May 29, 2023
I wondered about the spelling of the name of the place. “Plough” is the British spelling of the implement used by farmers to till their fields. In America it’s “plow.”
Like everyone else, every so often we go out to lunch. The stay-at-home (or workplace) routine of sandwiches or leftovers day in and day out gets old. Much of the restaurant industry is built around lunch, fast-food or leisurely. Try driving through the parking lot of Chick-fil-A at lunchtime. Businesses make deals over restaurant lunches. For some friends and couples, lunch at a favorite place is a ritual, a tradition. A lunch date usually is an easier “ask” than dinner, and cheaper.
Restaurants in Greenville and its environs are dispersed the same way as in other mid-size cities. Downtown is more expensive than the suburbs. Dozens of restaurants, maybe hundreds, are clustered along the two major business thoroughfares, Woodruff Road on the south side and Wade Hampton Boulevard to the north. Many of them are chain outlets, identical to those on any side of any town, large or small.
Typically if we go for lunch we like the so-called fast-casual places, the ones that let you order at a counter, rather than wait for a server to appear, smile, and bustle about, “Hi, I’m Dan, I’ll be taking care of you today.” Some people are pressed for time, others don’t want to add a tip. At fast-casual you shuffle forward in line, study the menu on the wall behind the workers, and at some places, watch your meal being prepared. It’s more work than dealing with a server but you have more control.
That’s what I had in mind on the first day back from my Virginia trip. It was a rest day, no errands scheduled. But the place I thought of was on Woodruff, on the opposite side of town, where rush hour first appears. So we recalculated. We had driven past Fork and Plough many times on our way downtown, along the main street of what’s called the Overbrook historical district. So that’s where we went.
Fork and Plough announces that it will “provide both neighbors and visitors alike the Upstate’s freshest and most plentiful meats, produce, and products both as a dine-in and carryout option. This concept supports the idea that farmers and chefs can make a living supplying a community with its daily necessities, while also encouraging the enjoyment of a simple meal.”
Every restaurant has a blurb. But really, they all say the same thing. Fork and Plough adds that it changes the menu twice a day, which I guess is true, since the menus were xeroxed slips of paper. When we were there, the menu featured Tuscan Bean Chili, Beef Carpaccio, Seared OBX Scallops, and Ms. Janna’s Fried Rabbit Legs. I thought the prices a tad high, but we weren’t looking for a feast. We got salads.
Fork and Plough is in a nondescript block building that likely housed some other local business. The staff people wear shirts with the restaurant name across the front. It offers a selection of wines and craft beers.
The concept of “freshness,” i.e., not deep-frozen, no doubt adds a premium, especially with vegetables. When I worked at a church food pantry we received donations of food from grocery stores, the local markets, even Walmart. They gave away the stuff that couldn’t be called fresh, even if it was safe, because less than fresh won’t sell at the right price.
Fork and Plough, like plenty of other places, calls itself a “neighborhood” restaurant. Fresh food in a neighborhood setting is a strong sell to some people. Then add the British spelling, even stronger. They charge the premium for freshness. They get the historic neighborhood crowd, the “Plough” crowd.
A few miles away, along Wade Hampton, among the dozens of chain outlets, department stores, cell-phone places, auto-repair garages, and quick oil-change shops is another restaurant, Josey’s Chuck Wagon. It perches on a hill next to a Target and a tire shop.
Josey’s is the kind of place you call “down home.” The menu is printed on laminated sheets. It never changes. You can get a breakfast of eggs, hash browns or grits, bacon or sausage all day. Alcohol isn’t available. It offers stick-to-your ribs burgers, “hamburger steaks,” country-style steak, mac ‘n cheese, fried chicken, chicken fried steak, all with fries, and a selection of side dishes. A Route 66 medallion hangs on the wall near the kitchen.
Josey’s is a neighborhood restaurant in a very different neighborhood. The help at Josey’s wear T-shirts with slogans on the back like “Turkey, gravy, beans and rolls, let me see that casserole,” and “Y’all come back now, ya hear?” The places brings in lots of retired folks and people who work in the nearby businesses. The servers call you “sweetheart” or “hon” when they take your order or refill your coffee, iced tea, or soda. They recognize customers, because so many are regulars. Josie’s is more of a “plow” kind of place.
We sat down at Fork and Plough at the height of the lunch hour. It was about half-full. Maybe because the design is an open concept with no partitions, the noise was deafening, the din of a high-school cafeteria. I had to lean forward to hear the server, she leaned down to hear me.
At Josey’s, most of the tables are booths, in the old-fashioned diner-type design. That’s what it is, a diner, serving its own neighborhood, its own world. Occasionally you heard a few sentences at another table, but it’s pretty quiet.
Fork and Plough thrives on the pitch of being unique—the singular place in Overbrook, maybe in the whole city or whole state where “farmers and chefs can make a living supplying a community with its daily necessities.” Josey’s, though, isn’t much different from the A&P Restaurant a couple of miles away and has a sign facing the highway that says, “Good Food.” The Lil Rebel Restaurant, also nearby, is the same kind of place. They’re not unique. But always crowded.