When a new restaurant moves into town, one of the first questions is “Is it local?” People are becoming pickier about where and what they eat. They want to support the local places. They can feel like they are contributing to their town or city, helping out someone who had a dream of opening their own perfect restaurant. But what happens when “local” food feels like chain food?
Ink N Ivy is located in what was the longtime home of popular bar The Corner Pocket. In Greenville, The Bottle Cap Group, based in Charlotte, owns Ink N Ivy along with Brazwell’s Premium Pub and a diner concept, called Diner 24, to open soon. They recently purchased SIP and The Green Room from the Greenville-based High Street Hospitality Group and are doing renovations or revamps of both of those. They’ve made quite an impact on the downtown dining scene in a relatively short amount of time.
Ink N Ivy has four levels, two of which are currently open. Those are full service restaurant space with the two unopened floors being a dance club and a rooftop bar. Ink N Ivy maintains it’s not a sports bar, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen more TVs in a restaurant that wasn’t a sports bar. The decor looks like softer Ed Hardy, with the ivy motif flowing throughout the restaurant. The ideas of decoration seems sort of hodgepodge with some pieces giving a Gothic feel, while others are very bro-tastic. One of my dining companions remarked that the dress of the bartenders in corset-type attire made her feel uncomfortable. It also got very loud on the second level where we were seated so if you’re hoping for a quiet meal, this isn’t the place to find it.
In a word, the food at Ink N Ivy is fine. It’s fine in the sense that if you went to an Outback Steakhouse or Chili’s and someone asked you how the food was, you’d reply, “It was fine.” I ordered the Pasta Jambalaya. It had a nice heat, but the sauce was too sweet. It felt like they have a stock marinara sauce in the back that they added shrimp, chicken, and Cajun spices to. It didn’t taste like jambalaya should with that deep, Cajun flavor, but like two cuisines trying to be mixed as an afterthought. The shrimp, which were mixed into the pasta, still had the tails on them. I accidentally ate one of the tails and could feel the shell in my throat for about a whole day afterwards. If shrimp are mixed into the pasta sauce, they should be fully shelled, tails and all. It’s messy to pick the shrimp out of the sauce and remove the tails and it makes you look like you have bad manners. If you want to leave the tails on, place them on top of the sauce and pasta and don’t mix them in. They and the chicken were also a tad overcooked. My wife ordered the pulled pork nachos which, once again, were fine. They needed to have more toppings on them. I did enjoy the flavor of the queso though. When looking at comparatively priced nachos of a similar style at places such as Chicora Alley or Southern Culture, these are a pale imitation.
The dessert was one of the best I’ve had in Greenville and will go back for. A Clemson Blue Cheese Blueberry cheesecake with whipped cream with hints of orange zest. Don’t wait for four hours in line at The Cheesecake Factory, come to Ink N Ivy for this. The sweetness and tartness play together beautifully and the blue cheese zing helps to cut through the richness that every cheesecake has. The manager/owner came by our table and he told us that all the desserts are outsourced to someone local except for the chocolate whiskey cake, which is made in-house.
As another one of my friends at dinner who had been to Ink N Ivy before responded to someone else asking what they thought about their first visit, “Have you been to Brazwells?” that becomes my conclusion as well after my first visit. The food at both Ink N Ivy and Brazwells has the exact same feel and flavors. When you learn that Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze, and Red Lobster are all owned by the same people, (Yes I know that Red Lobster was spun off into its own business due to it dragging Darden down, doesn’t change my point) it makes so much sense. In what is trying to be local food has the undercurrent of chain food running through it. Ink N Ivy will be great for people coming from out of town for a long weekend, one of our various festivals, or the late night younger crowd, but for locals, “local” food can be had elsewhere. But drinks and dessert and the bar will definitely be in my future plans.