Funny thing. I can barely remember my own birthday, but I can recall a great dining experience from five years ago. So when I got the directive to head to Landrum and its “go-to” dining spot, Stone Soup, I happily re-lived a terrific experience there in 2006.
“Real food….Real people….Real local,” is owner Suzanne Strickland’s synopsis of Stone Soup. Sourcing from farmers in the area whenever possible (by the way, this is the prettiest little locale…small town Americana), Suzanne is capitalizing on the trend toward organic and seasonal.
A gossip-filled quick drive (really no more than 20 minutes) with one of the friends who had gone to dinner with me in ’06 brought us to this inviting spot on the corner. The first thing we noticed (well, in fairness, she noticed; I was thinking about a martini) was how established the grounds had become. Beautifully landscaped, Suzanne has added an outside dining area distinguished by a pagoda and creeping vines to shelter folks from the afternoon sun. We entered into an enclosed front lounge with an inviting bar area and fireplace that would have me in front of it all winter long.
Eclectic and homey with mismatched table linens and tables, Suzanne wants her regulars to feel at home…in fact, the equestrian photos that line the walls of what was originally a three-bedroom home showcase the people who love their horses and the Landrum community. Our young server (let’s face it, everyone seems to be young to me these days) Natalie assured me that the bartender could be trusted to make a killer cocktail…and she didn’t lie. With icy cold very dirty gin martinis, we shared sesame tuna bites with pickled ginger and spicy aioli…thinly sliced cold rare tuna on crispy wontons with classic pairings of black sesame seeds, ginger and scallions were a perfect light start to a summer evening.
As we looked at the eclectic menu, whole grain bread with garlic and sun-dried tomato oil for dipping appeared. I love when that happens. I chose the special…a beef fillet atop mashed potatoes with shrimp and asparagus. Kat chose angel hair pasta with local tomatoes, garden zucchini, fontina cheese and fresh basil. Summer in a pasta bowl. With a pasta, a light Pinot Grigio for her…and a hearty Guenoc Cab for me. Natalie came with wine glasses suited to each wine (true Oenophiles swear it makes a difference in the enjoyment of the wine. Yeah, yeah.). All I know is that a pretty crystal glass with wine poured from individual carafes tableside make you feel special. And, after all, isn’t that what going to dinner is all about?
The fillet, ordered very rare, was perfect. Placed atop creamy whipped potatoes with a garnish of sautéed shrimp and summer asparagus, this really was a winner…and not just by a nose. Even though summer heat shimmered outside, the big cab was just right for this sumptuous steak. Four golfing buddies at the next table each ordered the same special and I could tell by their comments that they were as pleased as I was.
Suzanne tells me that a new café menu is being introduced for the evening hours for diners who prefer outside or lounge dining. Wallet-friendly choices of calamari, fish tacos and pizza will be featured…and with a daily Happy Hour during 5-7, this would be a leisurely finish to any hectic day. Daily sangrias are available and the talented bartender makes her own Limencello and Kahlua…small touches that make a big difference.
During our visit, Suzanne visited each table, making sure that all was well with every diner. Regulars got hugs, making us want to be regulars. Even the name Stone Soup connotes family…legend has it that an old woman arrives in a starving town with a large pot. Setting up in the town square, she begins to boil a stone. Residents begin to appear with hoarded bits and pieces of food and contribute to the pot and, before long, the soup is rich and hearty and the community is well fed. Stone Soup does justice to the fairy tale… nourishing to both body and soul.