Saturday, March 07, 2009

And the trip goes on...

After a long day on the road, we finally arrived at the Crowne Plaza in Greenville, South Carolina. Our experience with the Crowne Plaza and reasonable reviews on Trip Advisor led us to stay there. Chatting with some of the hotel staff we found that the hotel was very recently renovated and used to be some other variant in the Holiday Inn family. It had two things going for it that I highly prize in a hotel: a comfortable bed and nearly non-existent noise level. They took the philosophy adopted by the Crowne Plaza chain with a sense of humor; at the lobby of the top floor, a simple sign greeted guests explaining that this floor was a Quiet Zone and no families with rambunctious kids, marching bands or otherwise noisy crowds would be permitted to stay there. The coordinating Do Not Disturb door tags even asked that guests keep the show tunes in the shower to a hum instead of stage-ready levels. Overall, the fact it was quiet and comfortable made for a winner. I don't think the hotel is quite as spacious and plush as other locations, but the price reflected that.

Then there was the other reason to stay there, and I would have tolerated a lot just for this one thing. Attached to the hotel was Ruth's Chris Steak House, and they just opened a week before we arrived. A quiet, comfy bed merely steps away from the best steak I've found yet, that might be a pinnacle of travel goodness. Suffice it to say that the Ruth's Chris in Greenville is well worth a stop and the new crew there are doing a great job keeping up the well-earned reputation of the best steak, period.

I think I'd describe Greenville as a comfortable city. It's one of those places that as soon as I got there, I felt at ease and could see why it's residents like it. The downtown area is what my hometown aspires to be someday, yet it still hasn't quite reached its full potential yet. Catchy shops and cafes fill most of the spaces along the tree-lined main street. It was notably clean, and the folks strolling along seemed to truly care about keeping it that way. Downtown there's a park with an usual suspension pedestrian bridge that overlooks a small waterfall. The park overall provides a place to relax for both tourists and area residents alike; locals were out playing frisbee and walking their dogs. With the downtown area just steps away, it's a balanced blend for small city life.

Downtown includes a variety of restaurants, leaving us plenty of good choices to just randomly pick from, including where we stopped in for lunch at Trio. We hadn't planned on a casual dining Italian restaurant, but we were glad we did. Ordinarily I'd have ordered a cup of soup and a small pizza to share, but my husband and I opted for the Pepperoni & Mozzarella Calzone. Again, we couldn't have chosen better. It was probably the best calzone I have ever tasted, with a perfect ratio of crust to fillings, all of which were delicious. I also tasted the roasted chicken, which in an Italian cafe whose emphasis is more on pizza & pasta, was surprisingly very good. With some warmer weather, I'd love to return to the downtown area, take a nice slow stroll through the shops and despite the variety of restaurants to tempt my taste buds, it would be difficult to turn down a return trip to Trio.

When I head out for a good road trip, I try to do a little research online for what is good local, and when it comes to BBQ, Henry's comes well recommended on sites like Chow. (No recommendations for chain restaurants on this site, unless they're really something extraordinary.) This was one of the few times I think our group disagreed with the recommendation. The only way to describe it is that it was some of the wettest BBQ I've seen anywhere. It wasn't bad, but only half our group thought it was good, the rest were unimpressed.

After a couple of days exploring Greenville, it was time to head home. With me, the adventure doesn't end until I'm back in my own living room, so as we approached Knoxville at lunchtime, I got out the laptop for some quick on-the-go research. Creamery Park Grille kept coming up as a local favorite, just a couple of miles away from the interstate. One exit and a short drive later and we were walking in the door. It's a very small but quaint restaurant. Patrons write their names and number in their party on a chalkboard near the entrance, and are then seated as available. Everything we ordered was definitely fresh-made and top quality. I had a ham & cheddar melt, but it arrived with a sugar glaze dip that made it go from good to Wow in one bite. The triple grilled cheese ranked highly, up in the range of my own home cooked favorite. Served with lunch were small scones, which didn't last long with my mother & I devouring them. During the summer I usually make at least one pass through Knoxville, and I'm putting this on my list of places well worth seeking out again.

(Be aware the grille is located in a two-story building, with no accessibility to the top floor beyond a pretty long staircase. Those with bad knees or trouble climbing stairs will want to request street level seating.)