Saturday, October 30, 2010

Undiscovered Treasure

Yesterday, I got to have lunch with two dear friends on Main Street in Downtown Greenville. We went to one of my favorite spots for lunch. For some reason, this place seems to be one of Greenville's undiscovered treasures. It is in the historic Westin Poinsett Hotel's Spoonbread Restaurant. When you walk in, you feel as if you've just stepped back in time 60 years. In fact, when they filmed the George Cloony movie Leatherheads in this area, they used the hotel in several scenes.

The decor is very elegant, the ambience is calming.

Yesterday, we had the little restaurant all to ourselves. It was quite and the staff catered to us like we were royalty : ) One of my friends made a comment about how good my fries looked, and they brought a big plate and put it in the middle of our table for sharing. I had a yummy Patti Melt on toast with Boursin cheese and sauteed pepper, onions and mushrooms. My friends both got the grilled chicken BLT. We did some creative sharing so we all got a sample of everything. To make it even better, the food is delicious and the price is reasonable - my meal was about $7.

Below are two articles from the web with a little history of the hotel and restaurant.

History: The Spoonbread Lady
From G Magazine
November 2009
By Linda Dishman

Stepping slowly between tables in a long cotton frock, curls swept up in a matching calico headscarf and thick gold hoops swaying from her ears, Irene Griffin cut an unforgettable figure as she made her way through the dining room of the Poinsett Hotel. But what really stood out and gave her an enduring nickname, as well as a well-earned place in Greenville history, was her spoonbread.

Every Sunday, beginning in the 1940s and continuing through several decades, Irene, “The Spoonbread Lady,” would handcraft and personally serve casserole dish after casserole dish of spoonbread. For the uninitiated, spoonbread is a quintessential comfort food. Using cornmeal as a main ingredient, the dense, pudding-like Southern favorite is made with butter, eggs, and buttermilk to give it a consistency that is more like a cross between a soufflĂ© and Yorkshire pudding than a bread. It is meant to be eaten hot from the oven with a spoon, hence the name.

Families who flocked to the Poinsett for Sunday brunch came to know Irene simply by her nickname, and soon her reputation extended far beyond the borders of Greenville County. Irene once recalled seeing a billboard as far away as Virginia advertising the hotel and her spoonbread.

She said she learned to make spoonbread by observing Richard Strossner, who was at that time the Poinsett Hotel’s baker. Perfecting the technique meant adapting the original recipe by adding her own secret ingredient. She never told a soul what that special something was, that is until she passed the recipe to her grandson, according to a Greenville News report. Irene returned to tour the renovated Poinsett Hotel when it reopened in 2000. She was then about to turn ninety years old, so her days of baking and serving spoonbread had long passed. But the hotel honored the long tradition by naming their refurbished restaurant Spoonbread in her honor. No longer on the menu, spoonbread is still available by request.

Famous Poinsett Hotel Spoon Bread
This recipe was given to Miss Lucille Benson (later Mrs. Robert Jefferson Walker) in 1941 by Mr. Mason Alexander, manager of the Poinsett Hotel.

4 oz. cornmeal
½ cup water
dash of salt
dash of baking powder
1 Tbs. butter
5 eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Boil cornmeal in water. Add salt, baking powder, and butter. Let mixture cool.

Beat the eggs and add to the cooled mixture one at a time.

Pour into a baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm (preferably with a spoon right out of the pan!).

About the hotel...
A Tradition Rich in History
From The Westin Poinsett website

For one hundred years, the Mansion House Hotel stood on South Main Street in Greenville, South Carolina. In 1924, the hotel was demolished to make room for the construction of the Poinsett Hotel. The price tag for the new hotel was 1.5 million dollars, and when it opened on June 20, 1925, it was one of the most beautifully furnished hotels in the country. However, during the first year of business, the hotel lost $30,000 and continued to lose money through the years of the Great Depression.

In 1930, Mr. J. Mason Alexander was hired as General Manager Director. Mr. Alexander was known as Old Admiral Spit and Polish, the best hotel manager in the business. Mr. Alexander had a formula for success known as "The four C's: Cleanliness, cooking, competence and courtesy." Local residents filled the hotel's dining room for family dinners and ballrooms for formal dances. The hotel quickly became known as "Carolina's Finest," and by 1940 it was making money.

Also known as "Mr. Poinsett," Mason Alexander was labeled, "the man who gave you clean money," because he made sure that no guest left the Poinsett Hotel with anything but clean money in his pocket. Thus, the people who handled money were required to polish all coins before putting them in the cash register for change.

Due to increased business during 1941, the hotel added 60 rooms bringing the total to 248 rooms. By the mid 1950's the motel industry boomed and city hotels became obsolete. In 1959 the hotel was sold to Jack Tarr hotel chain. From 1971 until December 1986, the hotel was foreclosed, and by the end of that year, the last residents of the retirement home moved out.

In June 2000, the owners, former employees and friends of the Poinsett Hotel celebrated the 75th anniversary of its original grand opening with an exhibit of historic memorabilia in City Hall and a reception in the Gold Ballroom of the hotel. Many memories of the grand days of the hotel were recalled and shared.

Until early 1990, the Poinsett Hotel was considered one of the eleven most endangered historical sites in South Carolina. With the grand opening of the Westin Poinsett Hotel, the hotel's future will no longer be jeopardized and once again the City of Greenville will be home to the "Carolina's Finest."


  1. I'm from Greenville, but I never ate spoonbread. One copy of the recipe I found online a few years ago did have buttermilk (as mentioned in the text above), but yours here (and all others I now can find) has no buttermilk. What I found earlier was 4 cups meal boiled in equal part water, 6 eggs, "one to two cups buttermilk [!]," but no instructions. The same provenance was given for that recipe, word for word. I think I shall just experiment--surely it will need some liquid! Thanks for this interesting page.

  2. Oh, me again. I do remember stopping by the Poinsett Hotel, probably after church, to get shiney dimes. They would put your dimes in a machine, and you'd get them back all polished.

  3. Please repost to let me know how your spoon read experimentation goes. I don't think I have really had it before.