Remembering the one-time stars of the Greenville culinary scene

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Vince Perone's Restaurant. Rendering provided

It seems like every few days, there’s an announcement about a new restaurant opening in the Upstate. But maintaining a successful restaurant in a crowded market is difficult.

With so many different eateries coming and going, it’s inevitable that some of your favorites have closed over the years. Here is our by-no-means-scientific list of some of Greenville’s most dearly departed restaurants.

John Paul’s Armadillo Oil Company, 637 Congaree Road

John Paul’s was known for great steaks and ribs, its eye-patch-clad owner John Paul, and a dining area that was a taxidermist’s heaven, featuring stuffed bears, lions, and other unlucky animals. Although the restaurant closed in 2013 after being open nearly 25 years, we still have fond memories of licking barbecue sauce off our fingers after demolishing a plate of ribs.

Never on Sunday, 210 E. Coffee St.

Run by the husband-and-wife team of Nick and Iris Turner, the Greek/Mediterranean restaurant was a true family affair. They first opened in 1968 and closed in 2016. That’s an impressive run. These days the restaurant is home to Aryana, an Afghan eatery.

Capri’s Original Italian Restaurant, 500 E. Stone Ave.

For many in Greenville, the Stone Avenue Capri’s was their first Italian dining experience. As such, it formed the basis for what an Italian eatery should be for many Greenville natives. Located beside Canal Insurance, Capri’s offered an economic mix of classic Italian and American dishes, but the ambience was what really mattered – dark, hushed, and intimate. And there were mini jukeboxes at every booth.

Vince Perone’s Restaurant, 1 Antrim Drive, Greenville

One of the granddaddies of the Greenville restaurant scene, Vince Perone’s opened in 1956. It started out as a simple delicatessen before transitioning into a fine-dining establishment that featured rack of lamb and lobster. Not surprisingly, Vince Perone’s became one of the city’s essential big-night-out eateries. Perone himself was an Upstate icon, serving as a community leader and director of the YMCA, the United Way, and the March of Dimes. He was even able to book bands into his restaurant, including the Glen Miller Band, Count Basie’s orchestra, and Frank Sinatra Jr.

Falls Street Café

When Noah “Rick” Lowe Jr. passed away last December, it was the end of an era. Lowe was the owner of the Falls Street Café, known better as the Cat Dive. Falls Street was one of those classic diners where everyone knew your name and your order when you walked in the door. For many downtown workers, it was a breakfast and lunchtime staple. The Cat Dive’s chili dogs are so beloved that since the place closed in 1997, the Camperdown Historical Society hosts an annual luncheon in honor of them.

Charlie’s Steakhouse, 18 E. Coffee St.

It would be difficult to think of a more iconic eatery in downtown Greenville than Charlie’s Steakhouse, thanks in part to the distinctive green-and-white sign that hung outside. Open for an astounding 93 years, Charlie’s was the epitome of old-school Greenville, from the modest, no-frills décor to the white tablecloths. It was also owned and operated for four generations by the Efstration family before closing in 2014.

Swensen’s, 2025 Wade Hampton Blvd.

Two words: Ice cream. All kinds of ice cream. Sure, they had burgers and stuff, but people went to Swensen’s for the scoops, sundaes, and floats. For a time, Swensen’s was part of a weekend-night entertainment triangle with Putt Putt and the Bijou. Parents were known to drop off their sons and daughters at the spot and return to pick them up three to four hours later.

Gene’s, 527 Buncombe St.

The very definition of a South Carolina meat-and-three, Gene’s piled on the mac ‘n’ cheese, green beans, fried chicken, and cornbread, all for a great price and zero pretension. Located at one of the gateways to downtown, the Gene’s site remains undeveloped since it closed in 2011.

Maureen’s Delicatessen, 110 N. Main St.

People still speak with fondness of Maureen’s one-of-a-kind German potato salad and the turkey club. But let’s face it, we’re really talking about the Toll House Derby Pie, a sinfully good confection of chocolate chips, pecans, whipped cream, and brown sugar. In the days when downtown’s revitalization stopped at Washington Street, Maureen’s, along with Red Baron and Fuddruckers, were go-to lunchtime spots for area workers.

Smokin’ Stokes BBQ, 1622 Augusta Road

We’ve been overly blessed with amazing barbecue places in the Upstate, but Smokin’ Stokes was one of the best; a greasy-spoon atmosphere with some of the best brisket around, particularly if it was covered in their signature Cheerwine barbecue sauce. Yes, you read that correctly – Cheerwine barbecue sauce.

Sophisticated Palate, 34 S. Main St.

A much-missed downtown favorite that specialized in continental fare and $1.50 PBR, the Sophisticated Palate was located in the current home of Takosushi. And if you showed up on the right night at the right time, you could be required to sing along with the restaurant owners, Jim and Barbara Graeper, to one of their favorite songs.

Honorable Mention: The Franchises

We’ve listed a few restaurant chains that had a definite Upstate feel to them.

Po’ Folks

Founded in Anderson in 1975, Po’ Folks specialized in country-fried (or, excuse us, “Kuntry Fried”) everything, and seafood favorites like Calabash Shrimp.

The Hungry Fisherman

The Hungry Fisherman featured seafood, seafood, and more seafood, most of it deliciously deep-fried, from Alaskan snow crab legs to flounder, perch, and, of course, catfish. This Pelham Road eatery – in the heart of today’s Restaurant Row – also featured a pond with paddleboats and an island playground.

Ryan’s Steakhouse

With the advent of places like Golden Corral, it’s difficult to imagine how mind-blowing the Greer-based Ryan’s chain’s “mega-bar” concept was when they first debuted it. Despite other places outpacing them in the years that followed, there was a time when you might have to wait an hour or more on a weeknight just to get access to that endless line of meat, veggies, salad, and soft-serve ice cream with endless toppings.

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