Spartanburg Restaurateurs Make the City’s Burger Trail a Smashing Success

I love my friends at Mindy Bianca Public Relations’ firm. I really do. But if I hang with them much longer, I’m going to have to consider re-upping my gym membership to the mega level because they sure do like their food whether it’s the Cajun Bayou Food Trail, Meat Plus Three, Dollywood’s Flower & Food Festival, 11 great cake places they suggest stopping at in honor Duncan Hines who was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, King’s Cakes and all other yummy Mardi Gras foods, and Four Great Christmas Holiday Destinations and we know what that means–lots of cookies, candies, and cakes. Oh, and I almost forgot–there’s Branson at holiday time when they bake about 30,000 fruitcakes each year and Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas where the list of foods includes herb-roasted turkey breast and citrus-glazed carved ham, eggnog cupcakes, gingerbread-dusted funnel cakes, and chicken pot pie in a bread cone along with a libation called Spazzy Sparkleshot

And now, just in time for National Burger Month, they’re on to Spartanburg, South Carolina where a year ago the former mill town introduced their  SpartanBURGER Trail (yes, they’re really called “SpartanBURGERS” and it has nothing to do with the Spartans of Michigan State University) a name honoring both the city’s residents and culinary culture. Since the trail’s inception, additional stops have been added to ensure even more juicy options for visitors to choose. All it takes to travel the trail is a cell phone to check in at each stop. The more stops you eat at, the more swag you earn. And we’re talking burger socks–we’re talking serious swag.

AAnd what is also great–no matter your dietary restrictions or preferences (we’re looking at you, gluten-free vegetarians!), classic burger culture has evolved so that now EVERYONE can enjoy the month dedicated to one of America’s most favorite foods.

Why’s the trail such a tasty triumph? Sure hand-crafted, creative, and definitely yummy are part of it all but credit goes to the chefs and owners at these burger-centric restaurants who are a major part of what makes Spartanburg a delicious destination.

Check out some of the burger stops HERE.

Classic Burger Experience: Sugar-n-Spice

212 S. Pine Street, Spartanburg, SC 29302

Sure, burgers have evolved over the years and now they’re not just the traditional patty, LTO, cheese and bun. But what if that’s your thing? What if you yearn for the good ol’ days when a burger was just a burger? Head to Sugar-n-Spice, a classic drive-in that has only changed its menu once in the 60+ years it’s been open. This place serves as a reminder of not only where the humble hamburger started, but also Spartanburg’s growing food scene. The walls are covered in memorabilia from the community, along with photos from the founders’ homeland, Greece, for an extra-personal touch. Customers come in as strangers and leave feeling like family – perhaps one of the many reasons this retro joint is still thriving more than half a century later. Of course, we recommend any of the classic burgers, which are best enjoyed with a side of fries or onion rings. (Or both. Who are we kidding? They’re THAT good!)

Chef Ae’s

Minority- and Woman-Owned: Chef Ae’s

288 Magnolia Street, Spartanburg, SC 29306

Chef Amonrat “Ae” Zavala brings authentic flavors from her home country of Thailand in every dish she serves at her restaurant … with an American twist, of course! She hasn’t always been a chef dreaming of serving fusion cuisine, however. Formerly a yoga teacher living in Miami, Zavala found her true calling and it led her to Hub City. She’s never looked back. To get a taste of the perfect Thai/American flavor fusion, we recommend ordering the Isan Thai Sausage Burger. This beef patty is topped with American cheese, Thai sausage, pickles, the traditional LTO and the restaurant’s homemade bang bang sauce.

Featured Main Street Business: Burgar

137 W. Main Street, Spartanburg, SC 29306

Full of local businesses from coffee shops to breweries to art galleries, Main Street is a prime example of how Spartanburg has transformed from a former mill town and railroad hub to a thriving area full of growth and opportunity for those who live, work and visit this part of South Carolina. Main Street boasts a few stops on the burger trail, but this one is a stand-out to us. Burgar offers a variety of unique takes on the classic patty, including the Aloha Hawaii Burgar with grilled chicken breast, mozzarella, kale, caramelized onions, grilled pineapple and a creamy chipotle sauce. You can stop in, grab a bite of “burgar” and feel good knowing you’re supporting a Main Street business … all while getting a tasty burger that makes you remember you’re smack-dab in the heart of Spartanburg.

