southern ingredients. This lesson sounds obvious and simplistic, but it was profound nonetheless. After watching Chef Brock and learning as much as I could from his 8 or so episodes, I was determined to go eat at Husk and McGrady’s, the two restaurants I knew his philosophies were in place and running full tilt. After planning a weekend trip, I was lucky enough to get tables at both places. It’s not an exaggeration to say it changed my culinary life. It confirmed what I had been led to believe. Southern food could be bright, fresh, local, and responsibly sourced. The quality versus other southern eateries was no comparison to me. In less than an hour, I truly learned the importance of locally sourced produce and livestock that had been cared for with passion. To these farmers, producing food is an art and a lifestyle. With none of the emotionless machinery of factory farms, animals could live as they were intended. As it turns out, passion for purpose makes food taste good. Like, really good. The Sean Brock philosophy, or the Husk philosophy, requires a symbiotic relationship with the farmers who produce the goods they use. It requires getting seasonal ingredients as soon as they have peaked in flavor and texture. The philosophy dictates you should know where your food comes from and to use the products of your region. This reduces the distance from the farm to the table, which makes your food fresher, compliments the livelihoods of local producers, and ensures the highest possible quality. I might not have believed such a philosophy could work in the hyper efficient world of commercial kitchens, but Husk not only proves they can be competitive with what they put on the plate, they prove that this philosophy has the potential to dominate the industry. The Sean Brock philosophy also has perhaps its strongest roots in history. It was this passion for the culinary historical relevance of the southern region that led Brock to partner with people like Glenn Roberts (Anson Mills, Columbia SC) to revive long forgotten heirloom grains or folks like Adam Musick (A successful musician) to breed heritage pork breeds that have been off southern’s menus for decades. A dinner at Husk, in many ways, is like sitting at a dinner table from 200 years ago, with an array of grains, peas, beans, and proteins not consumed in mass since the regrettable era of slavery. Yet somehow at the same time, it’s like eating southern food from the future. The balance of old, new, innovation, and heritage make this brand a must try for foodies, particularly those with a southern persuasion. But likewise for those who “don’t like southern food” as it challenges the preconceived notions of “what is southern?” Fast forward to the reason for the title, Husk Greenville. I was unbelievably excited when I heard Sean Brock’s concept was coming to Greenville, my home town. I counted the days. Sean Brock was never the Chef de Cuisine at Husk Greenville, but instead the worthy Chef John Buck. Chef Buck is a South Carolina native and served under Chef Brock, first as Chef de Partie, then Sous Chef, and finally Executive Sous Chef at Husk Charleston. So it’s safe to say the Husk philosophy was deeply ingrained in Chef Buck before he stepped foot in his new Greenville home. Chef Buck was classically trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has worked at numerous acclaimed restaurants, but his work in the Appalachian kitchen of Husk Greenville has been exceptional and paradigm altering for me personally. When visiting Husk Greenville, get anything and I can almost guarantee you won't be disappointed. Don’t feel pressured to dress up too much, the atmosphere is welcoming and laid back, with just the right amount of southern hospitality. The decor is modern in look but southern antique in feel. Make sure to get a cocktail from the bar. My personal recommendations are the Barrel Aged Manhattan or the Old Fashioned, with real hickory smoke sealed in the homely mason jar that typically serves as the glass. If it’s not apparent, I’m a bourbon guy, but my wife assures me the other cocktails are great too. If you go at lunch, the Husk cheeseburger and potato wedges is a classical masterpiece, although I’m sure one of the seasonal hits could also catch your eye and no one could blame you for that. I’ve sampled VA heritage pork, North Carolina catfish, and Tennessee beef from Husk Greenville, among others. The consistency in quality is remarkable for any kitchen, let alone a kitchen limited to strictly southern ingredients that are locally sourced. If you ever see pork chops or pit beans on the menu, I wouldn’t pass it up. But as a whole, the food is always beautiful and modern, but rustic and classically southern in spirit. Through some of these dishes, I’ve come to better understand the passion and obsession people of this region have for ingredients. People in Appalachia really take their food very seriously. It’s less a career and more of a lifestyle for these folks. We owe them a great deal when we are able to enjoy what Chef Buck puts on the plate. I can tell you in all honesty, when in-house dining is allowed to resume, Husk Greenville is my very first stop. I can almost taste the fried chicken skins and smell the cornbread. I’ve missed it. If you plan for a nice night on the town once life gets closer to normal, I highly recommend you stop by too. If you live in the Greenville area, Husk is something you simply must put on your bucket list.
I hope everyone out there is staying healthy and remembering to eat well. Soon, God willing, we will be able to sit at a table and break (cornbread) with each other again. Stay tuned for future restaurant reviews from here in Greenville. If you have any restaurant recommendations for future reviews , I love hearing about new places to check out. Be well everyone and God Bless.