I have spent a lot of summer days on Lake Hartwell over the years and have always felt that something was missing from the experience. Of course there is a lot of open water, quiet coves, and tons of spots to enjoy a weekend outing with friends and family. Still, there has always been something lacking…
Sometimes on a lake adventure I get hungry and a soggy sandwich packed in a beer cooler five hours earlier just is not going to cut it. Lake Hartwell has always needed lakefront, boater friendly dining and up until recently it offered nothing too satisfy my hunger. Sure, Nami and The Galley are nice places to dine at Portman Marina but both are just a bit too nice after a day of lake shenanigans. Even with a change of clothes, I feel like a dirtbag walking in to a nice establishment with a fresh sunburn, a beer buzz, and grimy Hartwell lake water stagnating in my pores.
For summer lake days, Lake Hartwell has always needed a good bar and grill. It needed a place where you can dock your boat, throw on a t-shirt and flip flops, and enjoy a burger and a cold beer on a patio in the sun. Please do not interrupt me with reminders of Charlie T’s or whatever came next… there is a reason those places are no longer operational. A relaxing summer day on the lake calls for a relaxing dining experience but the experience ought to offer food you actually want to eat.
So here we are in June, 2012 and years after having consistent boat access and just a few short weeks from leaving Anderson behind, years of lake-day prayers have finally been answered. It is with great celebration and a hint of regret that we have found that the best burger in the Upstate now resides on the shores of Lake Hartwell.
The Grill Man recently celebrated its grand opening a few weeks ago and it might be the best thing that happened to Lake Hartwell since they built the dam in 1959. What started as an event at Friends At The Cove on Sundays during the summer has now expanded into a full time establishment. We can now enjoy The Grill Man’s creations on a full menu, year round, and Lake Hartwell boaters and Anderson-area diners could not be more fortunate.
Like I said, The Grill Man began as an event, not a restaurant. Sundays at Friends At The Cove would feature live music, your own cooler of tasty beverages, and most importantly, Jason Parrish (AKA – The Grill Man). Chris and I were late to the party last summer and we did not make it out until Labor Day for the final Grill Man event of the summer. Nevertheless, we stuffed our faces with Grill Man cuisine, enjoyed The Sons Of Suess with great friends, and left anticipating the return of The Grill Man in the spring.
Fast forward a bunch of months and spring sprung but some major changes occurred in the interim. Friends At The Cove are now focusing their attention on their other business, Friends At The Farm. As a result, The Grill Man has evolved from a weekly attraction to a full-blown establishment. Eager to see what The Grill Man would cook up with an entire kitchen at his disposal instead of just a single grill, we packed up a cooler and headed south towards the lake.
The weather was perfect on the covered patio as we relaxed with cheap beer and watched people stroll up from all directions. On one side they came from the lake, on another - the neighboring pool, and from a third – the golf course at Stone Creek Cove. If we had been bordered on the fourth side by a field of sleeping kittens it would not have added an ounce of serenity to the setting. It also helps that The Grill Man looks and feels more like a residence than a restaurant so sitting outside offers the sense of a vacation home more so than a commercial dining establishment.
The fact is, however, that this is a commercial dining establishment… and a damn good one at that. Do not let the name fool you; this is not just a guy standing over a fire flipping burgers and dogs like some shlep at a neighborhood barbecue. The Grill Man menu is complete, diverse and sophisticated. The focus is on creative recipes made with fresh, local ingredients and cooked to perfection.
Ivan and I are simple men so naturally we ordered cheeseburgers for our first official Grill Man experience. We were rewarded with hands-down the best burger that I have found in The Upstate that did come from our own kitchen.* The burger was seasoned to perfection with a medley of spices that one would not normally find in any other restaurant burger. Most importantly, you can order the burger cooked to your specifications. No “medium well or better” regulations apply here; I was able to order mine medium rare which by itself sets The Grill Man apart from the vast majority of restaurants who cook their burgers to death to ensure the safety of their cheap, questionable, and potentially pink-slime coated ground beef. The result was a perfectly cooked patty topped with bacon, cheese and onions for a simple but perfect Sunday lunch on the lake.
As usual, Chris went in a slightly healthier direction than her boys and ordered the scallop lettuce wrap. Served over local, farm fresh kale, her plate was almost too pretty to eat. Eat it she did, though, and it was gone before I had the opportunity to ask for a taste.
So there we were, sitting on the lake with a cooler of cheap beer sharing the love of our little family unit while we ate the best meal money can buy in Anderson County on a Sunday afternoon. Even though we ate with the knowledge that our days in Anderson are coming to a close, we knew that we had discovered something unique and special. Anderson holds a handful of treasures that are worth coming back for and we instantly agreed that The Grill Man has been added to our short list of places worth the drive from Greenville after we move.
*Any burger that starts with Chris on her hands and knees hand grinding a brisket through her grandmother’s antique meat grinder is pretty hard to beat.