Woman-Operated: Southside Smokehouse

726 S. Howard Avenue, Landrum, SC 29356

Former South Carolina Chef Ambassador Sarah McClure churns out barbecue and Cajun-inspired dishes at Southside Smokehouse. Her success as a chef has led her to represent the state of South Carolina as a Chef Ambassador, nab the runner-up spot in Guy’s Grocery Games, and be prominently featured in several publications. These accolades are apparent at Southside, as what was once a roadside BBQ joint is now a thriving, eclectic spot for a myriad of unique and modern flavors. While Sarah offers a classic burger and even a Bayou Burger, we opt for the FGT & Pimento Cheese Burger because the fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese toppings embody our favorite foods of the South.

Epicenter of Spartanburg’s Food Scene: Cribb’s Kitchen

226-B W. Main Street, Spartanburg, SC 29306

With a variety of restaurants all over Spartanburg County, the Cribb family is an essential chapter of the story of Spartanburg’s booming food scene. One of their most popular joints, Cribb’s Kitchen, hosts an annual burger cook-off. Each year, the winner of the cook-off receives the honor of seeing their burger added to the Cribb’s Kitchen menu – and therefore available to everyone traveling the SpartanBURGER trail. This year, the Berry Good Poppin Jalapeno Smash Burger was the cook-off winner … for good reason! Fresh jalapenos are smashed into the beef patty, which is then topped with American cheese, candied jalapeno bacon, Lake Bowen Lager whipped cream cheese, crispy jalapenos and finished with a Raspberry Weisse Is Right sauce. Put all this between a sesame brioche bun and you have patty perfection.

Does it sound great? Are you ready to hit the road? The people along the SpartanBURGER trail await. @VisitSptbg

A Little Burger History

According to the National Today, a website that lists all the national holidays, the name “hamburger” derives, of course, from the city of Hamburg, Germany. Some residents of Hamburg were headed as far west as the eastern shores of the United States during the 18th century. Many of them brought a snack called the “Hamburgh sausage.” This snack, like its cousin the “Rundstück warm,” combined a meatball similar to the Swedish meatball with a slice of bread for utensil-free handling. 

But, and this is according to an article on Food & Wine magazine’s website, the first burger may actually date back to 1st Century AD Rome and a dish called Isicia Omentata that we don’t think you’ll like that much at all as it was made of minced meat (we’re not sure what kind of meat) and also contained pine nuts, pepper, and flavorings of wine and garum. The latter is a fermented fish sauce used in ancient times. As for Omentum, it’s the Latin word for caul fat, an ingredient widely used in historical and traditional Italian cuisine that would have been used in this dish to give the lean meat more flavor and taste.

If you’re interested in knowing more, The World Is Your Burger: A Cultural History, a book by David Michaels and published by Phaidon Press

Nine Reasons Not to Miss Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas

Various Scenes from Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Last week Mindy Bianca @mindybiancapr.com introduced her newest employee, an elf named Jolly Jinglebutton who, I have to admit, had some great holiday travel destination. Well, it turns out the elf is back and, as he puts it, excited as a reindeer in a carrot patch because “I get to tell you all about one of my favorite places on the entire planet … Dollywood!”

File this under “who would have thought” but it seems Dolly Parton, owner of Dollywood, is an elf favorite, having recently been voted as their Very Favorite Human Ever. I wonder how Santa and Mrs. Claus feel about that as they’re humans too—I think. But anyway, everyone loves Dolly Parton and they’ll probably love her a lot more when they find out about all the special fun things going on at Dollywood from now until January 1st. By the way, in case you didn’t know, Dollywood has been awarded the title of Best Theme Park Christmas Event a whopping 14 times,  

Various Scenes from Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Here are nine reasons not to miss Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas.

Lights!

Six million of them, to be exact … spread across 160 acres. I’m not very math-y, but I’m here to tell you that it equates to A LOT of lights. They introduced a million new lights this year, so a park that already glistened and gleamed now also shimmers and shines. Hooray! There’s something bright and festive around every corner, which means that a walk around Dollywood will make you as giddy as a double espresso with a chocolate chip chaser. Every themed area of the park gets its own look and feel, so it’s kind of like you’re taking a stroll through a series of magical winter wonderlands.

Opening of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas and Glacier Ridge held on November 9, 2019, at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. © Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood

Fireworks!

As if the lights all over the park – in every tree and on every surface – weren’t enough, on Friday and Saturday nights, they put a bunch of lights up in the sky … in the form of the “Merry and Bright!” fireworks show. The colorful display is set to upbeat, contemporary holiday hits and it’s quite a way to end a weekend night in the park. It warms my little heart to see kids try to make it to the end of the day so they can be awake for the whole show. I guess it gives them good practice for trying to stay up late to see Santa, but we all know how that works out …

Trees!

There are hundreds of trees throughout the park – and they decorated even more this year, just to literally up the voltage – but I have two favorites. One is the 50-foot giant evergreen in Glacier Ridge. This magical tree does a whole synchronized music and light show that ends with – wait for it – snow falling! I didn’t think anything could get better than that, but this year they really decked out the part of the park called Adventures in Imagination. The lights here are pink, platinum and gold – VERY Dolly – and they introduced a new 20-foot tree in an area they’re calling “Dolly’s Christmas.” Guess what else you’ll find there? About 60 LED butterflies! What reindeer are to Santa, butterflies are to Dolly. They’re her spirit animal.

Opening of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas and Glacier Ridge held on November 9, 2019, at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. © Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood

Santa!

Speaking of Santa, I don’t think it’ll surprise you to know that he and Dolly are pals. They’re so close, in fact, that she talked him into getting himself a little Smoky Mountain cabin so they can be neighbors! His cabin magically appears inside Dollywood throughout the month of November and right until Christmas Day.(After that, as you can imagine, Santa gets to take a little vacation.) You can get a sneak peek inside the cabin to watch Santa at work and – bonus – if you look closely enough, you can actually see if YOUR name is on his Naughty or Nice List! I have personally witnessed kids turn from grumpy to grand in a matter of seconds so they can be assured that they’ll show up on the correct list!

Music!

Various Scenes from DollywoodÕs Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Let’s face it: Dolly Parton isn’t going to have a theme park with lousy entertainment, is she? Dollywood is legendary in the amusement industry for having some of the best performances and performers. There are so many shows here, in fact, that the park uses both indoor and outdoor venues. The headliner is called “Christmas in the Smokies,” and it’s a show that has been featured here every Christmas since 1990. Music is an incredibly important part of life here in the Smokies – and obviously something that Dolly loves – so get ready to tap your toes as part of your visit. MY toes are clad in special little booties with bells on the end, so you’ll know when I’m in the audience near you!

Various Scenes from DollywoodÕs Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Food!

We elves may be small, but we have big appetites … and I’m here to tell you that Dollywood puts out quite a spread. Let’s see if I can make your mouth water by mentioning some of my favorite hyphenated foods: herb-roasted turkey breast and citrus-glazed carved ham. Or how about chicken pot pie in a bread cone? Yeah, I said it … BREAD CONE! I love to carb load before a long night of delivering gifts, and I can promise you that I’m taking this recipe back to Mrs. Claus. There are also eggnog cupcakes and gingerbread-dusted funnel cakes, and I think I’ve convinced my favorite North Pole barista, Spazzy Sparkleshots, to start serving those at her café.

Rides!

Let’s not forget that this is a theme park, and most of the rides operate even in these cooler months. That means you can race through the night sky while millions of lights twinkle below. And you know what? I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s a lot like how Santa feels when he takes his sleigh ride on Christmas Eve!

Opening of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas and Glacier Ridge held on November 9, 2019, at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. © Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood

Gifts!

Some people love Christmas shopping, others dread it. I’m an elf, so we don’t shop … we MAKE gifts. And so do the craftsmen at Dollywood, who – if they weren’t so tall and didn’t enjoy life in the Smokies so much – could probably be recruited for Santa’s Workshop. Everything they create would make a perfect gift, and they’re also preserving some of the greatest arts of these mountains. Sometimes they even let YOU do the creating, like when the glassblower coaches you in how to make your very own glass Christmas ornament!

Stay!

If you’re thinking there’s a lot to do at Dollywood and you’ll need more than a day here to take it all in, you’re absolutely right. So, it’s kind of perfect that in addition to this award-winning theme park, there’s also a beautiful resort. Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa offers families plenty of food, entertainment and décor during the holiday season. I love the two-story Christmas tree that greets you as you enter the resort. It’s very sparkly … just like me!

Whew! That was a lot to share, but I feel like I barely scratched the surface.

Remember … this Christmas, keep it holly, keep it jolly, keep it Dolly!

Holiday Cheers,

Jolly

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